She’d been two months in the mountains and when she came down her hair was matted and her smile was peaceful. But the roar of traffic seemed louder than before, the air more difficult to breathe.
She became trapped under the harsh lights of an all-night convenience store. Caught between cans of soup and boxes of cookies, she spotted them – clear bottles of water lined up like cattle in stalls, like prisoners in cells behind the glass walls. Stamped with logos evoking streams and her mountain freedom, they were a mockery of that purity she’d known. Tears welled in her eyes, making shimmering reflections of steel shelves and imprisoned water.
As if moving in her sleep, she reached forward and slid aside the thick glass door. Grasping a clear bottle in her hand she pulled it toward her and with a quick twist of her wrist she released the cap. She turned the bottle upside-down in her hands. Water jumped out, splashing on her pant leg in its eager descent to the floor. The coolness spurred her on and she began reaching into the shelves and grabbing bottles, twisting off caps and flinging them to the ground. Water ran confusedly between her feet, down the candy bar aisles and past the auto magazines. She tossed the empty bottles aside, not waiting from them to finish releasing before she grabbed the next one.
The pimply-faced boy behind the counter watched her in frozen fear, his face twisting in anxiety. His mouth flapped open and closed, like a fish hungry for this running water. He cried out, in a shrill, childish scream. “Stop doing that!”
She froze instantly, then turned and saw the boy in his bright orange shirt, backed by rows of cigarettes. She did not meet his frightened eyes, but looked to the floor and saw bottles lolling listlessly side to side, strewn like corpses at a train wreck. Water flowed aimlessly across linoleum, already dulled by dirt and spilled coffee.
She gave a cry, more animal than human, and crumpled to the floor between the empty bottles. The water, uncertain in its liberation, ran toward her and clung to her clothes like hungry children.