You say it's up to me to do the talking. You lean forward,
place a box of tissues in front of me, and your black
leather chair groans like a living thing. Like the cow
it used to be before somebody killed it and turned it
into a chair in a shrinks office in a loony bin.
Your stockinged legs make a
shushing sound as you cross them. "Can you remember
how it started?" you say.
I remember exactly.
It was at the last cross-country
meet, right around the four-mile mark. Everybody had
passed me, just like the week before and the week before
that. Everybody except a girl from the other
team. We were the only ones left in the last stretch
of the course, the part that winds through the woods
and comes out behind the school. Our shadows passed
along the ground slant-wise; slowly they merged, then
her shadow passed mine.
The soles of her sneakers swam
up and down in front of me, first one, then the other,
a grid of ridges that spelled out the upside-down name
of the shoe company. My steps fell in time with hers.
My feet went where her feet had just been. She leaned
in around a corner, I leaned in around a corner. She
breathed, I breathed.
Then she was gone.
I couldn't even picture her
anymore. But what scared me, really scared me, was that
I couldn't remember the moment when I'd stopped seeing
her. And I knew then that if I couldn't see her, no
one could see me.
Sounds from the track meet floated
by. A whistle trilling. Muffled applause, the weak sputtering
of gloved hands clapping. I was still running, but now
I was off the path, heading away from the finish line,
past the cars in the parking lot, the flagpole, and
the HOME OF THE LIONS sign. Past fast-food places and
car repair shops and video stores. Past the new houses
and the park. Until, somehow, I was at the entrance
to our development.
It was starting to get dark
now, and I slowed down, walking past houses with windows
of square yellow light where mothers were inside making
dinner, past houses with windows of square blue light
where kids were inside watching TV, to our house, where
the driveway was empty and the lights were off.
I let myself in and flipped
the light switch. There was an explosion of light. The
kitchen slid sideways, then righted itself.
I leaned against the door. "I'm
home," I said to no-one.
The room tilted left, then right,
then straightened out. I grabbed hold of the edge of
the dinner table and tried to remember if we stopped
eating there because it was piled with junk or if it
was piled with junk because we stopped eating there.
On the table there was a roll
of batting, a glue gun, a doily, a 1997 Krafty Kitchens
catalogue. Next to the catalogue was a special craft
knife with the word EXACTO on the handle. It was sleek,
like a fountain pen, with a thin triangular blade at
the tip. I picked it up and laid the blade against the
doily. The little knots came undone, just like that.
I touched the blade to a piece of ribbon draped across
the table and pressed, ever so slightly. The ribbon
unfurled into two pieces and slipped to the floor without
a sound. Then I placed the blade next to the skin on
A tingle arced across my scalp.
The floor tipped up at me and my body spiraled away.
Then I was on the ceiling looking down, waiting to see
what would happen next. What happened next was that
a perfect, straight line of blood bloomed from under
the edge of the blade. The line grew into a long, fat
bubble, a lush crimson bubble that got bigger and bigger.
I watched from above, waiting to see how big it would
get before it burst. When it did, I felt awesome. Satisfied,
finally. Then exhausted.