I learned the clove hitch when I was twelve. Mom stood at the lip of a canyon, face leathery from sun and said, "Your turn, Princess." She hooked a carabiner through my harness and yanked the rope so hard it burned a new line into my palm. "Climbing," I shook, repeating the command from memory. "Climb away." As a kid, I knew climbing knots like home phone numbers. It was before the internet, before the best use of my hands was typing or tapping or scrolling through lives I didn't know. Back then, I used my hands with purpose. I tied knots. There was the bowline, double fisherman's, figure-8 retraced, girth hitch. Now, I love in knots. Claire was the stopper hitch. She wrapped herself around me until there was no more slack to give. Johnny was a Kleimheist - almost too reliable, and so a bore to utilize. Jack was the butterfly knot. The two of us moved together, looping over and under and around each other so tight it seemed we'd merged; how a quick tug west unraveled us completely. "Get out," he'd told me, so I met my mother on the side of a mountain. She was strapped in a harness and ready to fall. I pinched a beetle from her hair, cracked its shell until guts pushed out and I wiped the yellow paste across my cheek. "You got me?" She had a bag of pitons tucked in her shorts, though we'd been busted for using them a few months back. The spikes anchored us closer to the mountain, but they fucked with rock formation and so, especially in spots prone to rockslides, weren't allowed. * At dusk, my mother makes to start another route. The sun is a fat red yolk that spills along horizon. I say nothing, but I know she knows I'm scared. "Let's go before the ranger comes." She ties a figure-8 so quick her knuckles whirr. "That blonde one? Takes the warm and fuzzy out of cunt." We double-check the screws, the knots. She opens her mouth and dips her hands in chalk. I open the Nalgene and pour water over her tongue. My mom's so beautiful. Sometimes I look at her and think, I lived inside you. She climbs away from me so easily it seems impossible. After a while, the rope grows slack. Either she's made it to the cave thirty feet below or the knot's untied, and parts of her are dripping from the trees like sundae fudge. "Mom?" My plea reverberates; each echo sounds more desperate than the next. I cringe. Concern disappoints my mother. When I was younger, she tried to raise me brave. Now I wait for her response. It's only a few seconds, but the silence seems intentional. I can't help it. In the face of loss, I become undone. By the time she says she's safe, my mouth has filled with blood. I bit my lip so hard, some's come off. I spit out salt, the chunk of annexed lip. I wonder if she remembers when I was a part of her; if in dreams, I return to her insides. "Climbing," she yells. "Climb away."
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