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She swerves off the road, gunning the engine. Rear-view mirror a spray of pebbles and loose earth. Wheels spin and gears complain as she screeches up the hill towards the trees. She grinds to a halt, wrenches open the door open. It swings like a broken arm.
Steep slog upwards. From the road, the dividing line between forest and not-forest looked clear. Now she’s leaving one and entering the other, it’s far less obvious. She concentrates on walking: right foot lift and swing; heel down and push. Left foot lift and swing. Repeat. Repeat. There was a time she climbed hills without thinking.
Finally, she can’t see the way back. Around her ankles, saplings tug the hem of her skirt with small sharp fingers. Leaves rustle with a comforting shush. Her heartbeat slows. She will not remember the mess, the way some things can’t be repaired; the way promises and people can be broken so easily.
A river of fallen pine needles slides her forwards. She falls into step with the broken rhythm of dripping, a code tapped out by water. All she need do is follow its encouragement. The forest exhales, breath swaying the branches. A slow and gracious beckoning.
Who better to trust than trees, who watch us flare, gutter and wink out in the time it takes to grow a branch. She’s done with the effort of being human: its shrill insistence on superiority, the universe a toy created for amusement and exploitation. Holding out an arm, she waits.
From wrist to elbow, each faint hair pricks upright. Scent of warm resin. Skin crackles, stiffens into bark; fingers unfold twigs. Toes pierce the soil and dig into earth’s wet heart. Roots twine up her calves and hold her steady. Bruises unpeel, shed yellow leaves. Breath quits her lungs, the splinters of her heart unpluck and scatter. Hair swirls, feathering upwards as heat she no longer needs ripples from her flesh. The forest gathers her into its arms.
This is not diminishing. This is not surrender. It is a shift of perspective. Not one particle of her being has been lost, simply reconfigured. She is far from the body’s frantic complication of blood, bone, certainty; the imperative of belonging. There is a split in the sky, growing wider. She soars towards it, fluttering in the space between the trees.