He invited my wife to hike up a mountain. She laughed. She twisted her hair in a tight bun. He stepped out onto the porch and picked up the morning newspaper. The air was cool. Dew covered the buttercups. He put the roof down on his sports car. A neighbor peeked through the curtains. Lamb's wool covered the car seats. My wife put on her shorts. She pulled a pink T-shirt over her black bra. She slipped her feet into white sandals. She nestled in the sheepskin. He handed her the newspaper. She dropped it on the floorboard.
She turned to him and said, "Look at what passes for the new. You will not find it there but in despised poems."
She pushed her feet against the dashboard and stroked black polish on her toenails. "Don't hit any fucking bumps," she said.
He dropped a backpack behind her seat. Inside the backpack there was a bottle of water and a map and a bag of almonds and a pomegranate and a pocketknife.
"Don't fucking drip on my upholstery," he said.
He turned the key in the ignition and they headed toward the mountain.
My wife is a poet. Four years ago, a publisher accepted her first book. We were on our honeymoon. We were camping in an orange tent. I woke in the sleeping bag the second morning and the light inside the tent was orange, and my wife was gone. The tent flap was open. I looked up and stared at a mosquito on the ceiling.
They listened to traffic reports and jazz. He drove fast on the highway out of the city. He drove down a dirt road and over a wooden bridge. He parked the car in a meadow that had tall grass and lilies and cows. The cows turned their heads and they looked at my wife.
He got out of the car. He unfolded the map. He spread the map on the hood. The hood of the car was hot. On the map it said the top of the mountain was 1,044 feet above sea level. My wife opened her car door. He spread the map in the dirt. My wife put her feet on the corners and looked at the map. He knelt down and he put his thumb on a spot on the map that read "1,044 ft." He stretched out his hand and he put his little finger near my wife's left foot.
He said, "That's how far we have to go. How far do you think it is from there to there?"
He held up his hand and stared from his thumb to his little finger. His knees were dirty.
"Annie," he said, "that's where we are going. A beautiful meadow full of flowers. Hot as hell, but filled with flowers. Drink water. It'll be hot as hell. Stay hydrated."
She said, "I was cheered when I came first to know that there were flowers also in hell."
The second morning of my honeymoon, the air in the tent was cold. My eyesight was blurry. I looked around the tent. I took a sip of water from a plastic bottle. I peeked outside. Three elk walked by.
My wife started to hike up the trail. The trail was in the woods. They walked in the shade. They saw poison oak. They saw ferns. They saw three banana slugs. They saw spider webs. They looked at trees lying on the ground. Those trees were dead. The ground was soft. He stopped to pee and saw orange mushrooms. My wife saw a black caterpillar. He took off his shoes and his socks. He walked in the mud. His toes were muddy. He said, "Take off your sandals."
"My nails. They're going to get muddy," my wife said. She asked him if the ground felt chilly. She said she was afraid of banana slugs. She smiled.
They walked beside a stream. He carried my wife's sandals in the backpack. They saw a cluster of forget-me-nots. He said if he tried to pick them for her he would fall in the water. She laughed. She said she would like to see that.
"That's the German legend," he said. "The girl's lover dies drowning. You know I can't swim, right?"
"Maybe I would save you," my wife said.
My wife picked four blackberries. He pointed to acorns on the trail. He pointed at hoof prints on the trail. He said they were from unicorns. He walked beside my wife where the trail widened. He said maybe she could capture a unicorn.
She sat on a log. Her toes were muddy. He rubbed the mud off her feet. He slipped her feet into her sandals.
They walked out of the woods. They were on the top of the mountain. My wife saw two praying mantises. They did not move. They were the color of the grass. She saw a lizard on a rock. She saw another praying mantis.
My wife pointed at the lizard and she said, "Look at that. How did it lose its tail?"
He said, "Maybe his lover bit it off."
"No," she said, "that's praying mantises. And it's their heads."
He saw two praying mantises beside a stream. One was eating a fly.
He said, "Why are there so many fucking praying mantises?"
That morning on my honeymoon, I found my wife sitting in a green truck with a park ranger. I walked to the truck. I had on boxers and wool socks. Pine needles stuck to my socks.
"They called," she said through the windshield. She made a fist against her cheek and held out her thumb and little finger. She opened the door. "They called. They found me all the way out here."
I said, "You left me."
She had on my gray sweatpants and a pair of sandals.
"The ranger knocked on the tent door," she said. "He said I had a phone call. A call from New York. All the way out here. It must have been nine o'clock there. They accepted my collection, and they found me. Who knows how they found me?"
They stepped over the stream. They came to the meadow. The meadow was filled with yellow asphodel.
My wife walked in the field. Four vultures flew in a circle. There was a breeze and the flowers swayed. Across the meadow there was a barn with no roof, and there was a burned out school bus. He walked behind her. She stopped and she told him to turn around. She opened the backpack. She removed the knife.
She leaned down and grasped the stem of a flower. The stalk was thick and hard as wood. She cut it. She cut two more. My wife sat down.
We packed the tent and we reached the airport at sunset. I put her bags on the curb.
"This is what it's like married to a creative type," she said. She smiled. A policewoman blew a whistle and waved at me. My wife picked up her bags and she kissed me. She smelled like the campfire.
I fastened the seatbelt. I phoned my manager and I said if he needed me to work the next day I could.
My wife spread the asphodels across her lap. He stood behind my wife and he stared at her pink T-shirt. He looked at the sweat on her neck.
He took off his shirt. My wife turned her head and she looked at him. She smiled. She turned back and gazed across the field. He unbuttoned his shorts. She looked up at the vultures. He took off his tennis shoes. He took off his socks. The dry grass jabbed his feet and ankles. Rocks poked the soles of his feet.
He unzipped his shorts. He pushed them and his boxers to his ankles. He stepped out of his shorts and boxers, and he put them on top of his tennis shoes. He bent down and put his T-shirt on top. He stared at my wife, and sweat rolled down his body.
She said, "What are you doing?"
He said, "I told you it would be hot as hell."
"Seriously. What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?"
He put his hands on his hips. She stared at him. The sun was on his back. A breeze blew between his legs.
She said, "I have no idea."
She said he was naked and he was being bad. She asked what if someone saw.
He told my wife, "Take off your clothes."
She said, "No."
He looked up, and the vultures flew in circles. He stepped over my wife's legs. He straddled her legs and looked down on her. She tugged on her hair, and her hair fell down on her shoulders. She leaned back on her elbows.
He told my wife to cut the pomegranate because he wanted it.
She handed him half the fruit, and the juice ran down her arm. It dripped off her elbow. He scraped out the seeds with his fingers. The juice dripped off his wrists. It dripped on his foot. He handed her the seeds, and my wife ate them.
He told my wife to take her clothes off.
She looked up at him. She took off the T-shirt. She removed the black bra.
He said there was not a soul in the meadow. He knelt down. He removed the asphodels from her lap. He unsnapped her shorts. He slipped my wife's feet out of her sandals. He kissed her toes. He unzipped her shorts. He kissed her stomach. She arched her back and he tugged her shorts and her underpants. He tugged again. She wriggled. He put her sandals and T-shirt and bra and shorts and underpants in a pile. My wife was naked in the flowery field. He kissed my wife's breasts. He moved his fingers up and down her legs. He pressed his thumb in her bellybutton. He spread out his hand and he stretched his little finger down between my wife's legs.
He said, "How far is it from there to there?"
He pressed his body against my wife's body. The sun was hot. She closed her eyes.
He kissed her lips. He put his knee between her legs. There was a helicopter. He pushed his thigh against her. She opened her eyes. She put her hand to her forehead and shielded her eyes. Sweat dripped off his earlobe and it landed on her cheek. The sound of the helicopter blades got louder. The helicopter was yellow and it had the number 714 on the tail. She closed her eyes. She spread her legs. He stopped moving.
"We can pretend we are dead," he whispered.
They lay still in the grass. The helicopter flew in circles. The thumping sound moved away. My wife opened her eyes. They laughed.
He pressed his toes in the dry grass. She raised her knees. His toes dug down in the black dirt. His knees rubbed against the dry grass. The helicopter returned. My wife listened to it come closer. He rested his head on her shoulder.
He said, "Why is there so much fucking air traffic?"
He stopped moving and he closed his eyes. My wife closed her eyes. They listened to it go away. They did not move. He and my wife pretended together that they were dead.
He dug his toes in the dirt. He clutched clumps of grass. The grass tore. He grabbed onto more grass. He growled and my wife smiled. He looked at my wife's face. She turned her face to one side. She was smiling. She looked at a praying mantis. She stared at the asphodels. They swayed in the breeze. In the asphodel meadow my wife was naked, and she was with him, and she was perfectly happy.
Title image "Meadow Mix" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2016.