Mrs. Eames murmuring that story sent me somewhere better than sleep: from my stiff-backed
body in my sleeping bag into Emily’s bed in her place. Under the covers I watched her mother’s
lips, pale and unpainted, undrawn and dry. Like low tide her words lapped against me; they
flowed over the edge I’d somehow honed. Steeped in what she spoke it dissolved there: I filled a
room unlike ever before.
I woke and walked home, body-bound
again. That day after I felt both paid-back
owed. Guilty too, of a fingerless mislaying or theft, the thing not mine enough to move. I ignored
how large this feeling grew, never again even peeked at my friend’s face; winced my way up
through several grades instead.
Then I sat on a step-edge
fronting empty Central Middle, left behind alone by the bus.
Ms. Hall’s heels struck the concrete further up on the flight. I leveled with her dress hem when
she stopped. She asked me where I lived: on-the-way
of her drive. She wafted perfume as we got
in. Her floral scent bloomed up my nose, into my lungs, farther inside. How it flowed should’ve
She tuned to a station where synths fuzzed with age, winking as she spun the volume up.
As we eyed the high-beamed
roads her voice surprised me: a no-notice
lilting to the song. What
first felt like overhearing further stirred me inside. The current charged up, took my tongue. I
hummed along with her tune, heard our messy duet: a harmony I’ll never misconstrue.
Now I tend Ms. Marks’ yard instead of studying for tests, behind the high school bus stop
and her hedge. I drip a watering can over waxy plant leaves; store-bought
tulips settle where I’ve
scooped out soil. She unperches from her post on the front porch with my help, so we can kneel
and get wrist-deep
in dirt. Stray specks stick to both our upper lips; we try to outspit
on the ground.
Across the street my own yard keeps on yellowing.
For her I feign class factoids or gossipy snips. I’ve caught on that she craves displays of
youth; that what words I imbue don’t mean much, she only sees; tables both her ear aids on the
Mom still types in the neighboring town until late, still suits herself in scratchy blues and
blacks; the chalky whiff of gel and lipstick ever-helmeting