Matthew Stevenson

for T.C. Phillips

Based on the pretense of advantage, we string ourselves together. We are three. Only Number 1 has a clear bearing. Where achilles meets heel, Number 2's skin is raw, while Number 3's toes, perpetually forced upward, suggest the ascent of a moderate incline. Numbers 1 and 3 rotate positions after meals. Number 2 always remains second.
In a row, sitting with crossed legs and leaning on the fore, we rest. I watch Number 2 steal into the pocket of Number 1 while Number 1 sleeps. I admire the seamless movement of 2's thieving hand -- an ear soft-lipped for distraction.
Warm, moisture laden wind blows over my neck. I tell Numbers 1 and 2 I need to rest, get some fluids down. We are busy drinking. I quietly pull other things from my pack. 1 and 2 fail to notice the false retreat. I thread sound open flaps. I pull on a knit hat with holes for eyes and mouth. It stretches down over my entire face, butts with my now upraised collar.
All in motion. 2 is molesting pockets again. Number 1 having to finger-tip maps and plot direction is too busy to notice the utility of trouser pockets to satisfy a wayward body. In a long wide step, pigeon-toed to catch cradle of ankle, I domino Number 2 into 1. I am pulled forward into the fall, don't resist the chance to reach forward with splayed hands.
Number 1 rolls, then wedges crumpled maps beneath an elbow, mumbles about the worsening integrity, blames 2 in a quick backward glance. Number 2, tugging, makes it difficult for 1 to regain poise. It is a distraction, to watch the two threaten and banter their way back into clean strides.
Sitting in a triangle around a common plate, we receive a meal. Out of the corner of my eye as I take in spoonfuls, I feel Number 1 staring at my hat covered head. Number 1 shrugs and then places the maps at my side as I continue watching Number 2 pale, shrink in size staring at the thick threads suturing the openings where my pockets once were.