Sarah grabs my hand and we are flying. We rush through the grass, and I can feel the itch beginning, but I don’t care because my fingers are in her fingers and we’ve never been closer. We are ahead of the pack, leaving behind the sharp looks and fervent whispers. As she tugs me, I look down at her hand and see the knotty bracelet from arts and crafts, and the faint half moons on her fingernails from lack of calcium, and feel lucky.
Her hands have changed in the five years since then, but they’ve still always grabbed mine, sweaty or freezing, until now. The light pierces through the flimsy screen windows, the bunks just getting used to summer again. She smiles wanly at me, groggy from lack of sleep, and motions me over. The bracelets, more than usual this year, are placed strategically. She looks up at me to ask if I’m ready for breakfast, and I realize her eyes are listless, like they’re tired of seeing.
The lights are glaring, and the piano peters out as we both realize she’s forgotten the words. Her jaw shifts, and suddenly she’s rhyming, making up words that would have never been in West Side Story, her feet in my too-big red shoes flying around the stage. The other campers laugh in amusement, and she is still singing until somehow she slips back to the intended chorus, our mouths tight with laughter, eyes crackling. She smiles to our adoring audience, her body trembling with suppressed giggles. We run off stage, giddy, and she pulls me to a hug.
“They’re healing,” she whispers, her jawbone jumping out from her freckled skin. “I don’t want them to. It’s funny, I guess I got attached.” She shakes her arm, and the bracelets make way, showing the two crescents on the top side of her wrist. A snake’s fangs sank in right there just before camp, when she was tired of being strong. Just experimental, she had said. Never again, she had said. She presses her index and middle finger against them, a habit she’s developed, and taps out a rhythm across the two, matching it with her feet on the dusty stage floor. My arms slack.
“Okay,” I say, and walk away.
My phone never works well, so it’s only after Jessica’s phone call that I get her message.
3:16 pm, Mon, Oct 26: I need you right this second. I’m hysterically crying.
The snake had wrapped its sweaty coils around Sarah, circling around her brain until she collapsed, dizzied by the venom. A nice psych ward, Jessica had said, and Sarah was okay, only now the whole cycle of the moon was engraved on her skin. Knives from the kitchen, Sarah had told her. Her parents knew all this time, and they left out the kitchen knives. Never again, she had said.
My letter must have gotten there pretty quickly, because when Sarah called, that was the first thing she said. My throat began to close, and I slapped the desk drawers for Benadryl while she talked on, giggling, or filling my silence with “yep, yep, yep!” over and over like a small Pomeranian. The snake lay resting at my feet, curled around the phone cord, its soapy eyes staring at me. She said something, it was very faint and fast so as to get it over with, but my ears caught it. Isn’t that funny, she said, a step back. She giggled suddenly, said bye, and the line went dead. I slammed the phone back on the cradle, catching the tail end of the snake slithering back to her through the phone. I pressed against the mesh of the desk chair, my eyes wet with exhaustion.
I took a hot shower before bed to try and get my mind off of her, but as soon as my feet hit the tub, an involuntary shiver ran through me. Somewhere, in a different state, Sarah’s toes had hit a different tub three days ago, and she submerged herself in the water. Not an experiment this time, she was trying for real. I step into the moist environment of the shower, and pull out my hair tie, as she and Esther Greenwood glom together in my brain, and become a whole new monster. As the beads of water canvas my hair and weigh down my eyelashes, I squeeze my eyes shut and wonder what on earth she could have been thinking. Nothing, I answer for myself. Nothing at all.
Emma Newbery, Age 15, Grade 10, The Berkeley Carroll School, Gold Key