I crouched in the cool water and whispered, “Hello. What do you do here?”
Her eyes followed the sound to meet mine. “I am the forest keeper, and there is no need to whisper. Our voices often cannot be heard above the din of the machines and the ticking of time.”
I stood slowly and let my eyes stray across the curves of the landscape that stretched widely beyond the small collection of trees she called “forest”. She stood as well, mimicking my actions but with outstretched limbs of beating hearts.
“What is your name?”, I asked abruptly and without realizing that I’d taken a threateningly large step forward. She swayed in response, as if my breath was a gale swirling about her. She steadied and stared until her gaze reached the bottom of my soul, then spoke her answer to the trees. “I am Mariana. I am a tree that grows hearts, one for each you take …” her voice trailed off and the rest flew away with a passing flock of birds.
I watched the black birds strut across the orange sky, dipping and flitting together in a fitful flight that dared the edges of sky and land. I stared until my eyes became dark from the sunlight and I turned to find the forest keeper, but she was gone and so was the gentle thumping of her hearts.
I felt strangely safe and vulnerable at the same time. Instinctively, I pressed my hand to my neck to see if my own heart was beating and tried not to panic when the pulse was not there. I stood as still as I could and heard a distant steady beat, not my heart, but like the mechanical sweep of a second hand.
How long had it been? Forever.
I’ve been trapped here in this skin as long as I can remember. The beat of the second hands grew louder.
What do I do here? I do everything.
Everything that is expected of me, every role that must be filled, every part that must be played. I am an entire company for the theater of my life, spread out against this landscape that is not my own.
I am the forest keeper.
I feed the birds.
I wind the clocks.
I grow hearts.
I am Mother, Wife, Lover, Friend …
I am all of this, and more.