‘A Single Step’ by A.D. Thompson (USA)

Short story selected for the 2010 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology

I know it is my midlife crisis, numerically – I’m 40, and in my bones; they ache.

I am hauling a 30 pound rucksack over about eight mountain crests a day, more than one a mile, on the Appalachian Trail which leads 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. I intend a 6 month retreat hike – to solve the mystery of my life.

Truth be told, I know I will not make it. And it may well be that I intend to die somewhere out there, in the trees. I used to love trees. At first crest I’m already in trouble with a view of trees far as the eye can see which holds for me as little beauty as my lungs hold air.

Down I go sucking water, trying to imagine myself that man again who lived two years in a mud hut as forester to the Sahara; a true story: passing out in an ant hill, under thorn bush, sucking cow mud through his bandana just to stay alive… adventure remaining, thirst, thirst entirely forgotten.

In the valley I spot the blue blaze which means water nearby. Where? Where? Panic! Where? This trickle? I fill my bottles capful. By capful.

On the next crest I lick dew off pine needles.

Down again thinking of Paris, of pastries I never dreamed, inaccessible as art untouchable – in Musée d’Orsay, Louvre, l’Orangerie… to a struggling student sans six sous penniless, oh but what façade.

I bottom out, climb and crest again, sit to eat. Hummus mix and banana chips are great nutritionally, and light to carry, but require lots of water. This is all I have to eat for the next week.

Down another earth stone I step gingerly, every step a quest, which way, as tiny stones under foot, under leaf, impossible to see, turn a foot this way, that – off path, off life, heavy pack on back overbalancing… remembering that waterfall I climbed in Mexico: how I slipped, freefell, grabbed a tree root thirty feet down, never felt so alive.

Valley. Peak. Valley. Some crests now show snow. Fading light reflects.

I race down to set up tent as stars rise thinking of the cold in China where heat is not allowed below a certain parallel before a certain date and no clothes could be found in my size and I felt it, really felt it, in my bones, in my b-b-b-bones.

Lie at last in the any valley. So dark: a dark as dark as the death of my wife, the end of also my life.

Morning brings dread of another climb. Does the sun rise tired some days?

Each step is torture. Thinking of Thailand. Teacher again. Students all the same. Don’t care. Lesson today: despair. Repeat, “despair”. Globalization. For R & R I go – to the mall. Called Future Park. There is…………………..

No Future. Timeless. Architects hide. Clocks. Make you shop.

Long, er. Endless. Atopia.

Slogans say: “Live your life!” or “Be Happy!”

Supreme health benefit. Stop!

I can’t breath.

Just stop. I no longer want health. I eat Big Macs and cry openly.

I stop climbing. This is one mountain too many. There is always one mountain too many. I turn around. The journey of a million miles ends with a single step.

Glossary:

sans six sous: a French expression which means “without six pence,” obviously very poor.

About the author:

A.D. Thompson is an American writer and former Bangkok resident born in 1971 and reared (not bred) in Texas. In 2007 he published Diner Dharma – A Monk in Trouble in West Texas, a roman à clef, a novel within a novel, considered by some his “enduring masterpiece.” Read more of his work at www.adthompson.com.

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