by Molly McGinnis
I am salt and champagne. Salt and dirt and stars. Two-sided story, double-edged knife. Dinosaur bones and tambourines.
I have walked into town by myself at dawn and seen my face reflected in the windows. I have danced down the aisles of the grocery store and blown kisses to the pharmacist with the one blue eye. I used to count tiles from the produce section to the checkout line, because I thought that if I didn’t, my sister would die. In school, I learn this is some kind of misfiring, and am warned that it could come back any minute, but for now I breathe carefully and wash the idea down the bathroom sink. I am on the brink of a brilliant war. Each morning, I move in spheres. I contain mirror neurons and sunshine. Porch lights and beer cans. July.
Miss Irene lives next door with her ghosts. She reads Time and The Harvard Review and washes her car on the lawn. I know a boy named Max who moved here from Louisiana last December. He has fiddler crabs tattooed on his left arm, and rough breath that makes me suspect he speaks harshly. One day he says Miss Irene has a mind like the light in his garage. It burns so bright some days that it shivers, then drops into darkness for weeks. I loved Max so much when he said this. I told him. He might have kissed me then, but I am defiant and cruel, and I stared straight ahead. Her house is painted white on one side, blue on the other.
But I am not as foolish as I once was. I will not try to save you because I am not salvageable either. The only things I will take with me from childhood are pink lemonade, laughter, and dogs at night. Nothing else. Not the man in the pawn shop with hungry eyes. Not the test with the 33%, a number that looked like clipped wings. I am lightweight.
In eighth grade, I have a friend named Kate. We sit on the curb after school with mayflies in our hair and sweat in the back of our knees, and talk about Tyler and Peter and Kevin, who can’t move the right way. His arms are twisted sideways, and he is in pain when he walks. Sometimes, Kate gets so quiet I forget she is beside me. One of the boys she loves has a telescope that he lets us try on his rooftop in November and there. No. To the left. There! I see Saturn suspended, a yellow jawbreaker with dust haloes. The idea of it hums in me, even when I realize that Kate has gone downstairs, with this boy she is so sure she loves, and I am alone again, spinning in moons and stars.
But I have to remember that the world is irrational. Full of jazz clubs and drugstores and forgiveness. 3 A.M.s and airports and reunions, so who am I to worry about whether or not it laughs at my restlessness, or decide if it desperately needs me?
Max moves when he is twenty-four. He goes back to Louisiana for no good reason. There is no U-haul or pickup with a mattress in the back, just a taxi in his driveway at 4 A.M. and a bedroll by the mailbox.
Will I be brave when I am older? Will I become a woman who can lay down all her secrets before 8 A.M., and decades before the world is ready to receive them? Will I ever know what to say? In my wrists, there will be moth’s wings. In my mouth, a darkness I will pull out like a tablecloth, and from my throat, silver doves instead of this silence.
And I will not be sorry. I will not swim in the shadow of my tallest mistakes. I will collect mysteries and begin counting the steps to my house in senseless self defense before I am reminded that this is only mechanics. Dear simple thing. Dear strange impulse. A striped cat on the balcony should be proof of safety. A man jogging under the dogwood trees might wink as he passes your car. I want this world unburied. I am right now on the brink of a brilliant war.
And did you know that even in this body you have learned to hate, you contain a vicious kindness? You can see it there, suspended, by the tiny bones in your ear. A yellow planet.
And any day now, I will move to a city that smells like jasmine and exhaust. At night, it is a constellation, and stretches into images of hunters and dancing girls. But it won’t tell me which one I am.
And in the evening, I will stand very still by the window. I, too, am full of hidden staircases that other people built. Who will I tell this to? Which friends do I still need to meet? In this air, a nightingale sings. In this room, the walls breathe. This house is orange on one side, and burning on the other. A boy I knew named Max was orange to the bone. I like thinking that the person I was when I knew him lives on inside him, somewhere, every time he sees a girl dance through a grocery store. Maybe, by now, his own daughter. His wife? Miss Irene is reading Time on her lawn.
And I am still salt and cement. Salt and dirt and morning glories. Semi-automatic, I have become suspicious. Most of the facts I have learned are incomplete. I am full of facts like these. Five percent water, ninety five percent gentle lies. I will leave none of them behind, but long after I have left this apartment, rumors of disasters and small discoveries will stay hitched to the cobwebs by the TV cabinet.
In truth, I have been so lonely. I have lost so much time to untamed thinking. But look at this satellite skimming the trees. This lightning bug in the bushes. I am better. I am undone. I am caught in the middle of a brilliant war. The sky outside this conversation. Clouds lipsticked gold like the ceilings of Italian cathedrals. A plane sweeping up and over the field, the window, the roof, the radio in the kitchen, the glasses clinking. I am here, for now, and in the lifting shadow, the rush of sudden light, the small room expands like a lung.
Molly McGinnis is a freshman at American University in Washington, D.C. She is the recipient of two national American Voices Medals through the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and has been published in The Sierra Nevada Review, The Adroit Journal, and American Literary Magazine. In her next life, she would like to be Aubrey Plaza or Hillary Clinton, even though that’s a little unrealistic.
Image credit: Cayusa on Flickr