from “Ursa Major Swims” by Garrett Harriman

May 24, 2010


The hill was steep and she was swimming.  Swimming with B and laughing.




“Ursa, keep up!”






The other tone died off.  Fallen to her knees thirty steps down, Ursa broke from the surge.  A hillside replaced her foggy drifting with the old itch infecting her veins.  Only it was worse than that now.  Ursa gasped in dust and nettles, called back, “I can’t make it!”

“You have to, Ur!  We can’t miss this!”

“I don’t feel so great, B…”

“Ursa you whiner, come on!

“I can’t, B!  It hurts!

B rolled her eyes, but Ursa couldn’t discern that in the dark.  She was hunched on the path under a nocturnal tarp of stars, breathing hard, listening to another girl’s sandals kick pebbles down toward her.  Just gargoyled there, hating and pouting.  What sort of teacher forced his students to wake up at three in the morning?  And then tells them to reach a peak an hour away?  And then expects them to report for actual class later that morning?  B stopped at Ursa’s side, patted her shoulder.

“It’s just a little more, Ursa.”

“I don’t care.  I’m itching everywhere.”

B sighed.  “It’s not that dry up here, Ur.  No bugs on your clothes, either.  I don’t believe you.”

But Ursa meant it.  This was worse than all of last month, a staunch intuition of Not Right.  When it had started it was a minor annoyance: just an odd prod, ants in her pants and nibbling her blood.  Now its undertones made her feel not just freakish, but vulnerable.  It was flash evolving into a raw sensation so inverted that she could only describe it as a deep, fiery gumming.  And she thought it wasn’t fair–wasn’t her swimming enough?  The limit of “different?”  The ants had only tickled before–they hadn’t dared bite.  And now that Ursa wasn’t sure she could endure them much longer, stifle their portending surf, she waited for consumption.  It made her abundantly tense.

 “This feels bad, B.”

“Ursa, we can’t miss this.  I don’t even care about the grade.  I just wanna see it happen.  Don’t you?”

An easy enough thing to say.  The whole world wanted to see it.  Which meant she could read about it later.  Ursa righted herself with an effort.  When she stood straight, the itch seemed to migrate up from her diaphragm to a Purgatory of Pain.   “I did.  But now I don’t.”

“It won’t happen again, Ur!” rebuked B.  “How can you not wanna see it?”

“They don’t know that.  It could come back.”

Ursa wanted to force her itch into B, then.  Have her share its urchin-bristled feet.  She wanted to grab B by her ponytail and make her give her a piggyback ride back down to the waiting car.  “And I do wanna see it.  Happy?  This is just–”  Ursa stopped to close her eyes, to wade through her vocabulary and lightly land on a shoal.  “It’s insatiable!”

B’s hand left Ursa’s shoulder to click at her wrist.  Even at three in the morning, in the dull glow of a Velcro wristwatch, B looked how B looked.  No makeup either, Ursa noticed.  B was for beautiful–that’s the ABCs.  Ursa massaged her marching gut.  Nothing nullified.

“Ursa, we need to see this.  We just have to.”

Ursa blinked at the glitter above, letting the night distract her.  It wasn’t working.

“Do I have to carry you?”

Ursa needed to say yes, the idea flaring through her head like a Navy Seals floodlight.  Until she looked back at B, hands on her hips, a silver Nikon camera wrapping her neck.  No–no, not now.

“No.  I guess I’ll try walking, though.  If it means so much to you.”

B beamed a lighthouse.  “There ya go.  We don’t have to watch all of it.  Just enough.”