Notes from the End of the Affair


Art by Tyra Olstad

Art by Tyra Olstad


This is the end of the affair; this is the beginning of me being mine again. Alone and afraid by the fire, cat-track crisp-edged in the mud by the water.

My tarp hangs taut between two trees: a gaping mouth lapping at flamelight, salivating for warmth. The swollen puff of my sleeping bag nudges the hot-edged rocks. I watch sparks singe holes into its fabric.

Outside the circle of firelight, the stars are sharp and cold. Smoke dulls their edges. I am aware of all the edges: the line of wool rasping against my forehead, the skin of my hands troubling the air, the fading rims of shine weaving up from flame. There is a fleshy edge to my heart, choking and stammering against its bounds, and I know I will not sleep.

Not long ago my edges crowded close with love. Sighing and giving. And now I have drawn my self hard and harsh again, and laid its edges open to this dark.


I was supposed to get married last week. Instead, I am here.

I have been bleeding; in the tin pot I am boiling rags clean of my blood. Meat-smell rises with the smoke, and my stomach rolls with hunger and disgust. I wrap my hand to lift the lid to stir the rags, and watch the water claw and hiss and spit.

Yesterday I spread my wound to the sunshine and drained blood into the grass. Almost black, my blood, rolling down blades and petals to stain dark soil. I hope this is a good idea. I know that dark and wet breed, and that all around me the air is clear and dry and filled with light.

So I test myself against this air. I bleed into the sun and into the soil, and under the cold glare of stars I boil the rags.


I have spent many hours in mountains alone. Months, weeks, days. I am not a stranger here. Today, brambles dripped with berries and the old growth wore moss across its rough wet.

The trees shed water in drops that darkened my sleeves. I wandered until I came to a mountain shaped like a feeding animal.

I walked up the mountain’s tail, and then its spine, until I was at the shoulder blade, where the neck began its arc down into a thick mane of forest. Who knows what jaws work below, I was thinking, when I almost tripped over the kill.

It was a fresh kill, half-covered in dead leaves. The belly was chewed through in a neat hole.

I bent and picked up a bone bright with blood. In the blood were clear tracks of a rough tongue. My hand shook. When I dropped the bone, it hit a rock and sang a single, hollow note.


I wonder when I will stop discovering new ways to be afraid.


I breathed the bone’s note in and sang it back.

I swelled my voice to a roar that shook the insides of my skin, that tightened my eyes and my tongue and my hands. The kill and the trees and the moss and the berries all hummed at their edges.

I swelled my voice until it choked, and my sides heaved with the suddenness of breathing. Then I walked away.

* * *

Now I trail dark ink over a page. There are cat-tracks by the water, and my blood-smell rises with the smoke.

I am afraid, I am afraid, I am afraid. But I bare my teeth in the firelight.

I am fit for this. Fit for whole nights weighed by tracks, fit for the fullness of my thoughts and the muscle swelling in my limbs. Fit for bleeding.

And this is the end of the affair; the beginning of being mine again. Cat-track crisp-edged in the mud by the water, myself alone and open to the dark.


Talley V. Kayser

Talley V. Kayser has been an outdoor professional since 2007; she has logged over 40,000 hours of in-field experience as a wilderness guide. She holds an MA in literature and the environment from the University of Nevada, Reno. During the academic year, Talley directs The Pennsylvania State University’s Adventure Literature Series, teaching courses that couple literary study and wilderness experience. She spends her summers writing and exploring mountain landscapes.