Dropped an egg in the gutter and down it went. On my way from market in the morning my old calf slipped and down it went, just so. I watched the yolk run. Another little world gone. If there were two if only there were two, it’d been quite the race. These naked pines—this wood—you’ve invaded the bark like a rotten chestnut [The trees creak in the wind.] Eh? [Silence.] Everything growing old as rocks; moss upon my chin. Tallowed whiskers. Shriveled eggs: no use renewing them now. They told me once that if you live long enough to see an ogre you’ve been dead for years. What do you make of that? [Pause.] No, nevermind. You stick to your agenda—whatever that might be—I’ll stick to mine, waiting for rain, though there’s hardly little stake in it save for the feeling in my bones. Times like this I’ve never felt so old; when the bones tell me rain I mean. [Pause.] You feel like something you forgot I imagine, or something without feelings, which is no feeling at all [A bead of dew slips off a leaf into a puddle by the side of the road.] Rippling outwards, I see. Now the pond, next the sea and soon to be the world. When you’re here with me, you’re also there, right…all over, watching other moments pass? [Pause.] But if that’s the case you must be everywhere at once.
I ask all of this without expecting much of an answer; it’s more for myself, reassurance rather—for my Time—to test the existence of it. [Pause.] It often seems as though there’s a film, a soft skin between people [ … ] Hm. I can’t articulate it. Well [Pause.] we’re walking out of town into something else. Out and in and out again. Out of town into the forest. Out of the forest into the dale. He and I used to look for gophers thereabouts when we were younger. He’d skin them then boil them in a pot. Not hereabouts but thereabouts, after the forest and beyond, into the farmlands. Don’t much care for them—not sure if anyone does—but they make a decent soup with enough time; if they’re boiled enough I mean to say. I’m sure you knew that [OLD LADY stops to watch a pebble bounce forward upon the uneven path that comes to rest in a patch of grass sprouting as if from out of nowhere.] How many boiled gophers are you? [The pebble, once more motionless amidst the blades of grass.] One and all boiled gophers. Here now we enter the forest and the burn, what we call the river here, follows beside us. In the summertime you were the sun going down and the table being laid. [OLD LADY kicks up a pebble with her bootheel, which skips along and bounces off into the burn, making a soft ‘plunk,’ the ripples it creates deafened by the motion of the water working its way downstream.]
Once you’ve passed are you able to return—I mean as yourself; if you wanted to go back to the beginning, when everything was nothing, could it be done? Perhaps not, since you’d be there twice; perhaps you lack the permission to decide such a thing. That’s a difficult thought to follow [OLD LADY pauses then the burn again, the water pressing upon the graveled bed, small pieces of algae wave imperceptibly upon the bearded rocks.] If before beginning there was nothing is it you or something else urging us forward, for if there’s no motion to mark then what would pass? [OLD LADY bends down, a reflection in the water, moving as steadily as ever; a brief pause, then continues.] Back to the wolf. Or the beginning. The beginning began as the wolf. Or the beginning of the end began in such a way, at least according to the stories. So the way we begin about the wolf is through the motion of a story about a wolf, so let’s begin [OLD LADY pauses; the reflection of a face for a moment, wavering with the unsteady motion of the running water, as if a wounded mirror.] When the world began was when it ended with the absence of the sun. When the snow began the world became a blanket. We all died. Everyone ate away with cold. You left us for eternity, until eventually you returned. But you’re not god [Pause.] Are you god? I lean towards the truth of there being none. But to name something is to make it a god. Who am I to say; or what am I to do otherwise? [OLD LADY stops briefly, glances upwards, continues on.] Plenty of power within a name. My goodness I’m tired. [OLD LADY stops again.] Lend me a piece of yourself. [OLD LADY makes her way to the edge of the path, towards a rotted out stump at the water’s edge, gazing down to the graveled bed.] Argh [Pause.] suited more for a sit than a stumble. [As OLD LADY makes her way over to the stump, she disturbs a swarm of flies hovering over a carefully arranged pile of entrails.] Oh my, not such a seat after all is it? Someone must have gotten themselves a trophy this morning. How many points I wonder, judging by the pile, a big one. [A splash; OLD LADY glances upstream, where unbeknownst to her, an Atlantic salmon hen is depositing the last of her brood of eggs into a small hole she’s dug in the gravel, in an area where the bank overhangs to provide shade and ample covering from predators. OLD LADY raises an arm to shield her gaze from the sunlight and continues peering upstream; every once in a while a small splash can be heard.]
I played ghillie once, skipping along beside the burn, scooping up salmon as the men reeled them in. [A pause; OLD LADY takes a deep breath; TIME remains silent, except for the occasional splash or gust of wind. OLD LADY sits a while longer, perhaps a minute or so, then places her arms upon her knees and slowly rises, continues.] Always moving forward—toward something—even if it’s nothing at all. Toward something, understand? You are the force persistent, at times much hated, for no matter what one does, you exist. Shut yourself in a darkened room and live inside an ash bin: outside, there’ll always be days to mark. Sun rise, sun set. Occasional rains delivered by the movement of the clouds, passing in a few hours, or lingering on for days. Even still: the sound of the sea at high tide, washing toward homes, eating away at the sand, receding. You [Pause.] Like clockwork…as clockwork. You as clockwork, big handle little hand turns the tides of time. Moving clockwise—what’s right—time’s rightward moving toward the sun…Bah. [OLD LADY waves her arm through the air as if swatting away a fly.] Wrong place wrong time. Time to go and Time to stay. Always on the clock. One’s work is never over, even when they think they’re done. The sand at the bed of the river. The gravel. The piecemeal nature of it all. Tally long enough and you’ll melt; stay a moment to be whisked away. Dust on the path. What’s really important is every space of air; it’s what escapes us—in our bones, upon our lips. The space between the marrow…our lungs. [OLD LADY stumbles, regains her balance and continues; the sky grows dark.] Due for a storm, are we? Air again my creaking bones. What is that rotten smell? [OLD LADY pauses; sniffs the air in a pronounced fashion, looks about briefly; continues.] It’s no longer Time is it? Or is it? [Pause.] Is it Time is there no longer? Is it? Receding? What is that…that smell? [The sky grows darker.] My bones push out into the air like a warped door frame. [OLD LADY pauses; rests her right arm against a tree along the path and holds herself there to catch her breath; she looks at the stream on her left, then up at the sky, then the stream again, and pushes herself away from the tree back onto her own two legs; continues.]
We begin everywhere, end in all places too. There are endings that create new beginnings; also ones that simply end, with nothing at all to embark upon; no spreading outwards. The trees have lost their branches; a small child the will to live. Taking the branches gone away before they understand the meaning of loss. [OLD LADY coughs; continues.] That smell again. [OLD LADY begins to cough more forcefully now; uncontrollably. She lifts her arm and covers her nose and mouth; her left foot slips beneath an upgrown root in the middle of the path. Caught off balance, she falls forward forcefully. A loud snap; she screams out in pain. OLD LADY rolls on the ground, clutching her ankle; she struggles to remove it from the root. A crow caws in the trees nearby; the river bubbles to her left; OLD LADY gasps and heaves, trying to pull her leg from beneath the tree root.] Ah ah huuuuu. [She garbles, choking. OLD LADY gasps, screams.] Help oh god, ahh haa. HELP! [The birds are no longer heard; the sky darkens; OLD LADY makes an effort to rise; her knees buckle; she falls back down upon the forest floor.] That smell. Dear god. Help me! It’s freezing. [OLD LADY retches upon the forest floor, still clutching her injured ankle, she pulls herself with one arm closer to the stream; closer, until her reflection is almost seen in the rippling water.] Hugh, uh. [Again she retches, this time into the stream; it makes a sound like pouring soup into the toilet; splash-plunk-plunk splash-plunk; the gray-green vomit floats atop the water briefly, lodged in a still pool created by a few nearby rocks serving as a sort of dam; the vomit mixes with the water, creating a greenish spume; the forest is silent; OLD LADY stares at the stream, watching intently as one by one, tiny little salmon fry journey upwards out of the graveled bed to feed on her vomit; OLD LADY forgets her pain for a moment; removes her hand from her mouth and touches the water, slowly, tracing a symbol on its surface as the greenish spume recedes, aided by the feeding fry and the current; OLD LADY moves closer to the stream and positions herself in such a way as to let herself see to the bottom of it; she notices a shady corner where the hen floats, with hardly enough strength to move; OLD LADY stares at the large fish; it’s covered in sea lice that have attached themselves to her in her weakened state, feeding on the gills and making their way inside her body; OLD LADY retches again, this time spewing bright green bile; OLD LADY slaps at the surface of the stream and does so a second time; a third time; faintly, she begins mumbling, so silent at first it’s mistaken for the wind in the trees; OLD LADY places her hand atop the surface of the water and begins shaking it from side to side; she continues doing so, rapidly; her mumbling intensifies…Sea…she says…Wet…Pure…her voice more distinct; the hand motions more frantic…Green…Branch can break…Water…Sky is…Earth is Green…the sky grows ever darker as OLD LADY becomes more and more animated, slapping the surface of the water…the Sea is blue…the water is wet…the air is cold…the Earth is green…the water is blue…the air is wet…her voice deeper than before; she continues, forcefully…the Sea is Green…the earth is Green…the air is Cold…the water is Blue…at this point OLD LADY is so loud nothing else can be heard throughout the forest; another voice is screaming through her; she quickens, slapping the water frantically; spit bubbles and falls from her lips…the Sea is blue…the water is wet…the air is cold…the Grass is Green…the Branch will break…the Air is Cold…the Water is wet…the Sea is Green…the Branch will Break…the Void is Pure…the Branch will Break…the Air is Cold…the Forest is Green…the Water is Wet…the Sea is Blue…the Grass is Green…the Wind is Soft…the Air is Pure…the Sea is Wet…the Forest is Dark…the Sky is Blue…the Void is pure…across the bank twigs break; dead leaves rustle, being pushed aside by something unseen…the Air is Dry…the Sky is Grey…the Forest is Dark…the Water is Wet…the Sky is Blue…the Sea is Green…OLD LADY screams…the Branch will Break…the Water is Blue…the Air is Cold…the Rain is Wet…the Earth is Green…the Sky is Blue…the Sea is Green…the Forest is Dark…the Void is Pure… we see now, thousands of birds flying toward OLD LADY’s place upon the bank…the Forest is Dark…the Sea is Cold…the Air is Thin…the Water is Wet…landing in the trees nearby, surrounding her; some plummet into the stream with such velocity they hit the bottom, then rise to the top and float away, lifeless…the Clouds are Wet…the Air is Dry…the Branch will Break…the Water is Blue…the Air is Cold…the Sky is Blue…the Water is Wet…the Forest is Dark…the Sea is Green…the Forest is Green…the Rain is Wet…the Air is Thin…the Sea is Cold…the Forest is Dark…the Branch will Break…OLD LADY takes a deep, resonant breath; stands; screams in a voice that’s three at once…THE VOID IS PURE…a deafening crack is heard; she collapses; the birds descend upon her; unseen creatures come out of the woods, one by one; the remaining light fades, returning everything back to darkness once again.]