The train ride had been long and tedious. Evelyn, muscles sore and on the brink of falling asleep right where she stood, dragged herself along the cobbled stones without paying her surroundings any notice. Claude had seemed high-spirited on the train, doing his utmost to draw her excitement out, but now he, too, was quiet. It was dusk and the day had been dull and grey, so that darkness was not so much falling as thickening, expanding to kill the last hints of light. The town was quiet, the sound of the suitcase wheels dragging on the pavement the only thing they could hear. There was no one in sight as they navigated the narrow streets, seemingly twisting themselves deeper into the heart of the small town.
“You mean you aren’t coming home for Thanksgiving?” Eddie Yates whimpered like he had a toothache, but Annie was unmoved. Yes, it was true that months ago, before she left for college, she’d said to him, “If we’re both still virgins when we come home for Thanksgiving, then – fine. We can have sex.” Well, they both were still virgins. Yet some promises were made to be broken.
Annie had only told him that because she’d been sure she would find someone desirable to deflower to her. She was living on a college campus, for God’s sake. Except, she hadn’t counted on keeping company mostly with females. She lived in a girl’s dorm; she was an English major and heterosexual guys – for the most part – stayed away from classic literature; and, outside of class, Annie spent most of her time working with the campus group for women’s equality.
Aidy Adler had never received a gold star at school. Three years at Our Lady of Lourdes and not a single star. His teachers rewarded his classmates with stars for the slightest good behaviour: for clearing away their dinner trays after lunch; for not forgetting their PE kits on Wednesdays; for smiling. Every day, undeserving children were rewarded not for exceptional behaviour but for things they were supposed to do.
It was torture for Aidy seeing every purple jumper except his own covered in stars; at home time, he seethed and flushed hot with embarrassment as his classmates rushed to their parents congregated by the school gates, and puffed out their chests, beaming with pride.
Mildred wants to borrow a button again, she pleads with Charlotte — says come on, we haven’t played in so very long. Agatha chides them — we’re packing them away children, soon we’ll all be gone. The men with clipboards stand outside, saying this roof is crooked, something’s wrong.
This button was a porthole once, it was a Catherine wheel. These shoelaces were conger-eels, this matchbox was a bomb.
Agatha remembers this house so full of little feet and little laughs. Summer evenings yawned like dozing cats; we listened to faeries singing at the bottom of the garden, eavesdropped on wood nymphs chattering beneath the slow-crackle of bonfire leaves.
The boy calls me The Lady. Bed-ridden, surrounded by mountains of comic books and tissues of blood and snot, he looks for me in the cracks in the wall, the grotesque stains on the ceiling, smudged window glass. He should be looking outside where there is grey light upon the lake, where leaves turn yellow and red on the branches. He saw me once in the corner of a broken mirror in the old apartment in the city. He thought me very beautiful. I say this not out of vanity, but to note he saw me as the unblemished peasant girl I once was.
My father is a whisper. A passing cloud. He is there but always receding. A swimmer across the far side of a lake. A bus pulling away. The ground getting smaller as the plane takes off. And so when we go to Mexico City to see him, we do not see him that much after all. And even when he is there he is always also somewhere else.
Every Thursday, the theatre in our small town put on a variety show. Students from the college and local people who believed they could act or sing did ample numbers for the program weekly. The audience was treated to scenes from famous plays, takes on popular songs, spoken word poetry. The acts did not bowl us over as a rule, but most people enjoyed the evenings and felt entertained. I numbered among the few who went really hoping to spot talent. Brilliance shows up even in small towns like ours I believed. And I thought seeing or hearing some great, undiscovered singer or actor perform would be a magnificent event, that everyone would admire the talent revealing itself on the stage and raise no question of the artist’s greatness. True flare could do no less.
“Aw, c’mon, dude, let’s go look at the old cabin.” This from Mike, annoying at worst, goofy at best.
“Seriously, man, we shouldn’t go up there.” Amos, the goody two shoes of the three, always anxious not to get into trouble.
“What?” jeered Billy, “you’re scared you might pee ya pants?”
His name was Brandon, is what I remember, and he taught me everything I know about lightshaping.
I met Brandon when I was twelve. It was the first day of middle school and, as I approached the end of the single, off-pink painted building and the wide hallway with the four doors that would be our classrooms, from the shadows, Brandon appeared.
“Hey, you must be new,” he said and gave me his name.
His amber eyes, like two crystallized stars aglow in the night sky, and his soft, lunar smile invited me into his world. I’d never met someone so beautiful. I didn’t know what to do.