Bad Survivalist: Kaj Tanaka
Beaver Dams and the Final Beaver Dam
We went down to the river yesterday to watch our beaver do his business. We have a beaver of our own, we said in wonder, here on our own land, just a little walk from our own house.
We used to want things, I distinctly remembered we used to want things, but I could hardly remember what those things might have been. The beaver did its thing for a while, and we watched. It was really going to town on our trees.I said: this beaver is a poet, but his poetry is at the expense of our trees.
He’s so consistent, you said.
Pretty soon, it was a lot of our trees in the river. It occurred to us then, there were actually two beavers, and there had been two the entire time. One beaver may hide another, as the poet says. But only one had been out of the water at a time, so you couldn’t really tell.
I said: These beavers are kind of like us, you know? Like there are two of us and there are two of them—what a pair of pairs we are together.
Here is the figure the two beavers suggested to me:
There is the first beaver and there is the idea of the first beaver. There is sky which lies somewhere south of the sky—the final sky.
You took my hand. Your right hand, in my left hand. And I wondered, really wondered, where you ended and where I began—was I myself or was I somewhere within you, lost or hidden or unknowable or something.
Here is another figure for your diary:
A person hold hands with another person; two people spend the afternoon watching some beavers gnaw down some trees. It’s an entire life if you’re willing to modulate your expectations.
I feel the sensations on your skin. I feel my damp left hand reach out and take your dry one. And at that point, the river began to overflow and divert.
Oh shit, I said, the beavers are really doing their jobs today.
You said: We should seek higher ground.
But we did not move. I felt the water creep under your butt, just as you feel the water creep under mine. We leaned back in the damp grass and in doing so, we got even damper—pretty soon everything is damp.
By then, the stars were out and for every star in the sky, there was another, bubbling up just beneath it. And beneath us, the final sky, our bodies floating away on it.
Kaj Tanaka’s fiction has appeared in New South, New Ohio Review, Joyland, and Tin House. His stories have been selected for The Best Small Fictions 2018, Best Microfiction 2019, and Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Stories 2019. He teaches creative writing classes at the Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas, and he is a fiction editor for Gulf Coast.