“That day her head was down, buried beneath a plaid scarf. Her hair was shorter then. And I thought her eyes had been greener, but maybe that was just the illusion that the street lamps cast as they flickered and we crunched onward. Maybe they just got greener with every moment that I spent thinking of that night, biting my cheek until I felt the blood break through.”
“I missed you.” Her words are soft around the edges, floating just between our two faces.
“Right.” My words are quiet and jagged, disbelief slicing through the middle.
“But we haven’t seen each other since…” My words are cut off by my judgement. My eyes search the floor.
“Since?” she asks. Her right foot inches towards me.
There are no more words, no soft jagged edges, no floating waves between us. There is nothing. I know we’re both thinking about the same thing. Maybe she’s even trying to search for the words to continue the conversation. But I stay silent. I can’t even look up from the dusty floor.
My hands tingle. I flex my fingers, hiding them deep in my pockets. I think they were tingling that day, too. The last time I saw her.
But maybe it was from the cold that time. And it was so, so cold. I felt the frost biting into my shoulders. I want to ask her if she remembers how cold it was. If she remembers how you could see your breath when you spoke, how there was an angry crunch when you stepped forward.I always want to know what she remembers, if she remembers the tiny details like I do.
I heard in class once that after a traumatic experience, our brains can block moments out, trying to save us from our own memories. Maybe that happened to her. I wish that had happened to me.
Our crunching steps had been in unison that night. As if we were one. That day her head was down, buried beneath a plaid scarf. Her hair was shorter then. And I thought her eyes had been greener, but maybe that was just the illusion that the street lamps cast as they flickered and we crunched onward. Maybe they just got greener with every moment that I spent thinking of that night, biting my cheek until I felt the blood break through.
I wonder if she thinks about it. My eyes creep up, and catch on hers. She must. You can’t forget a thing like that. In her eyes, her not-as-green eyes, I can almost see the story, as if watching it on TV. I can almost see us creeping through the quiet streets, our feet crunching in unison, our breaths painting foggy pictures under the lamps. I can almost hear our breaths shortening as we got closer and closer to the little house, just outside of our little town.
We were antsy, our eyes jumping from each other to the road ahead of us. We couldn’t wait for the rush to take over us. To make us forget about school and arguments and secrets. The rush always did that. It washed away what we thought was pain, and left room for just seconds of glee.
That night was different. I don’t know how I didn’t recognize it as we marched to the little house. She wasn’t carrying her usual bag, filled with the usual necessities: spray paint, screw-drivers and wire-cutters. The bag was bulkier, banging against her leg as we walked.
And she wasn’t talking. She wasn’t venting, ranting about the drama that she always watched and felt. As if we were friends.
And we weren’t friends. When we saw each other in the halls, my head went down and she kept chatting to her friends. Maybe that’s why she chose me from the beginning. Because I could never- would never- talk about it in school, drag this part of her into the crowded halls where the other fragment took over.
She always liked her boundaries. This part of her life was always separate from the day-time part. I never tried to muddy the line or test the waters. I didn’t want her to move on to someone new, someone else that could spray paint billboards and jump fences with her.
Yes, I see it now. That that night was going to be different. There was something different in those green, green eyes as we pushed through the cold. It was going to be different forever.
Soon we would reach the house, just outside our town. She stopped short, our stomps no longer in unison. I turned on my heel, searching in her gaze, searching for our mission.
I saw fire.
There were flames dancing in her green green eyes. And there was hurt in her soft smirk. She handed me one of the bags, the gasoline can sliding across the cloth. I didn’t dare look up at her. I didn’t dare tell her no, tell her that it was too serious. Arson wasn’t a game.
She took out the matches first, laid them on the ground, out of the way. With a quick, decisive motion, she pulled off the top of the gasoline can. She turned to me, and started pouring on the dirt leading to the little house. I followed suit, tilting the red can ever so slightly, watching the clear liquid fall onto the shabby siding of the shack.
And then we were done. I stepped back to her. She still hadn’t spoken. I expected – wished – that she would back out. I wished she would kick away the matches, and put her arm around my shoulders as we walked away.
She grabbed the box, pulled the match against the flint. The match fell softly, like her words did just now. She lit another.
Her wrist flicked with aggression, the matches lighting up quietly. I only watched. I bit my lip, and watched as the flames grew, reaching towards the sky. It started spreading. The flames grew and reached toward our town, our trees.
None of it seemed real.
She picked up the bags and ran. I thought I heard a giggle over the crackle of the fire. And we ran. By the time we reached my house, I was gasping for air, the smoke still caught in my lungs.
She shook her head at me, winked her green green eyes, and left.
When the alarms prodded at my sleep, I told myself that they didn’t have to do with last night’s gasoline.
I could still smell the gas on my fingers.
When I heard the whispers about the girl that was in the hospital, I told myself it could have been anything.
I can still taste the tears from when I went to the funeral, watching from the back of the procession.When I close my eyes now, I still see the rainbow of gasoline on pavement. I can taste all the words–all the questions–I want to say to her now.
“Well…” she says, her words cutting through my memory.
When the bell rings, telling me to push myself on to my next class, it almost seems like the sirens sounding through the night. I try not to think about her green eyes or gasoline as I put my head down and walk to class.