Changed title: The sun set, and it was beautiful
Some angels don’t have wings. Some devils don’t have horns, and sometimes Camille tries to forget she gave up believing in things a long time ago. She likes probability and certainty. Positivity only exists on a number line, and the one thing plaguing her mind is not rom-coms or sleepovers but her marketability as a student. Every A+ is a blip on the radar compared to her master plan. Graduate a valedictorian with three years of dual enrollment courses under her belt, Rhode’s Scholarship at nineteen, master’s degree by twenty-three, find a job that summer. Find a job with a hefty paycheck and a strict schedule. Camille thrives on schedules and timed tests, and she’s perfected the art of not eating for three days to study for a quiz because food will always be there; a GPA is forever.
Permanent records are forever, that’s why they’re permanent. While her classmate’s impulsive older brother is convincing everyone to go smoke in the boy’s bathroom, Camille is reading Agatha Christie in French and forgetting what crying feels like. She gave up writing in seventh grade after winning six essay contests because she told herself all the best writers were either sad, drunk, undiscovered or all three, and that’s not what she wants to be. She’s got open tabs on her Chromebook laying out scholarship opprotunities and recommendation letters saved in her sock drawer and a black briefcase tumbling over itself, filled to the brim with awards, certificates, blue ribbons, community service hours, representing every night sleep evaded her, every textbook weighing her conscience down, every almost missed opportunity.
Her life is a plethora of missed opportunities, but nobody around her sees. Her teachers see excellence, her parents see a golden ticket, her peers see their curve breaking classmate with purple eye bags and no date to homecoming, but she doesn’t care; she just wants blue ink instead of red, chipped minty blue nail polish, and the constant fear of drowning.
Camille wakes up at five thirty every day, a routine she’s mastered since fifth grade. She worries about cosine and trigonometric functions, but she’s never questioned whether six hours of sleep is irregular.
“I like your shoes,” the girl diagonal from her compliments her blue Mary Janes, and Camille’s mind races. It stutters over itself at a rapid pace, questioning the ratio of received to given compliments, measuring the distance between the classmate and her own shoes, wonders if she just respond with a smile or a thank you, considers the former since class has started, and talking isn’t allowed.
She settles her pounding thoughts with a thin smile, reminiscent of the ones her mother shot her when she was younger, cheeks carving lips into daggers designed to destroy and eyes loosely pretending to care, “Thanks.”
It’s not that she means to be rude. No, not at all. It’s just that she has better things to do than entertain other people with mindless chatter. It’s just that she knows the other girl has a short attention span and will flutter from sparkly thing to pretty ponytail and back without registering either fully. It’s just that she knows nobody really cares about her shoes because they’re so enveloped in their own mediocrity to truly notice anyone else. It’s simply that Camille knows the other girl has made others melt into icicle-like tears with just a statement, and today it will not be her that falls victim to that kind of abuse. She really hates girls.
She used to talk too much, but now she keeps her statements to a minimum. Teachers prefer it that way, and she’s never really had anything worth saying out loud, so it never matters if she does or doesn’t speak. Besides, no one will remember if she makes a peep or not. Again, too self-centered and always revolving around their own mistakes and inadequacies to care.
There’s a rhythm to what she does, of course, like there is to everything. Receive material, take notes, absorb information, more notes, study once or twice before assessment, pass with flying colors, and remain blissfully aloof to the unwanted questions like “How’d you do it?” or “Will you tutor me next time?” The short answer is no, but the long answer requires significantly more explanation regarding her long and dreadful experience with coaching others, how it never really works out on her end because either they fail and blame her teachings or she throws herself into it for about two weeks until they ultimately quit, deeming themselves brighter than she, and never paying the agreed upon amount. Oh well.
Some angels don’t have wings. Some devils don’t have horns, and sometimes Alaska forgets she can be both at the same time. She believes in people. Optimism is her favorite word. Sunsets. Alaska likes sunsets more than she likes herself. Except anytime she grows to love something more than herself, it’s already disappeared. Maybe that’s why she likes them so much: they’ll always be there tomorrow. She also likes daisies, but they wilt come August, and the winter rain carries them away like paper dolls, reminding her of how fragile life is, how much we take it for granted, how sometimes we might not wake up tomorrow, gone with the winter rain...and maybe she doesn’t like daisies so much after all. Alaska likes sunsets so much she always contemplates staying alive just to see the next one. If it weren’t for sunsets, all she would have is the mural on Main Street to keep her blood pumping. It’s the mural she’s painting that keeps her going really, because she hates leaving things unfinished, especially conversations. That’s why, in third period, the blow-off history course that’s basically nap class to most, Camille starts talking again, and Alaska learns to love someone more than herself.
Coca-cola and capitalism, that’s the aesthetic, Alaska hums, sketching something new. It’s vague at first, maybe a six pack of glass Mexicaine Cola that’ll be a Coke float in the right hands. Maybe it’s a child’s sticky fingers, reaching for some morbid ghost of a dead mother. Maybe it’s Joseph Stalin himself, all gruff and straight off the thirtieth power point slide Mr G is showing at the front of the room, but that would make it obvious she’d been paying attention. “Enjoy Capitalism” she scrawls in her best penmanship at the bottom in blue fine-tipped Sharpie, a tad lopsided and an all around disaster, a middle finger to everyone who can actually make cursive look less like a chicken’s claw scratched a blackboard, recorded it, and turned it into a pdf file.
Anyway, the point is, Camille’s sitting in the second row today, not by choice. A new kid decided to test the waters and inadvertently took her unofficially assigned seat. She doesn’t fume or lividly demand her spot back: she’s too mature for that. Too good for that. Nothing gold can stay, Alaska ponders listlessly, mouthing movie quotes and tearing scraps of paper like daisy petals.
Camille’s shoulder blades poke through her white blouse like rose petals, Alaska hums, and soon capitalism is scratched out to become Camille, and the bottles become hands caressing young white rose buds. Alaska wants to peek up one last time to assure herself the perspective is correct before shading the final thorn but debates it because that would make it obvious she’d been paying attention.
Camille’s always read about people feeling a person’s gaze in their spines, but nobody’s ever stared at her, really, so she wouldn’t know. The way Alaska’s pencils curves reminds her of when she writes her own name. It also confuses her that the other student’s attention is not fixed on the projector’s slideshow but Camille’s back. She also notices Alaska’s jaw is tightened in concentration, nose pinched with focus, eyes dancing like The Sugar Plum Fairy, and if she hadn’t given up writing in seventh grade, she would dedicate her life to depicting her figure in metaphors. And all she really wants is to know how platinum blonde hair feels running through her own fingers. She finds it dificult to remember how much she hates girls.
The mural on Main Street has more definition now, a muse to call its own. Alaska has more things to live for, more days to look forward to instead of glancing back. Camille’s color coded sticky notes have hearts around the punctuation now. The mural has a halo. The faded red ladder Alaska borrowed from her uncle’s construction is slanted and leaning one day when Camille drives by. Any other street, any other specific spot, she would’ve gone right by, but this time, she stops. A magnetic force pulls her eyes straight to the blonde curling her ankles around a red ladder like a graceful leopard, a paintbrush in her nimble fingers and the faint outline of surprise gracing her features as the same magnetic force pulls her eyes to Camille.
Finally, Camille gets a view of the finished mural. Green trees swaying silently, captured beautifully. Red speckled amidst the waning yellow sun. It’s all bright orange and vivid pink dotting the lavender fields below, a white figure casting a dark shadow across the landscape. Gold encircles her tawny locks, glowing eyes widening just as Camille’s do when the semi-truck barrels into her. Her final glimpse of reality before she slips under is of fine letters, spelling her own name. She registers it in fragments like shattered pieces of a mirror, curved and swirly letters reminding her of chocolate vanilla mix ice cream. Her name is in bright red. Or maybe it’s stained in blood.
The wreckage avoids striking the painting, but just barely. Good thing too, then the winter storm would have destroyed everything Alaska loved, including Alaska. Well...it still swept her under the current too.
The only color missing from the painting is deep azure. Blue like Camille’s eyes, blue like the void Hades pushed Persephone down, that’s Camille’s favorite love story, blue like bedroom curtains and sorrow, blue like the deep abyss that both girls fell down and never, never crawled back out of.