Cheryl is a retaining wall. Gets cold these mornings, in her own shadow until afternoon. And no sweaters or blankets ample enough for a quarter-acre of river slate. Along her bottom, grass in tufts and clutches; holds its dew, brushes silver her lowest tiers. And this is only cold, more cold.
Cheryl contemplates utter cessation, Absolute Zero. There but for, she tells herself. At least my stones’ atoms are dynamic. An inward attempt to further bestir: to cultivate kinetic energy is to cultivate heat. This daily disregard for Rule Number Two, energy’s stubborn non-cultivability.
But, really, what else to do?
There is, of course, the matter of her primary function: retention. No small feat to prop a wooded hillside against gravity. And no small responsibility; that ranch below would stand no chance against the roll, the slide of land. At first, incursions of earth between her constituent parts—she being self-reliantly mortarless. In the first rains, some of the forest’s loam oozed minutely through, she must admit. But Steadfastness and Heart are a wall’s prerequisites. She shrugged and adjusted, settled into her self.
Seasons of impermeability now under her belt. It’s true, some of her elements have slid out of place, toppled into the grass. These send variously jeerings and pleas; some say escape, others ouster. Of some of them she thinks, Good riddance to bad, jostles her better parts down to better snugness. Others leave an unmanageable gap. These she leans toward, reaches for, longs to tuck back into herself. (If there is one thing a wall can do, she thinks, it is long.) But, truth be told, it is out of her hands; she is plates of slate and they are plates of slate.
Aside from the soil pressed against and held, there is one other relation, this one stone-to-stone: a run of stairs out from her shoulder. These too are settled and firm, their edges uncut but rounding now, from footfalls and rain. With morning still a long chill ahead, their canted stretch is Cheryl’s sad vicariousness: the bottom two edge into sun. For Cheryl, a twinge of phantom warmth, almost almost there.
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