Big Enlightenment

By Jennifer Wortman

After my brother died, I left my husband and kids for a cabin in the Rockies and the younger man who lived there. I figured if I left, I might come back. But if I stayed, I’d always be somewhere else.

In the mornings, Vincent meditated, and I drank the way I drank before I met my husband, before I’d cleaned up my act. Still, whiskey wasn’t heroin; I wouldn’t die my brother’s death.

Vincent didn’t need quiet when he meditated. He’d say, “Order breeds enlightenment. Chaos, big enlightenment.” I blasted Led Zeppelin, screamed “Hey, hey, mama,” swung my ass at Vincent’s tranquil head.

Sometimes we hiked. I kept my eyes cliffside. I knew how fast an edge could slip to the wrong side of a person’s feet.

Vincent learned to read my mind. One day, as we snaked the trail, he told a story about a woman chased by tigers over a cliff. More tigers wait below. She grabs a vine, but a mouse gnaws at it. So she plucks a strawberry from the mountainside and savors its sweetness.

I said, “She should have used the hand that plucked the strawberry to wring the mouse’s neck.”

“I love you,” said Vincent, for the first time. I thought he knew better.

The next morning, I sat beside him, crossed my legs, and stared at the pinewood wall.

I saw my kids screaming “Hey, hey, mama.”

My brother’s knowing eyes.

Tigers, a cliff, Vincent my vine, silent as I gnawed.


Jennifer Wortman’s work appears in Glimmer Train, Hobart, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, Okey-Panky, JMWW, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at

Digital Image with Watercolor by Lesley C. Weston

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