A journal of narrative writing.
A Spangly Silver Leotard
Page 2

The image of a woman in a spangly silver leotard poised on a tightrope imposed itself between Ivy and the swamp. No, no, Ivy argued, this could work. Ivy put the car in gear and gave a final thought to drainage holes, pro and con.

To either side, the land was a dramatic one foot higher and the cypress gave way to palm trees, cedar, and sky. On the map, a boxed insert recommended against travel beyond a certain point, but the road was still wide and smooth. Ivy kept driving, encouraged by the appearance of royal palms sprouting in the roadside thickets, their fronds often at Ivy's eye level. She swerved as close as she dared to the edge of the road, hoisted out the window, and reached, trying to touch the satin green of the upper trunk. Ivy had only ever seen pictures of royal palms. In postcards they were the tall ornamental trees lining the driveways of expensive hotels.

Unsuccessful, she dropped into the seat and, still twisted, saw the tops of full-grown royal palms far above the forest canopy.

Their size shifted the scale of everything below them, turning oaks, cabbage palms, and cedars into shrub-sized miniatures. Ivy scrunched into a variety of positions to get a better view, but through the window she could only see the trees in sections. Ivy left the van, positioned her chair in the road, and tilted her head. Too tall, too straight, too narrow to remain upright under Earth's gravity, the palms made more sense as alien obelisks dropped from the sky. She shut her eyes and thought she heard the wind through their fronds, a deeper sound than the clacking of cabbage palms. Tree-filtered sunlight warmed her eyes. Red-tinged scenes moved behind her lids – old fights with long ago lovers, the grand opening of their store with the two of them laughing and posing for pictures, the shadowed tunnels of mangroves near her last campsite.

Ivy returned to the van and reread the warning on the map. She continued along the road, always expecting it to end or get rough. Instead, the crushed shell surface changed to regular pavement, fresh concrete covered a drainage pipe running under the road, and a stop sign guarded an intersection. Ivy stopped. In front of her was impenetrable brush – too impenetrable. No animal paths lead in, no creeks emerged, there was no standing water, and none of it was more than a few feet higher than the van. It looked unnatural.

Ivy turned left for no good reason and pulled to obedient full stops at each empty intersection. Containing the thickets, curbs lined both sides of the road, and Ivy noticed gaps in them, and then that the gaps were evenly spaced. An image of driveways formed and Ivy knew that she was in a subdivision, a swamp that had been clear cut and filled in, one of the famous Florida land boondoggles from earlier in the century. It was possible she was in the exact place where the joke about buying swampland in Florida had originated. Each potential driveway represented a person with a mostly forgotten, perhaps inherited, tattered deed tucked somewhere in their papers, and Ivy was looking at all their quarter-acres of paradise.

At the next intersection, Ivy stopped imagining an overlying grid of modest, concrete block houses when she heard the rumble of an engine approach. She waited while the oldest camper van in the world pulled through, slowing enough for the crusty, bearded face inside to give Ivy a thorough once over before it drove on, trailing a white plume and the smell of burnt oil. Ivy wanted to know if he lived here, how he did it, if he was one of the dreamers who had bought a lot or a squatter and did he stay in the summer, with mosquitoes, under the sun? Did it flood every year? Did he have neighbors? They probably weren't fond of tourists intruding.

Ivy made a u-turn and retraced her route, heading the van toward lunch. At first, she slowed at her favorite spots, but she was tired and no longer able to feel their allure. She did ponder the Florida swampland joke and how it had come full circle; if Ivy inherited a piece of swamp she would, without irony, think of it as paradise.


A polite voice asked if she wanted breakfast. Ivy snapped her eyes open, sure that someone had gotten in the van. She heard knocking. Light shone around the edges of her bedroom door where it didn’t fit properly. When the voice knocked again, the door rattled loosely, bumping against the chair Ivy had dragged in front of it the night before after discovering that her door didn’t have a lock. In a hoarse voice, Ivy said that she'd be right there and rolled to sitting. She flipped into her wheelchair and put on a long T-shirt, pulling it over her knees and tucking in the sides before opening the door a few inches. Cutlery clatter and cheery conversations came from the far end of the empty hall. Ivy scurried to the bathroom where she peed, splashed her face, and, since she had forgotten her toiletry bag, swished plain water in her mouth. Returning unseen to her room, she dressed quickly. When she reemerged, the owner was walking away from the dining room carrying a tray of dirty dishes.

"Now, there you are. We thought you'd forgotten us. Just follow me, we have you all set up in the living room. See right there on the coffee table, there’s your juice and coffee. Oh right, you said you didn't drink it. Are you sure? I couldn't get by without my morning fix. Get started on the fruit cup, and I'll bring you a serving of casserole."

Ivy bent over the low table, picked up the fruit, and poked at it – canned in heavy syrup. She took a bite and put it down in favor of the orange juice.

"Sorry for the wait. I popped it in the microwave to reheat. I think you'll like it, it's my own recipe. We aren't licensed to cook on site, so I've invented these breakfast casseroles that I make at home and heat up here. Well, enjoy. I'll check on you later."

Surrounded by two couches and four chairs, all upholstered in matching paisley brocade, Ivy was alone in the big room. She maneuvered the plate onto her lap and smelled the stiff square of eggs, ham, cheese, and colored chunks of something before forking an experimental bite into her mouth. It was leathery after its third heating and didn't lack for salt. Ivy rated it better than her campground meal of Ramen noodles with chicken and much better than the one of canned tuna. She ate every bite as she listened to morning sounds from the rest of the house – toilets flushing, feet ascending and descending stairs, and the outside doors opening.

After breakfast, the hallway was deserted and the house silent as Ivy reorganized for another trip to the bathroom. When she finished, a cleaning cart was halfway into her room.

"Oh my. I thought you were gone for the day. No problem, let me just back this right out of your way. Take your time. There's no lack of chores to do around here."

Ivy went into her room, shut the door, and sat among the furniture, collapsed over the arm rests of her wheelchair. Once again, images formed behind her closed eyes. A white orchid bloomed in the fork of a tree branch, a ledger sheet floated in the swamp, water stains blurring the columns of numbers, and then a glittering figure moved into the sunlight high above the forest and somersaulted from palm to palm.

Ivy heard rattling outside her door. She straightened in her seat and rubbed her face. She gathered her gear and her energy. Clearly, she was supposed to leave.