What really did it, was that

My feet squelched the entire way back up the mountain.

It was almost amusing, the steady squish, squish, squish, squish against the rain sodden surface. The steep path uphill (or downhill, depending on whichever way you’re facing, I suppose) is painted in tyre stripes of mud tracked up by the owners of the little houses lining the paths. Roads, they’re to be called formally, because they have graduated being traversed by feet to being coursed by cars. A field could arguably lay claim to that by the same qualification, but well, roads they are. I’ll admit to having more than a little animosity towards them. At an incline of about 45°, they’re not the stuff of a casual stroll, regardless of where you’re headed. But the inevitable aches of separate groups of muscles in your legs is still the more pleasant alternative to taking the slower, winding path down the mountain, lined by houses that have homed generations, with their gardens littered with gnomes, and faces pointed with equal parts of inquisitiveness and guardedness, even some scattered hostility, towards obvious strangers passing through. Come to think of it, it’s an easy choice to make.

I dwell upon these minutiae. I could even say, I think it’s impossible not to. Whether it’s the odd tranquility inspired by a gargantuan golden candle hoisted up on the sides of buildings, framing in electric light the four corners of the city, or the peaceful steadiness with which the behemoths of trees drown out this human attempt of marking man-made boundaries here with the ease of their breadths, there is an unspeakable wonder in both. Depending upon which street you take, your shadow will be cast in the streetlight, or the moonlight, but never both. Depending on which way you’re looking, the mist will condense whisper soft on your face, or lose its fragile claim to existence on your shoulders, but never both. Heading into the woods, I would have still called it fog- visible, almost palpable, but not yet tangible. I moved through it like a brush through paint, like an eye through the ocean, watching swirls bloom and die under the sparse reach of streetlamps. Everywhere else, it was left to those most primitive of senses to still perceive. It feels like drowning in air with uncertain boundaries, melting unexpectedly, seamlessly, with a ground that springs into solidness out of the nothingness, with each step. And yet, the moment I left the city and ventured out to retrace my steps home, then it was rain. The only difference between mist and rain is, after all, how it falls. The deniable and the undeniable, the almost there, and there. Wetness, on my face, in my hair, under my feet. Not flowing yet, but enough to add a layer of movement imperceptibly yet definitely there. I wondered, on my way between two candles, if the frog I saw at the side of a path knew where he was going. Or, for that matter, where he’d come from at all. There were no ponds or streams here anywhere, spare the river, at least two candles away. For a fleeting moment I wondered if I should take him home, but then the impulse passed, and I let him be. You can’t save everything. Most days, you can’t even save yourself.

On the cracked glass globes that cover the streetlights, barnacles grow. Exactly like the ossifications that encrust the skeletons of ships, or the undersides of piers. I remember most clearly ones that grew on a fence half-sunk into a rock pool I used to walk past, a lifetime ago. They looked just the same. Just as sharp, just as desolate. I wondered if they sleep when the snow comes. I wonder when the last time was that the ocean had covered this mountain. I wonder, when the next time will be. I wonder if I will calcify too, before then, if it too would be tangible, and wet. If the frantic lady who discovered at the cash counter that she’d left her credit card in her car, and left a line of people tapping, shifting, and sighing in those unmistakable nonverbals of repressed exasperation behind her, will be there for it. If that man I perceived walking behind me with the slightest, most visceral and peripheral of instincts, will be there for it. If the frog will be there for it. I wonder if it’ll still feel like drowning in air, when it’s salt water instead.


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