By Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes
He held my hand, and rubbed the hair backwards, as if he liked the feeling of sandpaper on his calloused thumbs. He didn’t talk to me, about the smell of cut grass, or about his father sitting on the couch struggling to breathe.
I ignored how grave he looked—his eyes, almost tombstones themselves, concrete that seemed to survey the world without cracking.
“I’d rather go,” he told me, digging his other hand into the mud.
There were already specks beneath his fingernails—they’d grown accustomed to living there, and it would’ve been beyond me to tell him to wash his hands.
“You don’t have to,” I said back.
There was some slight disparity in the sky that evening. Cirrus clouds hovered by the quarter moon, and yet they also caught sunlight by the bay. I wished I could grab a cloud up there, and mold it into something for him—some symbol of wholeness, to stuff in his sinuses, the crevices behind his ears—to fill him up so I wouldn’t be constantly doing it myself. He’d lost something last week, perhaps the news of his father or my dispassion for him, I’m not entirely sure.
“I don’t need this,” he said, letting go of me this time, picking the dirt out of his left pinky finger, then backing away like I’d suddenly become alien and he wasn’t willing to rediscover me.
I didn’t holler or plead like Lina or Maryanne, or any other friend of mine who felt in desperate need of something to hold onto.
He was not, in any respect, a commodity or a toy that begged me to squeeze it. Unlike some, he did not fit sales material, or any feature on a pros and cons list a girl might devise in her bedroom. I appreciated his elusive uniqueness, the fact that he was too interesting to remain in one place. He’d slip away one morning out of the week, and I’d wonder if that meant he was saying goodbye. He’d kiss me, then jump in his car and drive off for days—unworried, thoughtless almost.
I told him not to think about me, when those spurs of escape ran through him like electric currents, when he just had to leave without looking back.
But today, today was different, because he slowed the way he walked, deliberately. He let his footfalls go gentle on the grass, each one sinking before letting the other take stride.
“My father needs me,” he said, his chest turning towards the lit house, his house.
And I understood. While in the moment it was a partial understanding, soon it would be complete and put aside like finished homework, ironed clothes, a book with its bookmark carefully placed.
And I understood. While in the moment I accepted the understanding…I did not want it.