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Mango.

My sister calls me after work saying It’s happening, it’s really happened this time and I honestly don’t know if I can bear it… And my first thought is about a girl dressed in a bright yellow dress and orange-red lipstick that sticks out against her milk skin, the summer before I left for school…. And she’s calling herself Mango, Codename: Mango, and I’m laughing so hard my cigarette falls out of my fingers onto mom’s carpet and we scream oh shit, and then laugh some more.

I think about it so hard that I almost laugh, until she reminds me in her present voice that she can’t have babies, and it’s probably because she can’t have babies that this is happening.

So I tell her, hold on, I’ll be there. And she says, what, you’ll be in Colorado? And I tell her yeah, just give me about eighteen hours. And when she laughs, I know she’s safe.

I put her on speaker for the drive, and the girl in yellow re-enters my mind, calling herself Mango, Codename: Mango. She’s pursing her lips and making kissy noises, and it’s all fun and games until her lips land on my bedroom wall and white desk; and that’s when I’m smashing her head with a pillow telling her to get out.

Tell me what happened.

I know the girl in yellow well.

We sang on the hilly streets of Lynn Street once or twice; earbuds stuffed into holes in our ears we were convinced led to our souls. We would dress up and walk down the street with our music, just to prove to all the vehicle passer-bys that we were deep and free and something that they perhaps were not. Mango rolled down Lynn Street once, literally rolled, on a rainy evening when water fell off it like a water slide. She just threw herself down it when one of her songs hit a high-note, like she had fallen off her branches and could now go wherever the storm pleased.

He’s gone. Just left, in the middle of the night. I’ve tried everyone. He’s nowhere. It’s been weeks now. This time it’s real. And I’m not pregnant. I’m not. It was a false alarm. Bad test, bad luck. Old age. Hah, old age at thirty-four. I don’t know. I just don’t know what to do. I’m sorry to push this all on you, but I just don’t know. I wanted to hold off, to tell you happy anniversary tomorrow. Not to worry you with this, Kimmy. I’m sorry.

I take a left and miss my turn to get home, digging with my right hand in my purse to find my GPS. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her.

Don’t be sorry. I’m glad you called. Even if it took a crisis, I think. I’m about to tell her how I feel guilty for not calling, but instead I talk about how strong she is and how she can take practical steps to feel better right at this moment, like start with a cup of hot tea perhaps.

Why is this happening to me again?

I don’t know, I really don’t, Mango, Codename: Mango. You have blood in your palms that you never wanted to hold. Unborn children trying to claw their way out of your stomach early, just to see your face, that’s how beautiful it is.

Remember when we thought I’d never get married? I don’t know how to answer her question, so I ask my own.

She laughs, so I know she’s okay.

Then she says: You did always scowl at my boyfriends and preach independence. I thought you were so jealous. At one point I was convinced you meant it when you said you’d never get married.

I smile, and I hope she feels it.

I was wrong about you when it came to a lot of things, she adds.

Me, too, I say. I was wrong about myself when it came to a lot of things.

Mango. I’m still thinking about it. I haven’t talked to her this much in so long. Does she still know that name?

I was so insecure, she says, always having to have a boyfriend. You were right about me.

But Mango certainly never seemed insecure. How could she be, the girl who shouted at storms and spray-painted leaves?

Ah, yes, that summer before I left for school we had bought our favorite colors in pastel cans and decided we were going to do something illegal, but wonderful. Next thing you know, we’re spray painting a leaf on a tree bubblegum baby blue, and before we can get caught, every tree near little local Beans Café mysteriously sprouts lemon-colored, tangerine-colored, watermelon pink-colored leaves to match. We break into a fit of giggles before Sgt. Dell does his round, and as we run we could have sworn we hear Mother Nature shouting and shaking her fist at us through the wind in the trees, telling us not to outdo her green and brown.

That summer, the boys weren’t there. But soon they would be.

We’re barbequing one summer after I left for school, left all those purple mountains and that crisp air and all those colors, and I call her Mango with a little grin, and this is what she tells me: “Who?”

And I laugh at her thinking she’s messing with me.

Mango, I say, Codename: Mango, from those summer days where we spent our energy on lazy days. Don’t you recall? Ice cream cones dropped from car windows in the drive-through in hilarious fits, putting on lipstick just to see what it looked like against our skin; and that day, barefoot on the soapy sidewalk and chalk stains underneath our toenails, when we colored all the black gravel on Lynn Street to life. The first summer we learned to really appreciate each other.

She shakes her head as she scoops more fruit salad onto her sagging plate. “Oh, yeah, I remember the chalk. That was amazing.” It’s the most I’ve gotten her to say all day. And just like that, she’s gone again, hanging off the mouth of her newest boy every few minutes. Mother rubs my back with her palm as I blindly pop grape after grape into my mouth.

“I know it’s strange to see her with somebody. She’s always been so careful. But I trust her. And you should, too. You know her. You know her.”

But she’s still so young, I think. How can you let her off so easy? Don’t you realize that she is losing parts of herself to these guys? They are taking moments away from her where she is Mango, throwing her body down the hills of Lynn Street during a monsoon, screaming that life is beautiful to no one in particular.

Are you there?

Yeah, sorry. I just… I wish I was there already. So I could talk to you, in person. It’s been awhile.

Should you hang up? I don’t mind letting you go until you get here. I’m really okay. You don’t have to worry. I know I sounded kind of dramatic, but I’m okay, Kimmy, really.

She doesn’t laugh.

No. No, stay on the line with me. Please. I need you to. I don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel or something.

That’s not funny.

No. I’m sorry. It’s not funny. It’s really not.

Mango, Codename: Mango, is funny.

She’s a bit sarcastic, and prefers movies with wit over slapstick humor, though she’ll laugh when you fall (as long as you’re not too hurt.) She makes faces like she’s performing onstage for you, and you’re in the way back. When she tells stories she waves her hands like they are separate bodies re-enacting her tale. I can tell someone about my day going down to Beans Café with Mango to buy blueberry muffins and realizing I had bitten into one without my wallet on me, and they would smile and nod like they understood. But if Mango told it, they would hold their stomachs and shake, spit out their drinks and cry a little.

When she was humorous, she was spontaneous. After making somebody laugh she wanted to go somewhere. To move on, so she could find somebody else to tell a story to, probably.  Those summer days we usually ended up in Anne’s Boutique,  not a lot of money in our pockets but a mind that could hold to the brim everything we found lovely, and be satisfied.

We would browse, in particular, the lipstick isle because at Anne’s it was the most colorful section. The tubes were silver or gold or metallic pink or red or greens, glistening against berry or wine-colored or orange or magenta or baby pink solid sticks. Sometimes it was so overwhelming that I wished there would just be one solid color, a designated lipstick color that we’d all wear. But Mango wanted more color, if anything.

We might have been spontaneous in other ways, but we were girls who understood commitment to a color. One day in particular, Mango was birthed. It was when she picked up an orange-red lipstick, and read the name: Codename: Mango. For some reason this struck her as funny, not the kind of haw-haw chuckling funny, but the kind that hits you after a few seconds or so and causes you to go back to it and laugh harder, making other people notice. I looked at the tube and didn’t find the humor on it.

She was tickled. “Codename: Mango? Who has the job of naming these things? Because that’s the kind of job I want.” She pounced on another tube, snatching up a deep red one, proclaiming “Codename: Apple!” in the most official lipstick-color-namer voice she knew.

“Did you know that there’s actually somebody walking the earth named Apple?” I said.

“Sure…”

“I’m serious! Some celebrity’s baby somewhere is walking around with the name Apple.” I paused. “Codename: Emma.”

We burst into laughter, more laughter than necessary, and she curled her fingers around the tube of Codename: Mango and never let go until it was on her bedroom vanity.

Are you still there?

Yeah, of course. Just driving.

I know this sounds sort-of childish, but could you maybe tell me a story? You always tell great stories.

A story or a memory?

What’s the difference?

 

So I remind her of Europe, because I haven’t thought about it myself for a long while. Those two weeks I spent in Paris instead of on Lynn Street; coming back and telling her in quick, exciting gasps that it’s a real thing to hold long baguettes under your arms there and not stick out. How the city is so modern but then has archaic bits centered about it that always remind you of its past no matter what; making it a quaint city if there was ever such a thing. I tell her about watching the Eiffel Tower from the bottom of it, lying on grass under the deep black as the French Fourth of July made tourists and locals alike let out exaggerated, glittering breaths. How the air sang from Play Me, I’m Yours programs, and how I sat and drank espresso the size of my palms, attempting to learn advance French from sepia-stained, well-lived books I bought from vendors on the streets of Notre Dame. But my favorite, I tell her, is still the Lover’s Bridge. And after I found it, I went back every night to it. It had devastated me to think that, after throwing the key away in the Seine, any two people or families might lose their love. Might forget who they were when they were younger, and carved their initials onto their locks some summer day when they thought each other eternal. I would close my eyes and run my fingers over the locks, until I found one to stop at. Then I would open my eyes and see the names and whisper sweet prayers of restoration to their love, and please make it happen tonight, whatever it need be, under all the lights in a hidden and warm spot.

I never knew you to be so romantic, she says.

I was all along, believe it or not.

…Were you ever once jealous over my boyfriends, then?

Hah. Yes. Although I told myself I’d never admit it to you. Whoops.

Hah. You never showed it.

Oh, I did. Mom could see it on my face ten feet away.

I never noticed. You shouldn’t have been. Jealous, I mean.

The color is changing. Dusk approaches down the road.

She continues: I was so jealous of you going. I still am jealous of you going. Look, I just admitted that! I told myself I’d never admit that to you. I can just see my younger self shaking her head at me right now.

I picture Mango, violently slapping her palm to her forehead, sighing.

Well, now we’re even.

Never. We can never be even and I don’t know if we ever were. We’re too different.

A horn blares behind me. I slam my foot against the gas pedal, noticing that I’m driving ten under. Funny, whenever I get in a trance I always go slower.

Do you remember, she says, how I begged you to go?

Sure I do.

Take me, you beg, and I tell you that if you can get down to fifty pounds and become very, very flexible, you can probably fit in my suitcase. Except there’s the whole breathing thing to figure out, too.

You whine, but hug me and tell me to eat double the croissants in Paris, just for you. You know I can’t drink double the coffee for you, because it would kill me I drink so much of the stuff already. And as I wander down the streets of Paris two weeks and two days later, watching the colorful dresses and skirts parade by, walking past the street markets overflowing with the shiniest and largest fruit I’ve ever seen, I think Codename: Mango. For the only time on my trip, honest-to-goodness, I wish maybe that you were there.

So I called you, spending half my budgeted money for the day on a phone bill just to tell you about the mangoes. Because it’s just one part of the mango, the bright orange-red part of it like your lipstick. For some reason I hadn’t realized it before. I guess I had never had stopped to look at what a real mango looked like.

It was my own way of saying that I missed you.

I’m thinking about that rose tea, now, she says. I think I can still taste it.

That’s unfortunate. Oh, Lord, the rose tea. I still have that baby-pink can of it somewhere in my house.

Do you really?

I really do, actually.

She laughs again, and I know she’s safe.

We drank tea from Versailles, with crushed rose petals in the tea ball, holding our noses like we were drinking fancy perfume and pretending we loved it. It was the only treasure I brought back for us to share. We dressed up in all-black ensembles, white pearls, and our lipstick. You wore Codename: Mango, of course, and I wore a basic red. I had bought two teacups in a tourist shop, one I had planned on giving to you.

We had a grand old day, pretending we knew what we were doing, and pretending this is how all Europeans take tea every day, in their pearls, and we weren’t caring when I knew we weren’t entirely right. We said merci beaucoup, bonjour, salut, comment-vas tu? and, of course, mangue.

It was great until you dropped my teacup on the floor as you picked it up to clean it, shattering my own piece of Paris into pieces, my scream shattering your eardrums. That one was yours, I said, grabbing the other teacup from your hands and never pulling it out again until I placed it in a wooden cupboard in my new apartment, dry.

Sometimes you took the best moments and made me angry in them.

 

I felt so bad about that cup. You made me feel so bad about that damn cup, she says.

I overreacted, for sure. My stomach hurts thinking about it.

You did that often. She chuckles.

Did I?

It’s the last time I was in Colorado, thirteen summers after Codename: Mango.

She’s cut her hair to the tips of her ears, and says she is divorcing Leo. I wish I could think of something comforting to say, but I’m too busy staring at her hair. Wasn’t this the girl who picked on me for cutting my hair short? Calling me butch and telling me no wonder I hadn’t had a boyfriend yet at twenty.

As she shakes under my hand on her shoulder, I’m staring at her hair, thinking about how my eleven-year anniversary was last month and my sister who’s never cut her hair this short in her life is getting divorced, one year short of staying married into the double-digits. A rarity for any marriage, as long as we both can remember.

It’s not that she’s never been reckless, or spontaneous. Au contraire, her long hair was the only possession of hers that stayed the same. But we all need consistency from somewhere, so I figured she chose the comfort of having hair cover her heart, hug her face in the summertime and drip-dry for hours.

Her room would change every three months. She’d take everything out, beg to re-paint it, and pick up people’s old furniture from the sides of the road to give her space a fresh look. She would get a piercing now and then just to annoy mom, piercing her nose three times in one day, once.

I hold her body with the short hair and remind her of the nose piercings, and she shakes some more and tells me the holes have all closed up now. Then she tells me that he is touching somebody else, somebody who’s probably less emotionally demanding and who can have babies, and I wrap my arms around hers to hold them from ever going to anyone else. Nobody deserved her.

I look around her living room and notice that since the last time I’ve been there it hasn’t changed. Even the giant vase in the corner of the couches holds the same white poppies, as if they’ve never died. I spot her purse up against the couch, an orange bottle peeking its white head over the tip of it. She must notice that I’m staring because she tells me, Don’t worry, I just got them yesterday. They’re the Doctor’s orders. You can call Dr. Rose if you’d like. Yes, I tell her. I will call.

Are you still there?

Yes. I’m still on my way. I’m still listening.

You were Mango, codename Mango, and I was something I can’t quite recall. But your name was funniest. Who on earth would call themselves Mango? But you loved the way it bounced off your tongue; Mango, Mango, Mango. If you said it fast enough it sounded like a song, slow enough, like a poem.

What’s that noise? She says. She must hear the screeching.

I’m pulling over for gas—just realized I was on empty.

The station is the only one around for a while, and I’ve swerved into it, lost in conversation. Lost in thoughts about Mango and a summer I’m certain like never before I can still taste, smell, touch. The summer before I left for school. At the pump I tell her to hold her thoughts while I call Chris and tell him guess what, I’m on my way to Colorado. He’s good about it, a bit surprised, but good. I remind him that Andrew needs to take his lunch to school tomorrow, the one that’s in the fridge. And oh, honey, Kaitie has a ballet recital that I’m going to miss so could you please, please phone your mom and ask her to be there. And Evan said something about coming home this weekend, but I should be back by then. I hope I’m back by then.

Are you nervous to see her? He asks me. I tell him no, but why would I be when all I can think about is Codename: Mango and the summer before I left.

Then he says this to me: Kim. It’s not your fault, what happened.

I know that yes, he’s right. It’s not my fault. But this time, I’m going to be there.

Before I have time to think too hard, I’m calling her again, and in a breathless, elongated string of words I say to her: Did you ever forgive me for leaving you, that second summer after I went off to school and never came back when you needed me the most?

The sound of cars whizzing by on the road occupies our ears before she finally says: Oh, Kimmy, it’s so old now. I forgave you a long time ago. I really did.

It’s just… I thought you were being dramatic. You’ve always been dramatic. I didn’t… I didn’t know that you were so hurt. I didn’t know what happened.

Yeah, you’re probably thinking. Why do you think I stopped painting my lips, my face, the next time you saw me? Underneath the decor was someone with skin like a ghost’s, red veins running underneath it, boiling and screaming and feeling betrayed. I needed you to see that. I wanted to tell you but you were the last person on earth I wanted to know. You had missed the annual barbeque; so you weren’t there to make fun of me and my guy every time we exchanged spit. You weren’t there to keep your eyes peeled and your mouth sharp on the way he touched me, screaming Hey buddy, watch it while I scowled at you. I used to think you were jealous, but that night as I lay in bed in the fetal position, understanding I didn’t want it to happen how it did, I realized that you were always my protector. When I finally could move I walked into your bedroom where the door was ajar, and I lay on your empty bed.

I called you at midnight, curled up on your empty bed, asking you to tell me about college. Tell me a story about it, tell me everything. Did you get drunk out of Red Solo cups? Was it true that you only ate ramen, or was that the greatest living myth? Was your hair growing out? Were your professors smart, attractive, dorky, arrogant? I needed to hear you tell me everything that you had become in the past year. I wanted to fill myself up with you, so I didn’t have to think about me. I needed you to tell me who I was by talking to me like we were still together.

And in the middle of the conversation I told you “Come back”, and you sort-of laughed, but you could tell something was wrong. “If you don’t come back, I’ll kill myself” I told you. I felt my blood shooting through my veins, violated, pulsing hot and mad.

You were just mad, calling me selfish, telling me to grow up and not to be so dramatic over a guy. And I, not wanting you to know, could only cry and hope that my tears told you everything. But they couldn’t.

Why didn’t you tell me that night? I ask. I’ve never asked her before.

I think that deep down I knew if I told you, you’d come back.

I’m in the car again. The sun is dripping down underneath the fields of corn and it’s all becoming one shade of deep blue.

Isn’t that what you wanted? That’s what I would have wanted, compared to what you tried to do to yourself, for Godssake.

My hands squeeze the wheel until my knuckles turn white. Why am I so mad? It’s all over. We’ve been through this already. The screams from mom at three-thirty a.m. as I slept in another state, phone dead in the pocket of my jeans. The news around lunch the next day and my anger, fury, that she had done it. It’s not her, mom. That’s not Mango. So I’m going to sit here and finish my late breakfast and look out the window of my apartment and pretend that she’s just messing with us, being dramatic. She’s the type of girl, after all, who opens tubes of lipstick in stores just to try on the color before commitment. Who lets the storm take her as she screams that life is beautiful. And she’s alive and well.

She’s thinking about her response, carefully, on the other end. I can tell. Do you remember that summer before you left for school?

Blood flows back into my brain. I’ve been thinking about it this whole time, actually. Must be a psychic sister thing.

Me, too. Must be.

Then I say it: Codename: Mango.

The sun has dropped completely. There is no color. I hit my phone’s screen to make sure that she’s still on the line.

Sorry?

I said, Codename: Mango. I’m giggling like I’m eighteen again, and she’s there in the yellow dress attacking my walls with her bright mouth just to upset me.

Mango?

My heartbeat races, my words come out fast: Mango, like the lipstick, Codename: Mango? Don’t you remember? Anne’s Boutique, where we would try on the lipsticks, and you pulled out that red-orange one and wore it all summer and called yourself Mango. Sometimes, Codename: Mango. And the monsoon came in heavy that year and you rolled yourself down Lynn Street one day, and you were sopping wet but you were screaming that life is beautiful when you’re a mango, free to roll wherever the weather decides to take you.

You have a good memory, is all she says. The memory of a poet; mom was right, you should’ve been a poet.

Oh, come on, you have to remember! I’m trying to laugh, but my racing heartbeat is hurting my chest now.

Okay. I kind of remember the monsoon, walking on the streets with you, but I thought you were the one who rolled yourself down it! I could have sworn it was you. Actually, I told that story to a couple of my friends, a long time ago, and I could have sworn it was you. I told it like it was you.

No, it was definitely you. I start to wonder if I should pull the car over for a second. Something’s creeping up from my stomach; I’m sweating a little. It’s probably the fast food chicken strips from dinner. Serves me right for wanting something quick and cheap.

Oh, gosh, you know what? I remember the lipstick, now. But it wasn’t mango lipstick, I don’t think. It was Apple! You bought that silly lipstick named Codename: Apple! And you wore it on your mouth all summer.

Had I? Maybe I had, but that wasn’t the point.

No, you named the lipstick Codename: Apple as a joke, only after you saw Codename: Mango. We laughed and laughed about it, we thought it was so funny for some reason. C’mon, you couldn’t have forgotten. You slobbered all over my bedroom walls and even kissed my desk with that strange shade of orange-red.

She’s thinking again on the other line.

Guess I’m getting old! I wish I could remember. But I do remember you cutting your hair to your chin with those frayed ends. You did it yourself and I gave you so much crap for it. You went to Europe and I was so jealous that you were finally leaving Lynn Street, leaving familiar faces and finally doing something. And here’s what I’ll never forget about you: That day when the tornado landed, and mom and I were huddled underneath a mattress, trying not to cry. You stood there by the door and watched it and we screamed at you to come near us. But you know what you said? Do you remember what you said?

I don’t. I don’t.

You said you would stand there and watch it inch by everything you loved, because if it was going to destroy, you wanted it to hit you first.

I try to picture it, try to see it, smell and taste the vicious rain, but I don’t , I don’t, and as much as I try I don’t think I ever really will know what she is saying. Was I a girl who once stood on street corners, face-to-face with tornadoes?

I get back into the car, turn off the radio, and tell her it’s her turn now. Tell me what you know about the summer before I left.

I listen to her talk the rest of the drive, listen to the stories become sillier and more light-hearted as the sun begins to rise, and light begins to re-enter my little space of earth. She is a mere mile away, and I wonder what her hair looks like now.

As the sun inches up over the mountains, it causes the color to wake and reveal itself. I forgot how many colors live here.

Soon, I’ll walk up to her door. One more time I will allow the flash of the girl in yellow to cross my mind, and then I will knock on the door and meet her.

By Kaitlyn Knudson

I want to live in London. Where I will picnic at Saint James’s on cold days; wrapped in a light pink scarf that has short French words in cursive on it. Oui, mon, belle, chat.  I’ll carry my black coffee, always the size of my palm, and I will, this time, smile wide at handsome strangers on bikes. Those days I’ll spend pounds mostly on bread, and I will share it with fish and ducks and squirrels that come up to my hand and ask me how my morning has been only to run away before I answer them. I’ll salute Buckingham and stone-faced Queen Victoria; run my fingers along the gold and black, pretending the Queen is there whether or not the sign tells me so. I’ll visit The Globe once a week until my very dreams are Shakespearian, and I’ve memorized the royal-coloured patterns adorning the stage ceiling of the theatre, and my feet’s blood stain the stone ground for the sake of every other part of my body’s joy. I’ll say lifts and dodgy and quite and lovely, and when I am standing between the quaint city, oh lovely little land torn between the modern and archaic, I will never stop imagining: Who else stood in this spot and heard this music that is playing now?

I want to live in Galway, near Quay Street, where I’ll spend afternoons eating spicy burgers with pineapple, and Banoffee pies in a shop where an entire wall is covered in a hazelnut-colored map of the world. In light pencil I will secretly mark every spot I have traveled to by writing the initials (no more than four) of my favorite thing I saw in that place. Next to London, for example, I’ll write SJP. When it rains I will write about it and drink coffee, no sugar no cream; taking it when it’s bitter and black and real. I’ll have a tummy from my pint of Guinness every evening, but it makes people think I’m local so I don’t mind. After laying 2 euro coins on bags worn by harps and cellos and violins, I’ll sink into the grass in the evenings, by the lime moss, and bite my nails and take off my shoes and say Cheers to the locals next to me as they leave. We’ll open up our conversations with Lovely Day, isn’t it? And tourists will sit down next to us, thinking a parade of boats will go by, when really, we are just sitting because it’s another day.

I want to live in Paris, where I’ll put on a spot of red lipstick and a black skirt when I run down the street to grab a baguette. Where I’ll watch the city never from the top of the Eiffel Tower, but from the bottom, lying on grass under the deep black as the French Fourth of July makes tourists and locals alike let out an exaggerated, glittering breath. The air will sing mostly from signs that encourage the bold and soft to Play Me, I’m Yours. I’ll learn advance French from sepia-stained, well-lived books I buy from vendors on the streets by Notre Dame, and every day I will walk a little further until I reach the gates sweeter than the gold ones in Versailles when they’re under the direct sun, and I will close my eyes and run my fingers over the locked keys, until I find one to stop at; then I will open my eyes and see the names and whisper sweet prayers of restoration to their love, and please make it happen tonight, whatever it need be, under all the lights in a hidden and warm spot.

But really I want to live in a place where there is no such thing as not having enough money or not having enough energy or never being bored.

I want to live in the familiar fragments of my mind that soak in the light in Paris and glorify the dirt as rustic age; that make the scent of the sweat of the locals sweet because what’s brand new to me is not to them. I want to live in the fragments of my mind that justify escaping from the idea that in each spot I live, I will be deeply hurt by people around me one day, and the ground will still cut me if I fall on it too harshly, and I will still be in danger of manslaughter and thievery and tragedy and disappointment and no’s.

I want to escape to be missed, to be wanted by the people who know me as I am. I want to change the way people perceive me as I was, by creating a new “was”.

I want to live in a place where it’s all poetic as it sounds like it could be because I have chosen to succumb into making it so, and where another language sounds refreshing because you have an excuse to hear what you want to, rather than what you need to.

Where coloured money feels like play money and doesn’t seem to count, and where mistakes will be erased by faces washed away through time’s slippery forgetfulness.

 

This is where a heart that does not understand home, wanders.

And as we stood going back and forth in motion, we created layers of cream on liquid ocean.

 

2013-06-04 11.41.10

 

 

Ireland is captivating.

People on Planes

By Kaitlyn Knudson

            The three sit next to each other absorbed in some conversation mixed between what you might hear longtime friends or strangers exchanging; and though none would care too much for the other outside the plane, they care for each other very much in it. Words exchanged are like hands held during takeoff, chairs that turn into floating devices in case of water evacuation, oxygen masks that fall from the ceiling (“please put yours on first before you help someone else”—that always bothers the man sitting in the middle seat).

The man in the aisle seat begins to talk about death. He doesn’t mean to bring it up. Though he has flown so many times in his private jet that he’s temporarily wore it out, his palms still sweat and his heartbeat still picks up before, during, and after takeoff. But he had nearly dodged death while driving down the 85 that morning, and he finds himself talking about the helpless cars that had piled up on it, one body after the other like a sinister Rube Goldberg. The row of seats shakes a little when he says helpless but he can’t tell if it’s from the wind or his nerves. The shake doesn’t seem to bother the woman near the window as much as it bothers the men.

“It’s just a little shakiness from being in the clouds. That can happen on the colder days, due to ice more easily forming on the wings. But don’t worry, the pilot is equipped to handle it,” she informs them before she officially closes the book that she was hoping to read, sliding it into her stately Oxford bag.

Shiny, rich-looking cars the man in the aisle makes a point of saying, shiny, rich cars all scrunched up. Damn shame, he says. Eight cars crunched; one Aston Martin and a Porsche. Maybe four people killed.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here with us,” the man in the middle says with his typical warm smile. His shoulders are broad, but he folds them up into his arms to make space for the others, which makes him look smaller than he is.

The man in the aisle looks over to the lady at the window, who’s looking out of it. She feels his eyes on her neck, and adds, “Yes, that’s such a horrifying situation. I can’t imagine.”

“I can,” the man in the middle says. “I’ve never been in a wreck in my life”—he gently taps the serving tray that’s folded up in front of him with his knuckles—“but some good friends of mine have, and their stories give me chills. I imagine it’s difficult to recover after so much loss, and man, all those images seared into your mind. Do you know if it was officially four? I wonder if anyone else was seriously injured?”

“I think just four,” the man in the aisle says, his eyes on the young attendant who’s come to take their drink orders. “Amaretto, little miss,” he says, grinning. The flight attendant smiles at him; it’s forced. But he’s immune to forced smiles now; he can’t tell the difference between them and the real ones, nor does he care to.

The man in the middle wants nothing. He instead says to the attendant that her accent is warm, and she must be from Texas, to which she smiles (a real one) and nods.

“Water, please,” says the girl by the window, because water is healthiest for you. Scritch-scratch, it’s written down and the lady trots away in her heels. The man in the aisle turns and watches her walk. He stretches his arms out, and another lady asks him if he needs anything. He shakes his head. He likes being in the aisle because he has room and because he can grab the attention more easily when he wants an extra bag of peanuts, or something.

“I guess we get lucky sometimes,” he says. He wishes he were in first class seating, and he was cursing when they told him they were sorry about the mistake. But after seeing how pretty the girl was (he loved a girl in glasses; it was always a fantasy of his to marry a bookish type, together they might be unstoppable)—he willingly sat down next to them and was glad to hear the two weren’t together. The crew had thanked him exactly eleven times for his willingness to sit in a more uncomfortable spot than he was used to.

“So where are you headed?” the man in the aisle says, straining his neck to look at the lady by the window.

“Back home. I was at a conference,” she says. Her voice finally shifts for the first time, into a higher tone.

The man in the middle interrupts: “So am I! I mean, I’m going to a convention, not home. What sort of convention were you at?”

“I’ve just gotten back from a TED Talks conference, on the paradigms of education. It was quite brilliant.”

“I’ve heard that’s a real hit, I’ll bet you had a great time.

“I did. And you’re headed…?”

“Oh, me, I’m headed to a charity ball, to represent a company. My company, I guess. I’ll spend my weekend begging for money, you know, that sort-of thing,” he says, still smiling. His smiles seem to never stop, which some people find quite annoying. But they are always genuine, pulled from that something within (maybe a soul, chakra, “good” genes), and they make him more interesting than he would be had he not smiled all the time.

“How about you?” the man in the middle turns toward the man in the aisle.

“For pleasure,” he grins.

“To take a break would be nice,” the man in the middle admits. The woman also nods.

“After we stop in good ‘ol N.Y., I’m headed to London,” the man in the aisle says, and just loud enough so a few more rows will know. He doesn’t really belong on a regular-class plane, you know.

“I’ve always wanted to travel,” the lady by the window admits.

But teachers have a tendency to get stuck in one spot, unless they are headed to a conference, or they are not working another job over summer break to afford keeping the cable. In fact, they are usually thinking about letting the cable go—too much TV is rotten for your brain, and even the History channel is trying too hard to be entertaining rather than accurate these days.

“I’ve never been out of the country, but I’ve always liked the idea of going to Africa,” the man in the middle admits.

“You guys should go,” the man in the aisle says, waving his hand as the attendant strides toward him. “Seeing other parts of the world is something everyone should do, no excuses. Sorry, where are our drinks? Alright. Just making sure you didn’t forget there, missy!”

The man in the middle adds: “I agree; we have a real sense of entitlement in this country and it’s really important to go see that there are other people out there. I mean, there’s other ways of living that are far less selfish than this viewpoint we have in America.” He taps his fingers and feet against the aircraft’s insides.

“I would love to be in London for the history,” the woman by the window says, as she turns to look out it again. “Imagine stepping where so many great poets, scientists, philosophers studied. I do believe I would be star-struck over dead people.”

The man in the middle grins at her, but she doesn’t see. Then they both look helplessly down at their palms as if they could read them, to find out whether or not they would ever travel.

The man in the aisle leans back best as he can in his chair, his face turned upward toward the ceiling where the heat is tunneling out. He yawns and closes his eyes, wishing he could already be on Kensington High, smoking a cigar and searching for his second home. He didn’t care how much it cost him; he wanted a house with real character. He hadn’t owned a house with real character before, one shaped and crafted in such an original manner—one in various cream colors, warm browns, and little nooks that people would refer to as “charming”. He never managed to find a house with “character” in his home city, but he figured he could find one in Kensington. He enjoyed London and he heard Kensington was a wealthier part.

The woman by the window sighs (but it’s only heard by the man in the middle. He has good ears that hear the faintest of sighs). He sends her a smile but she doesn’t see it. So, he reaches for his New York Times in the pouch in front of him and quickly asks, “Either of you any good at crosswords?”

The man in the aisle’s eyes open, and the woman looks away from the window.

“I was just trying to complete this one before we made our stop. But I can’t for the life of me figure out four down,” he says.

The man in the aisle peeks over at the paper. It’s another language, this scrap of paper. He pushes away the little heater on the ceiling from him. He recalls the last time he rode his jet, when he was trying to solve one of these. His girlfriend was sitting by him, that Journalism undergrad he briefly dated, and she was watching him watch those boxes, and he was begging them to reveal themselves. What she had really been doing was reading a book next to him, but he thought she was secretly watching him, always watching him. Maybe that’s why she left him; he could never fill in those empty big cream boxes with characters. It’s just a damn piece of paper, he had laughed after forty-five minutes of staring at three across.

Yes, that’s all it is. Just a piece of paper.

The woman in the window reaches into her Oxford bag and pulls out a red pen. She snatches the paper from the man in the middle, her left hand scratches over it aggressively.

“The title is ‘Mark my Words’,” she points out, stabbing her finger into the top of the paper. “You see here?” She asks but does not wait for a response, and the men’s eyes sprint to find her fast fingers. “You’ve got this one right, and seventy-two down is easy, I’m surprised you didn’t get it. Early 20th century in British history, that’s of course the Edwardian Period. But it doesn’t fit, right? It gets a little tricky right here, so I can understand where you might be stuck. This is where you have to pay attention to the title, see? They give you hints if you pay attention.”

She scribbles “Edwardian” into the box, with one blank box left underneath it.

“See, it doesn’t fit—”

“Hold on now, pay attention to the title, remember? ‘Mark my Words’. It’s a hint, see?”

She takes the red pen, pokes the center of the box with it, and pulls the paper back and laughs, a giddy, high-pitched giggle.

The men stare at the paper for a while, and she pulls it back onto her lap. Finally they understand when she fills in, right underneath it, the answer for one-ten across: Co-founder of Death Row Records, which is of course, she says, Dr. Dre. The rest of the missing bits of the crossword are revived with connectors like commas and slashes and periods.

“It’s a miracle, hallelujah!” the man in the middle jokes, causing the woman to blush. The man in the aisle sees that the man in the middle makes her blush, and he cannot keep himself from exclaiming, again, that “it’s just a piece of paper”.

“Oh but she has to have set some sort of record,” the man in the middle says, still smiling at the woman. The woman by the window studies the man in the middle as he talks to the man in the aisle. She sees for the first time how his smile is real and his hair is a nice, warm brown and quite long. She has an unexpected urge to stroke it, hide her fast fingers in its nooks. They hold eye contact.

The man in the aisle strains his neck toward the two, leans forward onto his stomach and lets his safety belt cut into him for the sake of remaining in the conversation.

The woman by the window forgets that the man in the aisle is still watching her. She has never made eye contact with anyone as long as she has made it now with this man in the middle.

“Hey, you’re brilliant,” he tells her, in the softest voice he’s used all evening.

“You’re too kind,” she smiles, a genuine smile of hers she’s been saving.

The man in the aisle fakes a laugh, as if he was still a part of the conversation, and irritated, at that.

“What was your name?” the woman by the window says.

There is a twitching, a buzzing in every passenger’s nerves as seats begin to shake. The plane lets out a horrible groaning sound, as if it were just now aware of its own exhaustion. Traveling thousands of miles every day, being stepped on, and carrying everyone’s baggage can take its toll.

Then, over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentleman, please stay in your seats as we turn on the fasten seatbelt sign. It looks like we are going to be running into some unexpected turbulence before we get ready to make our final descent. Again, please stay in your seats.”

This time it’s not fear, it is the wind that’s shaking them, the man in the aisle thinks. What was that thing that the lady had said? Ice on the wing? The pilots are equipped for it, she had said.

All three faces are pressed forward; the crowd grows noisier with filler words, nervous laughs, and angry woahs.

The plane gives another weary dip, stomachs are lurched downward, and a baby starts to scream. The woman by the window shuts its cover over it, and finds that her other hand has grabbed onto the hand of the man in the middle. The man in the aisle has also grabbed onto the man in the middle’s other hand, but before he’s embarrassed enough to pull away, the plane trembles again, the man in the middle lets out an upset woah and shuts his eyes, and the two next to him clench harder.

We’re almost there, just a little more turbulence to get through, the man in the aisle thinks. The pilots are equipped for it.

Reed

Reed

By Kaitlyn Knudson

            We all avoid that desk, the one by the beaten-up poster hanging by one of its corners that says “Develop a passion for learning: If you do, you will never cease to grow.” That desk that he always claimed in the back of the classroom, that’s cleaner than our desks and now looking quite naked without its usual stack of books to dress it. Our desks are in the front of the classroom, closer to the door. They’re dressed with penciled penises on their tops and globs of gum hanging from their bottoms, and we like our desks that way. But not Reed, Reed never put a pencil to anything but paper. Reed. Reed. We say his name with disgust. We still have to skillfully avoid him now, like we did back then, every time we see that desk.

Truth is we figured one day he would do something crazy, and we were glad that he did it to himself rather than to us. There were days when we half-expected him to walk into our classroom and start burying our bodies in bullets like some crazy kids do, even though none of us would admit we thought that way. It’s because we would see him mumble to himself and stare out the window, stare into one of his books for hours…and look at us with those eyes that burned us like ants behind square spectacles every time he caught us spitting in our own book’s pages, or putting them under our feet like we often did to make him upset.

He once asked you to a dance. You should remember that day; you were sitting there with us, smacking your gum in your mouth and stifling your laugh with the palms of your hands. We all watched as he walked in with a vase full of red roses and his hair slicked over, his glasses gone. But we weren’t fooled, and thankfully neither were you. We had heard rumors all week that he was going to ask you, and we could just picture him quoting something from one of those books on his desk, Shakespeare or something, no matter. Shakespeare’s dead so it didn’t matter to us. You are too good for him we said, when we heard the rumors that he was going to ask you. Don’t be modest; you know how badly the guys wanted to go with you, to get with you, to be in the same class as you so they could stare at you. We knew Reed didn’t have a shot in hell. But we were also afraid that maybe you would say yes by some sort of tragic accident, like maybe you would think he asked you if you wanted to throw out the plants, and you would look at the dying plants by Mr. Z’s computer and say sure, and Reed would get his way. We didn’t want Reed to get his way, because Reed was so different.

Yes, we sometimes thought it was funny the way he would comment on everything in class, like he was the boss and not Mr. Z, the man with the PowerPoint and necktie. But we also thought it was rude, the way he’d continue to question Mr. Z when Mr. Z answered his questions with “it is what it is” and “because I said so”,  because we liked Mr. Z. He gave us bonus points for showing up to class every morning and told us all the questions that would be on the tests, which we thought was the best way to prepare. Not that we prepared outside of the classroom; we had better things to do, like talk about each other’s lives and watch TV. That was where the real stories were, anyway.

But Reed. What a freak. We could tell that he liked doing the work. Those days when Mr. Z would get sidetracked and talk about his favorite TV show or the game rather than droning on about Hamlet were the best; he would stand there staring at the ceiling, like his eyeballs were searching his head for something profound to say as he went on and on about this character he hated from this TV show. We all would make faces at each other from across the room; see how many times we could get away with pointing our middle finger at Mr. Z when his eyes rolled back in thought. You were winning at one point, we kept count. But Reed just sat in the back, staring at the pages of Hamlet like the words on them were about to vanish invisible-ink style, and all that would be left were the ones he saved in his memory.

He asked why and how all the time, and sometimes that made us late getting out of class, because Mr. Z had to Google his questions. He never seemed happy with the answers from Google either, like he was “”above Google. He would always mutter that he wanted to hear Mr. Z’s opinion, what Mr. Z had to say about the book, the question he was asking. Mr. Z would get annoyed with him, too, telling him that this is what he had to say about the book, about the question. What was right here on Google, well, that was his answer. Oh, and I know you remember the way Reed would get upset when Mr. Z gave us all A’s for turning our assignments in! One time he even tore his essay in two, holding it in the air like it was a symbol of his sanity and in this loud, dramatic gesture, ripping the paper. We didn’t understand him; we thought it was fair, us getting all A’s. Because there is no right or wrong answer in life, and we thought we shouldn’t be forced to write about something we didn’t care about. So, we turned in essays about our favorite TV show and what we had planned for our future Pinterest boards and talked about what we had read on Facebook. I heard that one time you even turned in a story with only the words “Essays are boring” in it, rearranged three different ways and repeating itself, and got away with it. Mr. Z didn’t care, nobody in the school cared, nobody in the world cared what our essays had to say, and we sure as hell didn’t care, either.

But Reed cared, and we were afraid he’d start getting other people to care. You know what that feeling was like, when you saw that the words on his paper were about the book in his hands, his own thoughts, and his own opinion on what we were supposed to have opinions on not long ago. We were afraid he would spark something in Mr. Z, that Mr. Z would start teaching again instead of just talking, that people would take the time to read our essays.

What’s crazy is that when he first came here we thought he would fit in, believe it or not. We had heard stories that his family was rich, and Mr. Z had told us that he was moving here from another state. We talked about the other states with giddy, hopeful voices. Thought about their online classes and online teachers, how we could re-do an assignment over and over until we aced it, how we could use Google and SparkNotes and Wikipedia until we filled up the required pages. We thought about how unfair it was that we were trapped inside walls with whiteboards and desks and the smell of old paper. We thought of Reed as a sort-of superhero, one that would come into the school with authority and tell our principal that we, too, deserve to do our schoolwork from the comfort of our homes, so we can do better on our papers. We actually don’t care about our papers, though, we just want to sleep in, we admit to each other in the cafeteria. We find that doing work is much more difficult on our own; we can squeeze decent sentences and interesting analyses out when we’re doing activities in class, or pulling information from the Internet that somebody else wrote, but on our own… well, the most we write is a text message or a sentence of 140 characters or less, or a status update about being sick of school. We show up with the hope that one of us has the answer to the questions that might be asked in the classroom (which used to always be Reed), and it’s good enough for us.

We think about Reed a lot, a lot more than we’d like to think about him. His clean desk triggers a thought within us; a scenario of him pointing the gun at his freckled face, right between his two eyes, just above his nose. We picture him pulling it, tearing his face in two just like he tore up his essay that day, all the words of Hamlet and 1984 and To Kill A Mockingbird, all our assigned readings and more, spraying out of his skull and getting lost in his blood.

We wondered what he looked like when he was found, if he kept his glasses on or not. We were half-hoping they would show us his body at the funeral, but we were also relieved when they didn’t.

We saw his parents there, at the funeral, with the same freckled faces and small eyes as him. They wore sad faces, so sad. Their tears ran between their fingers, down their arms, plummeted to the floor kamikaze-style. They cried to us, looked at us with confusion, and behind their own spectacles we thought we saw the eyes of Reed, glinting, burning us like ants. We didn’t like to see them cry, it made us all fidget and stare at our shoes. We didn’t do it, we wanted to tell them. We didn’t do it to him, it was all him, it was his choice. He could have joined us, he could have “friended” us if he wanted to. We’re actually very friendly once you join us. But Reed didn’t want to be friends with us. He wanted to be there, in the classroom, surrounded by those books and a 3D teacher and the stinky scent of White Erase markers and paper quizzes.

We still think about their faces, his parents’ faces, although we don’t ever talk about them. We didn’t want to say anything to them at the funeral; we decided that it would be better if we didn’t, because it wasn’t our fault that Reed was gone. But now there is a rumor going around that you said something to them, and we want to know if it’s true? That you told them “I’m sorry”. And we’re wondering, why did you do that? Because it wasn’t your fault, you know. We want you to know that it wasn’t your fault. He did it to himself.

We’ve noticed that you have stopped coming to as many parties as you used to, that you haven’t been online as much as usual, that you don’t play the middle-finger game with us anymore. We miss you. Just the other day we heard rumors that you didn’t want our classes to go online anymore, and that you were seen at that old person’s bookstore, buying books; you did this rather than come to the parties with us, rather than talk to us on online.

We hear rumors that you spend your lunch breaks with your nose between the pages of Hamlet now; that your essays consist of more than three words, even though Mr. Z isn’t reading them. We hate to say this, but if you keep it up, you might be on your own. And we don’t want that to happen to you.

We think you feel bad about Reed because you talked to him, once. We’ve narrowed it down to that conversation you had the first day of school, when he was lost and looking for his lit class, Mr. Z’s class. We were all watching when you two started to talk, we were all staring at Reed, wondering if he was going to be who we thought he would be.

“We have class together,” we remember you telling him, after he asked you where to find the classroom.

“But don’t worry about this class, we don’t do anything, just like the rest of them,” you added, and we all laughed.

Reed’s face twisted. The corners of his lips drooped, his head cocked to the side, his eyes were filled with a pain and a passion we labeled as pathetic.

“But I want to learn” he said.

That’s when we knew he would be different. We didn’t think much of it, but that’s when we should have started worrying about you, too. Because, thinking back on it, we saw an unmistakable twist in your face, too. Your head cocked to the side and for a moment we thought we could picture the mechanics in your mind moving, that you were considering what you hadn’t before. But we shrugged it off, because it happened so fast, and because we thought you shrugged it off when you laughed at Reed with us.

We heard that some maintenance men were going to move that desk, finally. We all breathed a sigh of relief when they came and took it, took Reed out of the classroom once and for all. The day is going great and there’s even a rumor that by next year, everything will be online, and we won’t even have to force our bodies over here every morning. Mr. Z walks into class and says he doesn’t feel like being here today, so we’re just going to watch a movie. We’re all cheering, all but one of us….you. You’re over there sitting next to a now-empty corner and you’re staring at it. We understand that maybe you don’t feel the warmth of a human body  next to you anymore, and that Reed isn’t there to block the sunshine coming out of the window for you anymore…but you’re acting strange today, the way you’re sitting there bending back the sides of a clean book. It’s making us uncomfortable. So, we’re asking you to stop. We’re asking because we care about you. Stop staring at the corner, because he’s gone, and you can’t do anything about it. You don’t have to read every book in the library to know anything about the world, okay? And we also want you to know that it’s not your fault, so why do we think that you feel bad about what happened? Because truthfully—we don’t want to say it out loud, but we’re all thinking it—it’s just easier now that we don’t have to walk around that desk.

You turn the first page of the book over and we hear it; the movie hasn’t started and that noise of you turning the page is so loud right now. It’s crinkling and creasing and drives us crazy. It makes us think of Reed and we don’t like it.

And you, you’re starting to worry us. Are you really going to start caring about Reed now, now that it’s too late?