We’re drinking together at a rooftop bar when she says she’s sorry and has to go. Go where? we ask. We’re all here. The party is here.
She gives an excuse that none of us will remember the next morning, although we’ll each remember one different thing about her from that moment: the low bend of her neck, the ring spinning on her too-thin finger, the way she flinched when her chair screeched across the floor.
Then she is gone and we forget about her until the next day when a storm rolls in. The sky is a dark quilt of clouds stitched by lightning and we learn that she has fallen asleep and won’t wake up. Of course she won’t wake up, we say, we laugh. See that rain? Hear that thunder? I wish I could sleep so well.
Days pass. A week. The storm starts to ease and we finally start to worry; we want to go drinking yet feel bad going without her. But it’s the weekend, we say. We always go out. We want to go out.
We call her apartment but her mother answers; she’s come to town to fret over her daughter in person. Nothing yet, her mother says. But she looks so peaceful.
I remember her thin finger and wanting to follow her and knowing she wouldn’t want to be followed. I wish I had anyway. Don’t you? I ask but we can’t decide because it’s not the kind of thing we ask of ourselves. Shouldn’t we? I say, but we’ve already moved on and forgotten me and I wonder if that’s how she felt when she drained her last drink and stumbled home and slipped into sheets she never planned to leave. We doesn’t care so I do what we always do. We go out, we drink. The beer tastes flat and sour but I keep drinking until I can forget her until the next morning when I taste nothing but guilt. It lives in the soft flesh under my tongue, a sharp grain of sand that will never pearl.
I go to her apartment to sit with her and hold her hand and it is thinner than ever but her fingers are strong; when I squeeze she squeezes back. Her mother says it’s an involuntary reflex: a memory her body can act on even when her mind isn’t up to remembering. Outside her window dark clouds have turned to wisps and white light strikes her eyelids, but she only mumbles softly in her sleep. I lean over and say without saying, Is this really peace?
I come by every day. We tells me she’s a lost cause. We can go fuck themselves. Weeks pass and she sleeps and sleeps and her mother decides to go back home. Watched pots, I suppose, she says. Don’t stay too long. You should go out.
But I don’t want to go out. The grain has grown too big; the round vowels of out won’t fit in my mouth. So I stay and she sleeps and we both grow too thin and too pale, until I grow sick of soft blankets and stale air and drag her mattress down the stairs, into the messy garden at the back of her building.
I leave her in the middle of the yard where she can get some sun and I can breathe and birds can nest on her head. Sparrows and finches and blue jays swoop down and tuck in their feathers and arrange the tangles of her hair. They never stay long but when they leave she is less restless: body heavy, mouth soft, eyelids calm. She never quite smiles, but she sighs sweetly when she turns her face toward the sun.
Later I find bare patches of skin where the birds have plucked out tufts of her hair. That night I dream she is a sunflower and those small tufts are seeds. The birds carry pieces of her away and plant them in parts unknown where she can grow again in kinder, sweeter soil. Hundreds of new versions of her scattered across the earth, sprouting fresh with no shadowed eyes or hurt to hide.
Eventually I wake up but she doesn’t and probably never will so I turn her mattress into a flower bed. I lay bricks neatly around her and replace feather stuffing with potting soil and fistfuls of sand. I plant tufts of her hair and mine and wait and wait.
Over time the vines wind up her arms and legs. Stalks of lavender and lupines tickle unresponsive skin. Little gems form in the curled-tight corners of her elbows and knees and perhaps they’re just stones but I collect them anyway, dropping them in a glass, each drop a small crack of thunder. When the glass is full I picture it as a pint of pearls and chug them down until I choke.
JESSICA JUNE ROWE — Jessica is an author, playwright, editor, and perpetual daydreamer. She is on the Editorial Board of Exposition Review and currently serves as Flash Fiction Editor. A Best of the Net nominee, her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in wind-up mice, Okay Donkey Magazine, Gigantic Sequins, Atlas and Alice, Pidgeonholes, and Timber Journal, among others, while her short plays have been featured on multiple stages in Los Angeles. One of her poems is stamped into a sidewalk in Valencia, CA, where she currently lives. She also really loves chai lattes. Find her on Twitter @willwrite4chai.
Art by MELISSA LLANES BROWNLEE — Melissa creates art as a way to help her be a better writer. She posts her daily doodles on Instagram @lumchanmfa. She also tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.