How do I make my words real?

The question came to me as I rose to a seated position this morning, the ditch and its ragged growth frozen around me.

How do I make them real?

It would be a month or maybe two before the insects took hold of the land again.  For now, the land still had hold over the insects.  And the rodents.  And the scavengers.  The land held everything now, its ice (thawing) still rigid like a fist, gripping all within it.

I ran my tongue over my teeth, over the spaces between my teeth where other teeth had taken off to seek out adventures in the muddy and icy crevices of the land through which I’d wandered.

It would be a month or maybe two before the whirring and chirping and fluttering and skittering motion would draw my eye and I could reach out a hand to pull black- and green-exoskeletoned creatures from leaves and branches to fill my body.

I ran my tongue around my mouth.

I was hungry then – this morning, as I stretched my legs out in front of me, moved my feet to dispel the frost that had nearly taken hold of me last night.

How do I make my words real?

The road was empty.  The road’s always empty where I sleep – I make sure of that.  And so I started walking.  Roston was ahead of me – about five miles down the road.  By the time I passed Herlack’s barn, traffic would start to pick up.  Sporadically, but there would be cars.  No matter, I told myself, by then the frost should have cleared my veins and I’d be able to walk as if I was just a – person.  A person out on a morning stroll.

For now though, there was a hitch in my gate, a stutter in my stride.  I moved like a broken automaton, a machine aware of the hows of survival but unaware of the whys of survival.  I pulled my lips back from my teeth, licked my lips, and repeated that motion five times to loosen up the muscles that allow such an facial expression.

The redwings were coming back.  They hadn’t nested yet; instead, they were squabbling in the brush and in the branches, working out whose territory ended where.  They tore at each other, beak and claw, and then fluttered apart to affect a hasty feathered respite, and then back at it – wings, beaks, claws.

I licked my lips, felt the ragged skin moisten.  With the cracks lubricated, it was easier to affect a – smile. 

How do I make my words real?

I listened to the grit beneath heavy feet.  And, as I walked, I felt the heaviness leave my feet for the still-frozen pavement below.  My legs loosened a bit and I picked up the pace.  I could see Herlack’s barn coming up around the bend.  I could hear the soft roar of the barn fans working the stink of cow excrement out of the lofted space and out into the world.  My legs were loose now and I ambled easily as the first car passed me.  Eye contact with the driver and, sure enough, her hand rose into a half-wave.

Another mile and I would be at the low-slung angles of the Roston Public Library.

I breathed deeply and smelled the earth still woven into the fabric of my pants, my layers of sweatshirts.  I puffed my breath out and inhaled again and could smell the scent of myself beneath the heady must of earth.  I was under the layers, under the grime, under the frosty fabric; I was there, held in the grip of the hard earth that had already begun laying claim to the clothing that hung around my frame.

Another car.

But no pedestrians.

There wouldn’t be any.  Sheriff’s orders.  It was not yet 8:00 a.m.  All the children were not yet safely in their classrooms.  Curfew was not yet lifted.

I walked.  Alone.  Another car passed.  Another half-wave.

Another few blocks and I would be the first to arrive at the Roston Public Library.

How do I make my words real?

I’ve left messages in the racks.  Near the books on criminology and among the cookbooks and along the shelf with books on insects.  Criminology and cooking and insects.  These are all things.  They describe how and sometimes what.  The best books on crime and cooking and insects steer clear of whyWhy is not a scientific question.  Why is for philosophers.  Why is never tangible.

I’ve left my messages, written in patterns that only I can decipher.  A spider knows where to walk along the web so that, even when the strands are twitchy-mad with the fright of a moth, the arachnid knows where to place each of its eight leg-tips on its way to its meal.

I’ve left my messages, drawn out in scribbles on paper – red crayon etched across black construction paper.

“Curious,” I heard an old man mutter as he picked one up late yesterday.  The criminology section is back in a corner of the library where the lights are usually off and only flicker on once a sensor detects motion.  I listened to the old man flip the paper around in his hands (themselves wrinkled and soft like old paper) and peered around the corner as he muttered a half-hello to me.  He nervously left then.  And I, of course, followed.  He muttered other things later last night as he was bundled off into a ditch, after curfew.  He muttered and muttered and muttered and then was quiet as the fading da-dun, da-dun of his own body was pulled into night, into the re-freezing and tightening fist of the earth.

I reach into my oversized back pocket.  Black construction paper still bundled up in there.  I’ll need more by the end of today.  But for now, this is enough.

How do I make my words real?  No one understands them, scrawled in red across black construction paper.  Webbed and interlaced, they mean nothing.  How could they mean anything?!  But the how is easy.  I scrawl.  And they come.  I scrawl.  And they seek.  I scrawl.  And then I take them, trundle them off into the quiet frost of the evenings.  I run my tongue across the teeth and the empty spaces of my mouth.  A few of the teeth have been broken and catch roughly on the skin of my tongue.  I pull my lips back and practice a smile at a passing car.  The driver ignores me.  Like I wasn’t even here.

I let myself into the library through the back door that always gives easily to my push.  They should really fix that…  And I scrawl my words, leave them in the usual places.  And then wait quietly.  Soon they will come.  Soon they will be here.  And I will wait and watch and wait some more.  Quiet.  Small.  As if I’m not even here.

from the collection of: p. botte