September 23, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Christy Tending
Did you know that when you pour water onto a can full of boiling oil, it explodes?
The oil explodes, I mean.
The water evaporates.
I don’t remember what happens to the can.
We spend all day breaking the law. At night, we build fires, watch things burn, so tired of being serious little outlaws.
If you’re going to be defiant, you need to keep it buttoned up. Be cool when the cops drive by. Stay quiet around people you don’t know. Turn your phone off unless you want the feds to hear you. Slip behind a tree when the helicopters hover overhead. Keep your head down when they’re taking pictures, trying to figure out what you’re up to. Don’t talk about the time and place.
Tell the people in town you’re a student, visiting family, on a camping trip. Be friendly, but don’t make friends. Order pancakes without bacon, but don’t tell them you’re a vegetarian. Change the subject. Check your taillights. Watch for moose. They’ll tell you moose work alone, but I’ve seen a pair of them that would demolish your car if you’re not looking both ways. Drive with the windows down. Remove the SIM card.
Bathe in the lake before dawn. This was my favorite part: cool breathing, mist sulking on the surface, my heartbeat in my ears, looking up at the golden sky. Don’t forget this part. Don’t rush it. Listen to the loons sing as you dress on the shore. Burn leeches off your legs with a lighter, before you wend your way through the forest, up the muddy hill, ready for work. Chop wood wearing flip-flops. (You probably shouldn’t, but it’s been known to happen.)
Make a cup of Nescafe in a tin cup and take it on the road with you. Hang one arm out the window, drape one wrist over the steering wheel. Steer with your knees. Pull over for a dip in the lake with long-needled pine trees. The one like glass, the one where I know someone who drank Guinness for breakfast. Like a person could forget something like that.
Run away, knowing that you’ll end up right back here. Walk down the old logging road before the light leaves. Take long drags, leaning against the bulldozer they forgot to claim. Ash into the sandpit. Burn cigarette marks into the soles of your disintegrating shoes.
Don’t be afraid of the bears. They’ll wander into the camp kitchen, but they’re only looking for leftovers. Bang on pots and pans, naked, when they wake you in the middle of the night. They’ll wander back into the forest.
Wear a skirt or the same pair of jeans that’s losing structural integrity in the knees. The ones with soot stains down the front. Just nothing flashy, keep it simple. Nothing to draw attention to yourself. Don’t spread out. Don’t take up space until it’s time to take up a whole highway full space. Know when it’s time.
Write the number on your arm or your leg so you know who to call from the payphone. Try not to get arrested with the bail money. I’m trying to remember everything.
The blackflies drone as we stand watch. Ancient truck tracks have vanished after years of insistence. No one gets through. Leap off the cliff, because this might be your only chance. Because you might want to tell your children about this someday. Because this is what it is to live a life of risk.
When you break the law all day, you really need to let your hair down at night. Sing loudly in the dark forest, even if you only have a single guitar between you. Tell ghost stories about your friends. Make things explode like a can of oil shattering into fractals. Let the night confiscate your shame.
Christy Tending (she/they) is an activist, writer, and mama living in Oakland, California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Catapult, Electric Literature, trampset, Barren Magazine, and Newsweek, among many others. You can learn more about her work at christytending.com or follow her on Twitter @christytending.