This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote a while back that was technically for a Figment contest, but mainly came into being because I was really bored at the time–note that this means I wasn’t really trying with the story, so the writing’s pretty weak and didn’t get a whole lot of editing or anything, so… I have to apologize in advance for how rough it is. But I don’t think it’s too bad, so it’s getting included on the blog anyway. Huzzah!
The boy found her looking up at the stars, her brown eyes large and staring, and her thin, pink lips turned up at the corners. The breeze sifted through her blond, blond hair, and all he could think was that she looked like an angel.
The boy did not mean to draw attention to himself; he did not mean to let the girl know he had seen her at all. But as he went to take a step backward, his sneaker met with a rather slippery maple leaf, and the next thing he knew he was flat on his back, staring up at the girl with her brown, staring eyes and angel hair.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice a timid squeak. From the way she held her pale, trembling arms to her sides, the boy could tell she was afraid. She twisted her navy blue jumper between her fingers, it looking like a layer of the night sky beneath her hands, and she chewed on her lower lip. The muscles in her face twitched, like she wasn’t sure whether she should frown or say something more.
The boy couldn’t think of a decent answer, so instead he blurted, “What were you looking up at?”
His voice was rusty with nerves and disuse, and it was strange to hear himself speak. He hadn’t felt much need for it lately.
The girl took a halting step away, looking down her thin, upturned nose at him. She squinted her eyes into slits, her barely there eyebrows scrunching down on top of them, and dug her hands more firmly into the fabric of her jumper. The boy hesitantly sat up, so that he could see her more clearly, and she took another step away, this time with a startled little gasp, like she was afraid he would bite.
She reminded him of the baby deer in his backyard—Mama always used to tell him not to get too close, or they’d skitter off, and he was afraid the girl would try to run and would fall like him, with all the slippery wet maple leaves coating the grass like a second layer of skin.
There was a moment when the boy thought the girl wouldn’t answer; that she would leave, and the sudden fear of being alone caused a churning in his gut. But then she took a deep breath and lifted her eyes away from him, to the safer view of the sky, and she said, “I was looking at the moon.”
“What’s your name?” the boy asked. He hadn’t meant to ask, but the question slipped out anyway.
She didn’t look at him as she responded in her high, scared voice, “Elizabeth.” She paused before adding a polite, “And yours?”
The boy smiled so big his teeth showed, slowly drawing himself to his feet and looking up at the sky as well; he realized it was easier to be around the girl when he couldn’t see her. Her fear seemed so much smaller when he was looking at the moon, so big and bright like a lump of cottage cheese.
“My name is Phillip,” he said.
“Phillip,” she tasted it on her tongue. “What are you doing in the cemetery, Phillip?”
“Visiting my mama.” His tone was even and his response immediate, but he knew when she glanced over at him she could see the way his face had crumpled up like a paper bag, all too visible in the starlight.
He was embarrassed; scared she’d dislike him for his answer. But then she said, “Me too.”
The boy swore his lungs were caving in as he chased the girl down the path, her white-golden hair streaming out behind her in its piggy tail braids and catching in the light of the moon. It glittered like stars.
“Hold up, Elizabeth!” he called, pumped his arms against his sides. He stumbled against a dip in the path, and almost went spilling onto a crumbling headstone to his right, before the fear of touching something dead and vile got him careening back onto the hard packed walkway.
“What?” the girl cried out from nearly twenty feet ahead of him. “Just so you can catch me?” Her voice was bossy and cynical as usual, and only slightly full of breath from the game. He didn’t understand how she still could keep running, after they’d been back and forth around the cemetery at least a dozen times that night.
“I’ve been running for an hour now!” he said in desperation. His legs had long stopped burning from the exercise, but now his nose and throat and chest had taken up the task. The world swayed around him, a dizzying array of muted colors in the night.
“And you’re going to have to do better than that to catch me, Phillip Logan!” the girl’s laugh carried back to him. The wind rustled through the maple branches above him, then, and the boy looked up just as a shower of dew fell down on him.
“Aw, now I’m all wet!” he grumbled, finally stopping his legs and plopping down in the dirt. After a moment, he heard the slap, slap, slap of the girl’s bare feet as she rounded the corner and came back for him.
“Why’d you stop running, Phillip?” she asked, sitting down and arranging her hands primly in her lap.
“The tree peed on me,” he said, holding out the soaked sleeve of his shirt for her to see.
“And that’s any reason to stop running?” The girl stuck out her tongue.
As if in answer, the wind gave another gust at that moment, and more dew rained down on them. The girl laughed, spreading her arms wide, falling back against the path and letting the water cover her. It glistened on her hair, her dress, her skin.
“Aren’t you scared what your father might do when he sees you all wet?” the boy asked. His eyes were wide, and he tried to shake some of the dampness from his clothes.
“Naw, Daddy doesn’t even know I’m out here,” the girl said, a big, pearly smile still spread across her face. He tweaked his head at her.
“Well, my father doesn’t know I’m out here either, but he’ll still ring me out if he sees my clothes all wet in the morning.”
There was a lull in the conversation as another burst of air raked across the trees. An emerald green leaf came free, floating and swirling down on the breeze between them.
“My daddy doesn’t care all that much,” the girl said quietly. “Not since he took up with Meredith.”
The way she said the name, it was like there was a toad down her throat—so dejected. The boy hated how sad and lonely the girl got when she mentioned Meredith, so even though his lungs still felt like fire ants were crawling up and down them, he reached out a hand and tapped her on the shoulder, shouting for all the cemetery and stars and trees to hear, “Tag, you’re it!”
He sprang to his feet and sprinted off the way he’d come from before, back toward the side of the graveyard that was away from his mama and closer to hers, with a feeling like a rubber band stretching from his gut all the way back to Mama’s, pulling tighter and tighter; the harder it was for him, the easier it was for her.
“You cheater!” the girl cried out, jumping up and racing after him. “I’m gonna catch you, Phillip!”
He just pumped his legs harder; running away, and away, and away, so that she could run towards.
The boy hadn’t seen the girl in a while—not since she moved with her father and Meredith to the city. In fact, he’d nearly managed to forget about her coffee bean eyes and lion’s mane hair when her letter arrived in the mail, saying she’d be back in town to visit.
He walked along the twisting dirt pathway to the maple tree they always used to meet under, and he found her sitting in the grass with her long blond hair undone and lying in curls down her back. She sat with one skinny shoulder pushed up against the tree and a tan woolen blanket wrapped around herself, her face turned up at the moon.
He greeted her with an obnoxious, “Boo!,” and she turned so fast her own hair whipped her across the face.
“Phillip!” she screamed, scrambling to her feet and pulling his lanky form into an embrace. “You scared me nearly to death, you loser!”
He held on for as long as he felt he was allowed to before pulling away so he could get a better look at her, soaking in her familiar upturned nose, and small ears, and crinkled forehead, along with the unfamiliar dark streaks of crayon around her eyes, and the bright red blooming across her lips. A grin found its way onto his face, and he wouldn’t have been able to swallow it down if he’d tried.
“Who else did you expect to see at 10 o’clock at night around here?” he said, and she stepped back, rolling her eyes and giving him a wan smile. She pulled her blanket more firmly around her shoulders and nodded at the pathway back the way he had just come, beginning to walk. He couldn’t take his eyes off the texture of her curls and the sway of her hips, and it took him a moment longer than it once did to fall into step beside her.
“What have you been up to these past few years, Elizabeth?” he asked. His hands were hot and itching to touch her, so he stuffed them in the pockets of his jacket instead.
“You can call me Lizzy,” she said. “That’s what all the guys at school call me, now.”
He smiled at her as he replied, “I think Elizabeth suits you better.”
“Well, I prefer Lizzy.”
There was silence, not quite comfortable or uncomfortable one way or the other, and then the boy stopped and said, “That’s the gate. Aren’t you going to turn around?” He watched her as she unlatched the brass lock and took a step out into the parking lot.
“No, let’s go do something fun,” she said, looking out beyond him.
“Like what?” He cocked his head to one side, confused. “We just got here.”
Ignoring the second thing he’d said, she responded, “We should go dancing, or something.”
“There’s no dancing here, Elizabeth.” He felt like he was talking to a five year old, and it was odd; it was the first time he’d had to tell the girl something like that. “You know that,” he continued. “The most fun we have is the bowling alley.”
Finally letting her eyes drift back from the sky to rest on his face, she curled her fingers around the gate and leaned toward him, letting the gate swing back shut, drawing her nearer. “Would you stop calling me, Elizabeth?” she said. “I’m serious. I don’t go by that name anymore.”
“But you’ve always been Elizabeth,” he said, taking a step towards the gate. “You can’t just change your name, or you’d have to change your entire person. You’re just as much Elizabeth now, tonight, as you always have been.”
“Oh really?” she asked, opening the gate again. This time she stepped back into the cemetery, back towards him. She dropped her blanket on one of the crumbling graves just off the path without care to who she’d covered up with it, and ran one of her perfectly manufactured curls between her fingers. Her voice was wry and her movements sure as she said, “Would a girl named Elizabeth do this to a boy she hadn’t seen in years, Phillip?”
And she looped her papery white arms around his neck as he took a stumbling step back, startled. And she kissed him full on the lips for all the night sky to see.
The boy found her looking up at the stars, her pale eyes squinted and staring, and her thin, red lips turned down at the corners. The breeze raked through her pale, brittle hair, and all he could think was that she looked like an angel. Like she was already gone. Like she had been gone for years.
The boy did not mean to draw attention to himself; he did not mean to let the girl know he had seen her at all. But he could not stop himself from blurting, “Are you all right, Lizzy?”
She spun on him, her shoulder blades protruding from her back so they showed like wings.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice a timid squeak.
He didn’t say a word; just sat down beside her.
“I want to be alone, Phillip,” she said. She refused to meet his eyes, instead looking down at the ground. She picked at the grass with her spider-leg fingers, pulling apart the rough green blades and then holding up the scraps for the wind to carry away.
“Then why are you in the place you always come to with me?” the boy asked. He watched her hands as they fumbled against the grass. He could see her veins through her skin, nearly glowing. He should have known the city would destroy her—picking off the letters of her name like a vulture, until Elizabeth was just Lizzy. He should have known he’d find her here again someday.
“We haven’t been here together in years,” the girl said.
“And you haven’t been here at all.” He reached out his hand to draw her nearer, but then thought better of it and let his dry, calloused palm fall back against his side. She seemed so fragile—broken by the glare of the lights and the roar of the cars. At peace only when she was alone in the dark. “I come walking here every night, Lizzy. I would know if you’d come back.”
“Don’t call me Lizzy, please,” she whispered to her lap. “I prefer Elizabeth.”
The way her voice sounded—so brittle—was not the Elizabeth he’d known in the night as a child. But perhaps she was still in there somewhere, hidden under all the scar tissue.
The boy couldn’t help himself, then, as he said, “I have always been whatever you’ve needed, Elizabeth. Right?”
“Right,” she replied, although they both knew that he had never been able to run fast enough to catch her; to tag her and pull her back to safety. That if he had been able to, perhaps he could have pulled her away back home to the cemetery before the addiction took root, eating up her insides and shredding her apart, until all that was left was this shell. Before Meredith made her move, and before the city claimed her heart.
“Do you love me?” he asked.
They both looked away, up, anywhere they couldn’t see the sadness on the other’s face, because they both already knew the answer. The moon was like cottage cheese and the stars were speckles of gold, the rest of the sky so black, black, black they got lost in it.
“No,” replied the girl in her fragile angel voice, her brown eyes reflecting the starlight and her hair shifting with the breeze. Maple leaves rained down with each gust like the tree was shedding tears.
There was silence before she added, “But I love the moon.”
“What are you doing in the cemetery?” the boy asked. He pulled her towards him now that the answer was floating free in the air, and she rest her head on his shoulder; as light as a dove.
She said, “Visiting my mother. You?”
He smiled, so barely there it looked almost like a grimace, nearly a frown, as he replied, “Falling in love with the moon.” And he felt the girl’s heart beat-beat-beating against his chest in the dark.
PS. Fun fact: This is my 123 post. That is just such a cool number, I had to share it.