A tiny black storm petrel comes down from the leaves and starts to drink. I’m thirsty, too, so I join her. The water is horrible. We both spit it out and look at each other. I look up the waterway to the Reservoir: all the water is a dark green bordering on grey. I get thirstier looking at it.A few minutes go by and I start coughing from the dryness in my throat. I lean over the slop and cup more water. Now it smells like my brother’s hair gel, like wax and oil and molded-over onions, and brass. I think about it in my stomach, some kind of terrible milk, and I cough again and start to cry.
I find the petrel a few miles downstream. I don’t think she waited for me; maybe it’s just coincidence that she has business here. I want to ask why she’s so far inland, but the words feel broken, like what I mean to speak is watery, and what she hears is brass and onions and wax, and she starts flying again, the same direction, always down the brook, widening and contracting, never so fast I can’t keep up with her.
As we go I get thirstier. With each mile she flies a little lower, so she must feel it, too. I start to feel the fibers at the edge of my lungs drying slightly, rubbing together. Another mile. Each femur pushes gently, then deliberate, against its tibia, like they’re ringing a doorbell no one will answer. Old trees curl out of the earth like shoulders. Another mile. I fall and bounce my forehead hard on a branch. When I clear my eyes I notice the many, many insects are walking with us. My sinuses become a balloon powdered inside with plaster and wind. We walk.
It must take days. The petrel is patient, sometimes only a dozen yards ahead. When we hear twigs and brush breaking behind us we both look back, and I feel like she’s checking on me. I like being checked on.
The sun is patient with us, too. As it leaves the sky looks unaccountably strange. It takes another hour, maybe longer, before I can name it: there is no light from the ground. We can see deep into the universe, and the moon is a shining bright as a stepping-stone, when the river becomes threaded and brackish. She flies over the long wet patches, and my joints are dry and I can’t chase her on the edges. I fall into the estuary and lose my breath, lose my hold in the air.
I wake up on the Fiske playground, deep in the outfield, between clusters of boys screaming, Magos! Magos! Mag—One breaks away before the chant is through, and he runs diagonal, right into me, like a train over a penny, and his shins feel like cold water bursting in my nose.
When I open my eyes, I’m back in the estuary. My legs feel jelly-loose. My mouth is soft. Alice is here, only she doesn’t look like herself. It’s hard to say why. Her hair is shorter and darker; her nose is curved different; she’s maybe an inch taller. In fact, it’s hard say why I know this person is Alice. I just know. I feel like I’ve been talking to her for a while, since before waking up. She kisses my cheek, and I feel a kind of safety stretch the inside of my body. We hug a long time.
There are other people here, too, at the other mudbanks. Some of them look like they’ve come farther, their fingers withered to twigs, and others are crawling out of the woods. Some are showing people around, like they’ve been here a long time. After a while Alice says, Hey, look: it’s only the women moving around. The boys and the men are just sitting, like they’re waiting. In the moonlight, everyone’s face is easy and impossible to read at once.
It must be our turn, because a woman comes to us. She’s almost tall, dark-haired. Her eyes are so present, so deep with a spark, I can’t look at her too long—I feel like I need to ask her something and I don’t know what that is. She puts her hand in the water and stirs, then brings it up, cupped.
Drink, she says. You’ll need it.