I taught English and History to the girl in the mountains. Her devoted parents had constructed a dreamhouse schoolroom in the high attic. The house stood along the bouncing heights of the canyon, topped and shouldered by live oaks and chaparral and lavender and sage and olive trees and and horned cactus and cactus whose paddle-leaves were the texture of expensive bags.
Out the northern windows the far heights, houses and community buildings small and infrequent. Throughout the day the land around the buildings would rise from blue to green like a happy face flushing.
The schoolroom was painted teal and sneaker-white. The big-lipped, sloe-eyed fashion doll on its stand beside the computer. The precious saddle, huge as an octopus, on its rack in the alcove.
Out the west-facing windows the staircase, the oak leaves level with our eyes, the wall of land and the slope of the hill which had been partially cleared and leveled for the chicken coops. The corner of land where the wall, its balancing trees and thick herbs, met the slope. When the drought broke that spring, a little waterfall stood there like a melting gray candle.
The portion of the hill which had been customized was a series of blonde, fence-straitened grades, dusty, flat to build on and simpler to climb than the natural hill. At breaktime the girl let herself down the ladderish staircase and took out her goose, carefully embraced it, and filled its kiddie-pool. It splashed and smacked as we learnt about Julius crossing the Rubicon.
One day I came in and the girl took me to the western windows and lifted her phone. She showed me a video she had taken from this vantage the afternoon prior: there was a lynx, its baroque sleeves crossed at the wrist, relaxing on th grade above the chicken coops. It was an easy downward jump from their roofs but made no gesture toward them.
“My God,” I said. “Are the animals okay?”
“Yes. The cages were locked.”
The lynx’s muscular body, dog-sized but weighty and fat as a chain of train cars.
“She’s so calm.”
“She knows I’m filming.”
The lynx turned its face without anxiety, its pronounced, human nose, its black lips.
“Did she even try to get into the chicken coops?”
“No. She just left after a while.” The girl hesitated. “I kind of wanted to see her jump. Just to see it. Just to see what would happen.”
The girl and I looked up from the phone, into each other’s faces, and met there in a moment of perfect understanding.