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Eating the Leaves


She starts training for everything at once: motherhood, the apocalypse, a 5K. The Pulitzer-winning earthquake that promises to obliterate the Pacific Northwest. A high-altitude decathlon. North Korea.

She stops drinking (but still drinks some, because obviously, the world is terrible and who can bear it?), stockpiles prenatals, buys new shoes. Functional shoes.

She reads a book about real/whole/just-totally-no-holds-barred-fucking-totally-real food and the pleasures of a radiant pregnancy. She skips presumptuous chapters contingent upon the handy availability of tropical organic produce.

She goes to the woods and looks around, hard. She is underwhelmed by the prowess of the survival guide illustrator. She intently wants to recognize the edible leaves—to discern poison from nutrition—but they all look the same, green on green on green.

Days pass. Weeks. She gets better books, listens to podcasts, writes her senator. She runs, everywhere, but always, ultimately, to nowhere, sleeps the thick black sleep of the irretrievably exhausted. She buys walkie-talkies, wonders to whom she should give the second device.

She rejects excess, donates wildly.

She wades through old photographs, despising them—their flat immortality, their shallow, bulletproof intimacy.

She returns to the woods—marginally older, the same—pockets packed with color print-outs of leaves.

She studies the earth, glides her thumbs over the flimsy fawn-soft green. Panic rises in her like a fist, a tight and bloody, aching thing.

She studies the photos. But every leaf looks like a leaf, especially the ones that will kill you.

Even so, now, while the hospitals still run on power and the mountain is standing and there's no propitious alien lifeform blossoming in her gut, she must learn.

So she plucks a leaf—a leaf that looks as much like the artist's rendering as any leaf—

and she begins to eat.