The Gunks

We were spending a weekend in the Shawangunks, often called the Gunks, which is a good name for a mountain range, a good name for anything. They’re smaller mountains – a person might say that they’re hills – but to a certain extent that’s a meaningless distinction. I had gone up with my girlfriend.

It was fall, the tail end of leaf season. A romantic weekend. The whole drive was surrounded on all sides by reds and yellows, oranges and greens. The back of the hotel stared into the side of a mountain.

The idea was that you sat outside, watched the mountain, and did what you do.

I was sitting outside, watching the mountain and smoking a joint, when a man of about sixty came over to me. “What’s that like?” he asked. I thought this was strange. I thought it was strange because you expect old people – not to know everything – but to know the regular, usual things. After a certain point you expect that a person will have either have tried something or settled firmly on disinterest as their position.

The mountain was thick with fog and I was thinking about climbing it. I was thinking that the act of climbing it might feel like crawling inside something – something like a den or burrow or a womb. I was thinking about Jack and the Beanstalk and the idea – which I thought about a lot – that a person could accidentally stumble into another world. I shrugged at the old man. “It’s like that,” I said, pointing at the fog. “Except sometimes it makes you laugh.”

He seemed to accept this. “Is that why you’re here?” he asked. This seemed aggressive to me so I ignored it. “Sorry,” he said after a while.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Do you want some?” I gestured at the joint, which was still going.

He shook his head. After that we watched the fog, which sat low on the mountain and low on the sky until it became the sky and the world shrank. The world shrank until it was just him and me – my girlfriend was inside, doing something. Then it shrank further into the details of the place, which was the distance between us and the trees and the trees and each other and then the distance to the leaves that had fallen all around that were starting to decompose into a blanket for the Earth. We looked at each other and I realized that most likely we were thinking about the same thing. This seemed odd, but also made a kind of sense.

Davis MacMillan is a writer living in New York. He’s had work in Wigleaf and Jellyfish Review.

See more of his work in 8.3