During a commercial, I ask you to tell me about nights in the jungle. We are blue and then white and then green—the quick, flickering light of television on bare skin.
Rain forest, you say.
I like jungle better. I mouth it into the lip of my beer. The way it digs like a shovel in the beginning. The way it presses against the roof of my mouth in the middle. The way it kisses the back of my teeth at the end.
You say you spent every night looking through your camera with the night vision on, the forest turned Ghost-Buster green.
We watch: A man goes into the wilderness with nothing but a metal pot to boil water, and he builds a life, a temporary life, out of this nothingness, this chaos of trees and weather. The first day, he builds a banana-leaf shelter, its roof a braided puzzle. He weaves a delicate nest of twigs in which he grows a fire, not for warmth, the man says, but to keep the poisonous snakes at bay.
Were you scared? I ask. I don’t know why I want to hear you say it.
Nah, you say but turn to look at the only window in my apartment.
We watch: The man eats black beetles and a snake that he stabs with a spear. A spear that is nothing more than a very sharp twig. He rolls off the snake’s skin like he’s undressing a woman’s leg, discarding the balled-up pantyhose on the ground, the flesh pink and pulsing underneath.
They choppered in supplies for me once a week, you say. Oats and water and powdered Tang. I had a generator for my laptop.
We watch: A night shot, the man glowing green, his face bright and overexposed. It is raining and his fire has gone out. He squats beneath the banana-leaf roof and blows into his cupped hands.
I’ve never felt closer to death, he says.
We watch: The man in a helicopter, chartering back to civilization. It has been two months. He is dirty and half naked and thin (the screen flashes to a before picture, his cheeks puffed with fat). He looks at the camera and says, I’ve never been more alive, man. Never in my life.
Have I ever felt these things? Alive, dead.
Once, my train got stuck in the tunnel beneath the bay, and my heart beat like something was happening. The lights went out and people clicked on their phones and the cabin filled with white, dancing rectangles. A baby cried and an old woman next to me said she thought she might faint. There was the distant smell of burning oil.
Then the lights came back on, and we arrived at Embarcadero five minutes later.
I think about telling you. I don’t.
The show ends, and you turn off the TV. The light from the street pours at us, licks our edges like frost.
Then you’re looking at the window again, and say, There was this one night.
I slide my legs down so my stomach is against yours, my chin resting on your chest. You smell like eucalyptus.
You say your camera was busted. It’s damp in the rain forest and the equipment doesn’t like it. You say you heard something circling the camp. Around and around and your camera was busted and you couldn’t do anything but sit there and listen and wait for morning.
It could have been a panther, you say. Or it could have been nothing. The mind plays games when it can’t see.
Then I’m on my phone, looking for a night vision app. I find one and download it while you’re lying with one arm behind your head. I turn it on, set my phone on the dresser. I pull the comforter off my bed and throw it over the window. The room goes dark.
And you’d think that it would make us cautious: something watching us. But it doesn’t. It makes us brave. Reckless. It makes us who we wish we were.
We hunt for each other, blind and laughing at first, but silent and breathing deep once I’m on top of you, your hands pulling on my hips, my hands pressing into your shoulders.
I imagine what we’ll watch later. If we’ll look like panthers or prey in the jungle. Our recorded bodies pixelated and green.
Anna Gates Ha earned her MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California. Her work, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in Harpur Palate, The Citron Review, Milk Candy Review, and JMWW, among others. You can find her at www.annagatesha.com and on Twitter @annagatesha.
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