She always said she'd beat it, and I believed her. She beat polio
(remember polio?), walked with barely a limp, though her legs remained
stunted and thin, after the doctors agreed she'd never walk at all. Beat
polio, beat malaria, hepatitis, melanoma; beat Bull Connor's dogs, jail,
Chicago cops, jail, jail, jail; she beat booze, beat smack, walked away
from car crashes, motorcycle wrecks, one violent lover after another. She
beat the odds. Came back from all of that, came back even from the lovers
and lived a life that was a life, a dance, and no one's but her
own: lived, a big woman dancing on those wizened, child-sized legs, by
some graceful sleight-of foot on several edges at once. Twenty-four-hour
"I'll beat this thing," she said, and I believed her. What she
said, she did.
"Here," she said. It was winter. Raining. She'd been in the
hospital with pneumonia, but now she was home. "Here, and here and here,"
tracing a finger down the map of South America. Caracas. Quito. Lima.
Cuzco. She'd bought a four-wheel-drive Toyota truck, planned to drive as
far as she could and when the road ran out she'd walk. She planned to
watch the sun come up in Macchu Picchu. Was I sure I didn't want to go?
I wanted to go more than I'd wanted anything in years. "My job, my
She laughed until a fit of coughing siezed her. Under my hand,
even through the thick wool sweater, her shoulder was bony now, all
angles. "I'll send you a postcard," she said.
I'll beat this thing, she said, I'll beat it, and I believed her.
I still believe her. I believe she beat it to the draw; I believe she
looked at the odds as the odds were in '91 and figured her choice was
between choosing her own way or leaving the choice to "it." For her, no
choice at all.
From the postcard it's impossible to know if the sun is coming up
or going down. Red-streaked sky, ancient temple in brooding, stark relief.
Since knowing isn't possible, I can have it as I wish: she saw the
sunrise. Saw the sunrise and started back down -- this much at least seems
to be true -- and at a place where the path hairpins to the right, she
kept on going. Perhaps she slipped. Perhaps she jumped. Me, I think she
danced. On one edge, then over. And another, and another. I think she
--Sara McAulay (1997)