Ezra met Sonny at a shit factory. It was the type of place that took shit from sewage plants and mixed it with chemicals and steam, to make a fertilizer. To make shit bio-available to crops, a recycling of human waste to grow food that people would ingest… and turn into more shit. Ezra worked a screen in the control room. Sonny was a front-end loader operator. One time, he came into the control room smelling like shit, and sat down next to Ezra. He pulled a sandwich from his pocket and started eating it right there. When he was done, he offered her the crust.
She told him that loader operators weren’t allowed in the control room. But she did eat the crust.
Ezra walks along a road through a forest where, once, a two-headed bear roamed. But it hadn’t been a two-headed bear. It had been Sonny in a two-headed bear costume. He’d been fired from the shit factory, and had decided that he would make a legend about a forest creature to attract tourists. A two-headed bear, rare in these parts. Ezra was supposed to sit at the head of a path off the road, charging admission to the forest, where people would sometimes catch a glimpse of the bear on a rock, or next to a tree. But sometimes not.
Sonny’s in a field beyond the trees, pushing a shovel into the dirt. “Making a mountain,” he says. “The town needs a mountain.”
She sits. “Why’s that?”
“Gets too hot,” he says. He’s sweating. He should have worn gloves but didn’t think of it, and there’s dirt stuck under his fingernails that is going to take an instrument to remove. “When summer rolls, people can go up this mountain if I build it high enough. That’s several degrees drop in temperature. It’s a good place to escape.”
Sonny shovels dirt from a trench onto a mound that’s maybe two feet high. Ezra pulls open a book and reads aloud so that he can hear it. He grunts when she hits a passage he likes. Soon, he takes off his shirt and wraps it around the handle of the shovel. He’s hairy, and now he’s sweaty. He’s wispy like a piece of paper that’s had water dumped on it. Lumpy, like a sponge sitting in the sink too long.
Ezra stares at him, wondering if he’ll finish up and invite her home, to do things with her in a bed, or on the couch. He’s never touched her that way. So that he doesn’t notice that she’s stopped reading, she makes up the next passages of the book, the words rolling out of her without her hardly thinking about it.
In town, there’s one bar. The owner doesn’t charge much for alcohol, to keep it affordable, but in return, he doesn’t make much money. So his patrons help him clean up the place every week, top to bottom.
Today, people are putting up decorations. Christmas lights, one color only, from the animal heads to the dusty chandelier in the middle of the spot. Rolls of paper pinned to places on the wall, so that people can write down messages in marker. Ribbons around the bottles behind the bar, red and blue, drooping down like the bottles are crying or something.
“I’ll have beer,” muses Ezra at the bar, as people put up a painting of a matador.
Wally is the owner, and slides one to her. “You going to do a poem for us on the 26th?”
Last year, Ezra did a poem for Matador Day. She’d stood in front of the whole town, on a stage, speaking into a microphone. There’d been feedback. A kid crying in the audience because his mom wouldn’t let him pick his nose. And she’d been sure that a bird had shat on her, but she couldn’t find anything in her hair later. When she’d finished the poem, everyone had cheered, and several guys had bought her drinks.
“I’m thinking about it.” By the time three beers are in her, the decorations have stopped, and the party has started. A woman gets dressed as a bull and walks on all fours along the bar. People poke her with wooden chopsticks, not too hard, and when they do, she opens her mouth and gives them a pre-packaged shot in a glass. When the bull comes to Ezra, she pokes the thing with her finger instead of a chopstick. She touches a fleshy part of the woman inside. The bull turns to her and opens its mouth. Inside, Ezra can see eyes, like this creature really is a bull, and the costume is meant to distract from that. It’s a bull within a bull, she thinks, as she puts out her hand takes the shot glass.
Sonny is driving fast. The pickup truck rattles every time it hits a bump.
They’re in a garden center, where the trees are. Little baby trees that Ezra smells. She plucks pine needles and puts them into her pocket, wondering if anyone will give her a hard time for it. Sonny doesn’t have much money, but he buys every tree the garden center has.
They load them into the back of the pickup truck. “Why do you need every tree the garden center has?” she asks.
“Mountains, new ones, are unstable,” he informs her. “Especially when they’re made from dirt. There’s a tendency for the dirt to come unclumped. To forget that it’s meant to stay together. It can slide down and slump apart really easily, but not if you plant trees. The roots give the mountain substance. They hold it together.”
On the drive to Sonny’s mountain, Ezra takes his arm. She grasps it above the elbow, in a way that says she’s his friend. Proud of him. Excited to participate in the making of his mountain. If she held his arm a little lower, it would mean something else, she thinks. Now and then, when the pickup truck hits a bump and rattles, her grip falls below Sonny’s elbow, but she always brings it back.
When they get to the mountain, Ezra goes to the pile of dirt. It’s higher than the trees around it. There are trenches in the ground, like scars a massive bear clawed into the earth as it looked to retrieve a cub stuck in a cave underground. She puts her hand into the stolen dirt of the mountain. It’s loose and free, cool to the touch. She looks up and wonders what she could see from the top of this thing. She can’t take her eyes off it. Not even for a second.
Sonny puts a hand on her shoulder. Not too close to her neck. “You see? Let’s grab the trees.”
The next days, Ezra ends her turn in the control room after the last shipment of shit has come in, and heads out to the mountain. Every day. When the mountain gets above the trees, a rainfall hits, and she and Sonny make a cone like a volcano at the top, and swim in the dirty liquid. By the time it’s twice as high as the trees around it, Ezra can feel it cooler at the top than down at the ground. She helps Sonny put sod on the sides, long trails of grass in lines to the summit, like this is some kind of pyramid.
Soon, from the top, Ezra can see the town and the countryside around it. Makes her queasy to look down. The houses are small, the cars irrelevant as they jog along the roads. She can see her own house, the smallest house in town, off to the west side.
In town, Ezra watches a parade. There’s people dressed as matadors waving spears in the air as a marching band of five people blow on their instruments. Kids have coconut shells on their feet, as they clomp about like bulls. One woman comes out with real swords, and does a demonstration as she rolls on a skateboard. She’s wearing a leather bra and a mini-skirt, her hair lumped into two buns above her ears.
In the town square, movie screens have been set up. They’re showing the tourneys from Matador Days past. Bulls in squares, bulls on parade, bulls marched into the bullring and stuck with spears, then ended with swords. There’s no leather bras or coconut shells on the screens. There’s blood and hollering, and as it comes to the end of the animals, people cheer, everyone so loud.
Ezra drinks a beer in the town square, the one stretch during the year when you’re allowed. A few performers are dressed as bulls, wondering through the crowd. People are putting stickers on their hides, but Ezra wants to stab one, just to see what happens. Later, drunk, she’s sure that she sees a two-headed bear in the crowd, its hide thick with stickers, its eyes wild as though it doesn’t know where it is, or what’s going to happen to it.
But no matter how many people in the town, out to enjoy the run-up to Matador Day, no one seems to notice the mountain in the distance. It’s not far. It’s just beyond the forest, the one where that bear had been born. It’s the tallest thing anywhere near the town. It’s unmistakable against the sky, but somehow, no one sees it. They’re all watching the screens. They’re all looking for blood, and as the evening descends, that’s what they get.
“I’m going to finish up tomorrow,” says Sonny. “You going to come and watch?”
He tosses a kite into the air, and lets it fly. Up so high, the wind is good. The kite takes off, and he rolls out the line. Then he attaches the end to a baby tree.
There’s at least twenty kites in the air. They stay up without even trying. Now and then, they come close to each other and start to get their lines tangled up, but they always separate and move off again.
Ezra has a sweater on. It’s cold up this high. The mountain is over a thousand feet tall. As Sonny told her, he’s not interested in it being called a hill. No, he’s out for a mountain, and to be a mountain, you have to be above a thousand feet.
He launches another kite into the air. “See that rod up there?” he says. At the tip of the mountain, there’s a steel pole reaching into the sky. It’s got lines coming from it, heading down alongside the paths of grass. “Tomorrow night, there’s going to be a lightning storm. The lightning is going to hit this pole and push the energy along the side of the mountain. I’m going to bake this cake, Ezra. I’m going to use the energy from the sky to light up this mountain, in a show that no one’s ever seen before.”
“You think people in town are going to notice?” she asks. “It’s Matador Day tomorrow, Sonny. The most important day of the year.”
“Stabbing bulls is the most important day of the year?” he asks. He goes to the pole and puts his hand on it, like he’s doing something dangerous. “Stabbing bulls tomorrow or any other day isn’t important. Bleeding animals for sport just so that you can seem them die, what kind of way is that to live? Here, we got a mountain. A brand new mountain for the town that anyone can come up, especially after I finish baking it.”
“I have to read a poem at the festival tomorrow.”
He looks at her. “It is about bulls?”
She shakes her head.
“The shit factory, then?”
Again, she shakes her head. “It’s about your mountain, Sonny. They haven’t noticed. They’re busy with the bulls. I’m going to tell a poem about your mountain, so that they know that they can come here, get away. Maybe get hurt if they’re not careful, but worst that should happen is they get a little dirty. Maybe luck into some fun. Feel a bit cooler when it’s so damn warm outside. So busy everywhere. I’m going to tell them that they can do that. But when the poem’s finished, I’ll watch out for the lightning. I’ll make sure I see it when it happens.”
“You don’t want to miss it. We’re going to bless this thing tomorrow. Mount Ezra.”
“Mount Ezra?” she breathes.
He looks at her, hands on the metal. Blinks. “Yeah. What else do you think I was going to call it?”
In the early morning, the shadow of Mount Ezra extends over the town. The sun comes up behind it, and Ezra is amazed to see its shadow slipping over the ground, where only she seems to notice. But even when the sun gets up to its height, it just highlights the mountain, the grassy lines along the side, the kites and their strings glimmering in the shininess. Beyond it, far away, a bank of clouds is rolling in.
The Matador Day parade starts. People are drinking in the streets, dressed in their matador outfits. They’re prancing with their spears and rubber swords, having their sword-fights. People go down, pretending that they’ve been speared, struck through with a killing blow. Everyone is sweating. Everyone is warm. It’s so hot that Ezra can only drink, ice cold beer that makes her want to dance, too. To have swordfights, too. To fall down, like she’s been stabbed, and then to reappear in a bull costume, ranging around the streets looking for revenge – her horns lowered, her hoof scratching at the ground as she makes ready to charge.
The evening comes and the stage is set in the town square. Ezra is drunk. From the stage, she can see most of the townspeople, their costumes, the way they’re giving off heat. Behind them, she can see a mountain. It’s the highest thing she’s ever seen. She opens her mouth and words spill out, without her even having to think about them. She didn’t bring her poem with her. Didn’t write the words down. The townsfolk listen. At first, they grumble, because she’s not talking about matadors. She’s talking about mountains. But they listen to the end, and then they clap, like she brought them a world they can’t imagine, could never believe is real.
The big screens come on. The tourney starts. A man in a bullring prances onto the dirt. He’s dancing. Later, a bull comes to meet him. There’s spears, then blood. The animal has no chance. It’s not a contest. But when the matador sticks his sword into the animal’s neck, the people scream like this guy is the bravest soul who ever lived.
Ezra is getting drunker. People throw their arms around her, thanking her for such a strange poem about some mountain that could never be. What an imagination you have! What a wonderful girl, you! They buy her beer. Give her shots. One offers to let her take a stroll in her bull costume. She’s lifted along with these people as the party goes into the night, as the screens zoom in on the trails of blood in the bullring, the bulls on their parade, the swords as they slash.
Ezra is on her way home without knowing it. The town square was too hot. There’s a hint of moisture in the air. A breeze signaling something coming in. She’s forgotten her poem, but five others are raging through her, ready to be written. She gets home, ready to put them down, but instead goes for another drink. Turns on the television. Every station shows the bulls in their ring, being poked by spears, being ended by swords. With every stab, her heart jumps a beat.
Outside, she can hear the sky rumbling. It’s thunder, she thinks. Something to watch, and pay attention to, the way the sky tears itself apart for no apparent reason. The thunder comes closer as she drinks, her eyes on the television, her heart skipping as she wonders if these bulls on the screen are bulls at all, or something else just pretending. Maybe her or someone else, in those suits, as the sun shines like it always does, and people can’t turn away from the glory and the godliness of it all. Not now. Not later. Not even for a second.