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In my strangest dream, it’s late at night and I’m pushing my cart slowly down the produce aisle. Light spills out the glass doors and onto the sidewalk. I am strange in the fluorescent light, there are no shadows—the freezers murmur me past; the store is empty, the ceiling is high. I walk alone through the melons and the hams, shrink-wrapped and piled high, with rings of white fat that shine like eyes. I realize the man at checkout has left as the lights shut off panel by panel, until everything is black. As if on cue, the melons begin to laugh and laugh and laugh, and the hams laugh with them, and I watch as their laughter rises up to the ceiling.
I told this to you once, and regretted it immediately. So I added: “Pretty messed up, huh?” You stared at me for a few seconds and then burst out laughing. I kind of started grinning too. “Oh my god, you’re so funny, Carrie.” I looked at you for a brief moment—not exactly beautiful, but dark haired and pretty in a nice way with your hair down—and then smiled wider.
Kennedy High. That’s where you went, and where I probably would have gone, but I chose a Catholic high school instead (I’m not Catholic).
You were going to be in the military when you got older, a girl running with the boys. I didn’t get it. Privately, I thought you were about as likely to go into the military as I was to become the first female President, but I guess you don’t really say that stuff to your friends. And besides, the whole idea of going out in the line of fire to serve your country scared me like crazy—if I went off to live in a strange bunk somewhere, I’d probably waste away to nothing. I’d probably quit a day into boot camp.
“Open your hand and close your eyes.”
You weren’t buying it. You wanted to know why.
I waited, until you pretended to give in and dutifully held out your palms.
“Eyes closed.” It was February 28th, your birthday.
You looked down as soon as I placed it in your hands: a wadded up piece of tape, with a slip of paper attached that read, “your gift this year.”
I didn’t tell you that actually, I had forgotten to buy you a present—I had known it was your birthday for weeks, but somehow I had never thought to get you anything. You didn’t notice, you thought it was the funniest thing ever. You even wrote me this sarcastic little thank you card a couple days later.
“Happy Fourth of July,” I said as I closed your fingers over the tape.
Aside from that one time we managed to coordinate our schedules and have a sleepover after the first week of high school, you didn’t call me or ask if I was free on Saturdays for all of September. We texted back and forth a bit—how were things going? What was new?—but after a while the answers became the same. I think you realized it too. That was the worst part.
You had volleyball. Yeah, I’m pretty busy too, I said. I punished you by not calling for all of October and felt terrible about it all November.
“Tell me what green looks like,” you said. This was when we were younger, when “what’s your favorite color” seemed like a perfectly relevant question.
“Wait, you mean you can’t see green at all?”
“I dunno…..I don’t really understand how it works. The nurse told me about it once, but I wasn’t really listening. It’s like I can’t tell the difference between some colors, or something.” You looked straight at me now, eyes wide, frowning. “It bugs me sometimes—I feel like I’m missing out on something, you know? Just—just tell me what it looks like, kind of.”
I said it was kind of greenish looking. Then I saw that you were serious, and so I tried again: “It’s, um, sort of mellow. I mean, it depends what type of green, but it seems pretty laid back to me. Like, if you were going sailing on a sunny day or something in an ocean… made of paint, the water would be made of green.” I floundered, ridiculous. “I’m not doing a very good job.”
“That’s okay,” you said.
That night I tried really hard to imagine not knowing green, thinking that perhaps in the darkness it would be easier (it wasn’t). And it’s funny, but somewhere between 1 and 3 in the morning last night I had my second strangest dream:
I was a tiger in a sea of solid green, paint caked to my flanks like mud, but my eyes glittered black.
I almost texted you to tell you about it—the sea of green, I mean— as I sat there in bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling, but this time I didn’t. I had it all typed out on my phone and everything, but I never pressed send.
Eva, where are you?
A cloudy Saturday morning: I’m out walking Millie through the park, through stretches of grass and a cold playground. The trees here are oak and they are hung with muddy stockings and plastic bags and toilet paper like tinsel.
Tinsel. Stockings. Christmas in the Park. I’m really pretty funny sometimes, when I’m not trying too hard. I realize that, what with school and laughing and going out to movies and whatnot, I haven’t thought about you all week, and for a while I just watch cement move under my feet. My nose is really cold.
P.E outside the gym, running— I forget what day, what period, but I think it must have been late in the afternoon because everybody was hot and tired, even though the air was bright with sunshine. It was this sort of national fitness test thing we did every year, where we ran a mile and did pushups and sweated a lot in the spirit of “honoring excellence.” You were ambitious: our last year, and you wanted to go out with a bang, you wanted the award. Having successfully completed my own mile, I sat in the shade by the water fountain with Danielle and watched you start on your first lap (you were a pretty good runner; you even jogged on weekends and stuff. Like the military thing, I didn’t really understand that, but I let it be). You did great, of course, fastest time.
But then we had to do pull-ups. This was my small glory—for whatever strange reason, when it came to pull-ups I could slide past ten easily. You, on the other hand, struggled a few times and then had to accept defeat. Not even one. I secretly gloated a little bit, but I could tell you were upset, and suddenly it annoyed the hell out of me. You were just being so stupid about it all. “It doesn’t matter, Eva,” I said flatly. ‘Nobody cares about P.E.”
You glared at me. “Well I’m sorry that I care about something you don’t.” You walked off to go change, leaving me standing there speechless, the gym floor pulled out from under me. I suppose we must have relented later or something, some sort of silent truce, but to be honest I don’t really remember.
I never check my cell phone. That’s why it takes a week for me to discover that my phone has gone practically dead inside some crusty corner of my backpack. And that’s why it’s only an hour later, walking Millie downtown in the rain, that I think to check my messages: one is from my mother, asking me where in the world I am. The other is from Eva, Wednesday 4:36 pm. A photo of a wad of paper sitting in someone’s palm, and a note underneath that just says, “happy valentines day.” And suddenly I’m grinning like a maniac, because it’s not February, it’s December, for God’s sake, and I’m getting wet, my half dead cell phone is getting wet. For a second I almost try and restrain the maniac grin—I must look ridiculous—until I remember that I’m downtown next to an intersection in the rain. Everybody around me is hurrying off with their umbrellas to Starbucks or Subway or something, and I could stand here grinning stupidly for an hour, or I could not, and not one of these people would ever know the difference.