Autumn 2020 Prose

Crossed Paths

by Lauren Grove

There is a boy with blood orange hair who skips to school. There is a girl with a heart-shaped face who rides the bus.

The boy moves like a deer, his feet lightly tapping the pavement. I imagine he is a dancer, flying across the stage in great bounds. He takes a bow and red roses are thrown, surrounding him in a floral perfume. When the curtains are drawn, he pulls petals out of his hair.

He is obsessed with the names of nail polish. They fill the margins of his notebooks: Calypso Blue, Moon Yellow, Apple Blossom Pink. He buys bottles with his favorite names, mixes them together, and coats his nails with it.

He doesn’t get his license on his sixteenth birthday because he drives too fast. He stars his favorite sections in books with a purple pen. He has a dying succulent on the shelf in his bedroom. He sets reminders to water it every Tuesday. He never does.

He works at a macaron bakery on the weekends. His boss tells him he can’t sell the macarons with cracked shells, he can take them home if he wants. He handles his little brother’s favorite flavor, pistachio, a bit rougher than the rest. Sometimes he’ll bring home a random mixture of macarons, and they’ll play a flavor guessing game. The boy always lets his little brother win.

He likes to move freely; he doesn’t like tight spaces. When he’s younger, he gets stuck in a bathroom. The door isn’t opening, no matter how hard he pushes it, and he can feel the room getting smaller and smaller, the fluorescent lights getting brighter and brighter. He closes his eyes and thinks about open spaces, spaces without limits and boundaries and walls. He places his palms on the walls of the stall and pushes, imagining that he can push them over, imagining they are made of cardboard, frail and weak. He’s hot and sweaty and noxious fumes are filling his nose, and he’s desperately, desperately trying to get out. Then he turns the doorknob and he’s free.

The girl steps off the bus, and the boy brushes past her. She catches a faint scent of rose petals. The girl’s backpack is decorated with pins that say, “Jesus Loves Me” and “Got Faith?” I imagine her picking out a bright, summery dress, combing her hair and twisting it into a tight bun. She washes her face with vanilla soap until her skin is raw, her image unfamiliar. That seems to please her mom.

The girl falls in love with someone who doesn’t love her back, who can’t and never will. She drinks too much coffee, until her hands are shaking and her stomach turns. She doesn’t understand astrology, and she hates the taste of cumin.

The girl buys fifty-cent makeup at the drugstore. She rubs gold glitter on her eyelids and red ink on her lips and feels more like herself than she ever has. She comes home one day to find the glitter in the toilet, the lipstick in the trash. Her mother doesn’t talk at dinner that night.

She sits in a pew at the church, and tries to focus on the sermon, but gets distracted by the light coming through the stained glass windows. She loves the way the light bends and softens as it shines through the Virgin Mary, how it casts colorful light on the tile floor. She traces the shapes of the stained glass with her fingertip on the wooden seat of the pew. Her mother places a stiff hand on top of hers.

While heads are bent in prayer, the girl’s head is still turned upwards. She believes there’s too much beauty in the living world to worry about the afterlife.

After church, her mother places crackers with cheese, fresh berries, and mini cakes on the kitchen table. Her mother lights long candles and plays a soft song on the radio. Her father puts on a clean button down and sits in the leather chair while her mother yells at him for not helping. He tries to help. He can’t do anything right. He sits back down. The girl brings coffee or wine to the guests once they arrive. Then she sits, and she watches.

The boy and the girl pass, the vividness of their lives trailing behind them, intertwined for a moment. The memory of their passing fades like diluted watercolor.

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