It was dark outside. Her blood and bones ceaselessly begged her to go back to sleep, but that’s about the only thing they seemed willing to do. She felt as though she needed a cup of coffee to give herself the will to get up and make coffee.
Iris Adley woke up.
“It is our collective goal to send our students into the world on a foundation of knowledge and character.”
She took a pod of coffee out of the box. Her grandmother taught her how to make a pot of coffee when she was five years old. Her grandmother had a bright pink drip coffee maker, and her coffee was strong and highly caffeinated and never watered down.
Iris started drinking coffee on her seventh birthday.
She had a coffee maker that produced a single cup of coffee, because she lived alone, and she made a single cup of coffee roughly twenty times a day. Her coffee was black and strong and forced her to stay awake.
“For it is my belief that the most important gift provided by this institution is not the education you are given, but the strength of character that you earn through your diligence.”
She slammed down the top of the coffee maker. The last time Iris saw her grandmother, neither could remember the other’s name, and they smoked cigarettes together and talked about God.
The next day, one of them died and the other disappeared.
Iris Adley was exceptionally good at disappearing. On the night of her high school graduation, she vanished, leaving her cap and gown in a pile in the parking lot. It seemed as though she had turned to dust and floated away. On the night her grandmother died, she disappeared again. She ran out of a hospital, grasping onto a glass vial and thinking about ghosts.
Both disappearances felt like escape acts.
She went back to bed and finished her coffee while staring at the single streetlight at the end of the road. Her house was at the end of a long winding road. There were two windows in Iris’ house, and you could see the streetlight from both of them.
It was much too early to be awake. Iris’s mug was emptied, and she continued to stare out the window.
“We are proud to send out students who do not run to keep up with the world, but instead inspire the world to follow them.”
Iris Adley never managed to eat breakfast. There was always the intention, often the desire, but never the will. She drank her coffee and watched her streetlight turn off and awaited the sun.
Back before Iris’ first disappearance, when they were apt to remember each other’s names, Iris Adley and her grandmother would sit on the back porch of an old house and talk about the sunrise.
They could never see the sunrise, but they talked about it as if it were there.
“Our students will not be passive in their view of the world.”
Iris was seventeen years old on the night of her graduation. Her birthday determined that she was always nearly a year younger than her peers. She was good at math and science and following rules. Her teachers liked to talk of potential. Iris held all of her potential in her hands, like it was tangible before disappearing.
She chose to disappear.
Another cup of coffee was filled and emptied in an inevitable way, and the sun began to rise. Iris closed the curtains over her two windows.
After her first disappearance, Iris became well-versed in the art of being forgotten. Her siblings and parents grew too far apart and away to be expected to remember anything. Her friends had become convinced of her turning to dust before becoming different people all together.
Her grandmother was the last to forget her; she was forgetting everything by then.
Iris was also trying to forget everything, but that was never one of her skills.
“It is our goal not to provide you a list of things you once learned, but to leave you with the education that you will carry throughout your life.”
Iris opened her heavy wooden door and walked outside. The air was crisp and light and cool, and it felt like the morning. The long winding road was painted with the golden glow of the sunrise. Iris could not see the sunrise from her house, but she thought about it as though it was there. The morning was bitterly cold and pleasantly warm at the same time, like the day hadn’t yet decided what it wanted to make of itself.
She was well-acquainted with cold days. She could remember the night of her grandmother’s death, running from a hospital. She remembered the sound of her feet on the frozen pavement, like ghosts tapping on window panes, and her labored breaths showing white in the frigid air like wraiths and cigarette smoke before they dispersed and vanished. She grasped onto her empty vial and thought that if she crushed it to dust, it would be inclined to disperse and disappear as well.
The vial, like most things, was never as good at disappearing as Iris Adley was.
“Because leading is not a matter of being the easiest and loudest voice to hear but instead being the truest and sometimes most difficult voice to listen to.”
Iris walked away from her house, mindlessly and deliberately wandering. Her destination was as clear as it was ambiguous. It was as real as running away from hospitals and as real as turning to dust, but really she wasn’t going anywhere.
On the night of her graduation, Iris Adley ran away because she wanted to be anyone. She wanted to be pulled away to dance and disperse like dust in streetlights. She wanted to be ambiguous and enigmatic, both real and pretend. She ran away because she loved escape acts. She ran away because she was young, and she was careless, and it seemed exciting. She was called a free spirit. She was called full of potential. She drank coffee. She got a job. She didn’t know what she was going to be. She wasn’t going anywhere.
Iris Adley walked toward a lone streetlight at the end of the road.
The last time Iris saw her grandmother, they sat outside of a hospital smoking cigarettes and talking about God. Iris did not smoke cigarettes. There were long summer days of sitting on her grandmother’s back porch while packs of Marlboros appeared and disappeared in inevitable ways scattered throughout her childhood. She remembered her grandmother warning through lungfuls of smoke that her habit would kill her.
Iris did not smoke.
The last time Iris saw her grandmother, she smoked a cigarette because her grandmother didn’t know who she was, so it was like she could be anyone.
They were talking about God, but really they were talking about mercy.
It was the first time she had seen a family member since vanishing from high school, and she didn’t know how to act around people who once knew her but didn’t anymore. All she had done in her life was disappear, and that’s what she knew how to do.
The last time Iris saw her grandmother, she held a vial of something clear and deadly. Iris was good at disappearing, and it felt like mercy, like making the tough choice for someone who was weak.
The last time Iris saw her grandmother, she was thinking it was better to be gone than to be a ghost. The last time Iris saw her grandmother, she was smoking a cigarette even though it might have killed her.
She was thinking of a mercy kill, but really she wasn’t thinking.
“And a leader must take actions, even when they seem difficult, and a leader must make choices, even when choosing seems impossible. And a leader must be strong, even when they are weak.”
She ran down the street holding a glass vial. She had disappeared and reappeared, and she was a ghost. She was guilty, but she was a ghost. It was a terrible act of mercy, and there was no mercy left.
So, she disappeared.
Iris Adley walked toward a lone streetlight at the end of the road. She was thinking about making the unchoosable choices in life, and she was thinking about being a leader. She was thinking about running and forcing the world to catch up with her.
When she was young, she would sit on her grandmother’s porch for endless summer days. Potential was squandered. Desires were abandoned. Peace was not sought out, it was inevitable. Cigarettes were burned. Coffee was made. Months would pass. There was nothing to do, but there was nothing that needed doing. It was perfect.
Summers would end, and Iris would go home to her parents.
Her parents liked to talk of the future: caps and gowns and colleges. They always seemed to know what was happening and what to do.
Iris was never interested in such things.
But still, the summers would end.
She walked toward a streetlight.
When she graduated high school, she was walking away from everything. She was convinced that she could outrun death and despair and graduation speeches by performing escape acts in the parking lot. She was convinced that she could outrun the ending of summer by never acknowledging that it had started.
She didn’t want to make a choice. She chose to run away.
She chose to make a ghost.
She chose to walk toward a streetlight as the sun rose around her.
It felt as thought the world was catching up.
She was thinking. She was thinking about ghosts and cigarette smoke and light and dust. Dispersing, becoming nothing, running away. She was thinking about light.
The streetlight wasn’t on, but it felt like it was. She was drawn toward it. It pulled her toward the end of the long winding road. She was thinking about dust swirling around in the halo of the streetlight like it was being pulled to a single source.
She was thinking about mercy. The light drew her further from her house. She was thinking of endless summer days, but summers have to end.
It was impossible to outrun.
On the night of her grandmother’s death, Iris Adley became a ghost, but she was not the one who died. It was a terrible act of mercy, but it was a choice that she made.
She chose mercy, and she was forgiven.
“So march fearlessly into the word, today is the beginning of your future.”
The sun had fully risen, and the air became warm.
Iris Adley woke up.