The Bog: part two (short story)
“So if I start choking after a while, just ignore it.” He barked out another of his bitter laughs, and stalked himself back to his lost place.
“What I’m trying to say…what I’m trying to say…we got a preserve here, we got a refuge two counties over, we got a national forest upstate. Maybe a rock formation gets to be a national monument, maybe an estuary gets to be a bird sanctuary. Thing is”—he moved his hands, groping after the thing—“the sundew. The sundew drops its seeds, right where it blooms. A mouse, a deer…a crow, puts its foot down, foraging, and if it has someplace else to go, it carries the seed packed between its toes in mud, and plants a sundew in some other bog. The crow might have a chance, maybe the deer. The mouse is pretty much stuck at Rust Creek. And the other two, while they may range outside our bog, aren’t that likely to make their way to some other bog. Rust Creek is one of only four protected boglands in the state.”
A woman and her husband, Tara and Dennis…Carpenter, was it? maybe Carter…closed in on Duffet. Tara asked him a piercing question about habitat corridors. One or two in the group tarried at the fringe of their circle, offering over-conscientious nods as Duffet elaborated his point. The rest returned to the line of cars parked tilted along the road, so that their right-hand (some stubbornly left-hand, drawn up nose to nose) wheels were banked on the ditch.
Tara was a type, Laurel thought. People had these intense little exchanges about things they knew already; things they talked about and emailed about…as though to make an inventory of the group’s phrases, touch base on commitment: I say “habitat corridor” to you; you say “tipping point” to me. Tara, introduced to Laurel, had shaken hands; she’d thrust hers out first, but goggled her eyes through this formality. Laurel had thought of a friendly remark.
“I really liked that photo you posted—the sunset and the blackbirds…all the amber light and contrast…” She’d fallen, then, into uttering meaningless praise-words: “really great”; “so beautiful”…because Tara had begun actively to drift off, making at length what seemed to Laurel a pretext of hailing Dennis, murmuring that she had to tell him something. Am I teacher’s pet, Laurel thought, because I’ve been given an assignment? Where is the friction coming from?
She was going to camp here for two nights; spend two days counting checkerspots.
“We’re past the egg-laying season, so it’s safe to pin them.” This conversation, she’d been having with Rachel before Duffet arrived, late for his talk…what he’d been up to, beyond knowing.
“I don’t want to kill a butterfly.”
“You don’t have to.” She shook her head at Rachel’s open mouth. “No, I mean, I will kill them. You don’t have to.”
“Probably. But the Frazey’s is hard to identify. You know…” She tried this again. “There’s nothing dangerous, camping. I have a GPS, I have a phone. The Free Landers don’t come into the bog.” They might, Laurel supposed. It was easier to envision Duffet stalking around under the moonlight. And Duffet the Wildman wasn’t dangerous, either. “If you’re not into it, you’ll be bored.”
“No, I can help.”
“You’ll be sorry,” Laurel said.
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)