2013 Annual Short Story
The Gods of a New Age
By Rachel Durs
21st Century Cyber Charter School, Grade 12
York was cold that March, even for a goddess, and the icy breeze barbed
up my fishnet stockings. Last month’s snow, now black slush thanks to
cabs and incessant feet, broke easily under my Louboutins as I coasted
the curbs. These familiar streets were lined with faceless statues of
blue women and fountains spinning water from the spokes of the sun,
golden disks built into marble buildings and metal skyscrapers that
reflected one another in the early morning. Almost soulless at this
hour, the city was just beginning to creak to life and I turned my coat
collar up against the wind before plunging my gloveless hands back into
my pockets for warmth. This pause afforded me the opportunity to look
around, my eyes falling on one shop in particular across the way. It was
a small thing, a little café that could barely be called a café,
really, its faded wallpaper and vinyl booths more from the ‘50s than
present day. Monroe, the little red-faced Jewish man that owned the
place, was just opening up, the metal grate that had barred the door
just moments prior sliding aside with a heavy groan. A smile formed on
my painted lips as I walked across to it and entered. A bell above the
door sang my entrance and Monroe looked up from where he was greasing
the counter with a cloth.
God…” he said in disbelief, his round face quivering with emotion.
“Irene. What can I do you for?”
can’t do me for anything,” I said, sliding up to one of the
metal stools at the counter. “However, you can get me a martini
and an ashtray.”
babbled his apologies sheepishly and reached under the counter for the
vermouth. The only alcohol served to Monroe’s regular customers was
beer, a low-grade brand of the stuff from a can. The vermouth was kept
for when I visited, hidden from everyone else’s sight. He mixed my
drink while I eyed it and he slid me an ashtray when he had a free
second. I grabbed it with one hand and produced my cigarettes with the
other, biting one of the long cylinders between my teeth before striking
a match against the counter.
I said, talking around the cigarette and pausing only to ignite the tip,
“…I suspect you’ve guessed why I’m here.”
I assume it’s not for the booze,” Monroe joked slightly.
good, you’re getting quicker,” I said, pointing with my cigarette as
he slid me my drink.
do you want?” he asked, his ease replaced by hesitancy.
you know I wouldn’t be here,” I said, smiling into my next drag.
he said, grinning nervously. “So, what information do you need?”
drag. “I’ve had word that someone has been…mistreating…one of my
eyes went wide. “Children? You’ve got children?”
tongue clicked against the roof of my mouth in a scoff.
of my followers, you half-wit!” I barked.
I’ve been called to her and I need to find her.” I paused, sipping
my drink and flicking the ashes of my cigarette. “She’s local.”
I said, my voice crackling with a building anger. “Did you see her
twisted the rag with a nervous sigh and I knew the answer was yes. He
stayed silent, eyeing me warily. In return, I leaned in with a glare, my
cheek twitching in irritation.
you see her here?” I repeated, making sure each word jabbed.
voice was breathless as he whispered, “Yes.”
information can you give me about her?”
came in here, you know…that night.” He paused and made a vague hand
gesture, trying to confirm if I did in fact know what happened. I did,
and gave him an impatient nod to continue. “She’s praying to the
Christian god. I saw her cross.”
you tell me anything else about her? Her address?”
could see my eyes reflected in his – wide, bright, searching his face
intently. He must have sensed my intensity, for I could feel his
deliberate effort not to shrink back.
I know who does.”
I said, leaning back with a grin and a drag on my cigarette. “So
Sebastian’s been called down too?”
nodded. I nodded in response, more to myself than to him. So it was
going to be that kind of mission.
you know where Seb is, then?”
was smiling now, not meeting Monroe’s eyes as I snuffed the cigarette
in the ashtray. Only about half of it was gone and I put it back in the
pack to finish later. Silence. I met Monroe’s uneasy glance, putting
on an impassive face and finishing off my drink in a few sips.
nothing. I rolled my eyes, a snort of derision bubbling up in my throat
as I stood, putting my foot against the stool to my left. In one fluid
motion, the heel of my Louboutin punched through the surface of the red
vinyl. Monroe heaved a weary sigh and I cocked my head as if in
Irene,” he mumbled, grabbing a roll of black tape and coming around
from behind the bar. He patched the hole with two small pieces, marking
a perfect “x”. “You know I don’t know where he is. He’s
nearby, I know that. Probably a block or two away, waiting for you.”
could see my smile reflected in the dozens of drinking glasses behind
Monroe as I backed away from the counter. My hand flashed into my
pocket, pulling out enough to cover the bill and the tip.
you, Monroe.” I grinned, pinning the bills down with the empty glass.
“You’ve done a good job. I’ll make sure to put in a good word for
you when this is over.”
Irene.” He muttered in response, scratching his head as I moved toward
the door. I leveled him with a hard glance and he shuffled, “Madame.”
smile reflected back to me again at the title and I gave him a nod.
and Irene…good luck.”
threw a wink in his direction before stepping out into the sunshine that
glittered off the frosted pavement.
only took me a few minutes to get to the block where I believed I’d
find Seb. It was a little block, dotted with small storefronts and
apartments. Near enough to be seen, skyscrapers and high-rises loomed in
the background, setting the whole street up like a rectangular
antechamber. I moved through the crowd at a deliberate clip, scanning
the assembled people for a slicked-back blonde head, and melted into
them in hopes of finding him. I stopped and looked down the street as if
locating a vanishing point when I suddenly felt a gentle tug on my arm.
me, marm, might I borrow a cigarette?”
smiled before I even turned around, pulling out my cigarettes with one
swoop of my free arm.
pulled himself over to stand next to me.
He nodded, his hands in the pockets of his black, cashmere coat. I knew
somewhere within the folds of the thing, his muffled gun was stashed,
loaded and ready for use. “It’s been a while.”
yes. Jakarta,” I said. “When we were working for Batara Guru.”
was hard to believe that was the last time we had been on assignment
together, but his nod confirmed it. I handed him a cigarette and he lit
it with a metal Zippo, gesturing with it slightly as if to ask me if I
was planning on smoking one too. The corners of my mouth turned up into
a grin as I pulled out my half-smoked one from earlier and set it
between my teeth. He leaned in and lit it for me, talking around his own
cigarette as he did so.
been told this time it’s the Christian god.” He said.
my cigarette was relit, I pulled back and gave a slight nod, turning to
face the street. Cabs were trundling by, picking up people who had their
heads down and headphones in their ears. They didn’t want any trouble.
Everyone was oblivious to the divine meeting taking place on the
it took a fair bit of coaxing to get it out of Monroe, but I did
eventually. Satyrs.” I snorted the last bit with derision,
biting at my cigarette once more.
laughed, simultaneously with mirth and with understanding at how
infuriating dealing with the descendants of Pan could be. They may have
evolved out of their horns and fur-covered legs, but they hadn’t lost
their juvenile ways.
you know anything else about this?” I asked, glancing up at Seb.
sighed a small cloud of smoke and reached into his jacket, pulling out a
sheet of folded paper.
name is Abby Duncan,” he said, unfolding the sheet for me to see.
was a pretty girl, maybe college-aged, her red hair cascading down her
shoulders as she grinned. In my life, I had discovered that people who
smiled with their eyes were usually good, honest people. And when this
girl smiled, her happiness radiated up to every fleck of jade in her
eyes. I stared in silence at my follower, internally thanking her for
her belief and prayers, the way I did when any poor soul contacted me.
voice sounded thick and bass-like, not my own at all. I didn’t bother
to clear my throat.
bottom lip twitched and I could see from the bulge in his cheek that he
was running his tongue across his teeth. I knew this long arm of divine
law didn’t like it when people hurt women, especially young ones, and
he wrestled with a fair bit of anger for a moment before speaking.
sighed, wondering how the earth could hold mortals so evil that they
could violate a young girl the way Abby Duncan had been violated. Plenty
of cases like this had come to me before, sadly, but this one seemed to
be among the worst.
else I’ve heard then, too?” I asked.
nodded and took a final long drag on his cigarette, before stomping it
out with his boot. In less than five minutes, he’d have another one in
his mouth if he could find time to buy a pack before his mission time
go to her then, she called me,” I said, suddenly distracted. “Where
does she live?”
gave me her address, pointing to one of the distant buildings.
been given very strict orders when I find the man, Irene. You know that,”
he said, eyeing me with a flinty seriousness.
the moment I heard you were here, I figured you had already been given
your orders.” I smiled a small, mirthless grin of understanding. “I
thought perhaps it wouldn’t be this kind of mission.”
know what happens when justice is left to the mortals,” Seb said, his
grey eyes falling into a look akin to sadness.
I did. When the justice of mortal law miscarried, it was up to the court
of the divine, for which I was the advocate of victims and Seb was the
executioner. I had seen it too many times and today was just another
instance. The law hadn’t only failed this girl, but had hurt her
be looking for him,” Sebastian said, more to himself than to me as he
pulled out his silver flask and took a deep draught. I inhaled, trying
to identify the liquid. Whiskey. Jack Daniels. Typical Seb.
have a feeling you already know when and where you’ll find him.”
got an idea, yes.” His mouth twisted into an almost evil smile. “After
dark. I think that’s when you’ll find Abby at home, too.”
wait for her until then,” I said with a nod. “And I’ll watch over
will. And you watch your mark.”
a doubt.” Seb’s hand traced the area of his coat where his gun was
kept, a shape indistinguishable if you didn’t know it was there.
Almost as quickly as he made the gesture, his hands were back in his
pockets. “Take care, Irene.”
too. And good luck.”
the grim scenario, I couldn’t help but smile at my colleague,
anointing his head with a smoke-ring halo as I blew out my final drag.
dusk, I was standing on the sidewalk outside of Abby Duncan’s
apartment. Out in the back by the dumpsters was an emergency exit, and I
loitered, optionally unseen by any passersby. I took Sebastian’s
advice to heart, checking every few moments for those selfish orange
bloodstains in the sky to depart and leave me standing in the half-baked
darkness of a New York evening.
waiting was the worst part, and I set my tongue in my cheek to keep from
lighting up another cigarette or sighing aloud. Luckily, it wasn’t
long. Soon the sun dipped down behind the buildings, its final light
blinding for a moment before the sky was swallowed by a cool blackness.
One star winked at me and then another, reminding me that somewhere Seb
was lying in wait. I entered the building and located Abby’s apartment
walked in through the locked door without a sound and moved toward her
bedroom. The sound of my heels on the hardwood echoed in my head, but I
knew she would never hear them. Instead her room was silent, save for
that tiny sniffling sound that indicates someone delicately crying into
her own chest. I felt the same immediate mixture of shock and pain that
I always got when I found one of my poor children in tears. Abby was at
the side of her bed in prayer position, tears trickling down from her
closed eyes. I felt a hot rage toward the men who did this to her.
my savior, today was my trial.” She said with a voice like the whisper
in a conch shell. “And I lost. Lord, I did what I thought was best and
I testified against them all. The evidence wasn’t there, they said.
The two who watched – they went free because there wasn’t any
evidence -- and he…he paid someone off, I just know he did!
Lord, please, please give me strength to understand and accept what has
happened. Please, help to be at peace with this!”
voice broke off in a choke at the end of her prayer and she put her face
against the bed to weep. I sank to my knees next to her and stroked her
alright, dear, it’ll be alright,” I murmured to her, hoping that
despite the fact she couldn’t hear these words nor feel my hands, a
vague calmness only I could provide my children would come over her.
soothed her and whispered endearments to her, willing her into a sleep.
I would come to her in a dream, I decided, and would assure her
everything would work – that her God hadn’t forgotten about her and
wasn’t blind to her pain. Since none of my followers had ever seen me,
she wouldn’t know it was me talking to her. In the morning she would
wake up and wonder who she had been talking to in her sleep the night
before, and all of her friends would say they had never seen the
raven-haired woman with the long black coat and flinty eyes.
enough, she sighed and climbed into her bed, her eyes red with those
salty tears. Against the uneasy backdrop of her mind, I appeared to her
with the planets behind my head like a lens flare, whispering all the
things I said to her before, but this time I know she heard them. When I
pulled out of her dreams, a small smile graced her lips.
unseen and unheard, I left the apartment building through the emergency
exit from which I had come and was out in the cold, dark alley. Stars
twinkled above me like the eyes of each god who somewhere had a child in
need. My hands fumbled for a cigarette, which I attempted to light with
took the man that night. It was bloodless, which I know must have pained
Seb greatly, but he promised me the man suffered. The official reports
said he was drunk and fell from the dock into the river below, where he
drowned. Only we knew he was helped to that fall. The next morning, the
police got an anonymous tip as to the location of a drug deal and the
dead man’s former accomplices – those who would watch the plight of
a young woman – were taken in for a long stint behind bars.
watched from across the street as Abby Duncan got the news at the police
station. She cried from joy this time and praised God for the justice
she had finally been given. She praised me as well as her guardian
angel, as the one who had set this all in motion. I smiled from my place
on the pavement, hidden from her so she didn’t recognize me from her
dream. I heard her thanks echoing through my head.
welcome,” I thought in response, wishing she could hear me. But
that wasn’t how it would work, now or ever. I could just take solace
in knowing we had given her some hope.
appeared at my elbow, and I smelled the sweet scent of his cigar before
I even saw him. For a moment, we stood on the sidewalk and looked across
the street in utter silence before he turned to me and smiled, blowing
smoke in my face. I inhaled the wisps of smoke greedily and smiled back,
knowing that was all the goodbye either of us needed. With one final
look at our red-headed charge, we both turned on our heels and walked
down the street in the direction of the sun.
No Words Would Come
High School, Grade 12
seemed as if the Christmas tree was taunting me.
It looked so goofy in that room, almost as if it was a projection of a
fun house mirror. Its middle was comically wide compared to the point
and base, like a top, but my head was the one that was spinning. I
started to wonder how it could possibly be standing upright. I was sure
there was some law of physics that the tree was breaking, but I didn’t
have the capacity to think of it. My boyfriend would know something of
it. He’s always telling me about his prolonged bitterness towards his
preschool teachers who would yell at him on the playground for
recklessly spinning around in circles, his arms outstretched at his
sides and his face towards the sky. I’ve always wondered if he did it
so that the world would begin to see-saw beneath him or if he wanted all
the weight to gather just past the final joints of his fingers. But
I’ve never asked.
The heat radiated off the rocks. The sparkling green water was
inviting, but the distance was daunting. They would stir up quite a
scene, those children, toes curled over the edge and being prodded by
their parents to jump. When they would turn back to find solace in the
urging faces of their families, they would apparently see something that
would convince them to take one sharp inhale, and then jump. Everyone
who had stopped what they were doing to watch clapped, even though their
cheers were crippled by the depth of the water and would never reach the
children’s ears. I think I am the only one who can smile despondently.
I don’t remember when it is that people stop telling you to jump. But
it is so, so sad.
had begun to feel bad for the Christmas tree and its wonky disposition
that had irked me earlier, but then some laughter wafted up the
staircase and reminded me why I’d spent such a long time staring at
the tree in the first place. The tree was back to mocking me. The red
and green ornaments hung there, exacerbating the protruding middle
branches and making tiny disco balls of themselves by reflecting the
glow of the string lights. The tree was my current antithesis, and
therefore my only enemy, and I thought it was in my best interest to
leave the room immediately. I went outside without caring how loudly I
shut the door behind me.
was the dead of winter, and my bare legs didn’t forget to remind me.
They were prickly and pale, and I tried not to look down at them. I
ignored the concrete path, and cut across the lawn. The ground was caked
with snow, and my socks were heavy and damp by the time I’d reached
The people here are prisoners past eleven. Night is a barren
wasteland interrupted by occasional whistling highways. I could only
close my eyes and confuse them for crashing waves. The grass was warm
and wet and it helped. I think lightning bugs also live in the depths of
laid in the middle of the road, sprawling out my limbs and pressing
every inch of my body to the icy blacktop. I blew smoke straight up into
I opened up a can of evaporated milk and was surprised to find
liquid. I expected clouds.
eventually joined me on the street, leaving Joey in the house with the
tree and the bottles and the tiled floor.
She is tall and beautiful and even though I cried when they changed
her nose, I loved her just the same because she still went to the
bookstore to read with the bandages.
It doesn’t even look that different, in all honesty, but I was
so mad that they changed her. And it was different than the way the
books and the movies and the paintings and the boys and the teachers
didn’t ask me any questions, and didn’t have to. I watched us both
flick ashes against the grayscale landscape. They burned bright red like
embers for a moment but soon faded, mimicking the birth and death of
stars. I wished we could make the ashes glow big and bright enough that
if someone were caught between down here and up there, they wouldn’t
know which way is up. Admittedly, it’s a bit masochistic, this romance
I have with the stars, and I relish the moments they make me feel so
small, so insignificant, so easily at their mercy. It’s a cliché to
say it’s humbling, but it is, and I often need to remind myself that
to everything and everyone else, Nora and I are just two girls flicking
ashes in suburbia.
made our way back to the porch. Her dad showed up behind the screen
door. He spoke like the Christmas tree spun. Whatever he said did not
matter enough to listen to and I didn’t want to strain myself trying
to hear him. Nora and I retreated inside, finally deciding we’d had
enough of the night. It was nearing morning. Joey had fallen asleep with
the only blanket, so I pulled loose all that I could and tried to save
my frostbitten toes. My nose and ears reddened at the stark contrast in
temperature, and I fell asleep like it was summertime.
The wicker furniture made patterns on Sawyer’s face. The bugs hit
the lamppost with a buzz and we laughed and I loved him.
has consistently been the unknowing witness to my fall from grace, which
I took like the torturous descent of a feather, and our friendship is
largely based on discussing all the things that happened while he was
sleeping in the same room. I met him and his friend Malcolm last fall in
a crowded basement in a situation that I still can’t determine as
timely or untimely. Swing music played. I tried to meet Sawyer’s eyes
a thousand times over, but they were so vacant to me. When he drove away
that night, I could feel our physical distance becoming insignificant;
he was already so far away.
held no qualms, however, because my hands were too busy snatching up
Joey’s arms. We danced, cursedly and clumsily, around the room,
laughing at our tangled feet running into other pairs of just the same.
The minutes tumbled by, and the pink faces of youth fell ashen with
fatigue as their eyelids like anchors secured them to the closest couch
cushion. Malcolm and I evaded sleep for the remaining hours until
morning, talking like maps.
And while he took care of his dog, I read a page of every book on
his shelf. I felt like I had to do this secretly.
spoke in similar tongues. And I loved him because sadness loves company.
I rummaged through the bin and pulled out the transparent pieces of
colored glass. Red and blue, and blue and yellow, and yellow and red.
They taught me about Venn diagrams. Purple and green and orange.
wish I had thought about the stars and reminded myself that we are not
so magnificent. We are just broken pieces of glass. Malcolm poked
Joey’s face. He was sound asleep, and I thought about all the people
you can be alone with.
suffer from a serious case of home-sickness, as in sometimes I am so
physically repulsed by my home that I’ll be blocks away before I
realize that I’ve left. It was midnight. The air was wet and cold, and
the fog hung thick just above my head. Malcolm was the only one awake in
walking distance, so I urged him to join me outside. I took him to the
hidden path that leads to the red bridge by the river. Mud sloshed in
our shoes. A recent storm had cleared out a row of trees and revealed an
eerie view of the valley and adjacent hillside that peeked out from
behind a dense fog. A glowing green light sat atop the hill, and I asked
Malcolm what he thought of it. He formulated an elaborate story of how
it was evil force that must be stopped. I called him Gatsby, and took
off down the hill. I raced ahead of him, my feet impeccably coordinating
leaps and bounds over fallen trunks and thorn bushes. When Malcolm met
me at the bottom, he called me Mona. I blushed at my feet. This is the
language that we spoke. I don’t think we could summon the words
ourselves, and so we stole from the pages that we mutually loved. It
kills me now to see how soon we labeled ourselves as doomed.
arrived home ankle deep in mud and knee deep in water, and fell asleep
just the same. I woke up waist deep in sorrows, and my heart filled me
up to my chest. Sawyer offered to take me out for a drive because I
seemed off. Rain on the windshield smeared the red brake lights ahead of
us, and I felt myself go sallow. He parked the car in an empty lot and
spit out the question, “What’s wrong?”
My mouth hung open, unable to form a response. The rain
outside fell hard enough to mock me, and I swore his car was made of
tin. I couldn’t concentrate. I shoved my head into his chest and tried
to let his sweater block the ringing in my ears. I whispered that I felt
sick, cold and tired, and left it at that. When he couldn’t stand my
silence any longer, he took me home.
matter how Malcolm made me feel, I couldn’t keep away from him.
Addiction has come in stranger forms, I guess. Joey, Nora, and I went to
his house to watch movies one night. Nora fell asleep in the middle of
the first movie, and eventually decided to go home instead of continuing
to sleep on the reclining chair. Joey and I still barely knew each
other, and we made small talk while Malcolm went upstairs. His
girlfriend called. That’s what Joey had told me. While we chatted, I
watched his eyelids. They were drooping ever so slightly, and I felt
desperately anxious. Malcolm finally came back downstairs, and I could
see the trouble in his eyes. He held glasses. We made a toast to being
shells of people, and we laughed. Our clinks were hesitant and sharp.
They reverberated off the white walls, and the ringing returned to my
toasts continued, but Joey didn’t. He fell asleep on the floor, and
now I wished I hadn’t stepped over him so cautiously. Led Zeppelin
played in the background. I danced around the coffee table, singing and
spinning as Malcolm just looked upon me.
Mom popped in the Led Zeppelin cassette and we danced in the
kitchen and sang into our broomsticks, mine a miniature version of hers.
I had bangs cut in a straight line and pink shoes. I didn’t know the
lyrics that well, but it didn’t matter because I could pretend.
raised our glasses, but when I opened my mouth for the final toast no
words would come. All we
could muster were locked eyes and a smirk.
And then I jumped. For a moment, I swore I wasn’t actually
falling. I like to think the universe dispelled gravity just for a
moment, just so I could observe the ground dropping out below me. 40
feet until the water—40 glorious feet. When I tasted air again I asked
Who loves me now?
value of physical intimacy was dead, and yet we succumbed to it. I was
thrilled and it destroyed me. We
pulled away from each other’s faces in shock. The first sound that
came from my mouth in what seemed like ages was a resounding and
Oh my god.
guilt that came from letting it get to this point was compounded by the
fact that it meant more when it hadn’t. A kiss would upset
everything—a kiss, of all things. Malcolm fell asleep with his back to
me and it killed me. I wanted and tried to cry but I once again found
that nothing would come.
lay petrified on the floor until Joey woke up. I couldn’t understand
how he didn’t feel the difference in the room; it was glaring. We went
out for breakfast and I listened to the silverware scratch against the
plates. Malcolm paid and it felt like an apology. Joey went home, still
told Malcolm I knew where we had to go then, so we went to the Reserve.
Everything was dead and brown and gray. We hiked straight up the
mountain, avoiding the path at all costs. Branches plucked at my leather
jacket and nicked my face, but I ran on. I was disappointed to see that
there wasn’t a drop of blood when I had reached the top. I was so
desperate to break something that wasn’t my psyche. Malcolm and I
picked up all the glass bottles we could find, and carried them to the
top of one of the giant boulders protruding from the mountainside. I
whipped them as hard as I could against the face of the rocks below.
Tiny pieces of colored glass rained down to the ground. It was
beautiful. Like a massacre.
Everything was orange and illuminated. The
foam and crashing waves chased us and I fell to the sand and laughed and
laughed like I had when we bought our iced tea from the married couple
with opposing voices, hers barely a squeak and his deep and gruff. David
looked at me, and I was glad because he understood. I shouldn’t have
kissed him because Alex was at home, and he’d never understand why it
was so funny and beautiful. I shouldn’t have kissed him because his
dad was dead and that’s why he was there, and if I kissed him it would
mean something. Something I didn’t want it to mean.
hated telling Sawyer and watching his eyes change, knowing that they
would never go back. I tried to tell him that the kiss was unstuck in
time, and he was just unfortunate in having the odds fall out of his
favor. I tried to convince him this made no less of him and that all the
love is still there, but he is a man of physics and says energy can not
be created or destroyed, only converted. I tried to show him that our
memories are not tainted.
We broke into the stranger’s shed because it
was ridiculous. No one needs a two story shed, and we were right because
the upstairs was empty, save the pink carpet. Sunlight streamed in
through the window, and I watched the dust dance and Sawyer watched me.
He did not kiss me because he did not need to. And that’s when I knew
I would love him.
if he thought I ruined it, then it was ruined. I cried and pleaded
Sawyer pulled me up to the roof, and we looked
over the city. Thousands of people turned into little glowing orange and
red and yellow dots. He held my hand and it was perfectly fine when no
words would come.
can’t talk to me anymore because he’s obligated to listen to her,
and she says there is to be no more of me. Obligated.
Apparently that’s what time makes you.
knew everything by the time we went to the lake. It was frozen over. He
held my hand as I took hobbling steps toward the middle. The last time I
had been in the middle of the lake, I could have lain in my canoe
forever, indulging in the bouncing wakes and summer sky, and now the
distance between where I stood and land was haunting and interminable. I
was horrified, and I tried not to think of the fissures I would generate
if I jumped. I asked Joey where he thought the ducks go when the lake
freezes over, and he didn’t get it. I gave him The
Catcher in the Rye
a few days later at school.
Delaware is falling into the ocean. That’s what Nora told me.
There is to be a mass exodus.
street was frigid, and the lights bent their heads in sadness like a
procession of mourners. I was suddenly terrified that this would be how
I was going to be eternalized— another victim of the harsh winter. I
was a perennial ice sculpture. Perhaps what they said about me was
right—that this is all I’ll ever be. At the same time, I wanted so
badly to tell them that with spring comes metamorphosis, and that I
swear it won’t be long until song bird rouses our tired eyes and our
cheeks rush to turn pink, and that their resentment would melt away with
my frosted armor. They were wrong, but one look at my pallid blue
fingertips determined that I had no proof to persuade them otherwise. I
was furious that forgiveness had everything to do with persuasion and
nothing to do with empathy.
We were driving home from a party we didn’t go to. It was another
cold, winter weekend we spent running away, but we felt uncomfortable in
that town because we weren’t wearing the skirts they do. I turned to
Nora and I said, “You know everyone hates me because of what I did to
Alex and they think I’m a bad person but they don’t know that I
haven’t slept in weeks because I have to wait by my phone in case he
calls and I’m the one who’s making sure he’s breathing on the
other side. Tonight sucked. Let’s never do this again.”
a few months, Nora and I are leaving to go out west. It will be summer
and my feet will be bare. All the reasons people like me and all the
reasons people hate me will still be here, but I’ll be gone and maybe
they’ll run out of opportunities to think of me. I’d like that.
Because I am not made of shame, but they want me to be. And while we
cram our camping gear in the back of our beat-up minivan and wave
goodbye to our friends and families, I’ll be dreaming of the Mojave
and the Pacific and miles and miles and miles and miles.
turned up the radio and pretended not to cry.