Kathy and I are playing in the Red,
White, and Blue caves
on Mt. Forist. We’ve named
them that because there are three
of them. We play house in one,
school in another, and eat our lunch
in the third. Before leaving
we do a little exploring
and I notice a slim passageway
like a flat snake leading out.
Kathy’s too big so I start slithering
through. There are rocks
in the way that I bend my body
around. It smells like dirty feet,
skunk urine, and rotten hamburger.
The tunnel gets narrower,
my head scrapes against the rock
above and the ground below.
I decide to retreat, start backing up
but get snagged on a rock. I try
going forward, again. Nope.
My chest swells like an air mattress
being blown up. I can’t breathe.
Confetti is waltzing in front
of my eyes. The cave is shifting
and falling in on me. There is no way
out. I scream, taste salt and dirt,
then hear Kathy’s voice at the end,
open my eyes and see daylight
just around the curve. “You can
make it.” I begin to deflate, wiggle
my head and body to make them fit,
and claw my way out. Kathy
saved my life that day. Whenever
I get an attack of claustrophobia, now,
I picture her face, like a full moon
bathed in morning light, smiling
and encouraging at the end
of the tunnel.