Joan feels remorse for having hated her toes most of her life. She inherited them from her grandmother, who had hated them too. Her grandmother had cried at the swimming pool on Joan's 11th birthday... [+]
When they first moved in, the forest was big and lush behind the apartment building. It was the entire view through the kitchen window, standing at the sink washing dishes. Birds were often in the branches, and squirrels, and near the edge of it a stray cat often came and stalked things they could not see from the window. But if they looked just so, through the tangled branches of many trees and bushes and perhaps some sort of vine, they could see the cars passing on the street beyond the wood. And in this way she noted that the forest, as large as it appeared, was only a narrow strip.
Do you like it there? her mother asked.
Oh yes, she said. And she did. And the forest grew.
Further down, they took a path through the forest to reach the road and its paved sidewalk. Her son often commented that it was a portal and inside it was night—that’s how dark the forest was, how thick the cover. The path split off into less walked dirt paths and once they saw a man stopping there to piss.
At the end of one path there appeared to be a clearing. She always imagined she’d come across teenagers drinking or fucking there, but it was too seen from this one view, her view, and so how then, did the clearing remain? How did the ground appear trampled as it was? She imagined a mythical bear materializing to sleep there in the latest hours.
She tried to speak to the mythical bear in her head but, every time he opened his mouth, out came the sounds from the documentary her mother warned her not to watch, the sounds of the bear eating the people who’d studied him, terrible sounds.
One day, doing the dishes at the sink, she saw a group of foxes, only for a second, one tail following another, toward the other side. A whole den of foxes could fit in the forest now and hardly be seen. What else? she wondered. What else could it hide?
What about the apartment? her mother said.
Your father wants pictures of the views out the windows.
My windows? she said. It’s just woods.
She took a picture of the forest.
She passed the clearing again on her walk to town. She passed it on her walk back. This time she didn’t see a bear but a group of young women, naked, thin, strikingly similar, like they were all sisters, like they were all witches, dancing in a circle, hooting into the night. A fire appeared in the center of them. She wanted to stamp it out. She was thinking first of the forest.
Are you making friends? her mother asked.
I’m trying. There’s another mom who is nice.
But her son is not nice.
She looked at the picture she’d sent her father. She recognized the frame of her window but not specifically the view, the trees, the shapes of the leaves. Did she know so little of her forest? She held her phone up to her kitchen window. It was exactly as it was. Except it had grown thicker. She tried to remember how it looked, to draw it in her mind, each tree in its position. She looked at the photo when she was in the bathroom, when she walked the aisles of the supermarket.
What will the forest look like in the winter? she thought. She didn’t know which trees would stay green and which would be stripped down to their bark. She thought about looking up the trees’ names and their nature, making lists of them, but she didn’t. She thought about researching the temperatures that cause trees to shed their leaves. Or was it the motion of the Earth, the idea of seasons, and not necessarily the extremes of their performative nature? She was overthinking this.
The undergrowth will stay, she thought.
What did you do today? her mother asked.
I went for a walk. There are so many flowers blooming.
Sometimes she realized the wind in her face would be changing the face of the forest so she would look up at it, searching for what would be revealed. But she only saw the leaves upturned, their lighter shades of green.
Frequently she learned what the forest looked like in rain. What it smelled like.
But mostly she saw the forest perfectly at ease in its surroundings. And she’d correct herself—it was itself surroundings, her surroundings. She’d get lost in thought again. Was she something’s surroundings? Her son’s? Was he something’s surroundings? She was stuck in a loop considering things down to a microscopic level. The bacteria in his gut. Smaller than that. Down to quarks. How much time had gone by, her sitting there thinking? She didn’t know.
I feel sick today, she told her mother.
What kind of sick?
She nodded over the phone, which her mother couldn’t see. Looking at the trees she wondered, To what? To what?
The forest grew and grew before her. But it never came closer to her apartment. She’d never be able to reach out her kitchen window and touch it. She had to go up to it if she wanted it. She didn’t like to think about that. If she thought about walking into the woods, she imagined pulls at the hems of her pants, ticks jumping onto her and crawling to the warmest, darkest parts of her body, her armpit, under a breast, inside her minor labia. Just the thought made her want to check. She needed to.
There in the kitchen she lifted one breast and ran her fingers under it. No ticks. Then she checked under the other breast. Checked her armpits. Her vulva. Then she washed her hands. And when she looked up, seeing the forest again, she was sure it was looking back at her, aching to touch her as she had touched herself.