From what I understand from the giant’s stilted, sketched account, this is the way it happened: On a late spring day, when we were warm down in the valley but there was still snow up in the mountains, she and her mother went out collecting mountain goats. It’s true that mountain goats are winter-skinny and poor eating that time of year, but it’s the time of year when creatures living on the edge of mountains can’t afford to be fussy about what they eat.
late spring we’re still snow and collecting time to be
She didn’t tell me, but I imagine, that for so long it had been just her and her mother that they didn’t really need to talk to get on with what they were doing. They knew where to go, what to do, who would do what. Maybe they’d been doing it for so long that they forgot to be careful. Maybe it was something that would have happened no matter how careful they were. Maybe her mother was deliberately not careful, because she was tired, because she was sad, because she was cold. Crouching close to the edge of a cliff, reaching her inconceivable arm down to a rocky ledge to scoop up a prized ram, she lost her balance—so the giant, the last giant, speculated. She saw it only from a distance, from her own cliff edge that she was negotiating with a heavy bag of goat, but she still heard it, whenever she heard anything like it—a cry, a crash—or simply when she closed her eyes, or sometimes when she stopped to think about anything. It was the sound, she explained to me, of Alone. It took me a while to figure out that this phrase was not ragged grammar but a simple fact.
so long cold negotiating with alone
At the very edge of summer the melodramatic clouds are gathering, the ones that are harbingers of something in a particularly sappy opera. The day takes on a shade of dark usually reserved for night. Everyone begins to move in slow motion. We feel like characters in something, start trying to remember our lines. How does this go again? Something is about to happen; what is it?
all the hard words
over there, where a jagged black line of mountains defines the horizon, someone sees the first bolt of electricity leap casually, athletically, across the sky. we begin to murmur, counting under our breaths, counting our breaths, until the crash. then there’s no point in saying anything. all we can do is listen.
rosebud this isn’t my first attempt
You know how when you’re surrounded by noise, you start hearing things? Was that a crash of thunder, an incessant rapping of rain on the roof, a torrent of water pouring down the street, or was it a booming voice, massive thudding footsteps, the sound of uncontrollable, unimaginably loud weeping? Are there giants in the mountains, giants in mourning? We might never know; all we can do is consider the probabilities. Nature or a myth? We tell one story to the children and another to ourselves.
the way the world ends in a blade of grass
All day she sits on a hill watching animals that are clearly not animals but she doesn’t know what else to call them or what she should call herself now because clearly she is not the only person left and clearly the other people are nothing like her and have thrown their hearts and souls into building extremely fast things that go back and forth all day, just back and forth, very fast, she can’t imagine what they’re thinking or doing but she needs to go find out because if she’s alone for too much longer she won’t be anything at all.
all night the owl can’t remember my name
how many times had he driven over the mountains, listening to mountain music—I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry—and naming names. his train of thought was so predictable that by now he associated certain peaks with certain episodes of betrayal.
only a swallow—
later you’ll ask
what’s that bird?
there was a rest stop that was a convenient place to exercise his legs and move away from his thoughts; halfway up or down a mountain; a scenic overlook but not so scenic it would make you weep. he pulled the truck in and got out, scrambling up the mountain path as if it were the only way out of a sticky situation.
just this once we all fall up instead of down
…she slid like an avalanche down the rocky slope. she saw that she was almost as tall as the truck and probably almost as long, if she were to lie down in it, which she thought she would do, just to do something dangerous and get away from this place. the big doors wrenched open easily and she made room for herself among the big boxes. if she were asked to describe the smell, she would have said: clean but dead.
turn the record over and start snowing
…after smoking three cigarettes and imagining three different ways a certain conversation could have gone instead of the way it actually did go, he climbed back down and turned on a comforting radio show with a host who was even angrier than he was.
in the end times the static will be even louder
Seeing the trucks go fast from outside the trucks had not prepared her for how fast trucks actually go. The truck was going very fast. Very, very amazingly, unthinkably fast. She discovered quickly that being inside an object traveling very fast made her feel sick so she tried to sit very still on top of one of the boxes in the truck and imagine that she was sitting on a stationary rock on the mountain but imagination is not a good weapon against feeling like you’re going to vomit. She began to quietly sing a calming song that her mother used to sing to her, which also did not make her feel less sick but did make her feel more calm about it.
in the next cell another bird for my life list
The truck kept on going fast for a very long time and she regretted having decided to get into it and wondered why she had wanted to go so far away from the mountain so quickly. She wanted to get out and see the sky so she would know where she was and how to get home, which she had suddenly decided was the only place she wanted to be. Finally the truck started to go slower, and slower, and slower, and then it stopped completely and she heard a door slam and footsteps moving away.
every spring the seismograph records your absence
She pushed open the big doors of the truck a tiny bit and looked outside. The truck seemed to be stopped in a big empty quiet place with black ground everywhere like the road. Without using her brain very much, because another thing she had decided was that using her brain too much got her into trouble, she jumped out of the truck and closed the doors behind her and looked around quickly for a place to hide. And there was a forest right there, dark and quiet. She was already feeling less sick. She went into the forest and went up to a tree and hugged it. If you can’t be at home a tree is the next best thing.
all day chewing on the same blade of grass
The stars had told her that to get home she must go in a particular direction, but the stars did not instruct her as to how she could avoid detection on her journey. She kept bumping up against the big road and having to duck into woods or down into ditches when the rushing cars and trucks went by. Sometimes the cars and trucks slowed down when they went by her, as if they had seen her or at least some part of her, but they always sped up again and kept going. No one ever stopped on that road.
just this one giant wheel we’re all riding
The frustrating thing was that she could see the mountain off on the horizon and it didn’t even look that far away, but she had gone so fast for so long in the truck that she knew it must be much farther than it looked. Mountains could be deceitful that way.
the higher we go the more we bleed
Then she stumbled onto a much smaller road, narrower and more twisting and with no cars or trucks on it at all as far as she could tell. It ran among fields, with an occasional house set so far back from the road that she didn’t think anyone could see her from it in the dark. And it went the right way. She looked up at the stars to check this again. As soon as she looked one of the stars fell, and then another, and then another. She knew that the kind of stars that fell were not the kind that anyone needed but still, still, she felt scared, and lost, and tired, and much too large, and she understood suddenly that the way home would not be as straight as it looked.
Polaris appearing in time for the opening act
Chapter 5. I’m beginning to get the hang of writing a novel: the key is to isolate a voice and pursue it with relentless, even sociopathic concentration. There’s a lot of sitting around alone until you start to hallucinate. I can see why mind-altering substances are a temptation—anything to speed up the whole process of allowing a foreign entity to take over your mind.
the atomic clock bangs against my ribcage
Exhaustion, on the whole, is your friend, being both mind-altering and highly motivating. If you’re slightly masochistic, it works even better. “You can’t go to bed until you finish this page.” Probably you could go to jail for treating yourself like this if you were willing to press charges. At one a.m., I pace back and forth between the desk and the window, feeling very wild and trapped. I don’t have the lights on—I’m not a fan of light, except for the sun—so the only thing standing between me and a barked shin is the glow from the fake sheet of paper on my computer screen. I need maybe two sentences to put this whole thing behind me for the night. I’m about ready to fake it—channel a counterfeit voice.
echolocation in a locked-room mystery
Then, during one of my staring spells at the window, I see her massive form rounding the bend in the road. My first thought, in my happily delusional state, is that a tree has detached itself from the world of the inanimate. I don’t know why a walking tree seems more plausible than a giant but maybe the point is that it doesn’t—it just seems like a better story. Admit it, you’d rather be reading about a walking tree right now.
my official signature
I don’t even want to go into the details about how I run out to meet her—I guarantee I would never have done this if I weren’t writing a novel—and steer her into the barn, explaining painstakingly that it wouldn’t be a good idea for anyone else to see her. Why am I not afraid? I’m not afraid because she’s just a character. She came to me like all the other characters do, in a dream, in an unreal part of my life. She’s a story. It takes me a while to realize how much she’s not a story, and by that time she’s gone, and by that time I’ve decided to give up writing novels.
behind my eyelids an unfamiliar constellation