here lies the house you dreamt up as you were reading folklore
just like the girls growing up here, collecting daisies and trying to catch the sunlight
as they competed for the dirtiest dress and the best kind of princesses
that much preferred history pages and embers over glass slippers or true love’s kisses
they were here first, before the rainstorms and the whirlwinds happened
they were here first, wandering the halls pretending the glitter on their face was pixie dust
and the freckles on their wrists were constellations
they were here first, but they left the fairy lights for you
they left the daisies carved in the front porch railings for you
and the hollow tree behind the swing still cherishes their drawings
just like the rose bushes still hold onto their lost hair ribbons and long forgotten tears
the luscious garden a gorgeous kingdom just large enough for their secrets
and for the stories they wish were in their books
the story goes that the butterflies atop the driveway gate were the girls’ idea
the story goes that the house wasn’t theirs, that they were travelers desperate for a home
the story goes that they were sisters, not by blood but by stars
the story goes that the ivy climbing the walls and windows of the mansion
could no longer be tamed once their epilogue came to an end
people say that once the girls learned there was no Neverland
that the midnight hour was an actual monster, that losing your voice was not just fantasy,
that poison did in fact come in sweet, that beauty could be cruel,
that happily ever after was a fight rather than a given victory,
it was as if a rainstorm broke loose and never stopped
but maybe that wasn’t the girls’ fault
maybe they were just the ghosts that predicted what was to come
come inside the gate, walk the driveway
the neighbors live a million little worlds away, telling their own stories of this place
as they sip tea so sweet it makes you wonder what all the sugar in the world is meant to hide
stories that are a thousand dimensions away from the actual truth, if such a thing even exists
come now, ring the bell of the olive door as you are bewildered by primroses
listen carefully to the sound of cats meowing and wings rustling
that almost overshadows the soft tingling like wind bells that make your heart tingle
come inside, enter the hallway with constellations decorating the mauve wallpapers
rumor has it the female assassin woman who lived here painted them herself
she turned the library into an armory and the parlor into a room filled with gowns and frocks
after buying the house from the notorious roaring twenties socialite for whom it was a palace
but oh well, that’s just the rumors
let those mauve constellations catch your every heartstring
as you stand on your tiptoes on the scarlet carpet studying the paintings of wonderland
that are said to be drawn by the apocalyptionist couple living here after the murderess’ downfall
come, proceed, the tour only lasts an hour
take a look at the stunning vinyl player in rouge and lavender that will make you feel
as if you are in a butterfly kaleidoscope
some say it belonged to the notorious socialite
some say it was stolen by the villainous woman who supposedly ate hearts she cut out of bodies
others say it was the last gift the woman who always wore cardigans got from her boyfriend
that night he admitted to cheating on her all summer long at her graduation party
he stood on the front porch of this very house, naïve enough to still believe in a true love’s kiss
that would patch it all up
but word is she just took the vinyl player and shut the door in his face
come, this house has a magnificent thirteen rooms
in the color palette of a storybook
close your eyes, don’t be shy
inhale the scent of rosé-perfumed memories and freshly baked cinnamon rolls
sweet tea greeted by epiphany sunlight and garden beets cooking
Sunday afternoon candles and Monday evening cocktails
take a close look at all the spice racks and recipe books in the kitchen
you can see the sepia photos and love letters sticking out, half lost, half never meant to be found
listen to the soft indie music playing on the rouge vinyl, take a look around
at the tea leaves drying and the apple sauce stewing
as you catch glimpses of a telescope and a typewriter on the back porch
and remember the front porch with the fairy lights and jars filled with ocean rubble
remember the rocking bench and the painting supplies
the back porch was for the happy memories, but the front porch holds the scars of broken hearts
the promise of a happy ending crumbling as the boy who risked it all left empty-handed
the loneliness after a day full of people, as the notorious socialite was left alone
the darkness of a woman so scorned she ferociously screamed into the void for an apocalypse
the woman standing on the doorstep of her most infamous murder
that same woman curling up on the porch steps clutching a blooded knife,
hands shaking for the first time in her life
oh well, that is just how the stories go, there’s no telling the truth really
moving on, make your way to the drawing room
where two cats sleep in blush armchairs, one tabby named Ella, one grey called Cinder
from here, feel free to enter the breathtaking observatory
where young papillons prepare to take flight as doves and bluebirds sing you a song
and don’t forget the library, which holds every fairytale ever written, both cruel and pretty
these too were left here for you by the two girls who started it all, savoring every single story
run your finger along every history page ever forgotten, every dream ever conquered
and realize that it was the woman called wicked by many collected them with her bare hands
priding herself in bottling the starlight of a life envied by many, spinning twisted tales of her own
remember to visit the attic, where you will find crescent moons and faded canvasses
as the remains of a world ending while the earth kept on travelling around the sun just the same
take a peek into every bedroom: they all have their own lipstick secrets and vintage myths
just like the theatre where, as whispers say, the notorious socialite spent her final hours
desperately trying to get lost in a world of sunken secrets much like her own
do make sure to skip the gallery of ghost stories, though,
for it will haunt you all the way to the manor’s other wing
the tales of names buried, faces covered and blood shed for absolutely no reason at all
will draw tears from your deepest cores
and please, fiercely walk past the museum of open books in the south wing
perhaps it was the cardigan girl, or the notorious socialite, or the vile assassin,
but one of those women, you know, had a strange relationship with endings
for she never could let go of what was long gone
take your time walking the corridors
and imagine, just imagine, the voices, the footsteps echoing, the rustling of dresses
the silhouettes, the brushes of rosé-perfumed memories
imagine the kingdom of ‘’what if’’ and ‘’if only’’ and ‘’could have been’’ inside these walls
imagine the stories of moments, seconds behind the portraits gracing the staircase
imagine that you can hear a rainstorm tearing this house apart
imagine the windows shattering, the door break, imagine the roof collapse
imagine the ivy, the willow trees, the rose branches desperately growing into all the rooms
trying to protect the stories of their kingdom
imagine the thunder in the attic, of all the times the world ended without ending
imagine the lightning striking on the front porch
every time the assassin woman’s knife ignited a fire in her own eyes
imagine the kitchen, the parlor, the library and the observatory flooding
taking away everything like all the women of this house once lost everything
imagine an earthquake running through all the fairytale books and secret garden spots
terrifying the fireflies and chasing away the young butterflies not yet ready to grow up
just like those two girls with whom it all started, who had to grow up before their time
imagine the whirlwind that tore illusions to pieces so many times
imagine the hurricane picking up the pieces that could never make something whole again
imagine the eclipse darkening everything like all the times the sun went down on the daylight
imagine a sky full of stars coming down on the house to take back their constellations
imagine a cyclone ripping the house apart,
like all the words, minds, hearts and souls that were ripped apart here
imagine secrets floating out onto the driveway and out the gate
imagine truths flying out of burst windows into the garden and beyond
imagine the dimension between true and false finding a way into the universe
imagine the flood waves bringing along every brittle bit, every piece of paper
and leaving it on the streets, like ashes ready for erosion
imagine all the whirlwinds, tornadoes, thunders, rainstorms, earthquakes and hurricanes
imagine all the floods, fires, lightnings and apocalypses breaking down this house’s every inch
like the stories of those who lived here were broken down by each and every inch
until every shout, every scream, every whisper, every word was silenced, hushed, muffled
and left to folklore’s mercy
they still haunt this house today
the age of their era is never-ending
so, as you take one last look over your shoulder before stepping out on that front porch again
remember; this is the house you dreamt up
while reading folklore
but it could only ever be a home
to ghosts and their stories
The woman who lives in the house on the hill creeps down to the shoreline. Her neighbors have switched off their reading lights. She climbs atop the tallest rock and stares out into the mystery. It’s an endless sea.
Her home is the backdrop to her wayward thoughts. Only she can hear the blue hills crashing, her mind rolling with white-capped waves. She fills her days without caution, but what of the lonely nights?
In the daylight it’s as if she can see their thoughts. They know things about her that she is not. It gets too bright, their harsh false insight. So, it is in the quiet night that she takes flight.
To take her mind off their cruel delight, she fills her time with engagements of frill. She gets a thrill out of giving them something to fret about. But when the day slips into darkness, they escape to peace in their dreams. The woman who lives in the house on the hill gets no such luxury.
She swims in champagne and lives off her last name. She drowns in the rumors and dies a little every day. Smiling, smiling, laughing, crying. Her friends and her foes are the same. None understand how she could be suffering, but she lives in a mansion of pain.
Sometimes they all go home. The beach is once again calm. She can’t relate. In the quiet she must face the only partner life won’t let her escape. She wrestles herself on those boulders. They tumble around in the darkness, one guarded and one that keeps swinging regardless.
That quiet beach becomes a boxing ring when the lady of luxe loses her audience. The sand is bloody from her self-inflicted blows, but no one would know. Her body stands still, challenging the ocean that heaves and breathes below.
She stares out at an unknown object. She admires that ultimate pool. They say she shouldn’t be out at that hour, but they’re not who she answers to. Maybe there’s a ship on the horizon, a great vessel to take her away. I hope she finds what she’s looking for. I wish her well, no matter what the people might say.
Folklore. Fairytales. Sagas, myths, legends, tales. Stories. We all remember the ones that were read to us as children, tucked into beds so warm they could make us dizzy. We remember the books with more pages than we could count, the drawings we would run our fingers over like they were made of magic. We remember so well how those stories seemed to entwine themselves with our heartstrings, while at the same time they were impossible to grasp… like the bits of a dream that escapes you little by little the more you try to hold on to it. Stories of worlds, universes, galaxies far beyond our imagination, beyond our understanding, beyond our mind. Stories that were not meant to be made sense of, stories that seemed to not even come from a human kaleidoscope of ideas, that seemed too otherworldly to be a creation of this world… stories that left us with wonder, that still leave us with wonder.
Folklore. We all remember the rumors, that flew through town, through streets and blocks and neighborhoods, like fireflies in the garden we all longed to have. The gossip that was used to brew a story of half-truths and whole lies, of a dazzling, compelling amount of ‘’what if’’ and ‘’could have been.’’ Whispers, smirks behind hands, fingers clandestinely pointed with fingernails painted bright red, birds carrying words with an in-between of fake and true from rooftops to balconies and from front porches to garden gazebos.
Folklore. We all have memories of stories told to us around the campfire, under the stars, over a glass of rosé or a mug of tea, in the glimpses of gold between dawn and daylight. Stories about haunted houses, childhood homes. Stories about summers that barely seem real, lost in a great unknown while still lingering like a daydream you don’t want to let go of. Stories found in journals and photo albums, poetry collections and recipe books that were never meant to be found. Stories of wildflowers braided in strands of hair, rose quartz rings, screams in state of sleep, lipstick messages on mirrors, anonymous love letters, of secrets only the birds and the butterflies know about and that only the stars can make sense of. Stories that will never make it into the history books because they are the ballads and poems of life: they are told and retold, written and rewritten with glittery pens and passed around like school diaries and post stamp collections. They are spun and twisted in the best and worst possible ways and after the universe has had her fun with them, they are sent out into the world once again… to be made into new stories. New fairytales, new myths and legends and sagas.
Folklore is how the story continues long after you have fallen asleep, long after the fire has gone out and the tea has gone cold. Folklore is the words that linger after the story has ended, like hair ribbons that get stuck between the branches of the tree you were never allowed to climb, but did anyway. Folklore is what finally remains after the beginnings and endings and in-betweens have had their time and the streetlights are the only ones left to ignite the heartbeats and heartstrings no one really paid attention to, what remains when we have let our imaginations run wild about where things started and how they ended. Folklore is what we think we know for certain, while hardly knowing anything at all.
What would a house that has lived through two centuries tell you if the roof would collapse and the windows would shatter? Would nature’s rainstorms and hurricanes be a match for the whirlwinds and blizzards of the house itself? Would the nostalgic reminiscing of an old lady, once a beloved but notorious socialite back in her day, be anything like the whispers about her? Would the curious neighbors and intrigued townsfolk really know anything about that strange but classy young woman, whose secrets are more vile than anyone should want to know? Are the ghost stories about the woman who broke three hearts, including her own, anywhere near the truth? The young woman living in that luscious mansion, does her smile ever tell the story of her regrets, of how her entire life has seemed to turn into folklore?
Folklore… something beyond words, beyond stories, beyond universes and galaxies and dreams and imagination. Folklore is what not even the most brilliant author could come up with. Folklore is the stories we all know, yet never really know. We know glimpses. Fragments. Splinters. Fireflies. We know blinks of an eye, lost words, front porch moments, forest encounters, silhouettes, lights behind windows, music notes, pages rustling. Whispers. Loose ends of heartstrings cut off, heartstrings entwining again, and above all… heartstrings finding other heartstrings, strings of life, of love, of darkness and daylight, of dazzling moments that could only be written by the stars and the goddesses of fate, if you will. Folklore is the universe’s gift to us, to show us what a curious, wondrous, mystical kaleidoscope of heartstrings we are – far beyond any words, any imagination or any truth. Folklore is the stories of our rawest, purest, cruelest and prettiest heartstrings, in any shade of any color. Folklore.
Seven years old.
Naivety knew me well and insecurity held me tight.
I was happy, I was innocent.
I loved to play pretend in the trees
And chase snakes in the grass.
I had a mother and a father,
I had God and I had imagination.
I had music in my ears.
One by one those things, they left me.
Goodbye daddy, goodbye Jesus.
Goodbye childhood, goodbye love songs.
All that was left was a fearful child,
It happened in just one day.
A sunny afternoon.
Innocence taken. Age seven.
There in the closet, no one to catch my streaming tears.
No one to come and save me.
No screams came from my mouth.
My voice was gone.
All the playing had come to an end.
No more make-believe, no more barbies.
No more pirates.
Civility and anxiety were all that hugged me.
No one else offered comfort or safety.
So I clung to them with all my strength.
The fields behind that house
Grew tall with wheat and weeds.
They soon became home,
Where I could run to to be alone.
I saved myself.
I hit my peak.
The light shines
And I don’t know why
It’s been a miserable night
Yet here I am
Wandering into your arms again
Because for as much insecurity as I have
You seem to want to be here
You seem to want to hang near
You seem to never have any fear
I don’t get you, but I do
Because I know me
The imposter syndrome speaks
But I make a breakthrough
Because for as much insecurity as I have
You feel right
You feel real
You watch me as I heal
Never going in for the unnecessary kill
As I pick myself up
The light shines
And now I know why
Yeah, It’s been a miserable night
But here I am
Standing one in one
With you again
“Someone’s at the door for you.”
The words are echoing in my head as I shut the sliding glass door of the deck, cutting off the chatter of the backyard. My mother gave me that knowing smile when she said it, as if I should already know the person waiting for me. As if it should be a mystery as to who’s standing in the muted glow of the front porch light.
I pause, hand on the doorknob. One more second of stillness. Two. Three. I flip the lock and try to keep my face neutral as the door swings open, but I feel my breath catch in my throat all the same.
His hair’s still dark and curly, maybe a tad bit longer than it was back in July. He has his hands in the pockets of his jeans, but he’s standing straight, his red flannel buttoned almost to the top. He gives me a tiny smile and nods. “Hi, Daisy.”
“Finn. Hey.” I step back out into the cool late-summer evening, shutting the front door. His bike is at the end of the driveway, kickstand up, poised for escape if need be. “I…I wasn’t expecting you to come.”
“Your mom came by last week and reminded me.”
My mom. I let that sink in, her smile suddenly making sense. “You didn’t have to. I mean, it’s not…” I take a deep breath, trying to untangle my thoughts. “It’s mostly just relatives and my mom’s friends and Steve’s coworkers. I would have understood if you -”
“I wanted to come.” He’s looking at me intently. “I was wondering if we could talk.”
A shiver runs down my back, and my hands immediately curl into sweater paws around the cuffs of my cardigan. “There’s really nothing else to say, Finn.”
“Alexis told me you’re going out with Tomlyn now.” It hurts to say, especially given the last time I saw Tomlyn was on less than friendly terms. Her parents have yet to reach out to me about possibly working at their store again, and I’m guessing my resignation is a permanent one at this point. I don’t blame them for believing their own daughter over a part-time employee – not much, at least.
Finn blows air out of his mouth, shaking his head. “I’m not surprised, honestly.” He’s fighting a smile, a real one this time, and my temper is suddenly on a short fuse.
“Is that all you came to say to me?”
“No, it’s just kind of funny that -”
“Nothing about this is funny, Fernando.” I grab his arm. “Get off my porch and go home.” Using my mother and Steve’s one-year anniversary party as an excuse to make fun of me makes me want to punch him in the face.
“Daisy, wait -”
“Get off my porch, Finn. I’m not asking you again.”
“It was one date!” He’s holding up his hands in surrender, my fist still pulling at his sleeve. “I went on one date with her a few weeks ago. That was it.”
I pause, frowning. “Then why would Lex tell me…”
He heaves a sigh. “We went on one date to the mall for dinner and the bookstore.”
The bookstore. I try not to think about when I took him there earlier in the summer, combing through the young adult shelves and holding hands on the way home.
“We ran into Tessa and John on the way out of Chile’s,” Finn continues. “She was being passive aggressive and then John got defensive, and it was weird between us the rest of the night. I told her I didn’t want to go out again, but she’s been bragging to John that we’re together now, and I haven’t been able to get through to her. She doesn’t answer my texts and that ‘NO ONE UNDER 18’ sign is still up in the window at V-Moe’s.”
My grip loosens and I step back, pressing my lips together. “That all sounds pretty convenient,” I tell him. Truthfully, it’s exactly the kind of thing Tomlyn would do, but a tiny part of me is hoping she’s given up on her pursuit of making John feel guilty for becoming popular in high school and leaving her behind. Part of me is hoping she has Finn now, so I won’t have any reason to want him back.
“I can show you my phone, if you want.”
I drop down on the porch steps, heaving a sigh. “Why are you here, Finn?”
“I wanted to see how you’re doing.” He takes a seat beside me, arms resting on his knees. “Charlie’s been keeping me informed. He says you’re doing okay, but he can tell you’re not happy.”
I roll my eyes. “Charlie needs to mind his own business.”
“He’s worried about you.” Finn looks over at me. “I haven’t had anyone to talk with about books.”
“You can find someone, if you tried.”
“Daisy…I want to help. Please.”
He said the same thing weeks ago, and it makes me bristle. “You’re saying that now.”
“I’m saying it because I mean it.”
“And where will we be once school starts? Or when we graduate? Or years down the line?” I’m hugging my knees to my chest, tears burning my eyes. “Will you still want this?”
“Finn, I’m serious,” I say, my voice catching. “What happens when you get tired of the panic attacks and my constant need for reassurance? What happens when you decide this is too much for you?” I blink, tears spilling over and fogging my glasses. “What happens when you figure out that I’m not worth it?”
He doesn’t answer me, and for a minute I think he’s finally taken me seriously and he’s going to leave. Instead he asks quietly, “Do you need anything from me right now?”
I scrub my face with the cuff of my sleeve. “I don’t know.”
“And that’s fine.”
“So you’ll just sit around waiting forever?” I say bitterly.
He takes one of my hands and laces our fingers together. “I want to be here for you, just like Alexis and Charlie.”
“That’s different. Lex has been my friend since grade school and Charlie…he’s family now. He doesn’t have a choice.”
He pauses again. “Daisy, I know you’re worried about the future and you want to keep me from getting hurt. But I don’t want you to be hurting because of it.”
I hate him. I hate that he sees right through me and that he’s so stubborn. I want to tell him again to go home, but I can’t let go of his hand. I don’t want to.
“I’m sorry. This doesn’t just magically go away, you know?” I sniff, looking up at him through my tear-spotted glasses. “It’s not cured by true love. And I didn’t want you to suffer, too.”
Finn pulls me to my feet, leaning his forehead against mine. “Whatever you need from me, just ask. I’m happy just being with you right now.”
“What if…” I trail off, my mind blank. That’s all I ever ask myself: what if? What if this feeling of panic lasts forever? What if Finn and I break up? What if I never deserve to be happy?
Finn pulls me closer. “I’m not going anywhere, Daisy. I promise.” And then he’s kissing me, and I’m overwhelmed by the scent of shea butter and the feeling of his curls under my fingers. I’m drifting away, content to spend the rest of the night in this spot with Finn’s arms around me, when my phone buzzes between us.
“Seriously?” I pull back, seeing a new text from Charlie.
My dad and your mom are about to have their first dance. Or second dance, technically? Stop sucking face with Finn and get back here.
“I’d better go make sure he doesn’t explode from cooties,” I say. “Care to join me?”
“Aren’t I just going to keep distracting you?” Finn raises an eyebrow.
“You’re the best kind of distraction,” I say, pulling him in to kiss him. I lead him to the backyard, his hand in mine for the rest of the night.
It all happened so fast.
I still remember the day I saw him the first time.
He was just like any other person, hanging with some of my friends. He was the opposite of what I was. Loud, as opposed to my quiet. Confident, as opposed to my anxiousness. And I guess that’s what drew him to me, and me to him. We didn’t wait. We never wait, because we were running out of time. It was a rush of feelings, of words stating our feelings towards each other. We were reckless, we said words that we didn’t mean. But it meant something for me, if not for him back then.
I still remember the first night we spent together; it was heaven. He courted me not with flowers, but with words. And god, I felt like I was truly a new person, because there he was. He saw me. He knew me. I let my feelings take over, and of course I thought he was all mine. After all, he had wooed me with his words, and I’d wooed him with mine. It was just like the movies.
And so, we sipped our wine and spent the month together. A month full of new wonders and discoveries of love, a month of exchanging sweet words and flirtations with each other. A month of our own unbreakable heaven. But heaven is fragile, my readers, and so was our so called relationship.
Throughout the month, I have convinced myself that we were in a real relationship; I was his, and he was mine. We confided to each other, we said each other’s names like it was honey in our tongue. We traded fantasies, our dreams for the future, and I thought to myself, “I love him,” because what other thoughts can a girl have when she’s drowned in her own feelings?
Four weeks. It took four weeks to break our heaven. My heaven. It all started in a glorious summer morning, with the words he guarded and said carefully as to not hurt me. That he was enough, content, with what we have right now. That it was fun, but he would take it no further.
Reader, that was when I realized my heaven wasn’t his heaven. That I have been fooling myself into believing that he somehow thought this was a serious relationship. And it broke my heart. And so, reader, I left him. It wasn’t my best decision. We still had time if I wanted to after all. But I wasn’t willing to break my heart even further.
And now, I realize he was never mine. Even after the nights we spend getting to know each other, I never knew him. The time we had feels like a fever dream where my stubborn imagination painted him to become a person he never really was.
I convinced myself that it was just a fling; a love that can only last one summer, but if I’m being honest, I truly loved him. For a while at least. I still miss him on some days. But he was not mine to lose. He was never mine to lose.
mirrorball // how to love yourself at the end of the world
Outside, the sky is falling to pieces. The ground is coated with dust and ashes. Buildings are aflame. They did say the end was near. Some tried to fight it, some denied it, but it came all the same.
Inside, my bedroom looks the same as it has for years. A kind purple wall, a big mirror with rounded edges hanging right in the middle. My grandmother’s lamp in the corner, its light too bright and white for something made of dimmed bronze. My bed has a black frame, metal curls for corners.
My bedroom is like it has always been. No one else is around. It’s just me on the carpet in my bare feet.
It feels like I’m doing this wrong. Like there’s some manual on what to do when the world is ending and everyone knows exactly how to act and where to be because they’ve all read it cover to cover. My copy must’ve gotten lost in the mail. What do you do in a moment like this? Should I sit around and wait for it all to be over? What a waste that would be.
My reflection looks back at me from the mirror, sitting on a perfect copy of my carefully made bed, the covers dark blue and smoothed out. My silver shirt stands out, consisting of a thousand squares of mirror-like sequins. My best friend and I bought it together one afternoon when we skipped school to go shopping. I wonder where hers is now. I wonder whether it’s burning yet.
I look up at the rest of me. My hair, curls out of control tied in a loose bun at the back of my head. The scar on my chin from when I was eight years old and fell on the stairs. My narrow eyes, the skin below dark and tired, but the blues of my irises shining regardless. There is so much that’s familiar about this face, but it’s like I’m looking at it anew.
I spent so much time hating the lines in my forehead, the way my ears were shaped, the size of my nose. Why? What did it get me, in the end?
My foot traces a circle on the carpet, the fabric tickling between my toes. Then I stand, and turn, and turn again. My arms go up, shaping themselves around me, above my head. I’ve never done ballet, but I try to mimic the movements anyhow. Try and fail to make it look the way it does in the movies.
There’s no music, but I dance anyway. None of us has the time to wait for the perfect song to come on anymore.
Perhaps this is how it’s done. Perhaps this is in the manual: spend your last hours doing exactly what feels right, even if it sounds and looks ridiculous. So I dance every dance I know. Every silly social media trend and all the bits I still remember having learnt during my primary school days. Hip-hop and samba and quickstep and all the dance moves I’ve never learnt. Then, in the end, I go back to my own quivering form of ballet. I’ve never been a natural, but I try, and I try, and I try.
I’m doing everything to keep my attention on the mirror, on me. As long as I keep looking at me, the world outside doesn’t seem so bad. So I dance, twirling around on my tiptoes, in front of the glass.
The flames outside are reflected in my shirt, leaving specs of yellow and orange on the walls around me. I’m surprised by how different the reflection is from the world outside. Still, without the world, the reflection wouldn’t be there. Without the fires, there would be no specs of light shining here, just for me. This is fire. Small and twinkling as well as great and all-consuming. Deadly as well as beautiful.
I’m a mirrorball. The whole world, reflected inside of me. All of me, reflected in that mirror. Every shattered edge and rugged corner. Ever blemish and imperfection. The more I move around, the more sides of me I see. And for once, it’s enough.
This is just for me, because that’s all that’s left. Me, in front of this mirror. Me, standing here, free to move without the outside masquerade, without anyone telling me what’s wrong and what’s right, what’s pretty and what’s not. Me, without changing anything about myself to fit in. Here, in this moment, it’s so easy to do what I’ve been trying for years. It’s so easy to love myself.
Just like that, I’m laughing. It’s been a while since I heard my voice, but now it thunders from my throat, laughing and singing as I’m spinning. A performance for no one but these purple walls and me.
The world outside roars as I’m on my tallest tiptoes. A building crashing, stone turned to rubble, fires turned to embers. That’s what this will all end in, eventually.
But for now, I’m in my room, dancing with a freedom I’ve never felt before, looking back at every version of myself before my building falls, too. Before I break into a million pieces.
Even after I’d already paid my fare and gotten on the train, I think to myself Am I really doing this? But the stops keep passing, and I keep not getting off. For a moment, It all feels so familiar that I forget myself. Like I’m not just going to his place, I’m going back there. He’s expecting me. A bottle of rosé is in the fridge, something is sizzling on the stove, and some story about an asshole from his firm is sitting on the tip of his tongue waiting just for me. This subway car is nothing but a time machine, hurling me back to him.
The thought actually makes me a little dizzy. Well, I suppose that could be the liquor talking (it wasn’t like I was planning on doing this a few short hours ago when I was sober). But when I walked out of that bar I could have sworn he was standing across the street and before I could even process it my heart had taken a flying leap right over the avenue.
Turns out that more than one man in New York City can own a blue hoodie and a pair of dark jeans. So my heart skittered back between the tires of taxis and squeezed back into my chest, leaving me with an empty, haunted feeling. I told everyone I was headed home for the night and snuck to the opposite side of the tracks.
When the train comes to the end of the line, emerging from underground feels like stepping into a dream. The smell of french fries from the Wendy’s on the corner wafts through the thick summer air and smacks me in the face. Something in my stupid brain is telling me to stop in the little bodega for snacks- a diet Dr. Pepper for him, a can of some sickly, syrupy soda for me, and maybe a bag of sour gummy worms for us to share.
But I remind myself that I’m a woman on a mission. I wasn’t here to relive the past, no matter how tempting it was making itself. I don’t even let myself look into the hand-pulled noodle place or through the dark windows of the kitschy coffee shop we used to frequent. Instead, I march up the steps of his building and-
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Buzzzzzzzz.
No turning back now. He would know it was me. I close my eyes tight and say a quiet pray-
He actually buzzed me in. Shit shit shit.
My feet carry me quickly up the steep sets of stairs as I realize that not once in the thirty minute train ride had I gotten this far. What was I going to say to him? How could I explain this? I didn’t have an excuse, not a real one. Hey! I thought I saw you but I didn’t so I ditched my friends, hopped on a train, and came over to ruin your Saturday!
But I reach the top and there he is. Leaning against the frame of the door with his classic one-sided grin on full display.
“What in god’s name are you doing here?” He asks, eyes glittering. I’m too busy taking him in to answer. His hair is mussed, a little shorter than when I saw him last, and he’s wearing a wrinkled white t-shirt that I want to steal and fall asleep in at night. “You know, I can smell the tequila from here.”
“There’s a bar in the village with some… very reasonably priced Margaritas.” I manage. It’s hardly an answer.
“Sounds lethal.” The grin has faded but the shimmer in his eyes hasn’t. Was it pity or fondness? Confusion or excitement? I couldn’t decide. “What are you doing here?”
“I just… I started wondering about you and then I couldn’t stop.” Our eyes lock. Wondering was a loaded word and we both knew it. Wondering what went wrong. Why we weren’t together anymore. What had gone wrong to ruin a year and a half of the blissful, stupid fun we had had together. He looks away first, breaking the spell with a laugh.
“You have a sixth sense, I swear.” He says, shaking his head.
“Wait, what?” I blurt, before thinking better of it. Leave it to him to rattle me after I’ve come all the way here to disrupt his night.
He pushes the door open and beckons me inside. I cross the threshold gently, like one wrong step could cause the whole fantasy to dissolve. But apparently I hadn’t been careful enough, because when I turn the corner all I see are sharpie covered cardboard boxes.
“You’re moving.” My heart sinks. I don’t know what I was expecting out of tonight, but this certainly wasn’t it.
“Chicago.” I don’t say anything, but the disgust must be written all over my face, because he laughs and adds: “It’s actually a promotion, believe it or not. I start on Monday.”
He picks up a beer bottle from the kitchen counter by its neck and takes a sip, shrugging at me like what can you do? I wander deeper into the apartment and he hangs back. This place is packed to the brim with memories. Meals we made, albums we listened to, serious conversations that we started and made excuses not to finish. My eyes drift over to the nubby couch we once spent a snowy day lounging on, watching Star Wars and eating freezer pizza. It doesn’t have any kind of moving stickers on it.
“You’re getting rid of the couch?” He nearly chokes on his drink, chuckling.
“What, do you want it?”
“No.” I say, miserably. I plop down on what used to be my side of it, but it just doesn’t feel right. I sit for a little while anyway, waiting for him to say something, but the moment slips away as it becomes very clear that neither of us are going to make any kind of sweeping declarations.
So this was it. I would never see him on the street, or in a bar, or on a subway track. He would never catch me sitting in the park with the sun in my hair and wonder, just for a moment, if he had made the right choice. A drawn out chapter could finally come to a close. I couldn’t decide how to feel about it. Bitter? Angry? Devastated?
“Remember when we tried to throw a party here?” He says sheepishly. And just like that, whatever I was feeling melts into a fit of laughter.
“That was so doomed.” I bury my face in my hands, trying to hide the heat rising in my cheeks.
“How did we think we were going to fit 50 people in here?” I throw my head back laughing and his shoulders shake from across the room. His studio was as small as it gets. There wasn’t room for an intimate gathering, never mind an entire party. But he had been throwing it just for me- I’d told him offhandedly that I’d always regretted not attending a proper rager in college and he told me we’d just have to have our own. The thought is so perfect, so pure, that I stand back up. This is how I wanted to leave: with a smile.
“I’ll get out of your hair. Let you mourn the death of your first New York apartment by yourself.” I hesitate for a second, wishing he would say one last thing worth holding on to. That me being here to say goodbye to this place felt right, or that he was glad he got to see me one last time before he went, or that he had missed me.
“Come on, I’ll find you a cab.”
And there it was. Another opportunity wasted. For the first time tonight, I remember why I hadn’t come here earlier to try and fix things. It didn’t matter how vulnerable, how open I was with him. I could expose myself completely, rip my heart out and hand it to him and he still wouldn’t be able to reciprocate. He couldn’t admit that he missed me the same way he had never been able to say I love you, too.
“That’s okay. I’ll take the train.” I say with a tight smile. He walks me to the door and hovers next to me for a second. I can tell he wants to reach out but doesn’t know how. I think about punishing him for it, but how could I when that was just his nature? So I close the gap between us myself, leaning in and wrapping my arms neatly around his back. He softens and pulls me in. I take a deep breath, trying to take in as much of the moment as I could.
“We were something,” I whisper, my cheek pressed against his shirt. “Don’t you think so?”
“Yeah. I guess we were.” He mumbles. I’m sure that he’s going to pull away, but instead he kisses the top of my head, ever so gently and for just a beat too long. It feels like an apology for all the things he never could say to me. A confirmation of everything we used to have. A goodbye. I exhale and we both pull away, the need to say anything else put to rest. The door clicks behind me.
As I walked down those stairs and on to the street for the last time, silently saying my goodbyes, a weight I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying lifts itself from off my shoulders. Maybe I hadn’t come here for him. Maybe I had come here for me. Maybe all of this was so I could realize once and for all that I was never going to be the girl he had to hail a cab for.
I was never going to be the girl who followed him out to Chicago.
And I was never going to be the girl who could have been satisfied with an unspoken I love you.
I guess you never know, never know
And if you wanted me you really should’ve showed
And if you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow
And It’s alright now.
He couldn’t find him. He couldn’t sleep.
When Judah hit the ground, his mouth opened instinctually. Earth, dew, wet mud. He bit his lip as he rolled deeper into the trench. In the distance he’d heard screams, gunfire, the pulsing stomp of so many feet. He heard him.
“I’m coming with you,” Nathan had said. Judah’s jacket was too big on him, but he wore it like a second skin. The cuffs crawled down from where he’d rolled them up to his elbows, following his bad decision like baby ducklings.
“Maybe you shouldn’t—“ he’d tried to argue, tried to be the responsible older sibling he knew he should be, but he couldn’t hide his smile well enough. He was tired of being alone. “Oh, she’ll hate me for this,” he laughed as he pulled his brother under his arm, ruffling his already messy hair.
She’ll hate me for this. He couldn’t sleep.
His sister jumped into the dip in the path. A five foot drop, a somersault, two grass-stained knees. “Don’t leave me here alone!” She called from where nature reclaimed her. They weren’t supposed to go this far into the woods without an adult. “Jude!” she yelled.
“Gabby, I don’t know,” Judah hedged, but she turned away from him and began to climb over a tree root curved around the shape of a wheel.
“I’m not going to wait for you,” her voice carried her body into the dark, like every warning story he’d ever ignored. He climbed down slowly, carefully, and hoped their parents were too busy with the others to notice they were gone.
I’m not going to wait for you. He couldn’t sleep.
The Fever took the money first. The money. The food. The light in their eyes, in their voice, in their last breaths. “You stay in school,” Gabby said, a baby on her hip, a new husband in her hand. “I can keep it steady. I can do it.”
Nathan was eleven. He didn’t understand how bad things might get, but he could keep a secret. “Let me come with you!” he whispered in the night, but Judah made him promise to stay behind. He had an important duty. He’d tell her that Judah enlisted and show her the compensation figures.
She wouldn’t get mad at him. Not for long. He was still a kid. “I’m older,” Judah told him. “It’s my job to look out for you.”
It’s my job to look out for you. He couldn’t sleep.
“I can’t wait to go home,” Nathan said the night before. Judah’s jacket is torn on the left sleeve, but it finally fits him. Nathan folds it into a pillow and settles down while the wind whips their daydreaming memories into sharp focus.
Judah’s still there when it happens. In the woods, in the waiting room, in the window of the night he can’t take back. He’s at home and gone as the red seeps into the hand-me-down fabric, as it seeps out, as his brother—as Nathan bleeds out between his fingers. He urges him to say something.
Nothing happens. Judah can’t find his words. His voice fails him.
His voice fails him. He can’t sleep.
He’s given an out. He can go home with the body or sign on for another mission. He doesn’t think twice about doubling down on the distance, signing away a future destined to be buried with his old coat. All he can pass down now is a sense of accomplishment, a vindication, the relief of providing.
He won’t return without proving himself. Without honoring him, honoring her, honoring them. Something good, or at least worthwhile, will come from this. It has to. He’s sure of it.
He can’t sleep.
This piece was inspired by epiphany and a little bit of seven, both by Taylor Swift. It’s a character study of one of the main characters of my novel. I immediately thought of him the first time I heard this song and I can’t wait to listen to it on repeat as I return to revisions.
I am @LilyMeade on most social networks, but most active on Twitter.