a dream; a short story

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Photo by ruedi häberli on Unsplash

I didn’t know her at all.

When we were in high school she was always apart from everyone. There was something about her that always felt on edge and at the same time so delicate, so fragile. Her eyes either seemed to dart back and forth like a ravenous animal was chasing her or they held a diaphanous glaze as if witnessing a picture in front of her that we couldn’t see.

I wasn’t in the “in-crowd” myself. I rather preferred the company of a good novel or drawing up the insides of spiral notebooks. I was always looking at people, and that’s why I noticed her when others didn’t. I tried to sketch her on many occasions but I always ended up with broad strokes, rarely looking like her, or a person really.

I thought it was my lack of talent. But I couldn’t capture her because I don’t think she was ever really there. Her body’s form was tenuous.

One day after I was getting out of detention, she was laying face down spread eagle on the front lawn of the building. She wore a yellow dress with a sash and puffy sleeves. Hair in a headband and black Mary Jane’s were kicked off in the grass beside her. She was so still I thought something was wrong, so I walk/trotted over to check it out. I worried I wouldn’t know what to do if she was dead or hurt.

Arriving at her side she was breathing deeply. Her arms were splayed out as she lifted her head and I saw that she had indentations from the grass on her face.

“Hi,” she said.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she turned over on her back and stared up at the sky.

I felt super weird at this point for bothering her and got up to leave.

“Do you ever feel like things are just too much?” she said. “Like, everything around is just pushing in on you and your body is stretching thin? I feel like the ground is the only place I feel real. Like all the time I’m standing and moving my feet aren’t enough. I feel too flimsy.”

She looked over at me, “I just want to get as far down as I can. Ya know?”

Hell no I didn’t know. I had no words. Her grey eyes were gulping me whole. No kid I knew ever talked like that.

“I guess,” was all I could stupidly utter.

She half chuckled/smiled and turned her head back up to the sky. I sat awhile with her, not knowing what to do, not wanting to leave. After a bit she closed her eyes and I thought she fell asleep, so I left.

After graduation, all the kids parted ways and I didn’t go to college because my parents didn’t have the money and I had no patience for it anyway. I wanted to work. I heard she went somewhere ivy league-ish and forgot about her.

Ten years later I had settled into a rhythm of life. I moved up the administrative ladder at the company I worked for. It was a tech firm and I fit in okay. Got a check, got an apartment, a car, a bank account, and a girlfriend.

One night I was watching the local news during a solo dinner of macaroni and cheese and the newscaster talked about a missing woman from the city. Apparently her family hadn’t heard from her in weeks after she had left for a long vacation. They displayed the picture and it was her! Her last known whereabouts had been South Africa; on a safari tour and didn’t make her flight back.

I turned off the TV and sat for a long time. A feeling so strange came over me, like a heavy invisible blanket pushing down on the top of my head. I felt the rough cushion cover on my arms, and the wool socks on my feet, my lips over my teeth and eyelashes covering and uncovering my eyeballs.

It was already dark out and I knew the mosquitos would be buzzing. Opening the screen door to my little backyard, the motion detector turned on as I walked to the middle of the grass. Immediately I felt the bloodsuckers pecking. The ground was fairly moist from a recent rain and my clothes were getting damp as I stretched out. Why had this felt so delicious to her? All I felt was ill at ease.

Forcing myself to stay I closed my eyes.

I was in a tiny house on the island of Mauritius. A simple wooden structure on stilts just above the waterline with built-in holes in the walls where there was no TV, books, or refrigerator. All of them blank and empty; nothing was plugged in to an electrical socket; there were no rugs on the floors. Just water everywhere, and sand on the beach in view. A blank space where nothing happened and where everything could. An environment pure in clean potential: expecting nothing, forcing nothing.

Then I heard streaming water stop, a shower spray. I knew she was there without even seeing her, naked after washing the salt water from her swim in the deepest of deep below. She was going to turn the corner now, her long brown hair drenched down her back, droplets on her skin.

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