by Joshua Bohnsack

First, there is a mountain.
Then there is no mountain.
Then there is.
– Donovan

Brett told me about this song his mom played when he was young. He said, “I should ask my sister. She knows.” Brett was a Dead Head. We pushed over a toolshed once so his mom could see the sunrise, but this was before. Brett had recordings from Dylan shows that nobody else had recordings of. Brett hid his handheld recorder in his sweatshirt sleeve and said he would loan me a ZIP disk so I could hear obscure versions of “Most of the Time” and I wish I had a ZIP drive so I could hear them. 

Brett’s sister was equally mythic. While he was a premature gray, she was a young 40. She leaned over our bar and whispered in my ear, “Look upon my garden. A snail, that’s what it is.”

Their mother, whom they both lived with, played the song throughout their childhood. “There is a Mountain,” by Donovan was a revelation. 

I usurped the aux cord in our section of the restaurant, the upstairs gastropub imposed upon the four-star Iowa City restaurant. Usually, I’d make mixes with Sam Cooke and Lana Del Rey. If people were going to dine while I worked, I wouldn’t let them be happy about it. 

When I brought “There Is a Mountain” home to Abby, she scoffed. I held up my hand. “Wait, listen.”

The pan pipes came in and the Dylan wannabe said, “Look upon my garden gates; a snail that’s what it is.” And we froze. Donovan repeated the line for us so we could consume the image of his snail. 

My girlfriend smiled. She hadn’t been smiling recently. In fact, she has been screaming more often than speaking to me. She had been waking up in the night through her sleeping pills, muttering and clawing into my chest. She had been calling me all the hurtful words she could think of. She had been kissing other guys and telling me, “It’s all right.” And putting her fingers on my lips. “Shh, it’s all right. All right.” 

We moved back to Iowa City from Des Moines, back to a world where we knew people, where there was a sense of culture. Back to a place where we could sink into a comfortable groove of drinking and working. We were no longer dependent on one another for company to both our pleasure and dismay. 

I’d come home tired of serving Iowa City’s financial elite and she tired of her pre-law school courses. Brett’s weird song was a gift. We had something that broke our old habits. 

She was a gifted vocalist, and I could write a song, but our styles never fit together. Our inherent strumming patterns were arrhythmic and she always told me I was flat.  

Donovan lifted us to another world. I plugged my phone into the aux cord of her secondhand stereo and we listened. 

We discarded Brett, and his sister, and everyone who had heard Donovan’s song, and took it as our own. 

We spent days repeating the lines. We’d make oatmeal and she would say, “Oh Juanita?”

“Oh Juanita!,” I’d respond.

She’d say, “Oh Juanita. I call your name.”

And I’d say, “Ayyyyeee” in a high pitch to mimic Donovan’s timbre. 

The moments were good. I’d go to work, upbeat, open to the day, open to Donovan’s questions. 

And it contributed. 

Then, while we walked to my friend’s apartment, I laid out the lyrics. “First there is a mountain,” I said. I put my arm over her shoulder, and used my other hand to follow the skyline, “then there is No mountain.” I stopped her on the sidewalk, got down on my knee and said, “Then. There. Is.”

“I’m not in the mood.” She said. She was never in the mood. Or, rather, I never knew when she wouldn’t be in the mood. 

And we started fighting more. And we got into a big fight, where we shouted across rooms, and the neighbors called the cops, and the officer gave me a card and said to call him personally if I was in danger. And we broke up like we needed to do. She started therapy soon thereafter, and was diagnosed. And it was hard to atone or adjust when we tried to get back together, all the while knowing the magic of that song was gone. What we share in the mysticism, was over extended by my earnestness or her inability to decipher emotion. So we held on until she went to law school on the east coast and I found Chicago. 

And I can listen to that song again with the magic it once held, knowing I don’t owe a reason to anyone else. And just because they get it, doesn’t mean they get all of it. 

When you see the problem, then you ignore it? That mountain is always going to return. 

Joshua Bohnsack is the author of *Shift Drink* (Spork Press) and his work has appeared in *The Rumpus, Hobart, SAND*, and others. He is an editor for TriQuarterly and Long Day Press and lives in Chicago where he works as a bookseller.

Image source: Alex Gurung/Unsplash

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