I'm sitting on my stripped mattress in the middle of the last night. Everything is back the way it started, nearly, after weeks and days and hours of packing and shifting and deconstructing it. None of it was that bothersome, until today, with furniture back exactly how it was, walls bare, desks bare. Tomorrow it will all be gone, every last hairtie and blanket and book, and it will all be exactly the way it was, save for a little bit dirtier and the sunflower i drew on the bottom of my bed with permanent marker. Exactly as it was before April and I walked in and exchanged friendly greetings, before a year that was a patchwork of lessons learned and bad habits formed, tears and new overalls and midnight kitchens. Wednesday it will be as if we were never there at all. Next fall, a blank slate for someone else. I guess the door looks the same before you open it to go in and when you lock it on the way out.
I guess I'm thinking about how it all comes back around. Living out of a suitcase, lost in the temporary. The blank, empty room. Hours on the phone, smiling at someone hundreds of miles away. People who come and go, who are friendly but feel like strangers. It's all the same, but so completely different. There's history here for me now, it's not my favorite and it's not my best and it wont ever matter to anyone else, but it's history to me. At the beginning, it felt so long and predetermined and now I can't imagine next week. Each day seemed slower this month, but soon I will stop counting hours and go back to running and climbing and gallivanting along with hands sticky with jam, feeling the world spin beneath me and not getting lost in the numbers. I can't fathom that I am so different, and yet I feel exactly the same.
Tomorrow, I'll finish the last of the packing. Letter writing and cleaning a stain off the walls, package pickup and key return. Studying. Hah. Tomorrow I'll go on the roof for a bit if I have time. Tomorrow I will leave and so will April, our history here erased like the whiteboards of lists and sketches I still have to put away. Maybe someone will find the sunflower. Someone lived here before. But of course someone lived here before, and I don't think about them either, so why will they?
I'm standing on my patio, one hand on the railing, the other hand holding an empty popsicle stick, watching dropped popsicle ice on the concrete transform into rapidly spreading pools of water. The sun is warm, the water and sky are both blue in the distance. Behind me on the table is a yellow collander, bursting with green and red, picked from the garden below. My hands smell like arugula.
This moment, this little universe of watching ice melt on concrete, somehow encompasses everything and nothing all at once.
The ice is fast disappearing and the thought that catches in my head is soon I won't be here anymore.
Not here as in the patio, not here as in the home where I did all my growing up, but here as in myself. Myself today, myself exactly where I am. One foot in childhood and the other in adulthood. About to take the other step.
Fear and joy are there, at the edges of my consciousness. But I can't feel either in this moment of today. I am just here, just waiting, just being. Watching the melting ice.
He sits on the wooden stoop, his curls still wet from the river. Kicks his feet against the ground, bare feet, dust between his toes. Behind him on the porch, his mother is zesting a lemon, the scent swirling from her grater, across the porch and into his nose.
He smiles back at her, "I can smell your lemon, Mama,"
She laughs. Gets up and goes into the house, her skirts brushing briefly against his shoulder as she walks past.
The air smells of dust, sunbaked wood, and the faintest hint of lemon. The birds sing. He sits there and kicks his feet until his mama calls him in for dinner.
More random nonsense
I climb the rise in the chest-high snow and look back. She is scrambling through the tracks I made, the snow around her taller than her head, a small dark shape against the blindingly white drifts. She squints up at me and redoubles her efforts, throwing herself through the snow until she reaches me. She is panting, louder than she should be; I feel a slight increase in warmth as she leans against my side. Her hood has fallen off. She stares up at me with wide eyes and launches herself into the snow in front of us, nearly disappearing into it. I realize she’s attempting to clear a path for me.
I follow her and lift her out of the snow before she can get any further, swing her onto my back. She rests her chin on my shoulder and regards me seriously. Her breathing is still too heavy, her thin chest rapidly rises and falls against my shoulder blades.
“Are you cold?”
I pull her hood back up and plunge forward into the snow.
Dewy grass on bare running feet. Sun's heat soaking into dark hair. Knee deep in raspberries.
Well it's summer again, Misha. The streets of the old city are teeming with people, animals, bugs and disease. Summer always reminds me of how very much life there is here, how very many things live and breathe within these walls, and how very big this world is.
You always used to say the summer felt dead.
I never understood why, and I suppose I never will.
Yes, Misha, there is a reason I am writing this letter you will never see. There is a reason, though you told me that letters are wastes of quill and ink, tears and breath. I am only now realising, as I write this, how very irritating you are, little sister. It seems I cannot look at the world with my own eyes anymore. Your voice is always there, you tell me what to resent that I would never resent on my own. Even now, you make me ashamed to write this, ashamed that I am disregarding your wishes to the last. And I know that you would hate this letter, hate how long I took to get to the point.
I sail tomorrow.
I keep my promises, you know, whatever other faults I may have. And this is a promise I will carry out at dawn. I write to tell you this, because I believe you are in a place beyond seasons, a place beyond time. A place beyond life.
Because you kept your promises as well, little sister.
And how else could this have ended otherwise? If you live, you would know it is summer, if you live, you would know that it has been two years.
You turned away, pack on your shoulder, grey hood pulled over your head. Eyes already set on the open road. In your mind, I knew you were already gone. Already climbing the next hill. Dust on your travelling boots.
I caught your hand, you turned, face hidden beneath your hood, and I knew then that I would never be your shadow, or your mirror. Nothing you looked to. You were mine. But I would be only a silent echo in your life, crying into nothingness, over and over again.
Two years, I promise. Wait for me. Then sail.
If you do not return.
If I do not return.
So you said it too late. And I knew you never planned to come back.
You were never one for goodbyes.
I shall make a paper bird, I shall send it soaring into the sunrise. I will sail. The bird will fly.
And you will never know.
There is nothing left to say.
Epilogue: The Graves
Sleet dashes against the weatherbeaten sides of the castle, battering relentlessly into tiny chinks in the stones. The pennants are encrusted with ice, stark bright colors against the gray edifice, a hanging, frozen tongue for each pair of windows that are the castle’s dark, empty eyes.
The wind screams.
In the lee of the castle walls, the would-be conquering army fires cannons in salute. The noise rings off the stone wall and echoes outward, flying across the freshly dug graves, where it is quickly swallowed by the storm. The army fires again.
The ghost watches from its hovering position atop the wall. It drifts back and forth, its once massive and powerful frame now just a pearly flicker in the sleet. Its dim, burning eyes are fixed on the wrapped bodies being borne toward the graves. It can do nothing but stare, drift and stare, as the bodies of its family - wife, brother, son - are laid in the fresh earth. It can do nothing but gape as the cannons continue to fire. The clarity it once held is now replaced by distant confusion. How did it all go so wrong? The ghost only wanted vengeance. One life for one life. But they lie in the earth, murderer and avenger alike, side by side in a row of fresh graves while an outsider walks the bloodstained halls and sits on the throne that the ghost and its family died defending from each other.
The first handful of earth is thrown on the son’s grave, followed by shovelfuls of it, rocky and frozen. The wind screams again and the ghost screams with it, racing in circles above the wall, wailing its grief to the people who do not hear and who never look up.
The army finishes burying the bodies, then hastens for the protection of the walls, their solemnity already forgotten. The iron gates slam shut and they are gone.
The ghost is left alone, drifting among the graves, wailing in bafflement and grief. Its incomprehensible screams begin to form words: why, why, why… before its cries are lost to the wind.
A wee interview
1. When did you begin to write?
Ever since I was very small, I've wanted to tell stories. I used to dictate made-up adventures involving my family and stuffed animals to my babysitter. She would write them down and I would illustrate them. I remember wearing a princess dress and walking around my house, and in my head, I was narrating my actions in the third person, like I was acting out a book. Waiting to fall asleep at night, I would always make up dramatic stories. I think at some point I realised the stories never went anywhere because I always fell asleep before I finished them, and I decided it might be good to write them down.
2. What does writing give back to you? What is your ultimate writing goal?
I think I write because it gives me the ability to be inside someone else's head. Sure, I write a lot of descriptions and poems and things that aren't necesarily character-driven, but my favorite pieces to write are things that let me experience the world through someone else's eyes. I like imagining a situation that would be normal to me and then look at it from another angle, like seeing the sun shining through an open window and describing it from the perspective of someone who had never seen the sun. My ultimate writing goal is to sucessfully write stories that are driven by a character's experience of the world.
Dancing in the headlights
Dancing in the headlights in the middle of the street
Beams from my running car cutting through sheets of heavy mist
We spin and we’re ghosts cloaked in fog
and angels outlined in rays of light
There is frost on the ground and winter on the wind, but
it smells like summer
We’re laughing and I don’t know why. I don’t know
(I would sew you this fog into a quilt so you could drape it around your shoulders)
(I would sew it full of raindrops so you could know how much I love you)
(I would weave it full of night so you could always be my sister)
how many days until tomorrow?
how many seconds until we grow up?
she hovers on the edge of the cliff / wax wings and freckled cheeks and steely eyes (full of choppy grey water and murky depths and the distant echoes of wax feathers falling) eyes always tilted towards the sun / always seeing where she could go if only
she / had / wings
you / Icarus / toeing the line between girl and woman / hovering between here and something more
Icarus lives / and she has no fear, wax wings spread and sailing towards the blinding light / You have never known what it means to fail so failure is not a possibility / But if / when / your feathers begin to fall / one by one / Icarus lives / you have no regrets /
it doesn’t matter whether your wings melt / doesn’t matter if you plummet / lost beneath the sea /
so long as you came the closest / to touching /