Cave fever


 carbsbad

She gives him sugar water when he is weak and feverish. She drops it into his mouth with an eyedropper. He rolls the sweet of it on his tongue. It tastes like rock crystal candy, stalactites from the cavern gift shop. He closes his eyes and sucks cave memories.

A light with colored cellophane circling slowly in front of it, a cool room washed in changing. Fairy room. He is seven, has never been in a cave before. Ahead of him and behind him, lines of American families, boys in striped shirts and scuffed Keds, girls in sundresses and white sandals, grandmothers with sore feet, fathers with worried office faces.

The line moves forward, downward. Recessed lights hide the darkness, wash grottoes in grapefruit pink and jello green. He is entranced and walks down, down, down. He walks faster and faster, away from his family, hoping to pull ahead of them all, to be alone and hear how deep, how far, how silent this cave beast might be. Even on the guided trail he can feel the breath of the cave. He wants to know something – his seven-year-old brain doesn’t know what to call it – shape, size, the body of the beast.

Fever shakes the man awake and he finds the word — “Anatomy”  then falls back down through space into the clammy, dark, stay-on-the-trails-at-all-times warning. He is lost. He cries, infantile and wandering in unlit spaces. From far away, he hears laughter, turns on one hip and reaches toward the sound.

© Teresa Phillips 2006

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