Irradiance

Emory R. Frie

          I have veered off the path and am now on the earth among the yellow wildflowers, arms around my knees, the ants edging my shoes. This patch of tangled weed smears across a dip in the hillside which plateaus gracefully before the drop into the man-made lake below. A short dock leans out over the surface, though I can hardly imagine anyone taking their canoes and kayaks out for such small laps, an endless spiral down a drain. Ducks rim the lake in a swarm of shadows, as if afraid of wading too deep into placid waters. I’ve never been one to trust the calm either. There is a hollow void amid such places pleading for sudden disturbance, a lurking surface, futures inevitably bound to shatter. Stillness brings a multitude of anxieties.

          A bee brushes my arm. A love tap. Its presence draws me to find the other fuzzy brown bees surrounding my sanctum, dipping and rising from petal to petal. I know these flowers are something like weeds, a parasitic blight to be torn from the roots and thrust into plastic blackholes, but the bees don’t seem to notice. To them, perhaps, there are no invasive blossoms. Their translucent flecks of wing disappear in the light, their bodies like a thumb against the yellow petals.

          I raise my head with the breeze. Sunrays pummel against my bared skin, a pulse that begs my eyes to close. The glare forms beads on my eyelashes. A sheet of blue sky, still, like the ominous lake.

          Mountains scratch the horizon, indigo now in this standing sun. If I squint I can almost imagine I’m in another place, farther west and familiar, where a fierce range of peaks form the outskirts of the Ring of Fire – and the way the sun hits the crests could be snowcaps on my capped volcano. This terrain, this taste of encompassing mountains, blankets of evergreens, was among the strongest reasons why I came to this college. I was drawn to this view, of all things, this place which reminded me of a childhood home I left behind. Now, I open wide my eyes and know these hills called Appalachia are not my Rockies. But I breathe this honeydew air and am glad of it.

          Leaning back, I lay on the pebbled grass and pray the ants have marched away. That blue sheet stretches taunt overhead. I imagine the sky as a mineral, one direction of cleavage, glassy luster. Could I scratch my fingernail along the sky’s surface, or would its hardness carve glass? I lift my arms above my head and let my hair loose.

          Behind me and above where I cannot see is the parking lot for the collection of red roofed, white plaster houses which form the Retreat. A friend of mine has been known to park there at night to watch the stars and howl at the moon. There are two creatures I know who do this: wolves and humans. Canines do so in order to proclaim their presence, a beckoning to their pack, a warning to their foes. Humans howl to release, as if the moon exists only to gather our cries and scatter them across the biotite sky. I imagine millions of relieved anxieties combusting into pinpoints of starlight. Truly, I am not here to howl. I have come at the wrong time, and the sun stands to slant into my eyes and burn, burn, burn. The light has its own means of sanctification, and I bathe in its violent blaze.

          As I raise myself to my palms again, I notice the group of students watching me on the hill. They swing their legs over the grassy lip, casting sideways glances toward me in my yellow weed patch, failing to hide the impatience to claim my spot. I stare easily at them as I would an amber-eyed wolf, awash with tranquility. One girl, copper skinned and head shaved, wears a blouse as bright a yellow as the flowers I sit on. The rest of the students seem enveloped in their own yapping voices, but she smiles at the vast view, the scratched mountains, the duck lined lake, enraptured by the wholeness of it. She leans forward, hands pressed to the earth, as if she caught the honeydew aroma at the end of her nose.

          An ant winds up my jeans. Gently, I brush it off onto the pebbled dirt where it squirms in a panic before trailing for my foot again. I stand and let the sun glare blindly into my face as I regain feeling in my tingling limbs. The sky before me is turning lemon, a stripe between the skyline and the sun. I find the path again and ascend, passing the group of side-eyed students who have respectfully waited for me to completely take leave of their desired spot.

          At the hill’s crest, I watch them wash down onto my flower patch, alight with laughter and snapshots, running toward the plateau’s edge. A long finger of shadow has sliced over my toes, a cool slash across my heel. I watch the bald, yellow-bloused girl gambol over the blossoms like she knows she belongs between them and the sun.

Fall, 2019 Issue

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