The inside of the tent was dewy and humid. Condensation had accumulated on the roof of the small tent and I felt nauseous. Nicotine and booze were leaking from my pores, forming trickles of stinky stream trough the hives and mosquito lumps. The night before had been cold, we were high in the Tetons and it was early September. The days were still warm; waves of heat resonated from the valley below and bounced off the clouds. Our hiking had brought us here to a small creek near Mt. Owen. The fishing had been good, lots of cutthroats in a little pool behind a bolder near our site. The site was amazing, so we had stayed.
Emily and I hit odds the previous night when I slugged down the last bit of our daily ration of wine. She insisted I was a self absorbed drunk. I didn't care, I felt like a sponge anyway. She was wound tight. Years of anorexia and ballet had let parts of her shut down like an abandoned well. The parts of her that ran down deep in that well were wonderful and frightening. I loved her for these deep parts. I loathed her for denying me of them. She wasn't in the tent.
I needed fresh air and moved with caution through the thumping of my temples and the tumultuous churn in my gut. I zipped the fly of the door open and let in the cool morning air. It smelled of lupine and mist. I took deep breaths and tried to control the sickness. I was lying on my back swallowing hard, my bladder felt like it would burst and willed myself to move.
I stuck my woolen feet into the vestibule and pulled on my boots. My underwear was missing and I felt the piss begin to sneak out. I stumbled to my feet and ran naked toward the trees. Three does bolted, leaving a young fawn trembling. It broke through the brush when I started to cough and gag. Between my sputters and hacks, I laughed.
My head was still throbbing, so I found some shorts and took the ten steps to the creek. The rocks in the bed were the various earth tones of slate and granite. The grays and browns folded over one another and seemed to blend together in the swift water. I leaned over the edge and stuck my head in. The brisk, frigid water shocked my brain and I whipped my head out. I pushed the droplets away from my lips with a spray of breath and rubbed the palms of my hands into my face. I felt instantly better. I let out a sigh and smiled. My fly rod and box were gone, and Emily was nowhere to be seen. It felt nice to cool off and I stomached an orange and a few aspirin. Then I stirred the fire and started some kindling. Pancakes today.
I watched as the lichen burned off the bark. It sizzled as bright glowing rings enveloped the fungus. It felt like the fuzz on my teeth and the slimy film covering my skin. I threw some logs on the budding fire, deciding to brush my teeth and go for a swim.
I scrubbed my teeth, gagging on the sweet mint. I coughed while my stomach gripped my spine. Sharp pained darted through my head and I saw floating stars. I spit twice and jumped off the boulder into the cold creek. The shock shook me and I doggie paddled to the surface, treading water in the swirling pool. I could see the heavy line of my fly rod tickle the surface down the stream and I thought of Emily on the other end. Was she fishing?
"Em!" I shouted. No reply.
I treaded water until I felt the abrasive rocks under my feet, balancing against the current. I dried off with the towel hanging on the branch and redressed for the day. The fire was dwindling to a bed of hot coals and I tweaked it with a heavy bit of birch and some dry logs. It smoked wildly and then caught.
Emily came around the bend with a stringer of three brownies hanging from her knuckles .
"Hey", I said, standing up from my haunches.
"Caught some fish eh?" I was trying to forget.
"Yeah. Impressed? But I have some bad news for you bub."
I was expecting the worst. A wrath, a breakup, a get your shit together or else speech. "Wuzzat?"
"I lost a fly."
"Which one?" I felt a bit of relief in her tone, she was happy. I was irked at losing flies.
"That blue spent wing and a couple of those fuzzy ones."
I knew when to pick the battles. I didn't care about the flies. "That's ok, you brought back fish."
She made pancakes and coffee while I cleaned the fish. We didn't say a word. The only sound were the entrails hitting the stream. I couldn't believe she could fish. We ate in silence. Catching glances sideways.
I walked to the creek and found a pea sized rock. Em collected rocks. She had them in rows and piles and in bottles all over her apartment. The rock was black, flat and smooth. It was wet and shimmered in the bit of sun that broke through the canopy of leaves.
"Here." Holding the rock in my open palm.
"Oh, a rock." She said sarcastically plucking it out of my hand with her long blue fingernails.
She held it up to the light and rubbed it between her thumb and forefinger. Her black hair was in a pony tail and loose bits fluttered aimlessly, brushing her cheekbones. She held it close to her gray eyes, examining it, gauging the worth. Tilting her head back she held it above her open mouth.
"What are you doing?" I asked, feeling my eyebrows touching in disbelief.
She lowered her hand to her side and asked me if I knew how Virginia Woolf committed suicide. I said I did.
"Well, I haven't any pockets, so I prefer to swallow the rocks." She held the rock back up to her mouth and dropped it in, swallowing.
"That can't be good for you" I said.
She smiled and replied. "Well, neither are you."
She pressed her forehead to mine while our wet lips touched.