I was inspired by this story when I went for a mountain hike and I saw a seagull trapped in the branches of a tree. It flapped its wings like mad and couldn’t escape and I thought it was probably going to die there. Then it got me thinking what would probably be going through my head if I were in such a scenario. I thought I’d probably be doing a lot of reflection about my life thus far.
I know this bears some resemblance to the James Franco movie 127 hours but only in the idea. And no blood is involved here.
He walked through the mountain trail. It was a summer day and the sun shined full potency but the dense foliage kept the trail cool and pleasant. If there was a better way to get absorbed in your own thoughts and mulling then he had yet to discover it. Yep, exactly what the doctor ordered. He breathed in the earthy smell mixed with the herbal, fruity aroma emanating from the trees and he smiled. He strode the inclined path with expert and well-measured tread.
Last Friday night he had fought with the wife again. He had come home late from drinking with his friends after work and when he got home his wife was waiting for him in the dining room.
“Hey honey,” he said. He did not make eye contact with her, but his neck hairs bristled from her gaze. He tried to maintain a straight line walking and he kept a distance from her lest she smell that overripe fruit smell by now too familiar.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“Hanging out with friends.”
“Drinking with friends.”
He paused. “Yes.”
She slapped the table and put her face in her hands. “Goddammit, Frank.” She called him by his first name only when she was angry with him. And she barely swore, sweet woman.
“I thought you promised,” she said.
“Sorries isn’t going to feed six children.”
“I know it.”
She said the usual spiel and he feigned attention and sobriety. That the children could barely eat three meals a day. That the two older boys were already growing up fast and this lack of food wouldn’t do, no sir (ahuh, he said with a nod). That he’d been coming home late at night from work on the weekdays and also on the weekends that he barely spent any time with the kids. That all that money that he was supposed to be earning was just going to his drink.
“It’s a goddamn Friday night,” he said. “Can’t a man enjoy the company of his friends?”
“For once can you not think about yourself?”
“How dare you woman. I’m the one who’s working around here.”
“And what do I say to the children here? When I don’t have anything more to give them and they look up at me with eyes starving? Are you gonna let your kids live like that?”
“Listen. I’m doing my best here.”
“Hah. We barely see you around here Frank. At least. At least try to be a decent father.”
He slapped her. She held her hand to her cheek where a red welt started to form and her mouth was open as though in appalled witness to some creature who had taken on the appearance of her husband had just changed form after waiting for just the moment to expose who he really was underneath. He backed away, palm warm from the impact. That was the first time he had hit her in their eight years of marriage.
That night had he slept on the couch. Another first.
He approached a lake and looked at his own reflection for a few minutes. He took a draught of the cool water with his hands, savoring that subtle sweetness bordering between real and imagined tasted only in water straight from the lake, and after drinking wet the back of his neck to cool it. Further down the lake he saw schools of little fish swimming uniformly with the current of the water like the bustling of tiny men of modernity crossing thoroughfares, going through their motions each in the crowd anonymous and unaware of his end, moved only by some invisible and unnamed inertia shared by all men around him yet recognized by none. He stood up and skipped on some dry rocks that jutted out of the river to cross to the other side. He walked straight into a new portion covered by foliage.
Some months ago in his office he had just had a new officemate and when she entered with the boss to introduce her everyone men and women alike looked up and stared and saw that she was lovely. She had taken the one empty cubicle in the office and it was beside his.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m Rosa.” Her smile was white and pleasant.
“Looks like we’ll be staying together in this office.”
“Is that your family?” She was referring to the frame he kept in his desk and which he had drawn closer to him when she entered the office.
“What good-looking kids. And six of them. It must be very happy.”
“Thanks. It is.”
“And what a pretty wife.”
“Yes she is.”
She bit her lip and looked at him. “Well. Sorry I didn’t get your name?”
“I’m Frank.” He looked up to her and when she saw his expression she smiled a smile as of some experienced hunter who had been through this before. And had finally caught her prey right where she wanted him.
“Well. Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah,” he said. His voice had turned hoarse and weak. “See you around.”
“See you beside.”
“I’m your seatmate.”
“Right.” Both of them had laughed at this.
It started to rain down on him on top of that mountain and it became cold. He cursed and grabbed a plastic bag from his rucksack and placed his cellphone inside and wrapped it and placing it back in the rucksack started to run and then getting tired started to walk. The rain built up into a torrent and slipped through the foliage. He pushed his bag up his back with a bounce and trudged through the trail, which had now turned into a sort of muddy mini lake. He was soaked all the way through and shivered from the cold. The path ahead was covered in a curtain of rain and he could only see about half a foot ahead of him on the trail. He concentrated on putting one foot ahead of the other and then his mind wandered.
About a year ago he had stopped going to mass and his wife had reproached him for it.
“What’s turned wrong in you?” she asked him.
“I just don’t see the point no more is all.”
“Yeah. Goddammit we go and we pray and we’ve been doing it for years and nothing’s been happening.”
“Man of little faith.”
“But that’s precisely it you see. It’s like we use faith for everything as if some sort of substitute for when God shows his absence. Like I prayed and I didn’t get it and oh just have faith. And here I am suffering and there is no end no matter what I pray and oh just have faith. And it’s always that, just have faith. But what is it but some crutch that we use.”
“What’s the point.”
“Honey. How can you say that?” She approached him and put her hands around his and he squeezed them.
“I can’t find the words to answer you now,” she said. “But at least do it to be an example for the kids. Okay?”
The Sunday after that conversation he had been in the church with his family and he decided to walk out in the middle of the mass. Despite the people and the priest staring he walked through the aisle like some enlightened alter-luther who had received the holy ghost or at least self-proclaimed it. His wife and his children looked back at him too but no one followed. That night his wife didn’t talk to him.
“Dad,” his son said.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I believe that it doesn’t make a difference if there was one or none.”
“So you don’t believe in him.”
“I didn’t say that. I said it don’t make a difference if I didn’t. Or did.”
“Because. Because I did used to believe him and he didn’t do anything even after I pray and try to be good. And when he does do something I am told to thank him and when he doesn’t do something I am told to thank him for having a better plan and it seems to me that’s a foolish deal. And now when I stopped from the praying it seems to me that there is no difference. And so.”
“And so does it matter if I believe or not? It feels the same. I try to be a good man in any case. I try to be a good husband to your mother. And a good father to you kids.”
It stopped raining on the mountain. He was soaked and he took off his shirt to wring it and he did the same to his pants. He sat down on a rock and looked inside in his bag and he saw that everything was dry inside. It was a good bag. He took out a sandwich and sat on a rock on the side of the trail that was not covered in foliage and he began to chew. The sun started to shine again. When he looked up to a tree he saw a nest of birds and when he looked down to the grass they were covered with white flowers like well-dressed dainty miniature women. He finished the sandwich and he continued to walk along the trail.
Some weeks before he had hit his wife he was working overtime and he was left alone in the office along with the new officemate. She had also stayed late. The two of them did not talk during those hours. When he had finished his work so did she and she invited him for a drink before the two of them went home. He said yes.
“You always go home late,” she said when they were in the nearby bar beside the office.
“Yeah. I have many mouths to feed.”
She took her glass of whiskey up. “You must be a good father.”
He laughed. The drinks were starting to get to his head. “Do you have any kids yourself?”
“No. I never really settled with anyone yet.”
“Well. There is no rush, take it from me.” They both laughed.
“You don’t like it?”
“It’s had its highs and lows. Lately lows I got to say.”
“Things get tough with the wife?”
“Rather not say.”
They then spoke of trivialities and they laughed together until he looked at the clock on the wall of the bar and it read a quarter before one.
“It’s quite late,” he said. “I think we should get home.”
She laughed. “Still work tomorrow. Huh.”
“Hope this won’t be the last?”
“It won’t.” She raised her glass up again and then the two of them toasted and downed their glasses bottoms-up.
The two of them bid each other a good night and the first time he came home and tried to insert himself in the bed quietly so as not to wake up his wife his wife was still awake and she smelled that he had been drinking. She said nothing the next. It happened weeks more and he told her that he was with his friends at the office even though it was with only one officemate in particular and she, the wife, made him promise that he would stop and he did it. Then it happened one more time that was when he hit her.
While he walked down the trail he saw that there was a cliff that was not there before but the gap looked like he could leap it. When he leapt his foot landed and slipped on what turned out to be a large loose rock and he fell down below and the rock fell on his leg and he was left there trapped. His legged throbbed and he tried to pull himself free pulling himself on the rocky ground with is hands and pushing with his free leg. Like an unfortunate insect held put by the finger of some child a sadist in the making. He went at it for hours but it was all futile.
The sun had started to go down. He looked into his bag and saw that he had a bottle of water left and half of a sandwich. He drank from the water and ate a portion of the sandwich. He looked down at his leg and he couldn’t feel it and he saw that the portion under the rocks was turning purple.
That night he would not sleep. He sucked on pebble in his mouth to keep his mind off the pain and the thirst and the hunger. He listened to the crickets chirp in the otherwise silent night and he heard movement in the plants of the forest but nothing appeared. The stars shone like eyes peeping behind the veil of the night sky in which it hides, unblinking and indifferent yet fully awake, watching him yet conspiring that all of them do nothing.
Before he had stopped going to mass the family entire went every Sunday after the mass to the grocery to buy their supplies for the week. They could not afford to go to the cinemas or to a restaurant like the other families but none of them complained about it. Once in the grocery there was a promo and it was this.
There was a big tank of catfish, seven of them each about one and a half feet in length, and there was a timer for two minutes and a shopper had to try to catch any fish that he could within that allotted time and the fish that he did catch if any was free. It was a clever promo.
His wife joked him that he should try it but he took it seriously. He rolled up his sleeves and when the timer started he went for the fish. It turned out harder than it looked for the fish were slippery and even spiny. It took him one minute to catch the first fish. But in the second minute he was able to catch four. The grocery employee was surprised that he was able to catch almost all of the fish in the tank because most of the shoppers who tried the contest ended up catching no fish and at most someone caught two.
“Never trust a poor hungry man,” he joked to his wife. “With six kids.” And they both laughed and the kids were jumping around him impressed as if their dad were some hero that they saw in movies, Aquaman maybe. That night they grilled three of the fishes on the roof of their apartment building and the fish was full of flavor for it was fresh and it was the best dinner that they had for as long as he could remember. And he and his wife sat beside each other and she was looking at the children and he at her and he saw that she was as beautiful as when they first met and even when they married. He put his fingers in between hers and she leaned her head on his shoulder.
On the mountain just as the sun climbed up the clouds covered it and it started to rain again strong and leg trapped in the rock he had no means to cover himself.
“God,” he cried out into the void. “Are you there you Being? Have you no ears no heart? By whose permission were you allowed to do this?” He shouted something else but it was inaudible and thick in his throat choked back by tears. He sobbed and his tears mixed indistinguishable in the rain.
“I am sorry,” he whispered. “I am sorry.”
There’s a broken cliff here John.
Looks like a big boulder’s fallen.
Oh my God there he is.
Set the ropes. I’ll go down.
It’s him…He’s still breathing. He’s still alive.
Call the chopper now.
Way ahead of you… Hang on tight buddy. It’s coming.