By Timbray Shafer
Art class at Sherman Valley Middle School – Third period.
Oil crayons and crooked blue grids. he smiles at Her. My name is James.
Her: curly spray of golden hair and stripy green eyes and stripy seafoam color shirt and smell of laundry. Miranda. He says: What will you be when you’re old? Her: I’m going to have a shop. I’ll make little cakes with my husband and talk to all the customers and be rich and have three kids.
James laughs, smudges thick green crayon grease down her arm.
Fall Ball in the gymnasium. Theme: Glow in the dark. First year of high school.
James: oversized jacket and tie borrowed from his father. Dress shoes bought by his mother from the mall. Gravitational force of the stomach.
Her: A fluttery pink dress and too much make-up. A wholly genuine smile from the small part of her still desperately clinging to childhood.
Minutes sprinkle away under electric drums and laser lights. Stepping out. A sly breathmint. Chill air licks sticky sweat off necks and tops of hands. Greedily laps it up. Smell of crisp leaves and stale blacktop.
James: I wish we could do this every night.
Being old will be great says Miranda. I can’t wait to grow up and get married and have every night be this magical.
James’s chest is a melting oil crayon. A forward lurch and a light kiss on the mouth.
Surprise at the slipperiness. Will you be my girlfriend? he says.
James: picks up the phone. Her: Sobs.
I love you he tells her. I love you so much she cries. I just miss you and wish we could have gone to college together. I can’t stand not seeing you.
James will call her more often. Verbally committed. Contract signed. Honestly, I just can’t wait until we can graduate and be together. I won’t ever leave you again. Not until we die she chokes. Voice crackly like through a spiderweb-shattered windowpane.
James drove five hours to watch Miranda graduate college. As she walks across the stage he pictures her as that little girl sitting in front of a shelf of acrylic tubes, nose inches from the table. Same wild spray of hair. He sees her as one of those evolution diagrams with the hunched monkeys. Across the stage she goes and grows and now she is off. Evolution--
Bounces to him. I’m so proud of you. She smiles- Now we can start our life together.
Sometimes there’s a formless dry patch at the back of your throat when you try to swallow. Smells like salt. Fingers are brushed over her windswept curls.
Too many months later, James tenderly wipes tears off of a letter. Words aren’t right.
When he hands it to her, he wants to snatch it back. Why did he have to write it? Writing gives feelings an unrealistic permanence. If he tried to speak the words, he wouldn’t have agreed with them. But she already knows. Even the memories have changed now. Clinging on like to a childhood obliterated step by step by tiny cruelties.
He hugs her.
She screams. Hits him.
The levee breaks. A flood of everything she already lost which he was keeping inside of her. Oozes into the room and then dissipates like water on top of a rumbling potbellied stove. Hours of dancing and private lost laughters and crumbling corsages and playful promises and telephone calls and little cakes, all flowing, flowing, gone. Now with the wind or maybe light carried through the night sky or maybe nowhere.
Empty. They talk for hours. His brain tallies everything it will miss. His car is already packed, and kindly smothers his scream as it rolls away. Her: Sitting in the shower sobbing. Wonders if water will wash away time. Will you drown away this pain? Or the past? Or me? Please?
She pulls back the pale gold blanket of their bed. A single green oil crayon, sitting and whimpering, scared for her reaction. It left a slight smudge on the sheet.
(James finds a convenient new apartment 342 miles away. Miranda’s boss has a receding hairline and lots of money. She marries him two years later in a large church. She adopts his child and has two of her own. She is very very happy.)