Lenore Gay is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Masters in Sociology, as well as in Rehabilitation Counseling. She has worked in several agencies, psychiatric hospitals and for ten years she maintained a private practice. She was on the faculty of the Rehabilitation Counseling Department of Virginia Commonwealth University. The Virginia Center of the Creative Arts (VCCA) has awarded her two writing fellowships. Her poems and short stories have appeared in several journals. Her essay “Mistresses of Magic” was published in the anthology IN PRAISE OF OUR TEACHERS (Beacon Press). “The Hobo” won first place in Style Weekly’s annual fiction contest. She is a volunteer reader at Blackbird, An Online Journal for Literature & The Arts.
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Triggering a Map of the Imagination
I ride in the cozy car world of dashboard lights and Nina Simone’s blues. My mind races after a day in the country, a day of coffee and talk with my brother. I sing along with Nina until I spot a log cabin on the right side of the highway. It’s only a demonstration model, the sales information is printed on a yellow sign. I slow down for a better look inside.
My cabin and I live in Blue Ridge mountain country, in a hollow facing a pebbly creek. I walk down to the creek, frozen in spots, thick weeds along its banks glisten like green stalks of glass. I pull on my gloves and hat and zip my jacket. My boots sink in icy mud as I slog along the bank to where the creek narrows. Tangled brush stops me; water gushes through brambles swirling like bits of saffron. More color higher up. I climb and find a rotting log with five rows of fungi in orange, pink, cream and yellow.
The wind’s up. Chilled, I walk to my cabin, open the door that’s carved in the stylized forms of bears; the door handle is a dark wooden curl. A kind neighbor sculpted the door for me. The door creaks where it scrapes the floor. In the right corner, a double bed sits just as I left it, covered in a pile of blankets, with a frayed red and black-checked blanket on top. Four pillows in red flannel cases are stacked against the headboard. I throw my jacket and gloves on the bed.
“I pour water into a pan, look out at the mountains, waiting to feel familiar with them again.”
The kitchen’s to my left. An old double sink sits under an irregular sized window. Ahead of me the floor planks look clean, but when I turn my footprints mark the dust. The spiders and bugs love the wooden counter. I spot a few spider webs, but leave them alone. A large mason jar sits on the window sill. Recently I filled it with water and small rocks, now the water’s low, the rocks have turned brown. The bird skull and part of a snake skin are coated in dust.
I pour water into a pan, look out at the mountains, waiting to feel familiar with them again. The table is still covered with a red plaid cloth stained with coffee cup rings and splashes. The stack of legal pads, the cupful of pencils and pens and the glass lantern filled with kerosene wait for me.
October rain has fed the creek, roiling almost over its banks. As always, it’ll soak the yard, turning it squishy. I stoke the Warm Morning stove and pour hot water over a pile of gummy instant coffee. I check the pile of wood stacked beside the Warm Morning. The wood is left over from my last visit. The main room is warming up. I take off my itchy wool hat.
Curled in my overstuffed chair I watch the creek until dusk falls. In the dim room, orange shapes bounce in the belly of the stove throwing out the only light.
Shutting my eyes gives me another view of the log with fungi, seashells of the woods arrayed like fans. At the tangle of brush, the orange threads flow off and swirl back with the current’s surge. That is the spot where I’ll dive in and explore the place where the coldest water runs. I’ll draw another mental map and build a city entirely with ice-covered pink stones.
The remainder of the hour drive back to Richmond streams by in reverie, accompanied by Nina’s blues.