by Jess Taylor
You tell me that you almost forgot me, but it’s only been three months since I went away. Back from university, the first thing I do is call you after sitting through a long talk with my parents. The talk is just like the talks I’ve had with them over the phone, all about what I’m learning and who I’m reading. When I see you, you hug me in your forest green down jacket so that my face is smushed into your chest. I can smell dust and your deodorant and that other sweet smell that you always carry with you.
We hang out like old times. I get into your car, make fun of the colour, plum. We used to sing the Little Drummer Boy at Christmas time as we rode around in this old thing, changing the lyrics to be about the car. Come they told me, see a car like a plum. An old beat up thing for you, plum, plum, pa plum, plum. The paint’s peeling, but you don’t care. You bought it that one summer where we both worked sixty-hour weeks saving money. Mine was for school, even though I ended up getting scholarships anyway. We couldn’t believe how little we got to see each other, only a few hours at the end of the night. The sky fading into dawn as we lay out on Kerns Cliff, talking about where we were going and who we wanted to be. Your face never quite looking at me, eyes stuck past outskirts of city.
It’s Christmastime now. “You hardly called,” you complain, but your voice doesn’t hold worry. It never does. Sometimes I feel that I could have disappeared completely, allowed myself to totally fade into the space of letters and words and those ideas at school, and you never would have known. You tell me, “I almost forgot you.” And something turns my face away from you to the grey sky out the window.
“I think it might snow.”
I don’t know why we’re picking up this old routine. We grab a fast food dinner and talk about movies that we both have seen or haven’t seen. We pick up Jeff as he walks to the old McDonald’s parking lot and hops in the backseat. We talked a lot after I left, Jeff and me. I never told you that. We pull through a Tim Horton’s drive-thru, order hot chocolates and coffee. You flirt with the girl in the drive-thru window, write your number on a napkin and pass it back to her. As you grin at one of her jokes, your freckles – easily looked over by someone who doesn’t know you so well – stand out. Your dark eyes slits of laughter. She draws a heart on your coffee cup. The car behind us honks a hurry up.
At the cliff, you shove your hands into your pockets, and the wind ruffles your black hair. No matter what, your hair always gets ruffled, doesn’t it? My grandma when she first met you said, That boy’s got hair finer than air. When you were that young, your hair always smelt like outside and sweat. Your parents were never around and you were always at my house. Do you remember that, or has that too been something almost forgotten?
Once you said to a friend, maybe even Jeff, I could never think of Liz that way. She’s like my sister.
Your eyes pick up the fractured light from the town and they glisten. There is a question in them, and you spread your arms wide and seem like you are going to crow out something – you’ve always been like Peter Pan, crowing your self-praises and love of the world – but you only let out a long stream of air.
Kissing Jeff, everything is simple. His favourite artistic movement is neo-expressionism, while I prefer abstract expressionism myself, and he went straight from our high school art class to OCAD, but didn’t forget me and we emailed over the summer and went to a movie once or twice, while you disappeared over the summer, with your women and your parties and your constant manic behaviour. And so Jeff and I kept talking while I was in school this year, but not really talking, just that talk about movies and classes. Never feelings. Or thoughts. And now we are kissing in the backseat of your plum-coloured vehicle.
You sit on the hood of your car, watching the snow flutter down, pretending you don’t see us. The city is out there, bits of light. You are smoking a cigarette, and I wonder when you started to smoke. You only called me once over the summer, do you realize that? You were all worked up about something, some summer job or something, and your voice came over the phone, “I just want to write,” more of a sob than anything.
I wrote a story once too– thought writing could be something I wanted as well, though I never spent the hours talking about it you did, just mentioned it once or twice to you up on the cliff – the best story, but it must have fallen out of my notebook (I remember two folded ruled pages filled with blue ink). I spent days looking for it. I never accused you, but worried that maybe you had found it. Every word was about you. It was like this story in a way, or maybe this story is just a rewrite of this first story, I dunno. I wrote a story about losing the story, but then I lost that too. I didn’t forget it on a desk or anything, but when I went back to it, what I’d thought was brilliant suddenly wasn’t and I never wanted to write anything again. But now I am writing this, this thing that’s about everything in a way, and especially about you and the way you looked out at the sky that night and why you smiled at the girl from Tim Horton’s, but only ever held frowns and bursts of uncontrolled frightening neurotic energy for me.
Time moves differently when you are catching up with old friends, and now it’s the middle of the night. When it’s five in the morning, Jeff says that he needs to get home. Your skin looks cool and white and your lips are bitten and cracked from the cold. Blue tinge. You wink at me as Jeff and I stay in the backseat. “Do you want to still hang out after we drop off Jeff?” I ask. You say sure without meeting my eye in the rear-view mirror. The hood of your coat is smushed against the back of the headrest. I don’t know why, but it makes me sad, and the snow that fell, is still falling, has covered almost everything.
I left this suburbia, but I could never forget it. The way the trees are planted in the medians and along sidewalks to make people feel like they are surrounded by nature. The short walk from your house to mine. Hanging out late at night and not having parents worry (definitely not yours ever, and most of the time not mine) because we grew up in a place without much crime or drugs. You grow up thinking a particular way in a place like this. Then you get to university and read some things and change who you are and what you really think.
“I’ll call you,” Jeff says as he gets out of the car and kisses me on my cheek, close to my ear. I feel the skin there after he gets out. It’s probably the softest part of my face, but I bet you never noticed. I climb into the front seat, knocking melted snow from my suede boots onto your already dirty upholstery.
“What do you want to do?”
You don’t say anything, shrug your down green shoulders. You look like a bird with your little face and long straight nose sticking out of all that plumage. When we were children, snowfalls meant digging out forts and making snow angels and having long, cold adventures. When we were in grade five, you made me a Christmas card with the shape of a white angel on it. Snow angel. Like you, Liz. It used a lot of glitter that got on everything. My binder and my bedspread at home. I would take showers and showers and the sparkles still clung to my skin. The card is still on my dresser– most of the glitter has fallen off. “Let’s play in the snow. Like old times. Go to my house. I’ll get some gloves.” As you pull up to the curb outside my house, slush squishes underneath your tires.
Snowfall stops seductively, like it’s willing you to beg it to start again. You seem like you might. “I’ll wait for you here.” Your house is just two down, but you don’t even run in. You stand under a still-lit streetlamp, artificial light hardly visible in the dawn. “I wish I’d worn a hat.”
“I’ll grab you one,” I say and haul open the screen door and then turn my key and I’m in the house.
I come back outside with the hat and gloves and what a sight – snow falling once again and you stretching your hands into the air with amazement, attempting to touch each individual flake on its way to the ground, your hands mittenless and shaking with cold. The snow is wet, packing snow, and so I pack it into my gloves, shape it and chuck it right at your chest. It breaks and crumples. The way you throw some back at me brings forth such memories – multiple winters, balls of snow. I’ve had a head start, have gloves and a hat – I’ve left the ones grabbed for you on a snowbank. You concede the only way you know how. Tackle me to the ground. The sky is lighter now.
You roll off me, and we lay head to head, upside-down to each other, cheeks touching. “So, how’s school?” you ask me, but it’s like you have to ask me; it’s been waiting to be said.
“It’s like,” I start and then I have to stop and think, but the words come easier than I thought they would. “I don’t know anything anymore. They try to tell you what to think, or really what other people have written about what to think and the way the world works and for a moment, it all makes sense, you buy into it, want to apply it to your thoughts and ideas, but then the professors tell you that’s wrong, except they don’t say that’s wrong, they just tell you someone else got it more right or that this was accepted more and so you replace what you were thinking with this new theory, but then it happens again. Sometimes you’ll read something, and it’ll be the exact same something that snuck into your thoughts in those scary half-conscious moments before sleep, and everything in you shouts – YES! This must be TRUTH! And then a professor stands at the front of the lecture hall and says, There is no truth. or Truth is relative. And another professor says, That’s the post-modern perspective, that truth is relative, that there are multiple truths. How can we trouble this?”
“Remember when we were in high school and we used to talk about ideas all the time?”
“I’m sick of ideas.” You are silent after that, and I never remember you being so quiet. You used to talk and talk and talk, and I was the one that couldn’t get a word in. Now here I am monologuing while we lie in the snow.
“I missed you,” you say in the same way you once said I just want to write, a breath and crack and sob to your voice.
“I know.” I roll over and gaze at the upside-down side of your face. “Me too.” Stubble is thickest close to your sideburns, but I wonder if your cheeks could even grow hair. So naked and smooth. Red with cold from the snow. “Do you ever think you’ll go to school?”
“I don’t know.” Your voice hasn’t regained itself. It used to be so strong. “It’s not like you make it sound wonderful.”
“I know.” The snow stops once again, and from the clear sky and early morning sun, I think it will really stop this time. “But it’s something, isn’t it?” You don’t say you couldn’t afford it, or don’t want to spend all your money on it. I know you’ve been saving to move out of this town. Then when I visit home, you’ll no longer be here, will you? These are the things you don’t need to tell me. You turn into me, and our lips are close, your breath warms the space beneath my nose, but we don’t kiss. Your arms reach up and awkwardly cradle my head.
We part shortly after, and I feel my cheeks tingle with a sudden rush of blood. You get back into your car, and I wave – we promise to see each other before I go back to school. Then I’m inside, wet snowthings tossed by the floor vent. “Liz, do you want breakfast?” my mom asks on my way through the house. I don’t answer, cannot answer. My body aches with cold and tired. Then I’m in my bedroom. I crawl under sheets, stare at my ceiling, try to feel normal again.