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Spruce and Peter Pan

By , Woodstock, GA
It was September, the Saturday before I was supposed to leave for college, and I guess that gave me the right to be alone for the last evening. I sat on the bare mattress, a peeling teal color as it had been my entire childhood, passing a roll of smarties between my fingers like a cigar. The sugary white powder drifted onto my sneaker tips in slow clouds. For a moment I imagined it was cinnamon dust, falling from around my head too, from a million fairy pixies doing their woodland dance here in my desolate room. And for a moment, in pretending, the cardboard boxes crowding the floor became invisible, and the ceiling was a marble blue summer sky. I could die for that, right then. Summer when everything was right. But everything came crashing back as if fireworks, time bombs, had just blown their fuses between my skin and my soul. And not the kind of prickling, kind ones you feel at the touch of a lover, either. I would know. These were the bash around my boney-dead skull kind. Ringing, rattling, dulling. His name echoed with every thump.

Zachary. Zachary. Zachary. Peter Pan. Zachary. My Zachary.

Oh god. And he would say Spruce right back.

Hey, Spruce. Hey, Peter Pan.

I sent myself reeling from the bed and unto the polished wood floor. I stared at the box labels. Old vodka. Wal Mart bar codes. Even economy sized cereal. Inside every one, yet to be taped and sealed, were memories worth being packed away here, or piled into the car for the trip to Emory. In fact, I noticed, the part about taping was a lie. There was a single box, the biggest one, with the little cardboard flaps spanning themselves as if to cling onto the walls. A musty gold tassel hung astray, almost mesmerizing in the dusty window light filtering through here. I sat cross legged before it, and remembered.

The band and orchestra medal from the eighth grade, and beneath it, the purple one from seventh. Peter Pan, my lovely, had played violin. The only boy in his section, and so intense with the dark-from-behind-your-eyelids black instrument, the strings so melancholy as he hissed the bough across them. And I played the clarinet. A measly instrument that reminded me of France.

“Starring Spruce here, on the clarinet, and Peter Pan the kool aid boy on the vi-o-lin,” he hummed in his ridiculous announcer voice. “Playing-”

“Sailing,” I would correct.

“Right, sailing,” he nodded. “Sailing note after note of this melody for youuu.” He would nearly break out in song at that point, pirouetting across my room in sock feet when we still had carpet. I would giggle. Always giggling. And he would kiss me and taste just like red hots, the inside of the little boxes they came in.

I had to stop this. He wasn’t coming. He couldn’t come. But at the same time, I was using my fake telescope vision to see him now, probably sitting in the kitchen of the neighboring house, staring at an uneaten peanut butter sandwich. Would he be sad? Who was I kidding. He was dying.

My best friend of thirteen years, and lover of six. I felt like a chunk of frozen Alaska had been lodged between the yards of our houses, keeping me trapped here packing.

I placed the medals on the floor, reveling in the soft clink they made. Next came a little paper bird, constructed from a page of the Wall Street Journal and dated 2006, it was covered in doodles with a million different markers. We used to float them down the creek on rainy summer nights, sneaking out under a rain slicker instead of an umbrella just to watch the little origami structures become dotted with pale gray spots and tumble between the rocks and gullies. I allowed it to hit the floor with a soft tuft that only crumbled paper could make, except for in this case, and dove for the next object. A familiar heat rushed to my face upon revealing what my fingers latched onto next. A pressed daffodil, yellow and still like the tissue paper you tuck into birthday bags. It was the very flower he’d tucked behind my ear when we first made love.

I remember, half blind in the clovers and bare with his butterscotch tan fingers parting the curtains of my hair. I couldn’t resist pressing the flower to keep.

Photos. They looked like polaroids, especially the way they were stacked in tottering piles. I plucked each one from the box like a separate entity, glancing them over. There were carnival pictures, from when we were seven and rode the ferris wheel together, and got our noses entirely sticky sharing a giant lollipop. In one, we were nearly at the top, waving down bravely for the camera to see. Amongst the others there were snap shots of the first day of school, Zach with his forehead pressed to the bus window, both of us skinny legged children standing on the sidewalk in front of the stop sign with back packs that probably weighed more than we did, and one other of me dragging him up the bus steps with a scolding laugh across my face. Pictures of the tricycle and training wheel times popped up, candy floss colored streamers lining the tiny bike handles and the stickers we put on the giant plastic wheels and would eventually peel off. Days at the pool, bright arm floats and smiles behind goggles. The glorious Sunday I tried to give him a makeover. One of the many photos displayed Zach, posed in front of the mirror with a look of horror on his face, and a glance evidently cast at the globs of glitter in his hair, and the eyeshadow and mascara smears running about his face like slashes from a tiger. He almost resembled a geisha caught in a tornado. I caught myself giggling as I came across it. Tons of birthday pictures, mine and his, were like secret aliens in the piles. Helium balloons, itchy birthday caps, ridiculously themed cakes, crowded kitchen tables spilling over with candles, paper plates, gift wrap, and childish smiles. Eventually such photos thinned out as we had both decided against parties and settled with subtle home celebrations, if anything. And finally the pictures flitted off randomly; him and me grinning from a tubular park slide; both of our families seated around picnic baskets; feeding ducks from my mom’s stale burger buns; our morning looks in the tent after a night of camping; but most importantly, to me, there was a sole photo that showed me and Zach on separate swings, holding hands, and smiling absently into thin air.

As the final one returned to a stack, I realized what I had to do. I fished my cell phone, silver and cold, from my pocket, and let it ring. Speed dial, pressed close to my ear.

Tears trailed my face as the click on the other line noted someone picking up.

“Peter Pan?”

“Hey, Spruce,” an equally heart broken voice came through.

“You’re coming with me.”





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