Mahati Ramakrishnan | Art by Michelle Jiang
Leaves were of a stiff comfort. They laugh when you step on them, so you don’t feel guilty when the rubber sole ignores yet cracks the children of the maple trees. There was no one with me except for the leaves that trailed behind me, and with their gentle giggles they coaxed me onwards
Come, come closer
Mama told me to never wander through the woods because old man Victor said not to, but his blind claims from his mute words never made me believe him. Old man Victor intrigued me: from his sunken gray fish-eyes that told me they couldn’t see. But he could, I knew he could. He saw me that night when I tried to escape to the woods. Mama locked me in my room the next morning.
Mama called old mad Victor “Pop,” perhaps to make up for her own father’s absence, a hole she tried to fill with water that always evaporated. I remember her watering the hole every few weeks, feeding Victor with her home cooked meals, delivering him some of our chickens’s eggs, and it soon seemed like she was trying her
hardest to sculpt the same hole in my body. So I wandered to keep my mind absent from the hole that was carving me up like a sad china doll. Mama always caught me during my ventures, somehow. I’ve never gone past the large maple threatening the start of Sutter’s forest.
But this time I left at dawn when the sun opens its eyes, when it makes a girlish peek before stretching its limbs upon the countryside. The air surrounded me churlishly with its cold, and I couldn’t stop scolding myself for the foolishness to not bring a cape. Yet, I prolonged and had to continue forth, I just didn’t know what it was. I had to go further, and the leaves carried me on. Maple trees lined the woodside of the orchards and as my footsteps grew quieter with the air, the maples waxed and waned into grotesque figures. Their lips dark and singed, mouthing obscenities at me for trespassing into their hideout. But I could not stop. Little hands pushed me, digging into my back so that I could feel their imprints.
Come, come closer
And so I obliged and forced the soles of my feet to maneuver floors of legacies laced with sap and crunches. The voice lingered inside the fabled Walter’s cave and I inhaled the sharp scent of the patriarchy. I didn’t like it, not one bit. Sutter’s forest and Walter’s cave taunted me for not being more brave, for not willing myself to take one step forward. But feeling the hold boring into my side, I knew I had to continue forward for it to stop. The gray walls stared me down before I even stepped inside and the black hole of nothingness inside almost swaddled me to peace. But I don’t want to be swaddled any more I must–
Come, come close