Choose the Hammock

In this one, you are smiling with your mouth closed to conceal a missing front tooth, your narrow shoulders rolled inward. Sitting sideways on your grandmother’s nursing rocker, the surprisingly small one with no arms and a woven seat that now sits by the window in your living room, you are dressed only in underpants. Your short fine hair is neat and catches the light from a source that the camera hasn’t included. You remember being woken from your sleep to have this picture taken. Thirty-seven years later, your husband will ask, why isn’t Jenny wearing any clothes? And your father will shrug, I don’t know, he will say. She slept that way, I guess. Maybe it was hot. The picture is black and white, better preserved than the early colour ones everyone was so excited about. The pictures from age nine to seventeen washed to yellows and greens, darkened almost to obscurity. But this picture of you is clear, with one foot turned on its side, the other tucked into a rung on the rocker, your small hands clasped between your knees.

In this one, you are holding an axe over David’s head. He is sitting below you on the cabin steps, raising a glass of clear brownish liquid to the camera, a big smile on his scarred mouth. You are wearing a brown felt man’s hat and your waist-length hair falls across the side of your face and mostly obscures your bare breasts. You want him to be your lover for more than just that one night. You want to roam with him not only through dense forests of these foothills, but also through cobbled streets, North African bazaars, and mountain passes. His hair, long and tangled, falls to his shoulders, his unbuttoned shirt exposes a sinewy torso, the one that moved over you for hours the night before. You didn’t tell him that it didn’t matter, that you were tired and just wanted to sleep. You let him go on like that, while you watched his narrow hips in the mirror over the bed. It’s supposed to be a joke that axe over the head. You know he can’t be tamed. He’s already shaking you off. He is gone by lunchtime. Later, you go to a dance, where he continues to drink three beers to everyone else’s one. And he unzips his fly and pisses into his boot. You knock the boot out of his hand to keep him from drinking it. And then you introduce him to Laura, keen to have her share in your fascination. Years later, on the other side of the country, through a restaurant window, you see a burning pile of garbage on the far side of the street. When, under the streetlight, a man’s dark shape issues a stream on to the garbage, you say aloud, David Benner. At a party in their loft, David picks up Laura and tosses her over his shoulder like a sack of flour, laughing and smacking her ass, as she pounds his back and shrieks to be put down. You don’t stay to watch him swing across the scaffolding four stories above the alley.

In this one, you are lying on your back, your head turned to the camera, the hard sun of India on your skin. Your knees are up, your mouth wide in a laugh, a notebook open on your bare belly. The burnt red hills frame the clear blue lake where you have come to swim. On the far side of the lake are the silhouettes of young goat herders who gathered to wave and call out to the carpet of naked white bodies spread out on the shore of their watering place. What makes you leave a short time later are those goat herders, when they remove their lungis and stand with their long thin erections in profile against the afternoon sun. You and the two women who shared your taxi, gather up towels and dresses and scramble over the rocks to the waiting taxi driver who squats beside his car, chewing betel and squirting its blood-red juice into the dust. You never go back to that place but choose instead to take the twelve-hour overnight bus to Goa, where you cling to the seat edge as the bus swings up and down razor-edged cliffs while shrill voices, drums, and bells blast from a tinny sound system. You stay in Goa for a month, riding on the back of motorcycles, bodysurfing in the ocean, and eating shrimp in a tea shack that keeps you squatting in dingy outhouses with pigs snuffling underneath for a week. This one is in brilliant colour, sharp and clear as if it were taken yesterday and not twenty-two years ago.

In this one, your son is leaning into you as you both gaze out, in profile, across the river. His shoulder still fits under your arm. The sun has darkened your glasses and fine lines crease the corner of your eye. He is named after the wolf you met two years before he was conceived, when becoming a mother was an impossible dream. The river floods that spring, spilling ice and sweet green water into your wide backyard, making you joke that your first home also doubles as a houseboat. A houseboat in which you would gladly sail away, if it weren’t for your wolf-boy, who has insisted from the age of two, that his is the best home, a home he will never leave. By the age of six, he knows every rock and crevasse, every frog and dragonfly, his nimble feet rooted deep in this land. And when he is five, he sits on your lap, facing you as you rock in your grandmother’s chair, and tugs at your hair, asking if you were in a wheelchair when he first came out of your tummy. He remembers those first moments when you were wheeled in, after he was snatched away, limp and silent, and how he lay with a tube in the shaved side of his head.  He remembers your hair, the way you sat in that chair, and he remembers the room full of rolling tables each with its own baby moving past his line of vision.

In this one, your smile is stiff under the straw hat, your hands clutching the reins of the horse with its jutting hipbones. Behind you, the jungle slides off into a gorge into which you will turn and follow the others, the promise of swimming under a waterfall the only thing that keeps you from dropping into the string hammock in the shade of a mango tree.  Scarlet macaws and capuchins are in the trees, the air is layered with the whir of cicadas, and a horse that will try to rub you off against a boulder paws the ground. Next time you will choose the hammock.

Susan Wadds writes poetry and short fiction and has been published in Poetry Toronto, the Whitewall Review, and Cross Country Writers’ Quarterly. She lives in Ontario. Her website is