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Her body fits snuggly in the tub. Heavy legs emerge from calm waters, angling up to rest on the edge, varicose veins map blue highways beneath pasty white skin. Her ankles are slim, she has always been proud of them, but their slimness makes a mockery of the rest of her. She wonders idly if they resent the task of carrying her weight. As she lifts each leg to run a washcloth over her ankles, her eyes wander up to her knee. Shapeless, her leg stretches out and the knee disappears beneath folds of fat. She admires her ankles again.
She reaches for a plastic shaver resting on the edge of the tub. She hasn't used it in some time. Lifting one arm, graceful, her hand dips to lower the shaver against her underarm where hair sprouts in tangled profusion. The razor bites into the forest and a patch of skin is revealed.
But what is that slick of red there? A tiny smear of blood on her skin. She feels a sudden scampering. Groping to separate the thickness of hair to see, she fights revulsion as she feels the scampering again and flashes after it, plunging her fingers into the forest to grip something. Peering closely, she sees a tiny naked man struggling fiercely between her thumb and forefinger. His skin is coffee brown, hair long and braided, one leg is wounded, blood from the wound drips minuscule flecks on her skin. Trance-like, she opens her fingers to allow his escape. Gazes at the little man swimming swiftly back to her armpit. Absently raises her arm to see him disappear within the dark jungle of hair.
She believes she has lost her mind and accepts the idea with fatalistic calm. She doesn't mind, really. She has no friends to impress and welcomes the prospect of escape from the loneliness that colors her every waking moment in shades of gray. She is old. 'Old Maid'. She rather likes the term, recalling an image of herself among jersey cows, balancing on a three-legged stool, her hands moving rhythmically to bring milk from a soft pink udder. She remembers when this was her reality. When chickens clucked around her feet with inquiring voices. A solitary farmer, she used to spend hours in the company of animals, but her barn stands empty now. A barren place where ghosts hover like cobwebs from sturdy rafters. Very much like herself...
Dipping her hand into the bath water to retrieve the shaver resting on the floor of the tub, she brings it up and places it on the edge, then heaves up from the water, watching it pour down over her body as her fingers blindly grope for a towel. Drying herself briskly, she avoids her left armpit, leaving it to dry naturally. She sleeps with her arm folded behind her head, strangely comforted by furtive scampering over her skin. Motherly instinct grows within her, protective of the minuscule creature her loneliness has brought to life.
Morning sun streams through a crack in the curtains. She rises to begin a new day, unaccustomed to the well of gladness that fills her. She is no longer alone. Lifting her arm, she sees a group of coffee colored men and women. They have built small, round huts in the clearing where the patch of hair was shaved away yesterday. Tiny brown children run naked through the village while women cook over a neat, round fire. She feels slight heat on her skin but it does not alarm her. She turns to peer beneath her right arm. Another forest, but this one is empty.
She dresses slowly, strangely touched by the sight of her naked body in the mirror, a tenuous attachment that was never there before. Easing her bra over her shoulders, she leaves her blouse on the chair. She will not deprive the little village of life-giving sun. Smells from the cooking fire drift from her armpit to her nostrils. She lifts her arm to see. Families gather to eat small, round loaves baked to golden perfection.
Days blend into nights as she observes the growing colony. Sensing a timid stealing across her arm, she peers down to see a line of travelers, weaving like slender thread through sparse hairs of her forearm. They carry possessions wrapped in bundles and balanced on their heads. Multicolored cloth is tied like skirts around their waists. The procession stops on her wrist, gathers around one man, older than the rest. His left leg is marred by a long scar running from ankle to knee. She remembers him as the first man.
He organizes them into groups. Men, women, and children—several of each for every clan, and then he points them forward. They hug each other warmly and disperse. Each new tribe marches with confidence over her five fingers. She watches, fascinated as they set up tents on the smoothness of her fingernails.
She moves carefully, afraid she might harm the tiny creatures. She is naked now, her clothes forgotten on a chair in one corner of her bedroom. Standing for hours before a full-length mirror, she follows the advance of the coffee-colored villagers across her chest to colonize her other arm. Twists to observe them traveling over her shoulders to her back. She has seen animals too. Feels them swinging through her armpit hairs, watches them grazing in herds across her breasts.
A company of explorers. Their skin is white, thick yellow braids wound around their heads, movements cautious as they descend the slope of her right breast. They have tied ropes around their waists for safety. One stands above, bracing himself sturdily, he pays out lengths of rope to allow his companions to make their way down to the nipple, then carefully gropes his way down to join them.
They have discovered a herd of cows on the underside of her breast. The people are of a gentle nature, the cows move among them freely. She smiles as an elderly woman grasps a three-legged stool and leans her forehead against the warm side of one cow. White streams of milk flow rhythmically into an old tin pail. The rest of the group sets to work, gathering material for fires, arranging cooking utensils for their evening meal. Children are sent to collect branches and palm fronds to be used for shelter. The huts are arranged in a circle, surrounding a communal fire.
The new village grows quickly, with a subtle mixing of races as brown folks from the upper regions join the whites. She watches them, her face hanging over their world like a moon. But the villagers are absorbed in their own universe and remain unaware of her eyes gazing down. Loneliness creeps upon her again. Tears slide down her cheeks. Twin cascades pour down to fill the cleft between her breasts, forming a lake brimming with fish and waterfowl. Reeds rise up around the edges, and nests built by ducks and loons and swans with white feathers flashing.
A man approaches the lake, slips into the water and swims to the opposite shore with long, graceful strokes. He is very old. She recognizes the long scar on his leg. The first man. Carefully gathering twigs and branches he sets them alight, then kneels before the fire and begins to sing of the first day when he was marked by the Gods.
Some villagers turn away. Others are touched, tentatively lifting their faces to search the sky. She calls to them softly. They hear her voice in the breath of wind and cry of the loon. They hear her voice through the lips of the first man. Gathering their possessions, the believers set sail for the far shore where the scarred man waits.
They build a new village on her left breast and teach their children to watch the skies. She looks down on them with love and sometimes they glimpse her face among the clouds. As the scarred man leads his flock, generations are born, age and die, yet he lives on.
But all is not well. The Left Breast villagers eye the far shore with apprehension. The indifference of the Right Breast villagers has turned to loathing. They do not understand the scarred man and fear him; despise him and all that he stands for. Some of his disciples have disappeared without trace, he fears the Right Breast villagers are responsible. Rumors of war have begun to circulate.
A shot fired! The Right Breast village has advanced under cover of darkness! With terrible efficiency they sweep ashore, killing or maiming every man, woman, and child. Fires illuminate the carnage in orange and gold. Screams from the dying rise up. Mother presses her hands to her ears but cannot cover the din.
And then she sees the first man. Too ancient to defend his people, he has placed himself on the highest peak of her breast. White hair streams down his back, eyes raised in search of her. He does not see the mob grappling toward him. They surround him swiftly. He gives no struggle. Allows his enemies to bind him hand and foot. He curls his body tighter to Mother's breast, against the stones that break his bones. Until Mother places her own hand over him and he breathes his last breath.
Left Breast survivors trickle away. Some are overcome by grief and never seen again. Others climb the slope to rejoin their relatives in the armpit forest. Victorious Right Breast villagers expand their territory to include the vast plain below. There they begin to build. She looks down with horror at the city covering her stomach, remembering when she covered herself with layers of insecurity. But she has come to recognize her own beauty. Now she mourns the loss... her newly awakened confidence lost beneath roads and sidewalks that spread unnaturally over her. Her skin struggles to breathe.
A huge contraption is raised over her navel, a thick pipe plunges down, penetrating her and she cries out, but there are no ears to hear her pain. Those who were believers are too frightened to voice objection. They pretend they do not hear Mother's agony. Geysers spew up, her blood brings riches to the burgeoning city. Sewer systems are forced like arteries through her flesh, carrying foul wastes to the lake of tears between her breasts.
The lake is polluted now. The fetid stench wafts up to her nostrils and she feels nausea rise from the pit of her stomach. With a desperate cry, she lets loose a torrent of vomit from her mouth. It surges down like molten lava, covering the new city, most of the inhabitants are buried.
A massive cleanup effort is launched by survivors. As each casualty is discovered, the cry is raised anew, "Mother Nature has turned against us! She must be conquered!"
Her thighs are first to succumb. Their thickness offers ample space for a growing population. She has not shaved her legs for some time, the hair provides forest cover for many species of wildlife. But the city is growing rapidly, more room is needed. Her legs are deforested nearly to her ankles, condominiums built to cover the naked skin. Still, developers continue to plan new subdivisions. They eye the remaining bit of pristine wilderness; the forest between her legs, as yet untouched.
One morning she wakes to see orange flags across her pubic hair, marking boundaries. Chainsaws slice through the old growth. Skin that was covered is now revealed, it shows red from the scrape of sharp blades. Folks from the armpit forest descend to defend her... too late. Hand in hand, protesters wander through the stubble, chanting songs of mourning.
...A cry is raised, everyone stumbles over to see. Her legs part to show her most precious secret. "The earth is a woman!" it starts as a whisper, then, "THE EARTH IS A WOMAN! THE EARTH IS A WOMAN!" Voices swirl and dance over her body. From every corner, animals and humans alike raise their faces to see her own face, gazing down with love and hope.