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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
You Will See a Bright White Light
It is what it is, and before that, it was what it was: night, the marks of your hooves in the lawn, the vegetal burst of daylilies between your teeth and on your tongue. You will see your herdmate raise her head from the shrubbery, nostrils flared, ears flicking to reassure herself that there is nothing to hear. You will stride across the gravel driveway and the crickets will break their cadence as you push clumsily through a hedge, but then they will resume, and you will amble toward the thing that pulls you.
If you are truly hungry, you can easily cross the line of human urine whose scent rises up in whorls between you and the garden. You can leap over the white fence that loops through the white gate, and when you land you will be up to your knees in cabbages just starting to form heads, so sweet after first frost; and pungent feathers will tickle your legs to remind you that they are attached to carrots, their flavor a bell that rings in your mouth. On a trellis, a miraculous late crop of pole beans will wave gently to offer leaves and pods both, because this is heaven, and you are for now a trespasser.
At night on the road, so many of your herdmates become apparitions that fly out of the woods, clatter across the gaze of a car’s headlights and then hurtle out of sight again. The driver feels the terror of having missed catastrophe; you slip between tree trunks, and the smell of earth and bitten bark and broken foliage settles into the fragrance of peace.
From the garden, you will see the slow drip of headlights along the road and feel that you are safe. Your herdmate will follow you over the white fence and tear the pole beans from their trellis. You will hear her breathing and chewing and the soft grunts of your own satiated hunger. When a pair of lights widens and moves toward the driveway, you vault back over the fence toward the road and snort, tails up, to warn each other of danger. When night enfolds you again, you slow to a walk and stop to graze together on the shoulder.
When the lights return, they are an apocalyptic silver that bolts through your veins. Your herdmate bounds into white nothingness. You try to follow, and as your hooves touch the road’s surface you will see the light sluicing over her silhouette, beautiful and luminous, before she vanishes up the embankment and you float, weightless as breath, gently calibrating your last moment of being before the long scream of tires on asphalt announces your return to the garden.
Jill Kronstadt’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, New South, and Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops, among others. She lives in Washington, DC.