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The Sloth

By Jill Christman

There is a nothingness of temperature, a point on the body’s mercury where our blood feels neither hot nor cold. I remember a morning swim on the black sand eastern coast of Costa Rica four months after my twenty-two-year-old fiancé was killed in a car accident. Walking into the water, disembodied by grief, I felt no barriers between my skin, the air, and the water.

Later, standing under a trickle of water in the wooden outdoor shower, I heard a rustle, almost soundless, and looking up, expecting something small, I saw my first three-toed sloth. Mottled and filthy, he hung by his meat-hook claws not five feet above my head in the cecropia tree. He peered down at me, his flattened head turned backwards on his neck. Here is a fact: a sloth cannot regulate the temperature of his blood. He must live near the equator.

I thought I knew slow, but this guy, this guy was slow. The sound I heard was his wiry-haired blond elbow, brushed green with living algae, stirring a leaf as he reached for the next branch. Pressing my wet palms onto the rough wooden walls, I watched the sloth move in the shadows of the canopy. Still reaching. And then still reaching.

What else is this slow? Those famous creatures of slow—the snail, the tortoise—they move faster. Much. This slow seemed impossible, not real, like a trick of my sad head. Dripping and naked in the jungle, I thought, That sloth is as slow as grief. We were numb to the speed of the world. We were one temperature.


Jill Christman's memoir, Darkroom: A Family Exposure, won the AWP Award Series in Creative Nonfiction and was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2002.  Her nonfiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and recent essays have appeared in River Teeth, Mississippi Review, Harpur Palate, Literary Mama, Brain, Child and other journals.  An Associate Professor at Ball State University, she lives with her husband, writer Mark Neely, and their daughter in Muncie where she is busily gestating both a book and a baby. 

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photo by Dinty W. Moore