Nostrils awing and fetching the air, an air of a sweated humus deep-sweet and ruddy, Nadia breathed it through the gapped window. The headrest in front smouldered lavender as gusts worried hooks of the old lady’s hair. The last petrol station now just a retinal splodge of crouched oil; spattered guard-rails tonsils to the retreating city’s constant feed of traffic; the murk-draped greenscape suddenly billowed in as view, bidden by the cedar-scrubbed aroma. The trees shuffled closer to the narrowing road, beginning to loom. She watched them smear the pane for a measure, her dad’s hearty phrases colliding with the maggoty echoes of the hospital left behind. Soon a note of affected satisfaction in his voice told her they’d arrived, the car’s tires agreeing in gravel.
“We’re here mum,” John repeated. “Goldstream Park. Sit tight while Nadia sets the chair up for you.”
Nadia locked with the woman’s watery eyes, bright but submerged, nickels flashing from a staid millpond. “The salmon, grandma,” as if answering the unasked. She wondered at her father’s ability to speak to this hidden woman, his voice a reply only to itself. She bit her lip back, a ward of criticism: how else to speak to a ruined foundry? Jocularity emboldens the seekers, not the trapped. “Perhaps we’ll even see some other wildlife. It’s been a while since you’ve been here…” She stooped to shift the slight body to the chromium-alloy chair. It was no harder than lifting a frown to a smile. Her father returned from the parking validation, the rental car wept its doors firm and they made for the footprint-pitted path.
John walked a marked pace ahead, his height stiffened by his long coat. His was a parade ground, inspecting those straight-backed Douglas firs, attending majestic. A vast hall of heroes. Their mossy festoons could not soften his eye. From crooks of boughs, sword ferns dripped like verdant, shade-laden lanterns. Connecting the earthbound to the ethereal, he thought. Their columnar support vaulting the doming sky. How ageless the arborous responsibility! How their efforts belied all strain. He paused, and from his chin through to his fists he stretched his bowed spine, a motion of habit, not supraliminal form.
Nadia’s gaze swept low the ground, negotiating the gnarled snags and mudded depressions. Grandma’s weight rattled through the wheelchair, resonating something in her hands that remembered bird bones in a shoebox lined with tissue. A musty trunk of sensation opened, its yawned lid revealing… some cave of sluggish, groping motility, bestial and blind. The ancient woods seemed to recoil, its pride retreating to expose dank spaces between the trees, spaces where things fed. A salmon carcass, innards outer scale as if combed through by its own delicate ribs, leered from a brittle shrub. Grubs writhed indecipherable from its cuttled flesh. Such proximity to the touring human passage kept the higher-order predators at bay, she thought, furthering this vermian glut. And there we were, feinting revulsion but meaning jealousy. Everywhere, the autumn blanket rustled a pocket above an undercurrent of mycologic mucus, sinking into loam. Tendrils beetled through fallen debris, sucking on a rot inherited. Those sweetening aromas just a byproduct rising from the openings of those feeding. One end eating the other eaten. Torsos of the mighty lay in charnel digestion, saplings springing from them like sprigs of mint.
A woman who looked as if she was wearing too much perfume picked along the riverside path, binoculars swinging from her turtled neck. Her calls to children too old to require them mingled with the croaks of gulls. She gassed a smile past the trio with a distracted glance, and hurried on. Blanched chum salmon cluttered the stream like languishing tea-bags. Fowl slashed at the attainable amongst them, the ones who’d furrowed their redds and spent their roe. Dippers rimmed the rippling runnels, fervently poking about for egg caches. Further upstream the rutting continued. From somewhere behind came the cry of “Eagle!” While Nadia and her father plumbed the tannin waters, the old lady’s scarf-fastened head turned tropically.
The light was light, Francine thought. The balds caught it in their stirrups as it bore them high. These days, gravity seemed to miss her body as it fell. Nadia, tall like her father, regal features cowled by black hair, her presence here lustrous, and what a life ahead. Francine went back, back to matter, to steam from a kettle and mouse slurps around a kitchen table. Light conversation as weigh-scale to life’s vexations. Back to when John was Nadia’s age, a young man, homecomings rarified by schools and girlfriends, terse words and church bells. He was apparent now -just in front of where she sat- hands on his hips and jigging for a laughing Nadia. A joke! He was grey himself, grey but robust. And here, in this wooded place, quiescent despite the roiling waters and hording nature-gaggers, life could again be lauded. Lifted up as a chalice. Up, up into the canopy. Up into that blue, blue air.