October 31st, some year:
Middle school Miranda taught me how to make my lips dark whenever I wanted. I remember her fingernail, layered bright blue, jagged where she had chewed it in her sleep. I remember her fingertip, black with plastic Halloween makeup like smooth soot. That day, she tried to make me like my face, I think. Miranda made my lips dark, so the boys would like me.
October 31st, again:
He thinks I’m pretty, I heard, so he asked me to come tonight. It’s confusing, so I think about the weather. How, despite yesterday’s sixty-four degree complacency, last night was unseasonably cold, really. And although today too was something of a false spring, it is as if the buildings and trees have retained the chill, standing motionless; waiting. Tonight I’m gonna do it, finally- tonight I reach the peak and I can sit and enjoy the view. 111th street, 8:32 pm. I forgot my lipstick at home but I remember he thinks I’m pretty.
12:36, wishing he found me more attractive than Call of Duty.
It’s time, I think, and through the inch-wide gap between the paint-chipped sill and the plexiglass window, the night is saturated navy and purple, car lights swelling in intervals of three or four seconds. I’m sitting cross-legged on the twin sized bed, and the draft hits me like even whispers slithering from my open collarbones to the smooth space behind my ears, ebbing and flowing.
The door has not been replaced since the boy whose room I find myself in was born. The space between the door and its frame is scarcely great enough to let in light, but merging, bending voices travel like vines across the cloudy white walls. I listen for the sound of the water faucet in the kitchen down the hall, thousands of dissolved particles tapping the glass rim, falling sharply into the sink with such purpose, it makes me shiver. His fingers squash the sounds as he grips the body of the cup one creaking joint at a time, as if moving through honey. His voice is like steel wool, his breaths calm but rattling. I have not noticed that the breeze has grown fragmented, pulsing unevenly, as crunching leaves on the sidewalk outside release energy in swift movements upwards with every break in their delicate structure. He leans with his shoulder and as the door hinge turns in twelve degree increments, the room flares yellow before beginning to fade into rectangular furniture shadows, highlights of city light on the ceiling. I have never seen a face so close before, and as my eyes adjust, it morphs in and out of focus, until finally he grows pristinely clear. He has the face of a predatory bird.
And this is happiness. I even forget the glass of water trembling, growing stiller as dust from the floor migrates towards the surface and fixes the liquid into place. This is happiness, so I ignore the fact that now he is here, I can no longer hear him, hear anything but the leaves on the sidewalk, crunches like glass shattering. I try to muffle my ears with his hands but they are like feathers, and the sounds are still traveling like bullets in a world without gravity.
In the morning, for a moment, it’s only my mind and me, and my shaved skin that feels cold under the blankets. Last night I felt alive, I remind myself. In love- in love with his wispy brown hair, the silent buzz of his respiration, his face, ashen from cigarettes and too little air.
But quiet sunlight is unforgiving. I see the pad of his thumb grace the subtle fold of my skin beneath my bra’s wire and try to feel it, but the grainy light carves white broken lines in the spaces and it is bright between us. And so I really, really, should see it coming, because-
he jerks his hand away, rolls unevenly to the right side of the bed, the side farthest from the window. His eyes shut tight, his face contorted, disgusted. But, see, the sunlight has already been wedging and pushing, in a strange silence, like ears deep underwater.
Leaving, this morning, is an animal impulse, because I’ve lost feeling in my toes and fingers. But then, thank God, shards of crisp brown leaves wedge themselves beneath my eyelids, and a strange sensation comes over me. They dig hard, and I cry my own tears.
I can’t tell you what happened last night; I don’t remember.
I can’t tell you what the weather was like last night; I forgot to feel it. But, see, today I’m alone, and maybe I’ll only appreciate it later but in the end I will have outrun a bird as he searches idly to find his wings. I have feet, and I walk away. I think I’ll paint my lips tonight.
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School