The Arc

by Michael Grubb

For the last morning, Anne climbs the mountain with her son and a knife, imitating Abraham. She cannot be outdone in doing right. She reads the Bible and she understands it. Anne is one who gets even the hard parts—the parts that people color with their histories and with capital-H History so the words end up meaningless. Like the beautiful youth pastor that gave Anne her son. Like Anne’s own mother who couldn’t hold a job. Like all of life at the bottom of the mountain: strip malls, evictions, stagnant canals, repetitive conversations at patio tables.

She’s read all of the Bible three times and a little serious philosophy, too. So Anne is ready. The car is parked at the foot of the hill and Kobe is panting in the back seat, fogging up the window and looking for squirrels coming from the thicket. The sun tops Palomar Mountain but the fog is still thick. Anne’s son is six and does not speak because he was born without a number of chromosomes. He, like Kobe, has his eyes on the thicket for entertainment. He holds Anne’s hand and has his lips tucked in a contented grin.

The hike is almost over. Anne says, I’m very tired, Joe Joe.

Nuh, Joe Joe says, thinking she is prepping him for bedtime or naptime.

Abba, she says, I can hear you in the birds, I can feel the worms turning in their holes, I feel the core of the earth, Abba. Your kingdom come, your will be done. Write your story on this mountain today. Her phone rings, and it is Anne’s earthly father waiting for her to answer but she doesn’t. She is breathing heavily now with each step.

At the top, in a clearing, she kneels and unzips her backpack. She adds a tally to a clipboard, unfolds a black tarp, and unscrews a tiny bottle of oil. Go get the wood, she says to Joe Joe. He walks to the treeline and sits down to dig at the weeds with his fingers, still sticky with jam. Inside of Anne, there is a fire being fanned. She knows that this will scorch the complacency, which has, of course, become the only evil on earth. The unbearable stillness.

Now the twiggy altar is built on the tarp, and now the boy is on his stomach, his palms skyward.

There is the matter of the knife. But this morning it is the only matter, finally, and even though Anne is sweating, the hill is quiet and good. Her image of Abraham, which is inseparable from her memory of Joe Joe’s father, the youth pastor, settles in her mind and Abraham’s coveted throughline to God, now hers, feels wide and electric. Joe Joe, good boy. She can see his hand at his side making the sign for snack snack snack please snack.

An emaciated hiker appears from the other side of the clearing, maybe sixty feet away. His clothes are black and filthy. His shirt is stretched at the neck so that the profane tattoos across his ribs peek out.

He shouts, Well shit, didn’t think anybody came up here.

Joe Joe cranes his neck to see the hiker. Anne, comprehending God’s plot, seeing the arc of the entire universe, hides the knife beneath her tarp until the appropriate time.

MICHAEL GRUBB teaches at the University of Tennessee. You can find more of his work in The Other Journal and Fiction Southeast.

Photo: “Thicket” by ecks ecks