by Emily Capettini
Before, they had been a place for work: measuring footprints, looking for scraps of fabric or hairs torn away by branches, searching a wolf’s lair. Before, they had been a place to find something concrete, illuminate a truth like a light bulb flickering to life.
Her friends take her camping, worry over being chased by bears, joke that she could tell them facts about the plants and animals they see—Flora and fauna, they correct themselves. Ursus Americanus.
Velma smiles. She knows that true monsters never wear their own faces. That facts linger close to the surface, but they are only part of a truth.
Velma looks for something besides the Latin name of plants, the reason for the shape of a cliff face. She looks at the flowers or trees or the slow bow of a mountain trail. At the feathered phacelia, the yellow trillium lingering just above the grass and last fall’s leaves. The bloodroot and cancer-root, names that make her remember rooms thick with mothball and sprawls of white sheets. But the air here smells like the grey morning she left town, street lamps guttering as she passed.
Velma picks phlox and trillium petals, columbine and azaleas as they walk. Her friends wait for her, ask if she’s making a book.
You mean a herbarium, like Emily Dickinson, she nearly says, but holds her tongue between her teeth, shoves her hands in her jean pockets. Lets the ghost of her old self evaporate.
Velma pauses in front of a mountain laurel, the cupped flowers striped like a miniskirt.
“Those are my favorite, too,” says one of her friends.
“They remind me of someone,” Velma replies as she turns away.
She hitches her pack and digs her heel into dirt she knows won’t crumble beneath her.