Some time ago, I was living in a blue, underwater kingdom of kings and queens and delightful creatures. It was quiet as long as citizens kept traffic to a minimum and restrained from using bubbles irresponsibly. It was civil, not because civility was enforced, but because no one had reason to act out.
The royal guards lined up to salute the king and queen. Trumpets were raised, and the queen, as graceful as ever, smiled at each and every one of her loyal guards. Her name was Geraldine, and I liked her. Queen Geraldine once told me, “Sarah, don’t let anyone tell you to doubt your feelings.”
“What feelings, Queen Geraldine?”
“Your feelings about anything.”
And I got a funny feeling one day that told me the kingdom was changing. I saw it in the blinking shadow of a jealous eye. I saw it in a little girl’s betrayal of her best friend. I saw it in a man’s refusal of all the things that made him uncomfortable.
(modified from the Nov 2012 original published on another blog)
Why would I do that? she whispered to him.
He chuckled and said nothing.
She traced the prism patterns underneath them, triangle upon triangle, reds, plums, blues stitched together. The little flowers along the edges had faded and a long rip ran along the top, the part she always tugged on when she was cold. Safety pins held it together.
As she snuggled into his shoulder, a breath escaped his nostrils, landing in warmth on top of her head.
The sun’s tickling me.
I got into Daddy’s car and drove on battery power. The sun had set but it was mostly smooth sailing; the road signs were clear enough. Even in my blind rage, instinct and well-honed driving skills got me through the local streets without a hitch.
Somewhere in gritty North Jersey, I took a jughandle left and a ramp onto I-95. About five miles down this baby, so familiar to me, the engine started sputtering. I didn’t wanna stall there of all places so I took an exit, parked not too far from Milltown, and got on my fold-out scooter.
Cars minded me for the most part but I couldn’t handle giant intersections, not with the lights changing as if they were a show, greens turning without warning to reds, turning to illogical arrows. I waited for my green arrow, every muscle in my body tensed, my right foot ready to kick off as hard I could. When it finally came, it didn’t stay long enough. Cars from two directions, four lanes, crisscrossed around my slow-moving body, headlights blinding me, as I dodged my way through the overlap of 16 lanes and tumbled headfirst into some dark corner.
He was driving me with his windows down, arm out the window, when a white Audi pulled up to him and asked him for directions. The driver answered brusquely and let the guy drive ahead. Then he closed his windows and turned to me and said:
“That guy knew where he was going.”
“Then why did he ask you?”
“Maybe he just wanted to talk to me.”
“Because you had your window open?”
I didn’t know whose hypothesis was crazier, his or mine, but he didn’t say anything. Equal parts confused and unsatisfied, I looked down and went back to Kakao-ing my friend.
“Whatcha doing on your smartphone there?”
“Oh, just talking to my friend.”
“You know, I write things online. A lot of people read my writings.”
The last time I saw Harry, he was buying me dinner with his January paycheck. We caught each other up on our lives but there really wasn’t much to say; nothing had changed since the last time we’d gotten together, seeing as we were both still at our respective crossroads. For him, it was music or school and as for me, I persisted in my search for the next job, a better job.
I liked to ask Harry where he would be if he could be anywhere right now, what he would be doing. He never had a satisfactory answer, that bastard. Whenever I urged him to drop out and pursue music, that goofy grin of his would tumble from his lips. I didn’t have the heart to push him. So we walked the streets and talked about people. Anything happening with Jared? No, of course not. Have you met anyone? Nah.
We went to the jungle first, where we picked bananas and tapped a tree for rubber. I’d always wanted to do that—tap a rubber tree—and before this day, the closest I had come to it was picking off a leaf from my Ficus Benjamin and watching the white goo ooze out of the wound. I took out an old jar from my satchel and started filling it with the sap, now flowing freely from the trunk. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I beamed at him.
Out of hunger and boredom (probably boredom moreso), Harry whittled a stick to a sharp point and harpooned a salmon with it in the little stream. I couldn’t watch him do it. “I need more than bananas for supper,” he said.
I looked up, and looming above us was a canopy of wide, leafy leaves, thin and translucent and overlapping as if to one-up one another, hiding the sun. I missed the sun.
Harry was a funny man. His jokes were the corniest of them all, but he was so adorable at making them that you had to laugh. He didn’t do it to please anyone; he did it because it made him happy. He loved chuckling at himself.
I loved Harry. I don’t know why, really; he was often unreliable, forgetful, and moody. If you happened to catch him in one of his spells, everything turned grey, starting from the distance between the two of you and seeping into the air, out the door, around the block, until pretty soon, you were submerged in the pool of sadness he had created. And there was no getting out of it. You just had to meet him another day.
The last time I saw Harry, he looked good. He was as lighthearted and curious as ever, and as the night went on, we changed our plans on every whim, as we always did. The clink of brimming glasses. The ringing of the car bells, the candle lights, yellow bulbs, and disco rays reflecting off bottles and cigarette cases. My hand reached for a cig; the tobacco crumbled into a fine dust between my thumb and forefinger, and he took it from me.
There was a bus to the club district waiting outside the bar, but we hopped into a taxi instead. We resisted the temptations of the night and the city and escaped to better places.
Somewhere better than this place—that’s what we always sought. And seekers find each other, Jamie would say. But I didn’t find Harry so much as run into him, at full speed. We were just two kids looking for fun. And we didn’t care about anything else.
A work in progress, possibly a seed for something bigger
She quivers and pops like a bead of water in a hot pan.
He cannot contain himself, his energies pouring forth without restraint.
She stops talking and wonders about the missing tiles, stacks of fingerprints, rugs of moth wings. How soft they feel under her feet…
He tells her tales of teenage adventures, mishaps and conquests, run-ins with the law.
She listens and learns, knitting together an idea of him inside her mind, a colorful spectacle, to store and ponder on in solitude.
He sees the whole story in his mind—beginning, middle, and end—and his delivery is deliberately paced, building suspense and teasing.
She asks question after question at each dramatic pause. He is patient, she is not. Frustrated, she quivers and tries to hide.