It was a barren hill that I chose to climb. All life had been wrenched out of it; an angry God had scraped his talon across the landscape. He had left ravines, crevices, boulders that threatened at any moment to unleash themselves. I would be there, watching, as the juggernaut of death took me in its aim.
The boulder would be laughing—rolling with glee, salivating at the thought of gut and sinew and muscle that would be all that remained of me. The sun would not bother to set, then, and the clouds would be still in the air.
Nothing would remain, everything would change.
The others knew better. They had chosen the sea, some of them, and who knew where they were, at any moment? Of they had found a meadow kissed by a sheltering hill: no winds would rake their house, no snows would bury it. But I had my hill, that I had chosen or that had come with me.
Which was it?
The hill—if I turned my back, it grew larger by far. Better, then, to face it—to look at the ugly scars that adorned it, the kissed ravages of the angry God. Yes, I could see it better when I turned from it. But better made the hill worse: the ravines sharper, the boulders larger and more precariously imposed on the hill.
Each day, I looked at the hill. I tried to study it; I tried to master the ravines, I imagined the tango I might dance with the boulders flying toward me. The hill glowered at me, dared me, threatened to unleash itself at any moment. The boulders screamed to be free of the hill—free to hurtle downwards, as I was steeling myself to go upwards.
For the hill, everything was downwards—there was no ‘up’ there. For me, there was no downwards. Any retreat was death, as was the hill itself. The question was how. Would it be the boulders? Starvation? Thirst?
I knew what I wanted. I wanted, at last one day, to begin the quest: to plant my first foot on the hill.
“Ah, but you have!”
“And you are?”
“The person who is writing. The person you don’t know. And perhaps, the person who chose your hill.”
“You don’t enjoy ambiguity?”
“You always ask question?”
“Don’t you? Come, let us not fence. Would you like to get up that hill?”
I think I’d like to embrace the hill. I’d like to put my arms around it, squeeze it, feel its breathing and rest in its arms. This angry hill of an angry God—this is what I have.
“Yes. And scared.”
“Don’t you feel it?”
“Yes. I wondered if you did.”
“And your feet?”
“Yes, I know they’re moving.”
“There was never any question. And they have always been moving.”
“Then why have I been always in the same place?”
“You don’t know?”
I want to tell him—I have looked at the goddamn hill for well over fifty fucking years. And the hill, the hill, the hill has gotten no bigger, no smaller, no prettier. No rain has fallen on it for all of time; the bones and skull and smashed torso of those who have gone before me will lash at my feet. The crows will caw out my death; the vultures will circle. And yes, I am on the hill.
“We could go faster,” he tells me.
“Thank you for not telling me,” I tell him.
“You wouldn’t have believed me, anyway….”
We start. I pause to take off my boots. I will feel every cut of this hill. I will stumble upon every rock, I will take every grain of sand into the creases of my feet. I will know the hill. What good, if not, would death be?
“I didn’t know it could sing,” I tell him.
“It didn’t know you could listen,” he tells me.
The song is lilting and sad, a lament for the absence of the angry God, for even in his anger there was grace. The grace is gone, now, and the anger, though still scorching the land, has abated. The hill remembers the annealing anger—how it scorched the pines, sucked dry the rivers, hardened the stones and lashed open the ravines. Yes, the hill remembers.
“Is it hard to be a hill?” I ask.
“As hard as it is to climb it.”
I gaze at the top of the hill. Now, a little lower.
Or has the sky lifted?