by Sandra Arnold

All the strands that held me together on my climb up the mountain began to unravel the moment I hauled myself over the last rock. My head was too disconnected from my body to work out how I was going to get back down. Or even if I wanted to go back down. Or even if there was a back to go back to.

In the distance, three craggy peaks jutted above a sun-split bank of cloud. Squinting at them, I didn’t immediately see the woman standing at the edge a few metres away, looking down the steep drop to the valley floor where a raging river ran. She turned her head in my direction as I stepped back, startled. I thought the climb must have affected my vision as well as my ability to coordinate my thoughts because each time I got her face in perspective, it changed. Sometimes she looked young, sometimes ancient and sometimes everything in between. The longer I looked at her the stronger my conviction grew that even though she knew exactly what had brought me to this place she was waiting for me to say it.

I heard myself whisper, ‘Broken home. Broken heart. Broken mind.’

She pointed to the three peaks. ‘You need to cover the distance before you can hear what comes back.’

So I shouted the words as loud as I could. They flew across rocks and ravines, valleys and mountains, forests and rivers. They came back in dying echoes.

In the silence the woman asked, ‘What do you know now?’

I said, ‘I know I have a broken home, a broken heart and a broken mind.’

She nodded. ‘And?’

‘But I do not have a broken spirit.’

The woman smiled a thousand smiles.

Sandra Arnold is a novelist, short story writer and essayist. Her work appears in numerous international journals and anthologies, most recently in Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). In 2019 her third novel Ash will be published by Mākaro Press (NZ)  and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings by Retreat West Books (UK). She is on the advisory board and is a guest editor for Meniscus: The Australasian Association of Writing Programmes.