Hills Like Black Licorice

by Steven desJardins

A man and a woman sat on a wooden bench outside a train station. On the tracks nearby, a giant and a troll took turns working a bicycle pump, slowly inflating a locomotive and several passenger cars.

"It won't be long now," the man said. "They just have to let the air in."

The woman said nothing.

"It's just a little journey, Jig," the man said. "We won't really be going anywhere at all."

"Then why go?"

"So we can be happy. Just like we were before."

"Then we should stay. So we can be happy. Just like we were before."

The man sighed. "We can't do that, Jig. The boy's growing up. There's no place for fairy tales anymore. Soon all he'll be thinking about is sex. That's no place for a girl like you."

"You would know."

The man turned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"What's anything supposed to mean?" The girl stood up and paced back and forth. "God, I want a drink."

"I'll get you something." The man got some change out of his pocket. "I think they have lemonade in the station."

"I hate lemonade."

"That's all they have." The man stared at her. "Jig, I wish you'd tell me what was bothering you."

"I hate being called Jig. That's what's bothering me."

"You never said you hated it."

"Yes I did."

"Well, I didn't know you meant it." The man sat down on the bench. Soon the woman sat beside him.

"You know what impressed me most when the Gumdrop Mountains fell apart?" the man said. "I was watching, you know. I didn't have a very good view of most of them, of the spearmint and strawberry and lemon and that funny tasting white one, but I was close enough to the licorice mountain to see it split open and tumble apart, and what I remember most is not the tips of lollipop trees poking up through black hills or the screams of gingerbread men, but the black, black, almost unbearable blackness of the mountain's quivering insides."

The woman took a crumpled brown paper bag from underneath her seat. "You are so full of it, Hansel."

"You have to go, Jig--Gretel. The mindscape's falling apart. This is no place for people like us."

"Like us. Do you know what I'm like, Hansel? Did you ever?" The girl took a handful of bread crumbs from the bag and ate them.

"That's what I mean. Bread crumbs. We didn't eat bread crumbs in the story. He's got it all wrong."

"It's not what you mean at all," the woman said. "This is an old mistake, the kind little boys make. A teenager wouldn't think that girls ate bread crumbs."

"And I don't see how you can eat that. It must be awfully dry, and you said you were thirsty."

"It's not dry. It's sweet. Actually, it tastes a bit like lemonade."

"Everything tastes like lemonade," the man said.

"That's right," the woman said. "Except licorice." She rolled up the top of the bag and stuck it underneath the bench. "I hate lemonade."

"Come on, Gretel. We'll take the train out of here, and live in some other boy's mind."

"In a little gingerbread house," the woman said. "That tastes like lemonade."

"That's right." The train whistle blew. "Come on, Jig. They're getting ready to leave. You have to go. I won't leave without you."

The woman shook her head. "I'm staying."

"Goodbye, then." The man grabbed his bags and joined the line of refugees boarding the train. The woman waited on the bench until the platform was clear. After a while, the train began to move. When it was almost gone, the woman suddenly jumped up and ran after it, and with a hairpin she let the air out.

©1995 by Steven desJardins.

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