- The Woman in the Forest
In the forest there lived a woman who canned her own peaches, who gathered nuts and berries and occasionally painted the sunset. She had a PhD in crystallography which—regardless of how New Agey that might sound—is a complicated scientific discipline involving a good deal of sophisticated math. This woman, the crystallographer who canned her own fruits, understood many things that she did not have a chance to speak about.
She also had a husband. He had agreed to live in the forest with her but refused to quit his job in the city calibrating invisible financial instruments. Her husband was also a wizard with complex math. But what did he do with it?
The forest was in Connecticut. When she got pregnant, her husband said, We’re almost an hour away from the nearest hospital. Are you comfortable with that?
In the forest, away from their rustic-on-the-outside house (but look what’s inside: under those ceiling beams, the finest restaurant-quality cooking range; a living room paneled with the finest entertainment technology; a selection of the finest cheeses on a snack plate on the antique coffee table; a snug room for the baby with top-of-the-line crib and matching changing table) and away from the road that led to the house, there were shadows so deep that direct sunlight hadn’t touched the ground in more than a million years. And on that patch of ground grew brilliant mushrooms, almost translucent.
The woman in the forest sometimes thought of crystallography when she noticed those alien mushrooms. What chemical compounds were involved in the slick surface of their delicate drooping hoods? The soft film of slime like a skin—the opposite of a crystal’s structure, in some ways, but the woman had [End Page 65] studied viruses and was interested in any and all atomic structures.
The different kinds of mushrooms had names: Bear’s Head Tooth, Aborted Entoloma, Brown Witch’s Butter.
At times, nursing the child, when she became bored and her mind wandered, she attempted to make accurate mental sketches of the chemical composition of mother’s milk. A woman might like to think that her milk was special but when you got down to molecules, she knew, it was really all the same.
In hunting season, she heard the distant pop of rifles. One evening, before her husband made it home from work, a small group of hunters came so close to the house she could hear the drunken song they sang, predictably obscene. But she’d never yet seen a man actually hunting deer, not even the faraway orange speck of a vest.
Honestly, what the hell do you do around here all day? her husband asked her once. You have an amazing brain—you worked so hard for so many years—I worry about you sometimes.
It upset her. His tone.
The definition and uses of crystallography:
The discipline began as the study of crystalline structures, but over time evolved into a field of science more generally interested in the relationship between the atomic organization of a substance and the physical properties of that substance. Snowflakes, salt, genes, jelly, a forest, a house, the bristles on a paintbrush.
The woman in the forest never imagined that an animal would disturb the peace of her home, but she opened the door one day and, with her baby in one arm and her fresh cup of coffee in the other hand, she realized that thick gobs of blood had been [End Page 66] smeared across her doorstep. When she looked more carefully she saw that the blood had been painted across her door as well, and coarse long hairs from an animal were stuck in the coagulating red. The smell of guts and unwashed creaturely fear lingered in the air. She found the animal mostly dead about 30 yards from her front doorstep. No: she never found the animal. She could picture it in the shadows, lying on its side, breathing slowly. In her mind, the animal was quietly blinking. It was a mother; somewhere in...