We should’ve known, when Roy had handmade the die. It should have been an omen, the word itself. Everyone took turns rolling it, telling the truths or doing the dares they were assigned. While everyone played that game in the living room, I escaped outside, needed air and space to feel whole. Because the things I wanted to, needed to, talk about didn’t involve any gameplay, weren’t things you could say at a party full of people who were supposed to be having the times of their lives.
You sat next to me on the back steps, cold cement on my thighs reminding me of how things hurt. “What if when we get to heaven, we find out that everything is just one big lie?” I started, wiping my nose on my sleeve, knowing I was about to pour my aching, angsty soul out to you, knowing I could.
“Then some people are going to be very disappointed,” you responded, watching me stare at the silhouettes of the trees in the blackness, then looking at the space where my hairline meets my forehead, jaw quivering. “But I guess somebody always ends up disappointed.” I knew your heart was aching, could feel it from a foot away. Even when I slept in bed alone at night I could feel it, your pain tugging at me like a marionette string. Because I had said no. Had said I didn’t want to be in a relationship with anybody, ever, not if I was like this. When you are focused on dying, you don’t make plans to live.
I wanted to say I was sorry, knew I didn’t have to. “It’s not you,” I said, gearing up for the classic cliche, “really,. It’s not. I can’t be with you, like this. There’s no point.” We sat together, surrounded by things we knew that we weren’t ready to say out loud. In two days, I was going to kill myself. Common knowledge, for people who read others’ hands like you and I.
“You know how Anne Frank said she believed people were still nice and good in their hearts, despite everything? I think I agree with her.”
“Good and nice aren’t the same things,” I mumbled to my inward-pointing feet, knowing you knew that I knew all too well. Before you could reply, I felt a freezing cold blanket of something prick at every inch of my skin, and I was like oh, my god, this is it, this is how I die. I won’t have to do it myself, won’t have to make a mess for anybody to clean up, won’t have to talk to anybody ever again. No flash, no bang, no tears- just numbing cold. It took me several seconds to realize what’d happened. We sat on the back steps, soaking wet in the frigid night air, noses red and runny, as Roy jumped around behind us, laughing maniacally, like one of those shrieking wind-up monkey toys with cymbals.
“What the fuck,” you said very calmly, examining your hands, probably trying to regain feeling in them. I knew I was.
“You should’ve seen your faces, dude! Classic! Fucking classic!” Roy shouted, waving Tracy out through the back door to see his masterpiece.
She tromped out in her tacky hot pink heels, something better suited for a Barbie doll, and favourite short denim skirt, better suited for an eight year old, holding a red cup in her right hand that had edges stained with sticky glitter-gloss crescent moons. “Grow the fuck up, Roy,” she yelled, sending three blows at his chest. He kept laughing and concaved, enjoying her frustration. “Who the hell even invites you to these things, Roy? Seriously,” she grumbled, bending down as best she physically could in that outfit to be at my level.
“Tracy! I see too much!” Roy yelled in mock agony, laughing his fucking head off. “Come on, Angeline, you can borrow some of my clothes.” She helped me up onto my numb legs and led me by the hand into the house, shouting at Roy over her shoulder to get lost. Roy was like a stray dog, so broken and diseased that she didn’t want to deal with it, but charming and hungry enough that she couldn’t turn him away completely. Before she pulled me onto the staircase I glanced back to you, watching you disappear slowly and calmly to the dimly- lit road. Where did you go? Do you know?
In the bathroom upstairs, Tracy had me sit on the outdated wooden toilet seat while she tied my knotted hair into a tight bun on top of my head. It pulled at my scalp, but it felt good to feel something again, feel anything. She offered to blow dry it but I declined, saying I was okay. “Where’d Jack go?” I asked, wincing as she pulled it tighter.
I was angry that I had worn makeup, something I rarely did, but I wanted to look good for my last public outing. In the mirror I could see my mascara dripping down my face, making me look like my favourite clown painting, a man with a white face in a red, blue, green, and yellow costume, bulbous yet subtle tears leaking to meet the downturned corners of his painted mouth. I looked like a raccoon, caught red-handed snooping through the neighbour’s trash can, being told to mind her own businesses. You have your own baggage, your own remnants to pick through. I sat motionless, staring into the mirror as Tracy dug makeup remover out of her shoulder purse, polishing me up like new. I felt like we were in a club in the seventies, reflected by her outfit and teased hair, and I had gotten drunk and thrown up on the floor, so I was getting cleaned up in the bathroom. Girls in clubs, even strangers, help each other out. I remember thinking, this is what being taken care of feels like. And also, who the fuck is that in the mirror, slumped onto the toilet seat beneath someone else’s hands, eyes drooping like she’s downed five vodka shots when she actually hasn’t drank anything at all, face so far away and grainy she isn’t even recognizable to herself.
In the car, going home, Roy drove us because he had insisted. He swerved the car to the beat of Coubo-Selcouth, none of us: me, Tracy, her ‘boyfriend’ Johnny- cared that he wasn’t at all close to being sober. Two days.
“Why do you dress like that, Tracy?” Roy asked. “Do you have daddy issues or some shit?”
“Everybody has daddy issues,” Tracy said, trying to be nonchalant, not succeeding, picking at imaginary lint on her heart-pink stitched knee socks, like her dad was the punchline at the end of everyone’s favorite joke. We sat there in silence for a while, all pretending not to look at each other.
“If you could get rid of one memory, what would it be?” I said quietly. Everybody looking at their hands, everybody far away, for once. An almost-silent chorus of sad kids breathing in a car too old, too dusty, in a place they should have left a long time ago, shouldn’t have gotten into in the first place.
Roy broke the silence, a rare disposition clouding his face in the rearview mirror that moments ago had looked so bright and childlike. “I would destroy the memory of my father passing out on me after getting home from the bar one time. When I was little, littler. Too heavy to lift, not heavy enough to kill me.”
“I would forget the day my mom left. We knew it was coming, that it was happening. It’s just different when you actually wake up and see her shoes gone, purse off the table, coat missing off the rack she bought. There were still wet tire tracks peeling out of the driveway when I ran to check. They dried up, but she didn’t call. Hasn’t called, in a long time, which is hard. But not as hard as seeing her stuff gone for the first time, feeling the house so empty and just, bigger, that first night.” Johnny brought his hands close to his face, inspected the lines in his thumb knuckle. Two lines, three sections.
“I’m sorry,” I said, not actually feeling sorry at all, not feeling anything, as usual. I turned to look at him and saw a mass of darkness, our faces upside down, before I was catapulted backward into Tracy’s overflowing chest. Something shrieked, then the car, metal against pavement and wood, then us, heads slamming into the ceiling, necks bending like they were in the middle of a plie. Tracy was screaming in one of my ears, Johnny in my other.
We kept skidding upside down, awful noises and sparks flying by on the sides of the car, until we weren’t anymore. I sat in the peaceful silence for a moment, body aching, waiting for someone else to do something. Several minutes passed, and I couldn’t hear anything over my own heartbeat. “Tracy, open the door.” I nudged her shoulder, waited some more. “Tracy. I want to go home. Let me out.” I finally looked at her face, saw her own mascara running down her cheeks, wanting to clean it off for her. Her neck was bent at a grotesque angle, like if I touched her head, it might fall off and roll away. Johnny didn’t look any better. I didn’t check on Roy, didn’t care. Should have, at the time.
“I’m sorry,” I found myself saying again, trying to crawl out past Tracy to the door just two feet away. When I realized I would have to touch her, I almost started crying. Almost did, Jack. Her body was sweaty and clammy from drinking so much, and she had her own hair in her mouth like she was flirting with something. “Tracy, please,” I said, feeling my voice fracture in my throat. I shoved at her limp body, kicked my leg over in front of her face to get the bent door open. Somewhere within a montage of blurred vision and screaming so rough I could barely talk for a week, I found myself sitting out on the pavement, waiting for something, anything, to come by.
I stared in, unblinking, at Tracy, still upside down, her eyes wide open. They should have burned, from her running mascara. I knew they couldn’t, weren’t, would never burn again. My scalp panged from how tight she had pulled my hair in the bathroom. Her glitter lip gloss now looked dull and outdated, her skin a sickly pale, shining like fresh granite under the moonlight. She was trapped, I knew, an ore that nobody could ever mine out from there again. I studied her face, her askew eyelashes, and thought about yours, the gentle hairpin curl of your lips when you were being gentle. Which was always, Jack. I thought about how you deserved to have something worth being gentle with.
I stumbled to my feet, ignoring the searing pain in my neck and chest as I ambled backward away from the wreckage. Seeing three bodies of people I called friends in that car, lying in a makeshift graveyard I knew I had to abandon, made me vomit in the middle of the street. I kept thinking about you, your hands, the strings that pulled me in the middle of the night. Staring at Roy’s head in the windshield, knowing in a few hours it would be bright purple from lividity rather than manic rage, I realized how close two days was, how short of a time I had planned for myself. I thought about having to move Tracy’s body in order to survive, how no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t erase that primal instinct, didn’t want to anymore. My chest felt torn when I remembered your silhouette walking away from Tracy’s house, how much that lonely weighed, and I turned to walk past the car again, looking at their heads for the last time as I staggered in the direction of your house.