I can feel my ears pressed between my knees as I slide back across this knotted wood. I open and close my dizzied eyes, inches away from the grass-stained mud that, hours earlier, I was afraid to stick my boots into. That was before the night’s beer, cheap and stale out of plastic cups, and that was before we traded our cash for tear-away tickets, then traded three for the ride. The glass plastic shield was scarred with obscenity and your back brushed against mine. I couldn’t see your face; just hear your smiling screams from the top as it pulled us down in full swing. I saw your hair blowing out over the water. My eyes point down towards the ground but yours are out towards Matt and Andrew, swinging out from their seats, knocking the light with each spin, strobing the flash into your unflinching sight. You tell me you’re alright but your stare is glossed over and your hand lies across your side lightly. The colors and lights are covered in small town traveling dirt, carried from state to state with the carnival. It’s brushed off here, where we grew up. I’m back after leaving. You are still here.
The fairground music comes from yells, whistles, bells and yelps, the screech from rusted rides and laughing children. They culminate in song muffled through my jeans as I try to hold my shaking head still. I look up towards the night sky, open and circling slowly around our dome. Stars, so many they connect as bars of the playground's jungle gym with the slide nowhere near us. I can't look towards our sky 'til a greased, gone man leans his sledge across my side and tells me to win you a prize. When I look up I see past his ear to the sky behind and the mirror of water. I am too weak, I tell him and I am as I crumble back into my shell. You drop your head too and all is quiet until he speaks up again. I look up through blurred eyes and point out. "There is your man. He'll win her prizes," as Matt walks into view followed by Andrew, shadowing us from the lights. He turns his attention towards them as I turn towards you - smiles, soft eyes and a wave as they stumble off behind them. After a stretch of my legs, a stretch of my shoulders and neck, I sit up staring at you with your palms on the bench. You lean forward and I almost forget that we watched the rain sheet your yard from your porch late in yesterday's afternoon.
You sat on your mother's rocker as I sat on boxes, head leaning back against the white post, chipped from wine bottles, exposing pale bark that splintered at my neck. The water slanted constant along the roof, drifting through drain pipes and dripping into the yard. Just enough of a sound to muffle your voice. Just enough movement to take you out of focus. Through the blur, I looked for your wings, gone now - clipped or were they just fading? I imagine seeing a faint outline, transparent but the color a bit lighter then what surrounded them. But that is just imagination. Because, when I stood up for another drink, I pressed my hand gently against your back and I felt nothing moving from your shoulder’s blades, just the fabric from the hood, now not much thicker than a tee shirt. Thinning out from two seasons of wash. My own hands looked more scarred than your flesh, exposed, hair pulled up, soft small of your neck and I thought to ask, did you notice?, but instead reached for my glass and turned my eyes back into the drowning evening.
It is just now October, cold but not the cold of that winter night when I stumbled out of the twenty-four hour diner dialing your number on my way to the car. I shimmied in an hour earlier, scarved and smelling of liquor, laughing with Ryan and Dave 'til the breath left the top of my gut and I bit my chapped lip to be quiet. They didn't notice but she did, eyes buried deep, thin frame, soft jaw, a pot of coffee in her hand. The girl you came to me with in a junior high day at the pool. I tripped and fell over her eyes and frail body but turned you both away, fixing my sights on a girl a little further along. When we moved into freshman the two of you were noticed and carted down the halls by the crowds, her never to be seen again, only ears full of tales depicting her whereabouts. Then I tried not to see her slinging coffee as I slid deep down into the booth. I stared at the ashtray, a book of matches and wondered if she still smoked, if you did. Her face looked like it, pale and thin but still fragile, ultimately sad as I watched her look down behind the walls along the kitchen. She caught me and walked over to put her arms around my neck, still sitting in the booth. We made no conversation. She smelled my hair and said how she missed me, missed us. And as she slid her hands from around me, slow, I wished for her to stay there.
In my alphabet there are only seven letters. I would settle for three. "M-E-L." You turn and look startled. "The devil is a threat to this country." But, no, the Devil's just a threat to our souls. You say that it's true. You see him in pictures, there, just behind them, standing taller than the rest. "But how do you know it's him?" You don't answer, turn your head to stretch your legs, digging your heals into the earth. You say you want to become a doctor, or teach. "You know he wants to marry you."
Just hours before, we stood in clear open fields, stadium lights circling around us. The noise from conversation blanketed over the sound from the stage. Children sat on speakers, face painted, holding balloons. Josh and Anna stood arm in arm, back to the show, passing their flask full of whiskey. You stood to my right, uncomfortable to look at, trying to stand natural with his arms wrapped around you. I saw it in the car, the gate, and the hill. We told them we were off for beer, two of them down with a funnel cake a pair of sausages who put us where we are now. My stomach hurts but yours aches, you tried to stifle it before we hit the air, just inches away from the breath of each other, escaping through laughs and scream, pushed out before us.
The shield of plastic didn't fog like the glass in view from the seats of my Bronco. Two years ago I'd wait, with the sun going down, a single rose, white in hand singing songs and listening to talk on the radio. The time felt like nothing, must have been hours, waiting for you to skip out of rehearsal doors towards my car, apologizing. I just sat, smiling. You wouldn't get your flower 'til we came up for air. I remember sticking my eye up to the heart you colored in with your finger. The only way to see out. Who knows what my parents thought? Fifteen minutes in the evening is all you could steal before you got home. The same in the morning. My heater breathed out cold as I waited, stalled, staring out the window for you to drive up. I stole almost an hour one weekend morning before the holiday with your shoes off and your jeans. We sat quiet in the full sun, wishing for words to say, so used to scrambling them out. You rested your head on my shoulder and squinted and said it was too much.
If we drive long enough down the main road in town, drive far enough, we'll see cemeteries out to our right. At first, just the field but, with a slight curve in the steering, there are gravestones scattered in the headlight, hundreds of them spread out over miles of unkempt grass. The fence isn't more than what would circle a little league game, diamond design tangling up metal post, not much taller than our steps over. When I returned, Andrew drove with me in the passenger seat, as you laid up against Matt in the back. "I'm afraid I'm going to die abruptly. Like the kind that comes in a moment of hesitation, deciding to step off the tracks." We stare off into the grass, some grown long enough to lay shadow across each shot of granite. "The train was coming and the jump was planned. It is just waiting too long." I imagine your eyes stay open with the hit, unflinching at the impact. We barely move.
I see myself driving us back. Not because we're tired, but because those two are piling more beer and couldn't hop in the bed of Andrew's truck - you'd lean against Matt, his arm slung under yours, wrapped around your chest and me up on the ledge, foot wrapped in an old tire buried in the pine. Maybe we'll have to walk back. You'd shush them in the streets, heavy in houses as we watch them disappear between lamp posts. Dogs would bark behind their fences. Maybe we'll watch them fall asleep in flower beds and you'll wish you had come when I asked you to. You'll wish you had carved hearts in my bunk or slid from it to the floor of my dorm, next to me. And you'll will wish that you could leave now, packing up a duffel bag with skirts and dresses, holding on to my arm, when I turn they keys. You'd look forward.