Ella Frances Sanders


You Must See How I Walk

We will travel 1,004 miles in less than three hours, and I’m certain I forgot to pack my heart, again. This arid country, so unforgiving in its perspiration and glare; how something can look so astonishing in one light, so sickening in another. I watch as only the shadows of birds move across the hot concrete, in straight lines and towards that which only they can know. Give it some time, give it some revolution, a few revolutions of the sun—if these good intentions won’t last a lifetime then at least sit with them for now.

You suit me, and I do not need to look in the mirror as I leave the house.

People, small in their surroundings, made smaller still by the glare of the sunlight; they look for weightlessness but it’s as slippery as that green water you swam in. Cultivation has turned the landscape below us white, and we will later eat these things grown in straight lines, under hot dripping plastic. I want to follow rivers, but I also want to know what it feels like to be one, and actually we want too much, so I’m quiet as I keep my hands underwater until they crumple, protest. Higher now, the mountains look like the paper I routinely screw up and throw in the bin, all sharp creases and shadows. 

Haunted by how quickly somewhere, anyplace can feel like home, as long as it has feathers and water, rain even if it’s only a few days a year, so wholly unfamiliar that you can feel like yourself. Wondering how long it would be possible to live without green and preoccupied with the pursuit of falling.


Last night, heat in the fingers making it harder to bend, done with dinner and the kind of conversation you could accidentally stick to. I walked down in the humming dark to the water, fearing that under the stars I might stand on small creatures, or things that bite but do not linger. Slipping my shoes off and holding my skirt above my knees I step down into a shining black; nobody else is down here, and that is how I want it to be. The water is not cold but I shiver because why not, dizzy and headsick as I try to look up and down at the same time. A single cicada is throwing itself repeatedly against the light at the top of the skin-coloured stairs, its body sounding heavy and lost (at the same time I think that you do not think enough).

The lights of lives on the other side of the valley get carried into the night, filtered through lemon trees and the likelihood of you reading this. Feeling resoundingly human, alive in all corners, I step out of the water one toe at a time and walk up and down the warm grit-covered ground to dry off my legs. Tired from looking at all those tiny lines in the sky, I try to put my fingertips among the stars one last time (I do not get very far). Feeding feet into shoes I walk a slow five minutes back to sleep, trying to make out the dark shape of things, trying not to wake up the dogs. The cicadas are now overpowering, a chorus of something I don’t understand and would be scared to decipher. At intervals they will decide to talk more quietly, going from screaming chatter to a low murmur before reverting back to their alien loudness. Has the world ever felt this small, this close to hand? Perhaps not, perhaps you will not be able to hear me breathing. Perhaps I will send you a cicada in the post.

Earlier that day I had leant forward from page 151 of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things to notice whether the dragonflies ever really landed, but was distracted by the sweat and salt and suncream running wildly down my chest, and this was accompanied by the uncomfortable realisation that we were tied to hours like those forms that you must fill out in block capitals, and bleeding, black pen. Clouds looking like when flour and water don’t mix, curdled and impossible to ignore. I wonder whether you count forwards or backwards when figuring out the other side of the world.

How many mountains do you think you could fit inside your lungs? Skin tight, your edges pressed against by altitute and all those trees you don’t know the names of. When that feeling gets too heavy maybe you can try carrying me instead.

From this height there are stretch marks on the Atlantic, and tiny ships that look like stitches, not really holding much together except men because there is little reassuring about deep water. Doesn’t it bother you, that there are likely to be pieces of yourself in places that you’ll never see, never set foot in? Colours run here and they say it’s possible to catch them—I know this to be true because I’ve seen some of them in your eyes. Put them back with paint and cheap felt tip pen, careful not to go outside of the edges of this country, that country, their country; they aren’t going to know the back or the front of your hands.

Say what you mean but say it slowly, so that I have time to run away. What was it? Yes, I wanted to tell you just how blue it is down there but don't have words that could even begin; it makes me feel thirsty and worried and like I might need to turn around and leave again soon. The sky looks good on you though, I can see clouds where your stomach should be and oceans reaching their arms around your back.