Consumption Derek Sullivan
Or, Remarks on 19th Century American Literature
I breathed the wind; the world breathed the trees purring, and I breathed. The world breathed a chill against my cheeks and tender nostrils, and I reciprocated. I opened my eyes, awakened the remainder of my senses, and smiled.
By will alone, I drank the fullness of the sight. I consumed that lake, the way the sun’s fractured mirrors coruscated atop the water; the way the waterfowl drifted homewards; the way the wind gently moved the trees, the water, my hair, giving a delicate human smear to all within my field of vision. This sight, I noticed, was less like a photograph and more like a painting – gentle sways, gentle blurs, soft imperfections. It was late October, and I sensed in the air the first signs of old age, and shivered. I walked on.
The path meandered up an incline and I followed. My view of the lake was severed, and there appeared on either side of me thick clusters of trees, and each tree seemed to me brilliantly alive. I read each work of nature with the rapacious intention of a bright-eyed child. More than once, I turned around to check for marginalia, to see if anything – a flower, a leaf, an animal – escaped my senses. After being satisfied by my second glance, I would fill my lungs once more with that cool, lively, thirst-quenching air and proceed onwards.
To my right – the side on which sat the lake – I noticed a narrow, evidently rarely-used path, most likely used by older, wiser fishermen – or perhaps just one such fisherman – for it seemed to lead straight to the bank. The view offered by the path’s conclusion was, no doubt, worth my time. I stepped through the brush and onto the path.
I was gratified within minutes, finding before me a patch of indian pipe flowers. I bent down, then went on my knees (for my jeans were my last concern) and investigated their alluring strangeness. There were but four of them, all with their single flower facing downwards. Their perfectly white, slightly translucent skin showed signs of age. I suddenly got the absurd notion that they were in mourning, like ghosts lamenting their own shameful existences. The wind, I noticed, was unable to reach this denser wood, and the four specters remained stagnant. I then remembered the indian pipe’s colloquial nickname: the corpse flower. I remained there a little while longer, my heart suddenly heavier than it had been, until I picked up an unpleasant scent. I couldn’t tell if it was a dead animal or dying vegetation; either way, I moved on.
I was more surprised than disappointed to find that this path veered entirely away from the lake, and in fact I couldn’t quite tell where it was leading me. I pressed on with delight. The farther I went, the greater the arboreal treachery; each toothed branch reached out in an attempt to ensnare me. I hardly noticed the blood on my arms when I at last discovered the path’s conclusion. The sheer beauty of the place stunned me. The trees gave way to a patch of tall, very thick grass. A fallen tree, ancient and moss-covered, lay in the middle of the opening. The sun gave warmth to the entire scene. I laid down on the tree, laid my head on the pillowy moss, and closed my eyes. I breathed deeply through my nose, and realized I had a slight headache, which, I was sure, the sweet, fresh air would medicate.
I opened my eyes and my head fell to the right, where I saw the bold orange flame of a monarch through the green. Her wings flicked through the blades of grass, like a fated ember still trying to devour. Stealthily, I rose off the log and made my way towards that flame, measuring each step, trying to get a better look. I came into sight of the whole insect. She was perched on top of a rabbit, or rather the carcass of a rabbit. Its body was stretched out, and torn in half at the gut. One of its hind legs remained, hanging on by a strip of skin. Its entrails hung out in a straight, orderly manner. Its eyes were still open, as was its mouth. The monarch sat cozily on top of an intestine, her proboscis dipped into the thick blood. She flaunted her wings and stayed there, adorning the carcass with the gentlest kiss.
I drank the fullness of that sight, trying not to judge, trying not to let my emotions get in the way of the beauty of Nature. I wondered, rather emptily, what killed it (and what left half of its body to rot). My headache, I suddenly realized, pained me greatly – a dull, throbbing pain, as if my head was overly full. Each inhalation of that cool October air, now sickening and sweet with fresh viscera, scraped as it passed through my tender nostrils, into the core of my skull. The air tickled my nose, and made my eyes water. The dullness in my head sank into my stomach, along with the chill. I thought I had better get out of the cold, go home, take some aspirin. I walked back to the car, my head down, my eyes fixed on the dirt path.