Under a thin layer of soil, a pained groan emerged from beneath the hill. It was saturated, heavy with earthworms, beetles, ants, termites. Edith’s feet scraped the ground beneath her, flattened the browning grass. Her bones ached as so often they did. She grew tired of work, of home, of her husband and their arguments, of wasting away at the end of the night. She choked on phlegm and anger and routine.
The hill was hers once, a relic of joy she abandoned around twenty-four. Atop the hill, she recalled a stream, a small creek around its base. It homed the mallards, the box turtles. She would run up the hill to greet them. Through crooked teeth, she would shout a resounding “Hello!” to the birds and the turtles. As she aged, she stopped returning.
The hill had not always been so steep, Edith was certain. Her lungs pulled her to the ground. She heaved, sputtered, wiped sweat from her brow. The ground wobbled loosely beneath her. It took the same gasping breaths she did. She sat and plucked some grass, pulling it between her weathered hands. She rubbed it between her fingers. It was cold, damp, though it had not rained in many days. Edith recalled the creek and the ducks and the turtles and left it there.
The ground was soft, almost spongy, as she pushed against it to stand once more. On her feet again, her body continued towards the peak of the hill, just under halfway there.
She brought her husband here only once. She was a younger woman, naive, and her husband seemed excited to see where she’d grown up. The hill was smaller then. The air was light. It was spring or fall. Her husband kissed her knuckles at the base of the hill. She held back a blush as each finger had a kiss pressed against it. By the time they reached the halfway point of the hill, her husband refused to go any further. Edith promised, swore, that the top would make it worth it. That they could roll down at the end, like she did as a kid. Her husband scoffed. Childish. That was the word, wasn’t it? Childish. Or selfish? Or insufferable? Which fight had it been? She rolled down the hill. She didn’t want to, but her husband’s frustration led her to the base of the hill. At the bottom, she saw her husband standing at the halfway mark. Folded arms, a grimace, no remorse. Edith didn’t want her last memory of the hill to be that. Grassy knees and scraped elbows and the twigs she pulled from her hair, alone, in the bathroom that night.
She grunted. The hill got steeper. Edith resented the moments she wasted on not returning to this hill. Her life was spent in pursuit of a return, of a joy given up for someone else. She thought she was happy when she and her husband married. She thought she was happy when she and her husband came to the hill. Happy when they had children. Happy when she kissed her husband and her husband would grip her waist. Wasn’t she? When did it stop?
She saw only a few feet ahead of her now. Her body ached. Her heart raced, raced. The top of the mountain was only a few more steps. She froze. What would she do if this didn’t make her happy? If she wasn’t happy, would she ever be?
She laid her back against the hill and sprawled her legs out. She was nearing the top. She would soon regain her bearings and she would stand at the top of her hill and she would be happy. She felt a clawing on her thigh and ignored it. The ground grew wetter. Her thigh ached unbearable. She clasped the meaty part. Her fingers stained red. The heft of her body, her weighty limbs, sunk into a shallower grass. The hill, saturated with life, popped. The earthworms, the beetles, the ants, the termites swarmed her body, and consumed her flesh. It hurt, yes, like dying a thousand times. But Edith only had to once.