The trail is steep, my shoes are wrong. I don’t know why I followed her but I always do. I wanted to warn her that the sun was setting, we were going nowhere. We’re going up, she would reply. I paused as the cramp in my side returned, wondering why we even had conversations, why I ever talked to her when it was like talking to myself. We knew the shape of each other’s thoughts. I recognized that the day I met her, clinging to her expensively sneakered foot for dear life on the fake climbing wall that I’ll never see again. Only selfish people stick to the familiar, that was me, that was why I decided to keep her in my life. I expected her to make me better. I couldn’t bother doing it on my own. She liked challenges, so she kept me.
“Break?” She had heard me stop. She never pretended she didn’t and kept on, she wasn’t like that, although I would have done that if I was her. I was the impatient one.
I nodded, squinting into the darkening tangle of shrubs on either side of us. Don’t worry, she would say, we aren’t lost. I’ll make a fire when we get there.
While I squatted down, she stood unmoving, facing away from me, a few feet up the trail. She could have been meditating, she didn’t need to think about the trail. I noticed this often, this removal of mind, waiting for the world around her to catch up. When it happened, I felt relieved, alone again, my thoughts untouched. Everyday I questioned this life with her, this invasion of my head, my privacy. Agreeing to live by the pull of her gravity meant no privacy for me, but it also meant protection from dangers that she saw first from where she existed. She turned toward me again, watching me review the terms of our contract as I rested.
“Ready,” I mumbled staring at my grey fabric walking shoes crusted in dried mud, the damp shoelaces. I’d just bought them, she told me we’d take a leisurely walk through the woods. I mostly never knew what our weekend adventures would be, she didn’t want me to plan, didn’t believe in plans. She also didn’t care about new shoes or clothes or hairdos, and I could have agreed, but I realized it was my job to refuse, so at least one of us looked presentable.
The climb finally sloped downward for a moment, causing us to lose sight of the sun. The trail rose back up but gently, then suddenly a thicket of trees that I couldn’t name (I never can) confronted us, the trail disappearing inside the darkness captured by entangled branches.
Her back is to me, just out of my reach, and I feel her smile growing, ready to pounce at whatever is inside that mess of limbs. I want know what she knows, but I’m distracted by how fast the last of the hazy orange light has dissolved, leaving us surrounded by silhouettes. I wait for her to turn around, this blurry body before me that is starting to bend and crouch. Everything seems ordinary, why wouldn’t it, there is no space for doubt right now, and I call out her name.
“Wait there,” and as the words hit my ear, her body is gone. I move a couple steps closer toward the cluster of trees that has enveloped the woman who has led me here and get down on my knees to peer inside. I think I see her long legs but I squint and slowly realize they are only slim branches that dip low over the ground. I wait for her in the blinding purple of dark, falling asleep listening to ant feet.
Born in the cornfields of the American midwest, Suchi Rudra is a nomadic writer of fiction, articles and songs. Her novella Kitaab, published by Six Gallery Press, is based on a year spent in India. Her journalistic pieces can be found in The New York Times, BBC Travel, October and other publications. She is currently seeking representation for a literary fiction novel.