Authors: Stacey Donovan
Tags: #General Fiction
“Okay,” I say, “there I am.”
“What do you see?”
“Me.” I feel ridiculous.
“What about you?”
“My eyes always get green when I cry.”
“They do? So it’s all emotional, huh? What else?”
I stare at myself, what I do every morning, always wanting to see if anything has gone crooked overnight.
There I am again. It’s true my eyebrows are not even. They’re as lopsided as my brain feels tonight.
“Well, I look like my dad.” Do I say that?
| | |
“You do? What does he look like?” Jane says.
“What? Oh, tall, and dark. But pale. His eyes, though, are incredible—I bet they could see through walls. That probably sounds stupid, but I always thought that.”
“So he must be really good-looking,” Jane says.
I laugh a very small laugh. I’m describing my former father, not the frail version who’s home now.
“See anything else?”
“No.” I can’t tell her more.
“You’re still in one piece, right?” Jane says.
“I think so . . . except for my brains, ha, ha.”
“Yuk, yuk, yourself. And what you probably don’t see is that surprised look on your face.”
I blink at the mirror. “What?”
“The one that’s always there.”
“I don’t feel surprised,” I say. My eyes are swollen. I feel empty from crying.
“Probably because you’re always full of what surprises you,” Jane says.
“What does it look like?” I say. She can’t mean these puffy cheeks.
“Like you can’t believe you’re really here.”
“That’s what I look like?” I
surprised by that.
“That’s what I love best about you. Can we meet in the morning and go to the pond?”
“Sure,” my voice says, my lips crooked as I talk. How does she think these things?
“Meet me at ten. End of your driveway.”
As I look in the mirror, I do look like my father. The flesh strains at the edges of my mouth, the shadows beneath my eyes. I know I’ve thought before if he dies I’ll die too, but I’m scared. His eyes look so unbelievably hollow now, as if they can’t focus on anything
no, only on what’s
and it looks dark in there. It scares me. I didn’t say that to Jane. Or that my heart beats so much now I can hear it all the time. It keeps reminding me that I’m alive. I don’t want to die.
| | | | | |
In the morning I feel unnaturally calm, like there’s a version of me in the back of my head watching the rest of me. It’s not the floating, anxious me. It’s me, but detached from myself, like pieces of metal, maybe car parts. This is a new one. V, the busted muffler. Oh, delight. As we sit by the pond, I wonder about this, how many versions of themselves a person can become before the face in the mirror is unrecognizable. Until those uneven eyebrows or crooked lips are so distant they turn into a memory, even while they’re being looked at.
| | |
“It doesn’t make sense that I’ll die,” I say.
Jane pretends to check for a fever, hand on my forehead. “You’re not dead yet.”
“Maybe I am.”
“You mean I’m talking to a ghost?”
“See you at my funeral. Will you come?” I say.
“When do I RSVP?”
“And for a eulogy you would say what?”
“I don’t know you well enough,” Jane says. “Eileen should do it, I think, but you two are on the outs or something, is that it?”
Eileen. She would only run away.
We’re lying inches apart, in the grass by the edge of the water. The grass is swaying in the mild breeze.
“Look at the ducks,” I say, pointing across the pond, wanting to push Eileen from my mind. There’s a small bunch standing along the shoreline across the water. They’re so still, their beaks lowered, they look almost as if they’re praying. It’s unusual that they’re all on land, not a solitary one skimming circles in the water. The pond is also still, just an occasional lap of water disappearing into the sand.
It begins to feel unusual that Jane is lying so close to me. And then I have an even more unusual thought. I want her to lie closer. Inside me would be good. If only we could get rid of these clumsy bodies and dissolve into each other. The way water disappears into sand.
| | |
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt anything more strongly than the feeling that we belong together. It comes in a rush that swerves in a welcome hurry through my arms and legs. It’s so strong I feel connected to the ground, as if a hushed, wet hand of wind has slipped along and slid inside me. I’m so full and the feeling is so strong I think that if I move, I’ll burst. I want to look at Jane, to see if she can feel what’s happening. That’s when she kisses me. Her entire body and everything I wonder about in her seems to roll onto my lips as she kisses me. Then she kisses me again. It’s beyond dissolving.
Just by Being There
I don’t know the name for the feeling that’s crawling inside me, but I know what it is. It was very strong with Grant Sullivan, who I didn’t always hate the way I do now. The truth is, I used to like him. Much more than I want to admit. But the truth is so important now, and I don’t know why that is either. I have to tell it. I feel like if I don’t tell the truth about everything, I’ll die. If I can’t make somebody understand what I feel, I’ll disintegrate into the air. My eyes will close. My mouth will shut. My life will vanish. I’m too young to die.
The truth can sometimes wake somebody. Earlier than the birds, I am awake. It’s Sunday morning. I get up and wander into the kitchen. I see Edward through the window, his head under the hood of the Plymouth. I walk outside.
“It’s me,” I say to the visible part of his ponytail.
“Is it you?” he replies.
“I could have told you that.” He lifts his head to look at me. “You look like shit,” he says.
“Thanks, Wadface. I can always rely on you for the facts.” My blunt brother. Well, it’s not a
quality. It doesn’t leave any room for confusion, at least. “I’m worried,” I say. That’s the truth.
“I know.” He’s serious.
I look directly into my brother’s eyes. They are still clear.
“Gonna have to glue up,” he says, backing away from the engine. “Stick around.”
“Sure.” ‘Glue up’? What was this new language? He drops the rag he’s holding and grabs a cigarette from a pack in his shirt pocket.
“It’s pretty obvious Dad’s not long,” he mumbles, cigarette dangling from his lips.
I hear a grunt. It’s me, trying to say something. We haven’t said anything
about my dad until now. Edward just takes a long drag off his cigarette and waits.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” I say. It’s so vague but it’s true, and my eyes are blurring with tears.
I don’t know what to say.
Edward grabs me in a quick hug. “The thing is,” he says, “I want you to know . . . is that, soon as I’m eighteen, I’m gone too.” He won’t look at me, reaches instead for the rag and twists the cap off a bottle of 5W-30.
“What are you talking about?” Is he telling me he’s sick?
Did he hug me?
“I’m going into the army; I’m all joined up. Going to study engines, but nobody knows. I want to keep it that way for now, because there’s enough going on around here, don’t you think?” When Edward grins, his ears redden.
“You?” is all I manage, spluttering now, like the oil as it oozes into the casing beneath the hood.
“Like I said. So it looks like everything around here is going to be fallin’ on you.” The grin vanishes.
“But Edward, the army? What’s falling?” The sky? My life into pieces?
“You know what I mean . . . Mom will be a wreck.”
I don’t know who’s more surprised when I say, “But you can’t leave. I mean, what will I do without you?”
“You’ll be okay. You’re tougher than she is.”
I look at him. “That’s not what I mean—
tougher than she is—she’s already a wreck, don’t you know that?”
He watches me. “Maybe. But you, you can do anything you want to with all those brains.” He’s so serious I can’t stand it.
I shake my head. “Edward, I want to ask you something.” He just nods.
“Did you quit taking drugs?” He nods again.
“Mind over matter—you can figure that one out.”
I try to wipe the tears away from my eyes, but when I do, more surface. “Oh, no,” I say.
“They’ll cut off all your hair.”
“That was the hardest part about deciding to join.” How horrible it is to try to grow up. We can’t stop laughing. And then I hug him. He whispers, “Make sure you take care of Baby Teeth, okay?”
Eventually, I walk back into the house, my head spinning. But there’s Lucky—tilting, limping miracle dog, tail wagging at the door. I grab him and kiss him all over his delighted head. I tell him next week his cast is coming off and we’ll parade around town. I tell him, don’t worry, I’ll find that miserable green VW. I tell him I love him. Lucky’s not going anywhere.
| | | | | |
Jane is standing at the end of my driveway. It’s still morning and I’m strolling around the yard with Lucky, and there she is. Standing on one of the big white rocks that surround the place. She smiles that smile when she sees me and lifts her arms like she’s going to bow. Like it’s a performance.
“What are you doing here?” I say, noticing the burning feeling start inside.
“I wanted to see you,” she answers.
“You could’ve called. I can’t believe you’re here.” I don’t know why I’m being so mean.
“I know I could’ve called,” she says. I’ve never seen the way her lower lip juts out when her feelings get hurt.
“Well, I guess we can go for a walk,” I finally manage, not able to look at her again. “Wait, let me get him inside.”
“He’s adorable. Can I meet him?”
I ignore her. “I’ll be right back.”
We start walking. I can’t say anything. Just seeing her feet next to mine is too much. If she brushes against me the way she always does, I think I’ll break. We walk in silence before she finally says, “Virginia, tell me what’s wrong.”
“I don’t know.” That’s true. All I know is that if I look at her the tears that are holding on to my eyes will burst out, and the wind is back, but rushing through me now in a cold and dreadful way. I am stuck, but stuck inside myself. What is the feeling? What terrible thing is gnawing at me? Then something happens.
My legs, which are still miraculously walking, moving along like they aren’t connected to me, moving as heavily and clumsily as if they are tree stumps, trip. Trip over a blade of grass, and I fall, tumbling forward as though the world has just tipped over. I trip with my arms like clock hands careening around a clockface with time going so impossibly fast that days pass before my eyes as I fall. And then I’m on the ground.
Jane is next to me before I know it, and all I can do is laugh. Suddenly, the ground, the sidewalk, the stricken look on Jane’s face are all indescribably funny. She looks at me, wondering, I imagine, if I have lost my mind. Then she catches it. She’s laughing, and we can’t stop at all, not if someone threatened to shoot us, our voices filling the morning air. She holds me just as tightly as I hold her as we reel in the grip of this new spell we’re under. The laughter, like wind, finally stops.
| | |
“You look just like you did the first time I saw you,” she says.
“When was that?”
“The day I registered at school—it was in the hall.”
“You saw me that day?”
“Of course I did, V. Didn’t you see me?”
“Yes.” Of course
did, but I didn’t know she’d seen me. “What did I look like?” I ask.
“Like a lost kid at a parade.”
Then she tells me she’s supposed to be at the Dairy Barn, getting a quart of milk. We don’t say good-bye. We just look at each other. Why not? Why? I’m standing on the empty road.
There are too many questions. The crawling feeling is back. At this moment it’s fear that crawls through me. It shakes my hands from the inside out. I have a certain feeling about Jane. It seems it’s one I’ve always had, only I never knew it. Who cares if it’s possible, it’s true. What’s the feeling? I’m still standing on the road.
After yesterday at the pond with Jane, after making out with Jane, I wanted to run away. Last night, as I lay in bed, all I could do was feel her mouth on mine. It’s the same feeling I have when I see her sweep her head of beautiful hair through the air or watch that undulating walk of hers.
Except it’s part of me now, as I stand on the road. It’s on my mouth and I can taste it. The most amazing feeling I’ve ever had. If there was anything that didn’t exist when she was kissing me, when I was kissing her, because we got so tangled up together, it was time. We kissed forever. The last thing I wanted to do was stop. And then we did stop, I guess, but I don’t know when. And then we looked at each other. It was hard to look into her eyes, but it was even harder to tear my eyes from her as we said good-bye. I couldn’t stop feeling the feeling.
But when I saw her today, the last place I wanted to be was near her. I don’t know why. When something broke in me and I kept laughing even when the laughing was over so she wouldn’t take her arms away, the hands that reached so instantly for me when I fell. I wished she would kiss me again, even though we were in the middle of the road.
I didn’t care that the entire world could’ve seen. Nothing else mattered. And what was all the other stuff about? The anger, I mean. Why was I acting so mean when I first saw her on my driveway? Why did I feel that she was asking something impossible of me just by being there? Is it because I’m afraid she’ll leave too? I’m afraid to ask myself one question in particular, but I know I have to, because it’s digging a hole inside me. Do I love her? I mean, do I love her?