I’m moving back to school this weekend. Gosh, how weird is that? I can’t believe summer’s over. I’ve been out of classes for four months now, because I opted not to enroll anywhere for the summer semesters, and instead I’ve spent the time writing and editing and traveling and hanging out with friends and reading and watching movies and, overall, just doing exactly what I like to do. For four months straight.
It’s going to be hard going back to homework and a schedule and having to speak a language other than English a bunch of the time (last semester of Spanish EVERRRR!!!) (I hope) (I really, REALLY hope).
So, now all that’s left to do during my last few days at home is pack and study Spanish and attempt to get as much of my writing-related work done as possible. Because when classes begin next week, I’m no longer going to have nearly as much time to work as I’m used to (and probably none at all for binging on Netflix, which is going to be the most depressing thing to ever happen to anyone ever).
But anyway–it’s been a good, long summer, and exactly what I needed to get a lot of work done and to have the chance to detox. I hope your summer was great and that the school year–if you’re a student/teacher/parent/someone else involved in school-type things–goes as smoothly as possible.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story called “The End.” It originally appeared in one of the University of Michigan’s literary magazines, in spring 2013.
Dylan used to tell me sunshine on funerals was a good thing, like how rain on weddings was good. When I asked him how he knew, he said it was obviously true, because more babies were born during storms than when the sun was present and white and hot, and weddings and babies promised the same thing: a new beginning. So sunshine on a funeral was a good thing, too, since it was the opposite: the end.
I don’t believe him, though. With the way the sun’s shining down through the pine needles way up above, reflecting off everyone’s shiny black shoes and pooling too bright against the newer gravestones that still haven’t been worn rough by bad weather, I can’t help but think that sunshine is an awful bad thing at a funeral, because it makes everyone slow and sleepy and content, sitting there in their rows of rickety white folding chairs, while inside I am screaming, and reeling, and dying myself, staring at his casket beside the hole.
Dylan used to tell me there was one four leaf clover in every field, if you just looked hard enough. When I told him it was BS, he scrunched his thick eyebrows low until they brushed against his eyelashes to tell me no, it had to be true, because it took a certain amount of luck for a piece of land to become a field for kids like us to play on, and therefore there must be a four leaf clover hidden somewhere there.
I don’t believe him, though. We were lying out in a field, the group of us from the Regent High Photography Club that went out for burgers after our meeting instead of going home, when the bee stung him, and his throat swelled shut so fast he couldn’t even finish chewing his mouthful. If that field had been lucky, the bee wouldn’t have landed on Dylan’s cheek. It would have found my hand instead, which was just a matter of inches away in the grass. It would have stung me and it would have hurt, but not like this, since I am not the one who was allergic to bees.
Dylan probably would have said the field was lucky once upon a time, and someone just stole its four leaf clover, if he knew I was thinking that now, while clutching the program for his funeral in my unblemished fingers. But Dylan can’t say anything anymore.
Dylan used to tell me the lines on the palm of your hand determined how long you were going to live, and while he traced a finger over my sticky skin with the heat blowing in on us through my open bedroom window, I’d ask him how he was sure, and he’d reply in that slightly gravelly, never serious voice, “Because yours say you’re going to live ’til you’re a hundred, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I didn’t believe him though, and now he’ll never know, will he? He’ll never know if I’ll live to a hundred, and I’ll never know what the lines on his hand said because I never dared look—I was never brave enough to see when he’d die. Thinking back on it, I still don’t know if I’d rather have known or not. Maybe the bee was there because he had to die; maybe it was his time, and his hand said that, and it was not just some random occurrence, some twist of chance or fate, like Janice tells me over and over again when she calls me on the phone, crying, every night.
He never said he loved her. That’s what she talks about mainly, when she cries. He never said he loved her, and now she’ll never know.
Dylan used to tell me that God lived up in the clouds, on the biggest one in the sky. When I asked him how he knew, he said he didn’t. But when he looked up there on sunny afternoons, when everything was too bright and too intense and too concentrated—so alive you had to squint to see it and it made you tired just to breathe it in… when he looked up at the sky, then, there was something in his face that made it seem like he did know, after all.
I believed him, though. I believed him that God lived on the biggest cloud in the sky, because although sometimes I didn’t believe in Heaven, I did believe in the strong curve from Dylan’s chin to his ear, and the way the little blond hairs along his jaw would catch in the sunlight, like they were shining too. I believed in the swoop of his thick, straw-colored hair along his forehead, and his rounded cheeks, and the way his eyes were never quite blue or green or grey, but a mixture of all of them, like that non-color the sink turns when you rinse out a paintbrush.
And now my stomach is burning, cold and hot and not quite painful, but not quite okay either. And my eyes are burning too, but they’re burning more like that sort of pain you get from sprinkling salt over rug burn, and the inside of my left cheek throbs from biting it to keep back the screams. My hair is twisted away in a too tight bun because the counselor told my mom not to leave it down or I might try ripping it out again. My dress is navy blue and too short for a funeral, with an off-white cardigan thrown over its spaghetti straps even though it must be ninety degrees out, because I never thought Dylan would die, so I never thought I’d need something conservative and black and impersonal to wear to his funeral.
Janice sits beside me and sobs with the heels of her hands pressed against her eyes, strawberry blond hair done in curls, down around her shoulders, but I am silent and still and staring, while inside I tear myself apart.
The day Dylan died he told me, “I need to get home, Alexis. I’ve got a chemistry test tomorrow,” and when I said it wouldn’t take all that long to get burgers, we were just going to the McDonald’s down the street with the field out behind it, he said, “But I need to study real, real bad.”
I didn’t believe him, though. I said, “It’ll take twenty minutes. A half hour tops.”
And because the thing Dylan hated most in the world was disappointing me, more than he hated disappointing his chemistry teacher, or the people looking over his college applications, or Janice, who he was supposed to be studying with later, he said, “Fine.”
And with the sun beating down on us, the group from the Regent High Photography Club walked down the street to McDonald’s, while Dylan walked away from life. His fingers were warm, brushing against mine on the way there, as he pointed to the sun and told me how it meant the end.
His fingers were warm, and mine are still warm, but now his are not.