Knots, Cracks, Trees, Hills

by Patri­cia Russo
(USA)

We climb up the hill, and then we climb down the oth­er side. Watch out for the cracks.

She keeps her small rec­tan­gle of pave­ment, three meters down from the cor­ner of Dewey Street and Fourth, between the pole bear­ing the bright red No Park­ing sign and the licensed vender sell­ing fruit from a board laid over a cou­ple of over­turned trash bins, spot­less. She sweeps up dirt and torn lot­tery tick­ets and cig­a­rette butts with a scrap of fold­ed card­board and deposits the debris in the gut­ter. And may the gods help any­one who toss­es a crum­pled wrap­per or spits a wad of gum into her area. The fruit ven­dor says he has nev­er seen her smile. She squats on her rec­tan­gle of pave­ment and makes her chains. Because she can bend met­al with her fin­gers, tourists often stop to take pic­tures and ask ques­tions. She is more than will­ing to pose with her cre­ations, and she tells the old sto­ries suc­cinct­ly, and with pas­sion. If a tourist wish­es to give her some­thing for her time, a gra­tu­ity in appre­ci­a­tion for her tales, she accepts polite­ly, but she will not sell her chains to vis­i­tors. They are for the peo­ple of the city, she says, when the peo­ple of the city final­ly come to their senses.

“You don’t imag­ine we real­ly believe those stories,” Brul­ly says. He is a lit­tle drunk. They have been enter­tain­ing col­leagues from out of town, and he has thrown him­self into the task with great vig­or: sight­see­ing, shop­ping, music, din­ner, bars. Rasa mut­tered to him sev­er­al times, “We don’t have to do every­thing in one day,” but Brul­ly ignored her. He’s trav­eled more than her, gone to busi­ness meet­ings over­seas, even attend­ed a trade con­fer­ence as far away as Resen­na, once. He’s been on the receiv­ing end of hos­pi­tal­i­ty, and now he’s going to do more than respond in kind; he is going to slay these vis­i­tors with boun­teous­ness. Brul­ly is cheer­ful, grin­ning, laugh­ing; he has marched his guests up and down a hun­dred hills. Rasa gave up try­ing to rein him in hours ago. The day must end some­time; they are on their fourth bar of the night. Of the three for­eign col­leagues, two of them look wrung out; they’ve slipped their shoes off, and can bare­ly man­age to sit up straight. Brul­ly is hold­ing forth to the third out-of-town­er, an old­er woman with a streak of white hair. Brul­ly intro­duced them all to Rasa at the start of the day, but their names have seeped out of her mind. She thinks of them as the old­er woman, the man with the bul­gy eyes (she sus­pects a med­ical con­di­tion), and the fel­low (the youngest of the three) with the nice smile. She also thinks that the old­er woman is aware of the hos­til­i­ty behind Brully’s insis­tence that they must go here, must stop there, mustn’t miss this activ­i­ty, could not pos­si­bly pass up this sight, must, must, cer­tain­ly must taste this, sip that, sit here, stand there, go up that hill, go down this oth­er. Brul­ly him­self may not be com­plete­ly aware of the anger whip­ping him to whip them on; self-analy­sis is not one of his strengths. The fel­low with the nice smile begins to slump side­ways, and the man with the bul­gy eyes keeps look­ing at the time­piece over the door with a long­ing expres­sion. This is tor­ture masked as gen­eros­i­ty. But the old­er woman is enjoy­ing it; she has been goad­ing Brul­ly for some time. When did they start talk­ing about the trees? A cou­ple of drinks ago, at least. That morn­ing Brul­ly had tak­en them all to the muse­um park, of course. Nobody vis­its the city with­out see­ing the muse­um park. The man with the bul­gy eyes had posed for a pic­ture with his arms around a chained-up tree (the chains repli­cas, of course, alleged­ly accu­rate his­tor­i­cal recre­ations), hug­ging it while putting on an expres­sion of ter­ror; the fel­low with the nice smile bought a sou­venir minia­ture tree (not a live tree; those are pos­si­ble to get, but not at the muse­um shop, which sells only offi­cial­ly-approved mer­chan­dise) draped with sou­venir minia­ture repli­ca chains (it is not pos­si­ble to acquire real chains, minia­ture or oth­er­wise; the only ones that still exist are on dis­play inside the muse­um building—separate entry fee required—or are owned by the Uni­ver­si­ty, which does not put them on exhib­it. Every­body knows there are real chains in a few pri­vate col­lec­tions, but nobody talks about that.) Rasa not­ed at the time that the old­er woman did not pet any of the bound trees, did not pose for a pho­to, did not pur­chase any sou­venirs. Rasa her­self bought a post card; she had liked the image, a close-up of an intri­cate­ly con­struct­ed bind­ing, a knot around anoth­er knot around anoth­er knot, like three hands, fin­gers spread and hooked, over­ly­ing each oth­er, the met­al not iron, but cop­per, green with age. She has the post card with her now, in her bag. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do with it. Nobody sends post cards any­more. Pos­si­bly she’ll stick it up in a cor­ner of her work­sta­tion. She thinks of her grand­fa­ther, who nev­er walked under a tree in his life. She remem­bers how appalled he was when her par­ents allowed her to go camp­ing. When the old­er woman start­ed talk­ing about trees, and the old tra­di­tions (she did say tra­di­tions, and not super­sti­tions, but her tone of voice was sub­tly, yet clear­ly, mock­ing), and how some of the trees, the ordi­nary city trees on ordi­nary city blocks, had bits of string or wire fas­tened around them, Rasa want­ed to say, Yes, well, you know, it’s like light­ing a can­dle on the longest night of the year; and, To tell the truth, some old peo­ple, but Brul­ly pre­empt­ed her. He launched into a lec­ture about the myths of the six-sided world, and how walk­ing trees were con­nect­ed with the sto­ries that cen­tered around two sis­ters, the ones that began, “When the world was full of people,” and always end­ed up with that world being destroyed and a new one estab­lished. The old­er woman smiled as she lis­tened. “I know those tales,” she said. “The two sis­ters fought. One pushed the oth­er into a pit, and it took her a hun­dred days to climb out of it. I for­get now, the one that was pushed in was the one who chained the trees, yes?”—“Yes,” Brul­ly said. “But you see—” They went on like that, and they went on like that. “So your trees nev­er walked,” the old­er woman says.—“No, of course not.” “They nev­er tore peo­ple apart, ate their entrails, cracked their bones to suck the mar­row, stole chil­dren and swal­lowed them whole—” Brul­ly inter­rupts, “If they did, they did it the same time the gods of your city pissed to make the riv­er and crapped to form the mountains.” The old­er woman laughs. The oth­er two guests stir slight­ly, but say noth­ing. Rasa feels sor­ry for the two men, and opens her mouth to sug­gest that it real­ly is time to take the group back to their hotel, but the old­er woman says, “So many lengths of col­ored string, so many loops of wire, so many knots.” There aren’t that many, Rasa thinks. Sure­ly not. The old­er woman is exag­ger­at­ing to pro­voke Brul­ly: tor­ment us all you like with your shop­ping dis­tricts and your unique instru­men­tal music per­formed on your unique instru­ments, your spe­cial dish­es and your array of tra­di­tion­al and mod­ern drinks, you’re still a back­wa­ter city of incon­se­quen­tial peo­ple who hide under the bed when there’s a thun­der­storm. Or per­haps, Rasa thinks (she is not drunk, only quite tired, and long past fed up with Brully’s non­sense, which makes it dif­fi­cult to pin her thoughts togeth­er), the old­er woman is not exag­ger­at­ing that much; it could be that Rasa is so used to the strings and cords and loops around the city trees that she no longer sees them. Brul­ly slams down his glass. “You don’t imag­ine we real­ly believe those stories,” he says. “The muse­um, the tours of the bit of the old for­est the author­i­ties have pre­served, the day-and-night long sto­ry­telling ses­sion on the last day of the year, the doom-call­ing preach­ers in the city square? None of us take any of that shit seri­ous­ly. We only do it to fuck with the tourists.”

The fruit-sell­er tells his chil­dren, “There are peo­ple you have to say hel­lo to, even if you don’t feel like it.” He wants them to grow up to be kind peo­ple. For his part, he greets his cus­tomers with unfail­ing cor­dial­i­ty, even the pain-in-the-testes ones that argue over every blem­ish, real or imag­i­nary, on the pro­duce they buy, push­ing for mark­downs; he is respect­ful to his neigh­bors, always exchang­ing pleas­antries when leav­ing or return­ing to the street of small, two-sto­ry hous­es where he has lived for the past four­teen years. The mak­er of chains is a neigh­bor, as well. Of a sort. She is not talk­a­tive; weeks can pass with­out her utter­ing a word. Not real words, not words of con­ver­sa­tion, the sort that peo­ple use to con­nect with each oth­er, to share parts of them­selves. The old tales, those she will tell, to any city dweller or any vis­i­tor, who asks, or even just stops to look on with curios­i­ty as she bends and twists and braids her lengths of met­al, thick met­al, old met­al, rust­ed met­al, bright met­al: all of it scrap, all of it gath­ered from work­sites and trash dumps and the inte­ri­ors of aban­doned build­ings, unless the fruit ven­dor miss­es his guess. She is usu­al­ly already on her rec­tan­gle of pave­ment when he arrives to set up his stand, has already swept it, is already crouched over her met­al, head down, work­ing away. What she does with the chains she makes, the fruit ven­dor does not know. In a week, she can con­struct a dozen. She does not sell them, not to tourists, not to any­body. He has heard her say, “They are for the peo­ple of the city,” but he has seen her turn away peo­ple of the city who asked the price of this one or that one. He remem­bers, though, that in the old days, in the old ways, one tree would be bound by ten or a dozen chains. Ten or a dozen at least. Per­haps she is wait­ing for a cus­tomer will­ing to buy in bulk. There’s no telling what thoughts swirl in the minds of the mad. Then again, the fruit ven­dor is not cer­tain the woman who makes chains is mad. She dress­es neat­ly, though her cloth­ing is old, and old-fash­ioned; she keeps her­self as well as her ter­ri­to­ry clean. She does not speak much, but then some peo­ple pre­fer silence. Her chains are good work, metic­u­lous­ly craft­ed. They look stur­dy, and many of them, the ones made of dif­fer­ent­ly col­ored, dif­fer­ent­ly tex­tured, met­als, are even beau­ti­ful, if the light hits them just right. He won­ders if she knows how to fash­ion the knots they used in the old days, in the old ways. He wants to ask her, but is afraid she will mere­ly stare through him, the way she does when a city offi­cial comes to roust her. She is not licensed, but then, as the fruit ven­dor has point­ed out on her behalf more than once, she does not sell any­thing. Nei­ther, tech­ni­cal­ly, does she beg. If the tourists who take pic­tures, or who lis­ten to her sto­ries, offer a coin or two, she accepts. The fruit ven­dor does not con­sid­er this a vio­la­tion of city ordi­nances. Still, she has been hauled away sev­er­al times, her com­plet­ed chains and her sort­ed piles (sort­ed by some sys­tem he does not fath­om, but sort­ed nonethe­less) of scrap met­al left behind like trash. Each time, the fruit ven­dor gath­ers up what he can (some of the bits are always kicked into the street in the strug­gle, for the woman nev­er goes qui­et­ly, and crushed under the wheels of vehi­cles, or scat­tered where the fruit ven­dor can­not find them) and puts it all in a car­ton. The way the woman fights makes him think she must be impaired in the mind, for she kicks and strikes wild­ly with her fists, and bites; the chains, the fin­ished ones he touch­es (and drops into the car­ton very quick­ly) make him believe she must be some­thing more than mad, some­thing greater, for the chains tin­gle with pow­er, the way the chains that bound the trees in the old days, in the old ways, are said to have done. He can feel the vibra­tions in his fin­ger­bones for hours after­ward. This does not hap­pen with the odds and ends of scrap met­al she has not yet select­ed for use in the fash­ion­ing of a chain, so the pow­er must come from her, from her hands, from her mind. She puts it into the chains. When she is tak­en away, the fruit ven­dor always fears that she will not return, and what will he do with the chains and the met­al he has res­cued then? It’s bad enough keep­ing things like that in a stor­age shed for a few days, or a few weeks. He dreads the prospect of hav­ing to safe­guard such objects for the rest of his life. But so far, she has always returned. A few days, a few weeks. He comes to set up his stall on Dewey Street, and she is there, with more met­al, already work­ing, head down, frown­ing in con­cen­tra­tion. He brings her the car­ton, and she glances at him, and nods. It is the same type of glance and nod she gives him when he brings her fruit, fine pieces, fine enough pieces, but too ripe, or too bruised, to be kept to be sold the next day. Though they do not speak to each oth­er, not true con­ver­sa­tion, the fruit ven­dor con­sid­ers the two of them to be friends. And so, when he sees her, not on her rec­tan­gle of pave­ment between the pole bear­ing the bright red No Park­ing sign and his own patch a few meters west, but on the main north­ern avenue of the city, ear­ly one morn­ing on a day on which no street vend­ing is to be done, for there is a cel­e­bra­tion or com­mem­o­ra­tion, he can’t remem­ber which and doesn’t care, and every­body is expect­ed to make obei­sance at the munic­i­pal shrines and then go home and lis­ten to the same inter­minable con­cert of the same inter­minable music that is played on every media chan­nel every year on this date, and eat pas­tries and play the tra­di­tion­al games of chance, but only with­in kin groups, the fruit ven­dor stops. The woman who makes chains is stand­ing in front of a tree. The tree is an com­mon­place city tree, one of sev­er­al on the block, plant­ed to pro­vide shade. The fruit ven­dor notices that some­one, or sev­er­al some­ones, have tied strings of dif­fer­ent col­ors around its trunk. The chain-mak­er is star­ing at the tree. The fruit ven­dor con­sid­ers walk­ing on, for she has not seen him, or acts as if she hasn’t. But they are friends. He gives her fruit; he res­cues her work when the author­i­ties drag her off. When she tells her tales to the tourists, he lis­tens, as well. You say hel­lo to your friends, if you have any man­ners at all. “Hello,” the fruit ven­dor says. The woman doesn’t turn around. “They walk,” she says.—“Still?” he asks. And she replies, “Yes. It’s hard to tell from the back, though.” The fruit ven­dor has no answer to this.

There is a crack across the face of the six-sided world. The crack is a recur­ring motif in one of the long, sto­ry-inside-a-sto­ry-inside-a-sto­ry epics that used to be recit­ed when peo­ple didn’t have any bet­ter enter­tain­ment. Rasa’s grand­fa­ther knew a lit­tle of it, but he was not a good sto­ry­teller. Not that it mat­tered, or mat­ters; all of it is in books, and has been for ages. Any­body who wants to can read all the myths and leg­ends and tale cycles and songs and every­thing else. Adapt­ed, expur­gat­ed excerpts used to be forced on stu­dents in pri­ma­ry school; Rasa won­ders if they still are. She asks Brul­ly, who just grunts. He has been surly for days. The three out-of-town col­leagues are long gone, but the mem­o­ry of them remains. Rasa has found her­self wish­ing Brul­ly had drunk more that night; if he had, he might remem­ber less of it now. He beat the young fel­low with the nice smile and the man of mid­dle years with the bul­gy eyes, ground them into exhaus­tion and cul­tur­al appre­ci­a­tion; the young fel­low even said he hoped to return soon, on his hol­i­days. The old­er woman, how­ev­er, emerged not only unscathed, but qui­et­ly, con­de­scend­ing­ly, vic­to­ri­ous. Her smile as they saw her off at the train sta­tion lingers in Rasa’s mind; she knows it fes­ters in Brully’s. It’s his own fault; he was the one who ini­ti­at­ed hos­til­i­ties. Rasa doesn’t blame the old­er woman for fight­ing back. And what does it mat­ter, real­ly, if the old­er woman thinks the city an insignif­i­cant place, its his­to­ry irrel­e­vant, its cus­toms humor­ous? (Its peo­ple noth­ings.) Let her, and let it go. Brul­ly doesn’t; he won’t. And Rasa is get­ting tired of it. She nee­dles him: “There is a crack across the face of the six-sided world.” He frowns, shakes his head. “What?” She says, “The fire­tenders try to mend it, but it always gapes open again.”—“Was a crack,” he says, after a moment. “The six-sided world is gone.” She smiles. “Is a crack. That comes from the north­ern braid of the tales. The two sis­ters aren’t in that one. In that braid, the six-sided world nev­er end­ed. We’re liv­ing in it now.” After anoth­er moment, he says, “Oh. Yes. That’s the one with the hills.”

We go up the hill, and then we go down the oth­er side. Again and again. Look out, there are cracks.

The fruit ven­dor watch­es the woman who makes chains. His reg­u­lar cus­tomers are peo­ple who work in the offices and shops between the cen­tral sta­tion and the street­car line four long city blocks to the west. Most­ly, he serves them auto­mat­i­cal­ly. So many buy the same thing day after day. He smiles, he takes their mon­ey, he hands over their pur­chas­es. There is the late-for-work crowd in the morn­ing, snatch­ing a bit of break­fast; there is the lunch throng, the ones who have made a vow to eat health­i­er; there is the final­ly-fin­ished-for-the-day cohort, grab­bing some­thing to tide them over until they get home. The mem­bers of all these groups, in gen­er­al, know what they want. Many of them just hand over the mon­ey and point. Some of them do not even both­er to point, assum­ing that he will remem­ber their pref­er­ences. He does. He smiles, he thanks them, he wish­es them a fine day, or after­noon, or evening. His hands move mechan­i­cal­ly; his smile and his words are long-engrained rou­tines. It is not dif­fi­cult to divide his atten­tion between his busi­ness and the woman squat­ting on the pave­ment a few meters away. And then there are the slow stretch­es, when he’s lucky if four or five cus­tomers stop by per hour. Between cus­tomers, he can lean on the board laid over the over­turned trash bins, rear­rang­ing his stock, replen­ish­ing it some­times from the not-quite-yet ripe fruit he car­ries with him in his mini­van. He does not stare at her; he knows bet­ter than to do that. But it seems to him that she has grown gaunt over the past few weeks. Her clothes hang loose, and the bones of her face are sharp­er than they should be. She is con­sum­ing her­self, he thinks. He wor­ries. The pow­er she puts into the chains comes from her, her own blood, her own heart. He begins to bring her fruit twice a day. And she smiles at him, instead of sim­ply nod­ding. This is new, and it fright­ens him. She has nev­er smiled before. Why does she smile now? He notices that the chains she con­structs are grow­ing longer, the links more com­pli­cat­ed. He has seen her exper­i­ment­ing with knots, though she always undoes them after scru­ti­niz­ing the work. And she has tak­en to stroking the fin­ished chains, as one might stroke a del­i­cate carv­ing, or the face of a child. She has found a cus­tomer, he thinks, or a patron. He is sor­ry when she undoes the knots she makes, because they are beau­ti­ful, as arrest­ing and intrigu­ing as any found in the glossy-paged books sold in the shop of the muse­um park.

“Fruit,” Rasa says, nudg­ing Brully’s elbow. “Come on, I haven’t eat­en any­thing since break­fast. Look, he’s got nuts, too, and diced sweet-root.” This is a part of the city she does not know well. She works across town. Brul­ly used to live in this neigh­bor­hood, though not on this street. A cou­ple of blocks south, he says, before the old com­mu­nal build­ings were torn down to make way for pri­vate flats. She has set aside her work today to walk with him, to endure his sullen silences and his sud­den out­bursts, to see if exer­cise and com­pa­ny will force a crack in his mood. The fruit ven­dor smiles when they stop, but he is not one of those pushy sorts. He waits patient­ly as Rasa peers at this pile of pomes, that heap of yel­low-rind­ed, fist-sized mel­ons, the clear, lid­ded con­tain­ers of raw nuts and roast­ed nuts, the clear, sealed bags of diced sweet-root. It takes her sev­er­al moments to real­ize that Brul­ly is not stand­ing beside her. It is the vendor’s gaze that alerts her; he is look­ing toward the cor­ner. Rasa turns. Brul­ly has gone to stand before a woman with wares laid out on the pave­ment (against city reg­u­la­tions); Rasa does not see what man­ner of goods they are until she, with an apolo­getic glance at the fruit vender, hur­ries to join Brully.

Because these two are strangers to him, the fruit ven­dor feels ner­vous. The chain-mak­er can take care of her­self; she has done so for years. But the male of the cou­ple wears a dark expres­sion. The fruit ven­dor knows that they are peo­ple of the city, not tourists. Still, he calls out, “She will not sell to you.” And, “Friends, do not both­er her. She is working.”

“Working,” Brul­ly mut­ters. The woman looks up at him. Her hands keep busy, bend­ing met­al. He glances at the fin­ished chains coiled on the pave­ment to the woman’s left; he turns his head and marks the piles of scrap met­al, each sep­a­rat­ed from the next by a few cen­time­ters, all arranged so that the woman, who is squat­ting, can reach for a piece with­out hav­ing to shift her posi­tion. The woman is smil­ing. She is, in fact, grin­ning. Mad, he thinks. Mad, mad, embar­rass­ing­ly mad. He is struck by the impulse to kick out, destroy her neat piles of worth­less met­al, oblit­er­ate that grin. Rasa catch­es his arm. He could still kick, still lash out, push Rasa away and demol­ish this dis­play of super­sti­tious non­sense. He will do it; he feels the red tide ris­ing. Then sud­den­ly the fruit ven­dor is there, grab­bing his oth­er arm; the ven­dor and Rasa haul him back. The woman squat­ting on the pave­ment nev­er stops grin­ning. “Leave her alone,” Rasa says. “She is happy.” And that angers him even more. “Why is she hap­py? She shouldn’t be hap­py! She should—” He stops him­self before he says, be locked away, got­ten out of sight, have some sense slapped into her. The fruit vendor’s fin­gers are dig­ging into his biceps. Rasa lets out an exas­per­at­ed sigh. “She is hap­py because she loves what she is making,” she says. “Now stop being an idiot.” Brul­ly snaps, “It’s peo­ple like this who hold us back,” and Rasa swivels and smacks him on the fore­head. He is stunned; she has nev­er done such a thing before. She says, “It’s peo­ple like this that might save us some day,” and he doesn’t know what she means. He has no idea at all. She rec­og­nizes this; he sees the change in her eyes. “She does no harm,” Rasa says, and Brul­ly wants to protest, to point out all the thou­sand ways in which Rasa is wrong, but the fruit ven­dor is hurt­ing him, his clamp­ing hand much more painful than Rasa’s whack. The woman bend­ing met­al with her fin­gers is still smil­ing wide­ly. Brul­ly clos­es his eyes so as not to meet hers. Rasa and fruit ven­dor pull him toward the cor­ner of Dewey and Fourth, past the bright red No Park­ing sign. “All right, all right,” he says.—“I want to get some­thing to eat,” Rasa tells him, firm­ly, and again he says, “All right.” Though noth­ing is all right. He will dream of this chain-mak­er for weeks, just as he has been dream­ing of the old­er woman with the streak of white hair and the scorn that coat­ed every word from her tongue. The fruit ven­dor lets him go, but Rasa does not, until they have crossed the street.

She loves the things that she makes. The female of the cou­ple was right. That is what has changed; that is what is new. For years she has worked grim­ly; now she works with joy. What caused this he doesn’t know, and also knows that he nev­er will. The fruit ven­dor glances at his stall. No cus­tomers wait­ing. He goes to the chain-mak­er, and kneels, so that they are face to face. “How many chains to bind a tree,” he asks. “A tree that has gone savage.” The woman replies, “Ten, or twelve. Fif­teen, some­times. It depends on the size of the tree, and also its viciousness.”—“In that case, I would like to buy fif­teen chains from you,” he says. The woman looks up at him, and there is starlight in her dark eyes. “They have to be knot­ted cor­rect­ly to bind such a tree. Each tree is dif­fer­ent, and there are a thou­sand dif­fer­ent knots.”—“Can you teach me?” the fruit vender asks, and the woman answers, “Yes. But only if you promise to teach three oth­ers the knots that I teach you.”—“I promise,” the fruit ven­dor says, though he has no idea which three peo­ple he can per­suade to fol­low him up this hill. Per­haps he will find them along the way; per­haps they will find him. “I will bring you your chains tomorrow,” she says, and he thanks her very for­mal­ly. “And the price?” he asks.—“You have already paid it,” she says.

“We go up the hill, and then we go down the oth­er side. Watch out for the cracks.” The woman who makes chains sings soft­ly to her­self. The fruit ven­dor knows these words, but not the tune. The crack was nev­er mend­ed, he thinks. Old songs of the old days and the old ways. He has nev­er been afraid of trees; most of the stock he car­ries is born, and borne, on trees. He will take the chains, fif­teen chains, and keep them inside his home and not in a stor­age shed, and he will learn knot-tying, not out of fear, or a con­ver­sion to the belief that the six-sided world nev­er end­ed and they are liv­ing in it still, but out of admi­ra­tion. He must tell her that, he thinks. It would not be fair oth­er­wise. But the words come dif­fer­ent­ly than he intends. “I love the things that you are making,” he says. And the woman smiles, and begins to sing his words to the melody of the song of the hills and the cracked face of the world.

Blocks away, Rasa hums. Brul­ly takes long strides, not paus­ing to look for a good place to stop to eat. She does not press the issue, because she feels guilty for strik­ing him, even though it was to pre­vent him from attack­ing the woman, or attack­ing her work, which amounts to the same thing. “Stop that noise,” he says, but she doesn’t. She likes the tune, and it popped into her head, and she will hum it if she wants to.

“The trees nev­er walked.” They are climb­ing up a hill. The city is full of hills.

“Perhaps not.” A bit of guilt she may feel, but not enough to let Brul­ly launch into a rant unchal­lenged, unan­swered. No more of that, she thinks.

“The six-sided world is myth.”

“Perhaps.”

“Think of the exam­ple she’s set­ting! For fools, for chil­dren, for the ignorant!”

“Yes, a very fine exam­ple. To love what one makes is a won­der­ful thing.”

“She is wast­ing her time. Wast­ing her­self. Trees don’t walk. They didn’t, they can’t, they won’t!”

They have reached the top of the hill. This hill. There are many, many oth­ers. She takes his hand. Though he will not look at her, he does not pull away. He is shak­ing, a lit­tle. “Perhaps they will no longer need to,” she says, and leads him down the hill toward a café she has spot­ted. The pave­ment here is old, and has many cracks, but they do not both­er her. Rasa knows a metaphor when she hears one.


Patri­cia Rus­so had her first pro­fes­sion­al short sto­ry, “True Love”, pub­lished in 1987 in the anthol­o­gy Women of Dark­ness: Orig­i­nal Hor­ror and Dark Fan­ta­sy by Con­tem­po­rary Women Writ­ers. Since then her work has appeared in Lone Star Sto­ries, Elec­tric Veloci­pede, Abyss and Apex, Tale­bones, Tales of the Unan­tic­i­pat­ed, Not One of Us, in the antholo­gies Corpse Blos­soms and Zen­core, and in many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Her first short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Shiny Thing, was released in 2011. Read more at www.shiny-thing.com.


2 Responses to "Knots, Cracks, Trees, Hills"

  • This is so excellent–a great explo­ration of peo­ple’s rela­tion­ship to their past cul­ture, and the **real­i­ties** of it. And, great char­ac­ter por­traits. Won­der­ful story.

    1 Asakiyume said this (June 27, 2012 at 10:44 pm)


  • Anoth­er fine exam­ple of Rus­so’s work, of which I am a big fan. One could stretch a point here and see this entire sto­ry as a metaphor for the cre­ative process, espe­cial­ly when it comes to “The Weird.” But I have nev­er know Rus­so to be so eas­i­ly parsed. The vil­lage could have come straight from the mind of Lig­ot­ti; the sto­ry could only have come from Rus­so. More!

    2 Tim Emswiler said this (June 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm)