I like to imagine that the physical act of racking one’s brain would look and feel something like dislodging the remnants of a sandwich from the roof of your mouth. You thrum thrum thrum against that thick fatty layer of peanut butter with your tongue, panicking in that small dumb way you do, until that ribbed pink flesh is revealed in fits and starts and swaths just as you always knew it would be. And so here I am, curled up on a friend’s futon in Andersonville under a ugly chenille blanket, thrum thrum thrumming to remember a phone number I once knew by heart.
Esme wakes up around one in the afternoon and asks me if I am okay, which I am not,
and if I remember last night, which I do not.
you showed up unannounced
you were dressed like you’d mugged a drag queen
sort of figured that too
we went out
and you did what you do
i’m sorry, Ez
you wanna talk about it?
i do not
So instead we put on coats over our party clothes and go to the place on the corner with the truly heinous coffee so strong you could chew, and we stand huddled next to a streetlight chewing our coffee and smoking slightly bent cigarettes. The thrum thrum thrum of the hangover is making it harder to thrum thrum thrum out the twenty-year-old memory and I feel like death incarnate in a very Sylvia Plath sort of white girl sort of way, and then I feel worse for thinking that.
Because the truth is, I don’t know what death feels like, but I know it doesn’t feel like
suede coats and overpriced tobacco. I know it doesn’t feel like feet that hurt from being forced into expensive heels a size too small, and I know it doesn’t feel like the ugly twist of nausea that comes with the drink I ordered on someone else’s credit card. It doesn’t feel like this, because this is a superficial, plastic facsimile of a feeling, and what happened to Trina was not.
Esme is doing a little tapdance to stay warm, the patent leather of her t-straps slowly
becoming scuffed by the chipped gray sidewalk and the gum, flattened and blackened, that is ubiquitous on these streets. She’s watching a pigeon try to hork down a slightly crushed bit from discarded pack of Gardetto’s floating forlornly in the gutter nearby, one of those gross breadsticks everyone picks out. There’s glitter struck in Esme’s hair as she bops haphazardly against the wind.
poor fucker is going to choke to death
probably not, though
maybe, could get all mashed up inside and turn into concrete, block his tiny bird
intestines and stop him right up
don’t be gross
i’m only saying
you hadn’t talked to her in years, you know
i don’t think it really matters
god that always bothered me
when something shitty happens
everyone clamoring to make it their thing, make it their own. it’s fucked
that’s not what i’m doing
mind your own fucking business, Ez
what, like you are?
it’s different, okay?
it’s just different
In summers of our childhood, Trina and I would hide away in the dark cool recess of her basement, leaving the lights turned off so we could play witches. We’d sprint around on invisible broomsticks and cast gobbledygook spells; once we even pricked our fingers with an old safety pin and smushed them together, swearing our fealty to one another forever.
do you think anyone else knows? she’d ask.
that we’re witches
i wish they did
then they’d know we’re powerful
don’t you see? don’t you feel it?
when we’re together, we bend the world
Trina felt the world bend in a way I never did. Where I was solidly rooted in reality, she was fuzzy around the edges, fading and melting into something tactile and incomprehensible and just beyond my reach. When she said we were witches, I believed her, because if anyone would know it was Trina. Sometimes we’d sit on a bench in the park, watching geese slowly march towards a sludge-ridden pond, and she’d tilt her face up to the sky and close her eyes, and I never interrupted her because I knew she was communing with something I didn’t understand. Trina built faerie circles, laid dead birds to rest with coins and flowers, saw visions in the campfires other kids pillaged for s’mores. This world was too harsh for Trina and so, as it turns out, was I.
On the walk back to the apartment, Esme stops to buy a phone charger and a magazine, flirting with the counter boy to get a free scratchcard, too. My eyes flit across the rows and rows of candy without processing much, until they strike a familiar yellow package. Cellophane and gelatin beneath my fingertips, I remember you. Trina ate Swedish Fish like they were going out of style, like somewhere an actual Swede was pulling the last gummy harvest from some ambiguously-flavored waters. On the hottest days of July, they’d stain her lips and teeth red, and make her hands so sticky that when she touched my arm to urge me onto the swings the downy blond hairs there would become painfully stuck together. I pay for the candy, digging quarters out of the sediment that has settled at the bottom of my purse, and ignore Esme’s sidelong
glances. We head back to the apartment silently, Esme clucking her tongue at some paparazzi panty shot in her magazine. Each step we take aggravates my hangover, but I am thinking of Trina and how she died.
The first time she told me about her visions, I wasn’t really listening. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is, and there’s something about losing someone that makes me want to be honest. I wasn’t listening, that’s a fact, but I remember what she said somehow.
it’s like i’m looking into a mirror
yeah, but instead of seeing myself i see … everything else
i see the other side
the other side of what?
the other side of everything
Sometimes Trina would wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath, sometimes full-out screaming. I was the only person she’d have sleepovers with, because I was the only one who knew how to calm her down. I would take her in my arms in that sweet-innocent childlike way and squeeze her tight, and her breathing would sputter and shudder until finally she slipped back into sleep.
sometimes it feels like, if i could just break that mirror, just shatter it …
i don’t know. i just know i have to break through
i don’t know. i think i have to die
stop it, trina
don’t say things like that
i wouldn’t say it if i didn’t think – didn’t feel it was –
i don’t know why you’re like this
i mean it, sometimes you’re so …
just say it
weird, you’re so weird
aren’t you weird with me?
i thought i was, but not like that. not like you
no, you’re scaring me. you scare me
Inside the apartment Esme kicks off her shoes and throws herself onto the futon. Her hair, dyed an ugly fading green in some places, limply covers half her face. She lolls her eyes up at me as she scratches between her legs with one hand.
you gonna call?
i don’t remember the number
you’re a liar
what the fuck
you absolutely do remember. you’re being shitty
honestly Ez who the fuck are you
when somebody dies, you call. that’s just what you do
And she’s right, she’s right, of course she’s right, she’s right and I can’t stand to look at
her, so I stalk off to the bathroom and pull out my phone. I dial the number and stare and I cannot press the call button, cannot bring myself to connect to the soft magical tragic world I left, cannot hear her mother’s voice or listen to the silence that follows a sob.
you have to hold the pin in the candle flame first
the fire makes it clean. sanitizes it
okay. how’d’ you know that?
i saw it in The Parent Trap
the part where they pierce their ears?
i love that part
me too. okay, take it out and prick your finger
what? you first
does it hurt?
no. your turn
that hurt, you lied
would you have done it if i told the truth?
well, there you go
Instead of calling, instead of doing the Proper Adult Thing, I open the cabinet that hides behind the mirror and pull out a new razor, the cheap for-ladies kind with a purple plastic handle that comes in a bundle of ten.
now say the oath
i don’t know it
no, you make it up
you’re better at that than me
we’ll both say stuff
but how does it work?
it just does. it’s what you mean when you say it that counts
After some awkward fumbling I manage to rake the blades across my thumb and elicit a few beads of iron-red blood. I press it against the glass of the mirror and smear, and it stings, and I force myself to keep my eyes open and not wince because what Trina inflicted on herself was worse, much worse, and surely I could do this for her, couldn’t I? And just before I pull my arm back I feel the thrum thrum thrum of her pulse against mine, then I ball my fist and scream and shatter, shatter, shatter the glass.
Alyssa Zaczek is a writer, reader, playwright and journalist from Chicago, IL currently living and working in St. Cloud, MN. Her work is published or forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic, The Dionysian, Jet Fuel Review, et al. Follow her on Twitter: @RealAlyssaZ.