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Persephone

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Like all memories, it slowly curls with age as years go by until the images are tinted with slight sepia, much like an old postcard.


We were five, then. He was running around the yard with his arms outstretched, making plane noises. I was standing against the tree, shivering and watching the dim Christmas lights flicker over his face.

“It’s cold,” I said. “Let’s go inside. My mommy says your mommy says you gotta go inside before your…your…somethin’ catches you. And then you have to go to the hosp’tal!”

He dive bombed onto the dry grass a few feet from the tree, incredulous. “No one can catch me!”

“But it’s cold!”

“Rawr! I’m never cold!”

“You’re shivering!” I shrieked as we chased each other around the yard. He passed me, yelling indiscernible syllables; I stopped, the breath rising out of my mouth like smoke.

And gazing at him sprint across the yard, I wondered how, while he was so firmly on the ground, those reaching fingers, pale and thin as they were, could seem so close to the sky….


A memory is like a postcard—its meaning, however brief, or long, or heartfelt it may be, never changes, as faded and stained as it will turn. And always, always: “Wish you were here.”

And I do.

Click


I reach for the pomegranate in his hand, and he laughs.

“What’s so funny?” I make a face, plucking a seed between my fingers. The skin is soft; scarlet liquid seeps under my nail.

He grins, his hands inside his jeans pockets, shoulders hunched in a shrug, looking down. “You know that Greek myth, the one about Hades and Persephone?”

I pop the seed into my mouth, savoring the tart burst of taste. “Yeah, sure,” I say, glancing at him. He’s still grinning. “Goddess gets stolen away by god of the underworld. Classic.”

“She ate pomegranate seeds,” he shakes his head. “Seeds worth half a year.” Wryly, he takes the fruit and tosses it, turning and leaning close to my face as it drops into his palm. “And you have, too. Maybe I should steal you away.”

“You are so weird,” I shove him lightly, laughing. “So, so weird. There’s no way I’ll keep visiting you because of citrus.”

I join him as he sits. He leans his head against the hospital wall, staring past the branches, into the sky. It’s late afternoon and early fall; the sun is warm, but I feel the coldness in his fingers next to mine, suddenly notice the grey lines feathered under his dark eyes.

He absently turns the pomegranate with his fingers. The seeds give his palm a slightly red glow, and he sets it between us.

“Hey,” I suddenly say. “I wonder if she ever thought whether they could bring someone out of h*ll, too.”

He regards me inquisitively, and the wind blows through his cocoa hair so that it flies around his face. “Who? What?”

“Persephone,” I reply, and the words suddenly sound wistful, but I don’t know why; I don’t know why I’m saying this. “You know, like if the eating the pomegranate seeds…kept her there, I wonder if…”

He grins again, meeting my eyes. “Yeah.”

It’s almost fall, only a couple of weeks since the diagnosis. I want to hug him, feel the steadiness and warmth of his heartbeat, feel that he’ll be okay.

“Yeah...” Outside, the leaves flurry in ashen burgundy, sliding with the tide of wind over our faces and twining our fingers together.

Click


Ironically, the hospital room is white. The color is meant to be peaceful, but as I watch the sunlight float across his sitting form, all of that whiteness burns fiercely, like snow. His eyes are directed towards the window, so that I only see the dark outline of his jawbone, tight, as if frustrated. The hands on his lap curl and clench, and I stare at them. Weeks ago, I held those hands and laughed as we talked— just talked.

“Please…” The chalky tints under his lids, as if to mark months in the hollowness of his cheekbones, shift as he clenches his teeth, and his jaw trembles, striped with the silhouettes of bare winter branches. I suddenly see an image of prison bars. “Go.” The word is so quiet, like wisps of frost curling from his breath. Almost a plea. For me to leave.

I open my mouth, and then bite my lip guiltily. I want to apologize, but it sounds so naïve.

As my hand rests on the doorknob, he utters, “I’m sorry…”

The words tear themselves across the glass.

I don’t dare look at him, but I can see him as he would be, looking out of that window, even as the silent wind whispers its freedom outside, shattering his frozen form. It hurt to know him sitting there, so still, as I shut the door.

Click


Missing him was like standing at the edge of a chasm, with my thoughts threatening to shred itself apart. Panicked, I’d scrawled the ragged letters of his name on a piece of paper with an old ink pen.

I’d folded it hastily and stuff it into my pocket, and now I absent-mindedly snake the tip of my finger through the grains of wood on my desk. There’s a bruised blot on the end of my finger where the nib of the pen split, trailing rotten cavities across the page. The dried ink lines the inside of my nail and the creases of my skin. I drag the blackened finger harder against the surface of the desk, and suddenly notice the silence of the classroom.

Why are they staring? It’s only an ink blot.

My finger burns, and crimson streaks smear across the desktop. A thin splatter of red arcs silently past my face as I lift my hand, startled, each spiraling globe descending in a smooth crest. Against the fluorescent light, they fall like liquid sparks, and the images of pomegranate seeds flash briefly inside their glow.

I can imagine the reaction he would have, his voice hissing in surprise and anger. Stupid; don’t do this. And when I wonder what I was doing, all I can think of is the dark color of pomegranate under my nail.

The last school bell rings.

Click


Nat is there, too, when I arrive at the gravestone. He looks up. “I…”

“What—you’re ‘sorry?’” I frown, not wanting him to say it. It’s stupid, getting angry over something like this, but the waves have already started crashing inside my head, suddenly relentless. Spinning the world around. We stand, staring at each other. His face is framed, glowing, against the sunlight. I can feel my blood tingling, winding in slow, prickling circles around my heart.

“I knew him too,” he finally says quietly.

“I know that.” We both stare at the tombstone in front of us. “I know.”

More seconds pass.

He jams his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and glances sideways at me, awkwardly. “Your…finger….”

I realize I’m picking at the burn. “Oh.” Dragging my finger across a desk…it seems so crazy now. I shake my head and say, “Pomegranates.” Crazy. We both were.

I scuff the ground with the worn edge of my shoe. The toe of the sole is covered with faded Sharpie, and I smile, remembering the day we covered each other’s shoes with curling designs. It was so cheesy. His left and my right—the pictures lined up when put together. I wonder if he still has his, and then realize…

Silhouettes wave across the stone marker, urged by a wind too soft to feel. They flutter in monochrome over my feet, soundlessly, slinking over my ankles, crawling over my wrists. The somber confetti floats, obscuring the ground in grey. Above our heads, the branches whisper; gentle green leaves climb over bark. And yet, everything seems so still….

“Sorry,” I whisper back, to no one. “Sorry…” I see him again, five years old, running through our yard with his arms outspread, laughing; and then sitting with him, only months ago, squeezing his hand as if that could free him of his underworld.

Beside me, Nat shuffles, awkward. “They had him cremated. I think he might have liked that. ‘Cause, you know…after…you know, after he’s not in that body anymore and…”

“Release,” I finish for him. “He endured, and it was his release.” And I smile as the tears prickle my eyes. It didn’t have anything to do with pomegranates. I look down at my Sharpied shoes.

“Sharpie’s permanent,” he’d said as we put our feet side-by-side. “But shoes never fit all the time, or else they’d slow you down.”

”I’m not going to walk out on you,” I’d replied, indignant and confused.

He had grinned and taken my hand. “We’ll walk out of this, one way or another—together. Time…”

“Time flies,” Nat says.

I nod, still not quite understanding why they say that, not understanding so many things we talked about. The breeze is twining about the trees swirls gently. For a moment, I can feel the wind which pulls the shadows against the ground. I can feel the wind…

And, together, we walk back into the world of the living.




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