About the Feature
Photo by Nacho Domínguez Argenta
“You remind me of my brother,” I tell Ricky. We’re making out on the grass behind the cellar. Rocks dig beds into my knees, stationed on either side of Ricky’s ips. Far away, but not far enough, I hear the stray dogs howl.
“Don’t be gross,” he says, working his hand underneath my bra.
“I meant it as a compliment,” I say, biting his lip so he’ll look at me. “Both of you are too good for this world.”
I move the hair from in front of his eyes, my finger on a dewy eyelid, my skin just like his. Ricky is Irish American, with dark hair and green eyes and a sprinkling of freckles. It’s hard for me sometimes not to stare at him.
We met at the community pool back in Des Moines, where I was a lifeguard. He’s two years younger than me, his nineteen to my twenty-one. When you’re in your twenties, that can count for a lot, but I don’t care. I like that I can teach him things. I like how eager he is to learn.
The Cape Floral Estate, just north of Cape Town, is the third farm Ricky and I have worked on in as many months. We quit school, at least for this year. We’re on this vineyard for four weeks, helping to make the year’s vintage of wine in exchange for food and a place to sleep.
I don’t think either of us would deny we’re running away from something. Ricky’s parents are in the middle of a hideous divorce. His mom single-handedly keeps the nearest liquor store in business, and Ricky was tired of being hit in the face.
I’m just trying to get away from my brother’s ghost.
When Ricky runs his fingers up my ribs, my mind goes blank, my back shivers. Above us, there are seventy thousand stars. Grapes cool in the fields all around. Tomorrow the workers will be here to pluck the fruit from their vines. We’ll take the perfect rounds and turn them into fuel, a mangled mash of anger and sadness and lust.
In the distance, a dying car engine goes silent. I bring Ricky’s fingers to my mouth, and his throat hums. He tastes confusing, like orange peel and smoke.
Since neither Ricky nor I know a thing about wine except for how to drink it, Edgar, who arrived at the estate last week, teaches us what to do. He’s another working traveler, my age—half French and half Japanese. He lives in a seaside town in France and plans to attend hospitality school after his year abroad.
“First, we crush and destem,” he says in a French accent, as he dumps grapes into a metal machine. “Then the presser.” He picks up a bucket of pulpy grapes and pours them into a wooden barrel. A metal plate forces the juices from the grapes. We funnel that grape juice into large plastic tanks where it ferments into alcohol. The process is monotonous and repetitive and exactly what I need.
Ricky and I walk the wheelbarrows to the compost pile, the spent grape skins heaving.
“Wanna hear something cool?” I say as we trudge uphill.
“Hit me,” Ricky says.
“When the Dutch came to colonize Robben Island, it was full of goats. They were afraid of attracting the massive birds of prey that stalked the island, so they only killed two at a time. One black, one white. They ate the black one first, then used the dark hide to make blankets. The white ones they used as day clothes to blend in with the rock.” I wipe a wave of sweat from my forehead as we stop.
“That’s smart,” Ricky says, nodding approval. He likes when things make sense. He turns his wheelbarrow, releasing the skins, then pulls it back. “Where’d you hear that?”
“I didn’t,” I say, focusing on the ground. My feet square themselves, and I force my lips into a line. “I made it up.”
Ricky’s mouth pinches and his hands clench, but he tries to hide it. He hates when I lie. This one was stupid, but he can’t stand feeling duped, something his mom taught him. Problem is, I’m too good.
“You’re an asshole,” he says.
“Wouldn’t I be more of an asshole,” I say, tipping my wheelbarrow, “if I let you keep believing it?”
“Tea’s on the porch,” Art calls to us right then, Ricky about to rip into me, and I walk away before he can let loose. Art owns and runs the winery by herself. She’s South African, a hippie-ish woman in her late fifties, long skirts and turquoise jewelry, a part-time therapist.
“That dash between the dates represents our entire lives,” she told me this morning, talking about headstones. “That’s it. One small line.”
When she picked us up from the bus stop the other day, she was leaning against her white pickup truck, eating a twelve-piece chicken meal out of a KFCbucket. Her hair was braided and gray.
On the bus from Cape Town, Ricky and I had watched a Jason Bourne movie, the subtitles completely wrong, like they were taken from a different script.
“This milk expired two weeks ago!” the tv screens read while a brooding Matt Damon maneuvered his way down a city street, speaking into a phone.
We schlepped our packs off the bus, then the three of us squeezed into the cab of Art’s truck. She waved at other cars as they drove by. Around us, the dry South African country spread wide, vine after vine, a playground of grapes and grit. The craggy, gray rock that surrounded us took my breath away, towering and rolling into mountain, clothed in green brush and trees. In Iowa, the land was flat as a toenail. I could see for miles and, therefore, always had the upper hand. Held in by the South African mountains, unsure of what might be coming around the bend, I felt small and on alert and amazed.
“It’s warmer than it should be this time of year,” Art said as we pulled onto the estate, a series of white Dutch buildings, cabins, a cavernous cellar tucked among fields. “But it makes the wine sweet.”
After work on Thursday, Ricky laces his shoes up for a run. I say the thing I always say: “If you don’t come back, I’ll kill you.” I picture the Cujo dogs down the road tearing him to shreds, a stranger throwing him into the back of a rusting car.
“Not if I kill you first,” Ricky says, smiling as he opens the door. He sticks his tongue between his teeth in a way that makes my skin wet, and all I can do is wave.
My brother was still wearing his helmet when he died. We’d been riding our bikes to Dingleman’s for cheese fries and frozen Cokes. Why the car hit Aaron and not me is a question I’ll never stop asking. I called the police, but I knew by looking at him it was too late. I put my finger on his tongue while I waited for the ambulance. His spit was still warm. I begged for him to bite me, to prove he still could.
“He had his helmet on,” I said to the cop when he arrived, as though I could explain Aaron back to breathing.
“Sometimes, supposed to,” the cop said, “doesn’t mean a thing.”
The day I met Ricky, the pool I worked at shut down at noon because someone had accidentally kicked a dirty diaper into it. They drained the water and asked everyone to leave.
“Shitty day,” Ricky said, sitting next to me on the lawn outside the entrance while I laced my shoes. Those were his first words to me. He had a smile on his face. We’d buried Aaron nine days earlier. “I guess you’re free now?”
I’d seen Ricky throughout the summer, and he’d seen me on my lifeguard perch. It was a gig I’d had since I was sixteen, and since Aaron and I still lived at our parents’ house in the summers, I kept it during college. It was July, and Ricky and I had been flirting with our eyes for weeks.
“Free as I’ll ever be,” I said, and I liked the way it felt to lie. I headed toward the parking lot exit, and he followed. We walked to my house, his hand in my back pocket, tracing the route Aaron and I rode home from high school, past the movie theater, past the corner where we parked when we ditched our prom dates, eating Pauly’s Pizza instead in our tux and gown.
I took Ricky into the basement. Aaron’s gray sweatshirt was draped over the couch. His video game console flashed green. A bowl of his popcorn kernels sat on the floor. I held my breath so I wouldn’t smell him there with us, but then I felt bad for trying to exclude him, so I breathed in deep, his salt and cinnamon gum.
My mom was somewhere upstairs, in bed, crying, staring wide-eyed at a wall. My dad was back at work on Monday like nothing had happened. Everything had become husk.
I moved my hands to Ricky’s swim trunks, and he held my cheek in his palm. We never turned on the lights, but daylight pushed through the window wells. His waistband was still damp, his skin cool against my hands. I traced my fingers back and forth to find out where I was.
Outside, the flat Iowa streets strung on for miles, Aaron’s fingerprints on trees and restaurant doorknobs, tire tracks on the asphalt, strands of his hair in the grass.
I kissed Ricky’s mouth, slick and alive. I lay down on the couch and pulled him on top of me, positioned him just right so I could no longer exhale.
Most evenings on the vineyard, Ricky and I watch the sunset from our back porch, the sky doused in gasoline, the sun setting it to flame. The estate is called Cape Floral for the thick brush that covers the land, but the wine label is called Rhinoceros Ridge. The sun sets behind the mountain range that surrounds the estate on two sides. A sharp, reaching point to the far south looks like a rhinoceros horn, his rugged body stretching to the north in dips and arcs. When the light’s just right, I can make out the rhino’s large, bold eye. He watches me. I see him blink.
When the sun is gone, sometimes we go straight to bed, even if it’s before eight. There are two twin beds in our cabin, but Ricky and I squeeze into one. On the other bed, we pile dirty laundry, old grape stains like ash on our sleeves and socks.
On Friday night, Ricky holds me in our small bed while I tell him about Aaron. How his favorite food was beef ramen with butter melted on top. How he texted me “Rabbit, rabbit,” without fail, on the first day of each month. How it feels like I might be buried under dirt too.
Ricky says my brother was so lucky to have me as a sister, but I can see in his eyes he doesn’t really know what I’m feeling, that he doesn’t know what to say.
“It sucks losing someone” is what he comes up with.
“Who’d you lose?” I say, my hackles on the rise.
“Well, my mom,” Ricky says. His dad texted this morning, told Ricky he has no idea where Ricky’s mom is. She never showed up to sign the divorce papers, isn’t answering her phone.
“She’s actually lost,” I say. “Not lost in the real way.”
“Lost enough.” His eyes are puddly. I feel the lava bubble inside me.
“Have you had to touch her cold, dead hand, Ricky?” I say, sitting up, removing myself from his arms, my chest growing broad. “Come talk to me then.”
“Jesus,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
I look into his clear, worried eyes, and it’s like he’s seeing me pass him on a train. I feel far from him but also special. My pain is too deep for him to fathom, and I wear that distinction like a badge.
We work twelve-hour days if the wine demands it, standing in the cold cellar at three a.m., knuckles punching wrinkled grapes, sugar making our skin itch. The ants follow the sweetness, bite the insides of our arms, find the webs between our fingers, then burn them. We spray gallons of water across the floor to get rid of the mess, to kill the ants. My back aches from lifting the grape crates, from bending to collect juice, but I know we have it easy in the sheltered cellar.
Edgar says the grape harvesters don’t like their job, but at first I didn’t want to believe it, even though they bend over all day, their gloved hands gripping small shears, wrapped in cloth so that the branches don’t scratch their arms and the sun doesn’t set their heads on fire.
I’ve become friendly with Ezekiel, the lead Zimbabwean farmhand, who works full-time at the farm. He advocates for the workers, who live a mile down the road in a cluster of wooden houses. Sometimes, on their lunch break, I sit with them in the back of their pickup truck.
“Do you like working here?” I say, and they nod and bite into bread.
“Can I try?” I ask a worker, pointing to her clippers. Her eyes look at me shyly. She wears a long denim skirt, a green-and-black-striped sweater, a white boat hat. When I hold out my hand, she laughs, not unkindly, and hands me the tool. I try with one hand, but my palm aches. I look up at her, and she mimes with both hands. I do as she implies, use my entire body to push down, everything I have, but the branch barely budges.
After lunch each day, I wash my hands, but they never get clean. The juice from the grapes has made its way under my skin, into my pores, outlining my calluses. My hands are inked and bruised with the blood of grapes.
On the weekend, Art loans us her car, and Ricky, Edgar, and I visit nearby wineries. We hold out our hands. The winemakers’ eyes get big. We get a glass for free. We’re familial, kin.
I wake up early Monday morning, Ricky’s leg flung across me. While he sleeps, I watch the sun rise through the window, and I know Aaron is back home in the States, sitting in the basement, a cowboy playing Red Dead Redemption in the ten minutes before he heads to the movie theater. He’ll rip tickets, sweep the floor, call me on his walk home to tell me he saw Bob Fleming, our old high school gym teacher, kissing a woman, not his wife, in the back row.
“Asshole,” I’ll say. I’ll picture Aaron tossing the hair from his eyes.
“I miss you.”
“Don’t be sappy. You’re seeing me soon.”
“You’re right,” I’ll say. “I’m seeing you soon.”
After work on Tuesday, we sit on the main-house porch and eat by candlelight. The house was built in 1883 by the Dutch, and there are so many rooms in it, it took me two days not to get lost. Edgar’s in charge of the meat. He knows the proper order of the silverware next to our plates. He refuses to use anything but organic Israeli sea salt when he cooks, so he brought a jar of it in his luggage. Edgar covers the beef in the salt and peppercorns and Worcestershire sauce. Art and I make the salad. Ricky sets the table and pours the water.
“What do the workers do when grape season is over?” I ask Art, handing her the bread.
“They move around during harvest seasons. We may get some back for the olives. They’re coloreds,” Art says, buttering bread, “but I like to give them a chance.”
“How noble,” I say.
“What do you mean?” Ricky says.
“Well, they have a reputation.” Art licks butter off her thumb. “For being too drunk or lazy. But this year’s crop has been just fine.”
Ricky kicks me under the table. He mouths the word “coloreds.” Edgar looks confused. We saw the townships—webs of ramshackle homes, flooded and falling apart—tucked out of sight on the far edges of Cape Town, entire villages cast in the shadows of sushi bars and department stores a few miles away.
Something I’ve learned is the people who seem to know everything know the least of all. I saw Art speaking with Ezekiel yesterday, her hands flailing, his head bowed. It made me angry, seeing her yell at him, but this isn’t my country.
Still, at the table, I say, “They’re the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.” I want her to know I’ve been watching.
Art takes a drink of wine, eyes on me. “It’s all relative, I suppose.” She smiles, a smug cat. “We must accept the hand we’re dealt.”
She’s always doing this, speaking in generalities, aphorisms, verses, self-help. I know how to meet someone where they’re at. So I sit up tall. I say, “Pity the woman who falls with no one to help her up.” Art licks her lips, and I stand to clear my plate before we can get into it, before it’s clear I have no idea what we’re talking about anymore. I smile as I walk to the kitchen, knowing all their eyes are on me.
On our way to the cabin after we’ve washed the dishes, Ricky says, “What are we, in 1950?”
“That shit happens in the States, too,” I say. “Home isn’t better than anywhere else.”
“I guess,” he says. “But jeez.”
In these moments when he’s so naive, I take his hand in mine. Now I walk him to the pool behind our cabin. Our teeth clack as we take off our clothes, slip in naked, quiet as we can. The moon is bright enough I can see the succulent green of Ricky’s eyes. He grabs my legs and pulls them around him until I’m floating against him entirely. He licks my ear, but it’s already wet. He slides his fingers inside me, and I can’t feel my body or his.
“How can I do better?” he asks when I’m done. I can barely keep my head above the water, my muscles are so loose. “You’re just fine,” I tell him. “Don’t worry so much.” When I find my footing, I pull his mouth to mine.
With his eyes still closed, I pinch the side of his stomach, not too hard. I move my mouth to his shoulder and bite down so it leaves a mark. “Dammit!” he says. “What was that for?”
“Everything’s a degree of something else,” I say. I’ve got him looking at me again. I can see he wants me to tell him more.
I say, “Did I tell you I was married once?”
“Really?” His hand goes limp against my back, so soft I can barely detect it. He thinks we tell each other everything.
“Maybe,” I say. I let myself smile. “Maybe I was.”
“Come on,” he says, but I just stare.
The moon slithers on the water. Ricky watches me. He’s getting better at not showing me what he believes. When I don’t answer, he turns his back on me and swims to the edge, his feet kicking angrily on the surface.
Thirty minutes later, he’s asleep on my shoulder. I brush his hair with my fingers. His mouth is open, and I can see the back of his tongue rise with each breath.
“You’re so fucking lucky,” I whisper in his ear. I touch my finger to the freckle on his temple, as though it might leave a stain. I kiss his tousled boy hair. I want to protect him forever.
Two of the five cats on the farm have AIDS. The donkeys eat banana peels from our hands. The big dog, Wanda, bit someone once, snapped up from under the table and took a bite right out of a man’s forearm. Afterward, the man stared at her and barked.
“She was scared,” Art says, petting Wanda’s big head as we sit in the kitchen, eating eggs. “Almost everything we do is out of fear, isn’t that right?” she says to the dog. “We’re just too afraid of losing faith to see it that way.”
Art says she changed her name—to Artemis—when she was eighteen. She used to be Sharon. We’re sitting in the sunroom with cookies and rooibos tea. Art’s in between therapy sessions, another in ten minutes. Her clients park at the front of the house, walk in through the front, so we never actually see them. But I listen in, sometimes, my ear to the big wooden door.
“Maybe the person you actually distrust,” Art said to someone this morning, “is yourself.”
In the sunroom, I bite a cookie. “Why did you pick Artemis?” I ask.
“She’s the goddess of women,” Art says, “and the moon. I thought that was so sensual when I was a teenager. She has a twin, Apollo. I was an only child and always hated it.”
“I’m a twin,” I say.
“Is that right?”
“Yeah. But he died this year.”
Art stops swirling her tea. “I’m so sorry, dear. I had no idea.”
“Okay,” I say. My hands are starting to sweat.
“Were you close?”
“Like glue,” I say. “Stuck.”
My throat is squeezing shut, so I look toward the door.
“Have you picked a star?” Art asks. “When the Greek gods died, sometimes, instead of disappearing, they turned into constellations.”
“No,” I say. “He isn’t a star.”
“Oh,” she says, and I push back my chair.
“I hope you know he isn’t completely gone,” Art says. “He’s always with you.” I walk toward the door and pretend I can’t hear her crock of shit. She has no idea how absolutely nowhere he is.
Edgar is the one who tells us about the latest argument between Art and Ezekiel.
“She’s three days late on the money for the harvesters,” Edgar says as we move crates to the destemmer on Thursday morning.
“Who’s surprised?” I say.
“They’ll get it when they get it,” Ricky says, and I want to hit him in the back of the head, even though I know he’s just upset about his mom. His dad texted again this morning, said his mom is still missing, that she doesn’t want to be found. A friend heard from her last night, but she wouldn’t say where she was calling from.
“I might never see her again,” Ricky said when he saw the text.
“Why do you care if she’s gone?” I said, thinking about the bruise he had on his chest the day we met, a rotten purple meatball.
“She’s my mom,” he said, his Adam’s apple punching. “My only one.”
“You’ll see her,” I said. What I wanted to say was: “She’s still breathing somewhere. You should be dancing in the fields.”
Over the next few hours, I take small breaks to watch Ricky move grapes into the crusher. He’s quiet and brooding, and each time I see him, I grow more agitated. He’s acting like a baby, sucking up all the air, like his hurt is bigger than God. His pouting is dramatic and outsized, and I’m dying to tell him so, but we don’t say a word to each other all day. By the time we walk back to the cabin after work, my chest is tight with anger. Ricky sits on the bed, sullen, and unlaces his shoes.
“It’s not that bad, you know,” I say to him as I stand in the doorway, unable to wait any longer. I make my voice hard. It feels good to finally say the words out loud.
“What’s not?” He drops his laces and looks at me.
“You could find her if you really wanted to.”
“Are you serious?” he says.
“You don’t know the half of it,” I say. I want to see him mad.
His eyes turn rocky. “Get over yourself. It’s pathetic. You and your brother aren’t the only ones on the fucking planet.”
My face grows hot. I take a step toward him. “Shut up!” I yell. “Don’t talk about him.”
“I’m going for a run,” Ricky says, not looking my way. He stands from the bed, shoelaces untied, and storms past me with a gust.
“If you don’t come home, I’ll kill you,” I say. But he’s already slammed the door.
I sit on our bed and watch the sky outside grow bruised then empty. An hour later and Ricky still isn’t home. I’m pacing the room, bargaining now. Just let him come home, I think, and I’ll never say another mean thing. I do my breathing like the therapist told me to, to extinguish the lava in my chest. From the bathroom, I hear Ricky’s phone buzz. I walk to the counter, pick it up. He’s too lazy to set a passcode, which I’ve urged him fifty times to do, but now I’m relieved he never took my advice. I look at his background photo, his mom and dad and him, smiling, like they’re all-fucking-American. There’s a text message from his dad. “We found her,” it says. “Spending the nite in jail. Call when you see this.”
My limbs rush with cool relief, which I didn’t expect. Outside, it’s so dark, I can see my reflection in the window. I imagine having to identify Ricky’s body in some musty, local jail. I think about how there’s always someone leaving, but it’s never me. The lava is back, and before I remember to breathe, I press “delete” on the text message, and it goes away too. If Ricky’s dead, his body torn to shreds on the side of the road, dogs with bloody mouths, it won’t matter what I just did. I put the phone back on the counter.
Ten minutes later, Ricky returns sweaty and panting. My heart is bumping and uneven, my chest spitting, but I’m so happy to see him, the heat starts to die away. Ricky looks at me as he walks into the cabin, too easy. He wanted to scare me.
“I’m allowed to go wherever I want without telling you,” he says, reading my eyes. “I’m not a child. I have free will.”
“Sure,” I say, but my hands are shaking. His sweat smells sharp. “Let’s go to bed.”
“I’m gross,” he says, wiping his forehead.
“I don’t care.” I just want him in my arms. I walk to the bed, lie down. “Come,” I say, motioning to him. He walks to me, slides in. His sweat against my shoulder is like oil. When he’s finally tucked in, I say, “They found her.”
“What do you mean?” He pushes his body up, looks down at me. His eyes are olive pits.
“Your dad texted.”
He stands out of bed, forcing my arms back, walks to the bathroom, picks up his phone. I can see his face go blank as he scrolls for nothing.
“Fuck you,” he says, holding out his phone. There’s spit on his lip. The tips of his thumbs are red. “Lie, lie, lie!” he yells at me, each lie louder than the next. He stalks toward the bed, each step so loud, the mirror on the wall shudders. Now Ricky’s face is too close to mine, red and gnarled, and I need it to stop, so I reach for his forearm with both hands and twist the skin hard, his mouth loose and wild when he screams. I let go.
“Call your dad,” I say. Ricky rubs his arm, looks at me like it hurts.
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do.” He stomps into the bathroom, locks the door, turns on the shower. And I’m just sitting there, waiting for him again, stupid. I’m done with waiting.
I leave the cabin and walk to the field behind the cellar, my feet like battle cries against the ground. The air is deep-mud cool, and I wish I’d brought a sweater. I lie face up on the dry, rocky earth. It’s another clear night, and even with the big moon, it seems there are more stars in this patch of sky than I’ve seen over the course of my entire life. I just want my anger to count for something.
On the phone yesterday, my mom said, “It seems possible he’s still in the next room. Like we all just forgot for a moment he was right there all along.”
They’ve locked his bedroom door, she told me. To keep his spirit there.
As I look at the enormous sky, I try not to think about how I’m going to run out of money soon. If there isn’t another farm to stay on after this one, I’ll fly back to Iowa. Away from the mountains’ curves, from the winding roads that don’t tell you where you are—that let you forget.
Above the highest mountain ridge, I pick a dot of light, not the brightest one but not the faintest, either.
I wonder, when I’m back on the other side of the earth, if I’ll be able to see him above me, if he’ll disappear into blackness again, if I can force myself to believe he never left me and never will.
“Aaron,” I say into the air. “Aaron, Aaron, Aaron.”
The cabin smells stale when I wake the next morning. Looking at the sun is like staring into a light bulb. Across the room, the other twin bed is empty. Ricky slept there last night, pushed the dirty laundry into a mess on the floor. I kept myself awake most of the night standing guard, watching him sleep, his arms wrapped around himself, his feet crossed at the ankles like he was begging. He never wakes up before me, but when I walk over and place my hand on his rumpled sheets, they’re cold. Instantly, my stomach is a pool, and I try to find its bottom. I walk barefoot outside, the gravel embedding itself in my arches. Art is standing beside the house. Her arms are crossed. She looks out at the fields, which are empty and still.
“Do the workers have a day off?” I ask, but of course they don’t.
“They never showed this morning.” There are needles in her voice.
“They’ll be here,” I say, but I might know less about this matter than Wanda the dog does.
“They won’t,” Art says. Her ecru shift hangs still in the windless air.
“Have you seen Ricky?” It’s daylight, and I know this, but my mind is with the rabid dogs, with the drunk driver speeding down the road.
“No,” Art says, and I hold my breath so it will stop my brain from running to the bad places. “I don’t know why we’re surprised,” she says, still staring at the field, and there is an anger under her skin set to simmer. Her cheeks are rashy. Her pointer finger works at the skin of her bleeding thumb. “Of course I have their money. Just had a touch of trouble with the bank. We don’t need this little stunt right now.”
Maybe Ricky just up and left, I think, back to Des Moines, anywhere I’m not. I walk to the bottom of the driveway, and Art follows me. I’m trying not to picture yellow fangs and rattling growls. Though maybe at this point, I deserve it.
Next to me, on the workerless, truckless road, Art’s hands are now in fists. Her eyes are pointed, mouth pursed, as she stares toward nothing. I’ve never seen her at this octave, like she’s wearing a mask made of wrath, like she’s about to spring open.
And then she does. “Fuck!” she yells. Her pinched mouth flies into a hollow, and she lets out a scream, low and bellowy, the veins in her neck like stitches holding her together. I wait for her to stop, my ears ringing, but she doesn’t stop, watering eyes, clenched hands. My heart busts into alarm, the road in front of us long and motionless to the curve, the starless sky above us, no Ricky in sight. And before I realize it, I’m screaming too, can’t sit quiet in the noise. We’re screaming against each other, my voice higher than hers, our throats ugly, but it feels so good not to care. My lips sting in slices, a burn deep down, and I imagine my voice reaching Iowa all those miles away, its flat emptiness, a drone like a prayer, how I’ll fall asleep in Aaron’s sweatshirt when I get back there, in the only home we shared, his arms wrapped around me, his hair, his freckles, his red, smiling mouth. We’ll start the walk to Pauly’s Pizza Palace for dinner, side by side, then race to see who can reach the door handle first, but he’ll keep running past it, down the block, on and on. I’ll know this move, and I’ll wait the ten seconds for him to turn around and run back, laughing at his own joke.
I keep my mouth open, my scream loud, another stolen breath. Through the blinding scrim of sunlight down the road, there’s a mirage of movement, a white dot growing bigger as it approaches. It’s bouncing and alive and fuzzy in the light.
And I think it’s him.
About the Author
Maggie Pahos lives in Portland, Oregon, and holds an MFA from Chatham University. Her work has appeared in Brevity, The Rumpus, Terrain.org, and elsewhere. She’s taught for National Geographic Student Expeditions and the Allegheny County Jail and is a founding teacher of the Midwest Artist Academy. Read more at www.maggiepahos.com.