Melanie Boeckmann | Nevena Katalina
Along the coastal trail Benjamin never hesitates or second guesses. The smell of cat piss precedes the signs: “Watch out! Cougars!” I shudder. I was raised on deer and rolled up hedgehogs. Benjamin barely slips. “Keep close,” I whisper behind him, so that he won’t hear. We tumble over pebbles in the sand. “Watch your steps,” Ben says over his shoulder. I couldn’t tell a cougar trail from a large dog’s. Or could I? Benjamin does not keep close. I curse at him and untie my shoelaces before I step onto the cold, wet beach. Some meters in the distance I think I spot a seal. Benjamin laughs at me for thinking that. He trips over a washed up tree branch. I laugh at him for not watching his step.
Late at night we hug in the tent, and I check the sleeping bag for spiders. Benjamin rubs his feet in front of me. His feet are small and pink. He looks vulnerable kneading his toes like this: in front of me, with such carefree intimacy. Inside the sleeping bag I move my feet away from his. Where we lay our heads, we feed the banana slugs with cream cookies. Sometimes we bury their thick corpses, but we often forget. We leave them behind, then, exposed to their predators, but they don’t care, they have died.
I can smell the cougars, I think, but they remain silent. The slugs, the cougars, the eagles: we don’t speak much. Benjamin claims he can read a compass, but we have been following the trail signs all week and not used the compass once. I don’t believe he can do half the things he says he can. “Your beans taste delicious,” he tells me sweetly as we sit on a log and dig in. I keep my feet in socks at all times, unless I bathe in the ocean. Then my socks lie side by side on the sand as Benjamin rushes into the waves, jubilant. I leave a trail of cookie crumbs behind a row of seaweed for somebody hungry to find it and follow us.
After the rain, our clothes won’t dry for far too long, so we make camp and we make do underneath the beige tent’s ceiling. “I’m bored,” I complain. Benjamin strokes his hair. It gets darker and darker. Later that night I lean over and touch his lips with my index finger. “Is this a proposition?” he whispers in my ear. I listen intently.
Benjamin is wriggling on top of me and my hands move up his sides, where he is ticklish. His eyes are probably focused and determined, I can’t see his face in the dark. We didn’t keep a fire going. My mouth is dry. Benjamin starts touching my cheeks and moves further down. I fidget. Minutes pass and all we hear are our breaths going steadily. Benjamin feels heavy on me, and he sighs as he lays his hand on my forehead as if to check my temperature. I start giggling, and then he rolls off of me and we feel nothing. I shove his boxers towards him. “I guess we’ll try another time,” I say. I start laughing, hard, until my throat hurts. Approximately years later Benjamin joins in. “Do we have any cookies left?” he asks when we have regained composure. I always know where I keep the cookies. Slug-feed cookies. The next morning I’ll find some vanilla cream in my hair, and Ben’s pink feet wrapped around my shins.
Days pass. We walk. I have no more beans to offer up in those damp nights. On June 18th, we leave the forest behind. I can see the train station in the distance, and I fumble around with cash in my jeans pocket. I have enough. Ben fastens his laces, on his knees. Does he have any pants without grass stains? We will not be taking the same train. In the shadow of that final oak tree, we shake hands, both wondering if this is lame. I contemplate hugging him, but I can’t wrap my mind around it. We hug in sleeping bags only.
There is a convenience store next to the station. My train ticket scratches my palm. The soft drink fizzles in my nose. It’s so cold that my teeth hurt. I haven’t had anything cool to drink in weeks. I buy a fresh notebook made of recycled paper, and use my green marker to start doodling. I have written: “SLUG KILLER” in all caps, in all green on the first page. I think my allergies are acting up; it takes a tiny fraction of time until I realize that I am crying, but not because of grass or pollen. It’s because of everything else.