Short story writer and poet Tania Hershman provides the final instalment to the Flash Fiction Month series with Fire and Granite.
Sometimes he might say to the girl standing next to him in the park, A boulder is not a stone and you are not climbing it, and, although the girl knows that yes it is, and yes that is what she is going to do, she nods, because he is the father and she does, for now, what he tells her. Then he will nod and she will begin, on this, Rat Rock, and when she begins, this girl with such a talent for it, everything slips but her. Everything is gone (the father, the park, the dogs walking, the owners with dogs, the joggers). It is her and this boulder, its smoothness that she whispers to with her gripping fingers, softing it to let her in. Wheel neurons are more likely to fire, say researchers, if a nose or tail are not present, and she lifts her nose and bends her tail to the rock, and her brain fits itself around the task, the problem set for her today. Same boulder, same park, same girl, but never the
Or, sometimes he might say, Fire and granite suffer and we must soothe them, and the girl, her hands itch-scratching by Rat Rock, waits, because she is the daughter and this is what is done. He talks on about suffering and she is only fourteen but her father sees she is much much older and this is why it is not just a climb for him, for her. Though he is, it seems, never angry, never belligerent, never anxious, just smooth and firm and soft. Then he will stop, he will nod and she will slide towards the boulder
She wins every competition, this girl, with her father watching. The judges, the ones who set the course, arrange the boulders, imagine the difficulties, see that she has decoded the workings of their heads and soars above it all. She finds ways to upanddown on seemingly vertical surfaces as if her fingers felt inside the rocks, and they are amazed
She climbs and climbs and climbs, and each time she tops out, she does not stand up there, does not grin and boast, but skips down again as if upanddown are not a mystery, as if gravity carved her itself. Sometimes we are taken by the hand, sometimes we are not, and when we’re not it feels like fire and the suffering of granite; when we are, we melt and cool and nothing inside is hard
She knows, of course, that the boulder is not a boulder, and that she is not climbing. She knows that he is the father and that he is also not. She does not say it, but the reason why she never stays up there, on top, is that she is afraid. She is only afraid when she gets there
The climb is sublime
The climb is everything