Daryl Scroggins

Held

 

Even as a child she wanted to lie still in places so close to human routines as to be invisible. Places that offered a vaguely alarming anonymity. There the boundaries of her body seemed a matter of her own will, and a half-loss of the world made stone of her. When she was three she wormed behind the sofa and lay silent, even as the police were summoned. In high school, when she went on a school field trip to tour an electronics company, she slipped into landscaping near the main building and slept for two days beneath a boxwood hedge. Closets at parties called to her. Once she got under a mattress at a furniture store so she could hear electric breakers being switched off and the front door locked at closing time.

Her special talents came to the fore when she met the burglar. Hiding in a favorite department store, she watched him move silently through her silence. Careful not to reveal herself, she slipped to the large cloth sack he had begun to stuff, in its place in the center aisle near the sporting goods area. She switched out things he had selected and added others. Maps. A sleeping bag. Folding knives of many blades. And on top of all, directions for meeting at a future time and place.

On a beach he buried her. And into her snorkel he spoke, wondering if she could hear him through her mouth. Later she said she could, but in an odd way. As if she were remembering the taste of things she had been eating when important news arrived.

Scuba gear let them stay buried together, even as the tide came in over them. They calmed themselves so their air would last until the tide went out again, and then they swam up through sand.

Spelunking caught their interest. They drove to a remote area of limestone hills and scouted around until they found what they were looking for. A tube cave. Cool air came out to them from the small opening. A hole scarcely wider than a basketball. They went in facing opposite directions—he, head first, she, foot first, the soles of their shoes touching and tied, pair to pair. She noted the passing of the day by the dot of light that dimmed, until a curve in stone took it away entirely. They ate and drank from what they pushed and pulled. Foot code tapped between them.

He slowed and reported a widening, perhaps the beginning of a chamber. But he stopped abruptly, pushing back on her feet. A scrabble of taps arrived inside pushing motions, until they slowed to one word she could make out. Snakes.

She hummed as she used a small rock hammer’s pick to pull herself forward.  Humming the inch worm song. After a while her progress slowed, and she knew he was swelling.

It was morning light that touched her face when she sloughed her empty pack ahead of her, out of the opening. And she lay still there, taking deep breaths. Feeling the sun’s warmth. She pulled herself fully out then, and cutting the cords binding her feet to his she pulled his body out. His face unrecognizable.

The cave was in a region of low hills covered in red cedar and brush. As she pulled him toward the truck parked below, she came to a cleared field, long abandoned to weeds. At one side of the field a tall mound of broken trunks and limbs rose. Something about the pile of debris lured her. The wood was dry but beads of pitch oozed from it in places, and in one place the pile curved around. An alcove there. Shadows.

The bier of logs she made, within the pile, was large enough for both of them. When the flames rose, she realized it was the other she must have always wanted. The expansion. Particulate and shimmering against a boundless blue.

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Daryl Scroggins lives in Marfa, Texas. He has taught creative writing and literature at The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of North Texas, and the Writer’s Garret, in Dallas. He is the author of Winter Investments, a collection of stories (Trilobite Press), and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash novel (Ravenna Press). His flash fictions and poems have recently appeared in Blink-Ink, Blue Lake Review, Borderlands, Cutbank, The Coil, Dime Show Review, Microfiction Monday, New Flash Fiction Review, Sky Island Journal, Star 82 Review, Third Wednesday, and Unbroken Journal.