by Ai Jiang
The Mountains look shorter today. Perhaps this means hope, but maybe not.
I look back to see my friend tumbling down a Hill nearby.
"Grass," he calls again as he climbs the small Hill which I am sitting on top of.
"What's the matter, Tree?" I ask the tall figure that now looms over me.
"Look what I found," Tree says and holds up a circular object covered in vibrant greens and blues and flecks of white.
"What is that?" I take the object from his hand and hold it up to take a better look.
"I asked Owl, and she said that it's Earth. It's the place we live on," Tree says in an excited tone.
"Earth," I whisper and lower the sphere.
I look at the Mountains in the distance with blurred texture. The sharp and round edges of electronic boxes, both small and large, create a jagged ascent to the top of the Mountain, which no one has yet attempted to reach. At least, not to my knowledge.
"Isn't it neat?" Tree says in awe as he takes Earth back into his own hands and cups it between two palms.
"Neat?" I test the word in my mouth, "Maybe not," I conclude.
Tree looks up from Earth and meets my eyes with confusion but remains silent. Then he abandons his new discovery on the ground between our feet.
"Where is Flower?"
Tree and I turn to see Owl scaling up the Hill. As she nears us, she leaves a trail of dirt and shoes tumbling with every step she uses to propel herself upwards.
"Eating, I suppose," I say after a moment.
Owl frowns. "At this rate, she will finish the Fill by herself."
Tree snorts and laughs. "Are you sure she hasn't already?"
I stifle my laughter.
"Crow should be with her," I answer the silent question that Tree does not ask.
"Great, they won't leave us anything good," Tree says and suddenly jumps up.
He blocks the sun that is beginning to scorch my jaded skin.
"Stay there," I say.
"I'm not going to shade you all day." Tree rolls his eyes.
I shrug. "Couldn't hurt to try."
"Come on," Owl hoots. She is already descending the Hill; this time, she is following the trail of tumbling worn heels, sneakers, and broken sandals in her descent.
Tree and I follow, careful not to entangle ourselves in the loose laces and straps and the occasional string of connected Velcro footwear that had lost their other half. I look back to see the abandoned sphere of green and blue on top of the shoe Hill before catching up with Tree, who is now carrying Owl upon his shoulders. Owl turns her head to make sure I am still there.
Upon arriving at the Fill, we hear the tinkling of high-pitched giggles. I roll my eyes but stop in my tracks to duck as something whizzes over my head. A rotten apple rolls to a stop a few paces away. Tree and Owl laugh, but I shake my head in dismay. Flower can be such a child, and though Crow is supposed to be a good influence, this is not the case.
"Hey!" Tree calls to the two that are hidden from sight on the other side of the Fill.
The top of a head appears, and Crow's sleek black hair follows as the rest of the head and the body emerges. Two slender arms appear immediately after, stretching and revealing the rest of Flower's flexible limbs as she jumps up from her spot.
"Save us anything good?" Owl asks as she takes large strides up the Fill towards Flower and Crow, ruffling Crow's hair once she reaches him.
Crow frowns at his sister while he straightens his hair which now sits askew on the top of his head. Flower pulls a dusty, half-eaten cob of corn from her pocket and hands it to Owl and then tosses two bottles of dirt speckled water to Tree and I. This water is cleaner than the bucketful that Flower found last week. I take a swig and marvel at the clumps of damp mud that run down my throat.
"Cheers," Tree says as he extends his crumpled, plastic bottle towards mine.
I smile. "Cheers."
I watch as Crow skitters around the Fill, snatching up bits and pieces of food scraps between his slender, claw-like fingers and then tossing them into the air before catching the pieces in between his dry lips. I begin to walk over to him to offer my water, but Owl stops me.
"Don't bother," she says.
I shrug and sit where I was standing. The sky is darkening as we finish our meal. Though we cannot see the sun, we know that it is setting behind the grey smog that covers the sky.
As the first drop of rain reaches the uneven ground, the five of us scramble for cover. Under a canopy patched together by Tree using pieces of tarp and duct tape, we sit huddled against one another in a line, watching as the rain drenches the Fill, the Hill, and the Mountains in the distance.
Crow is the last to make it under the canopy, and before he sits, he tries to shake the water out of his hair. Owl glares at him as he splatters water on her skin but chooses to remain silent rather than lecture him the way she usually does as lightning flashes beneath the thickness of the grey sky above us.
I retrieve the buckets from the back of our canopy and place them in front where the tarps end. When I sit back down, I notice the small ball of green and blue in the distance on top of the Hill. I try to focus on its colours, but when the rain starts to fall quicker and heavier, the Earth tips over the edge of the Hill and tumbles down, rolling out of sight as the rainfall draws a curtain over the landscape in front of us.
That is Earth previously appeared online in Reedsy—September, 2020.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and poet who graduated with a BA in English Literature from The University of Toronto and a current student at Humber School for Writers. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House and is forthcoming in Beyond Words Magazine, Star 82 Review, and elsewhere. More at aijiang.ca.
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