I asked her if i could go not makeup shopping and she said no michael you have to go makeup shopping because you cant not go makeup shopping because if i didnt go makeup shopping i would get lost and that was why i had to go makeup shopping. But mom i dont want to go makeup shopping but michael youll get lost but mom i wont get lost yes you will yes you will.
There were bears on a stand across from the makeup shopping and i went over to one to touch it and it was soft. It was soft but not soft like the hair. So i went somewhere else that wasn’t makeup shopping you have to stay here michael because we have to go makeup shopping but i wont go far mom i promise i wont go far but youll get lost but no i wont yes you will yes you will.
I went back to the makeup shopping and my mom couldnt choose between an eyeliner mostly purple with a little black or an eyeliner mostly black with a little purple arent those the same thing mom no theyre not michael stop asking me that you just want to go unmakeup shopping no mom im serious those are the same no youre too young to see the difference but when youre older youll see the difference but i didnt think i would because we cant imagine what well know when were older we can only imagine ourselves older when we know what we know and right then right now i know that i want to go not makeup shopping but she chose the one that was mostly black with a little purple because it brought out her pupils but mom wont unwearing makeup bring out your pupils more no michael you dont understand but youll understand when youre older but i couldnt imagine what it was like to know what i didnt know.
There were dolls on a stand not far from the bears on the stand not far from the makeup shopping no michael youll get lost but i went anyway because she changed her mind about the eyeliner and i knew I wouldnt get lost because i could still smell her from the dolls and if i could still smell her i knew she was close enough for me to get not lost. I touched the dolls and some dolls were black and some dolls were white why are they the same price mom theyre different dolls because its only right for them to be the same price youll understand when youre older but i didnt know. The dolls had beautiful hair that was soft like the bears but even more soft than the bears so soft like it wasnt the bears it was like fountain water and bottled water that theyre mostly the same but it was only the differences that i understood no youll understand when youre older michael but i didnt think i would because she didnt understand even though she was older. The hair was so soft and straight. Her hair was straight, and it was naturally that way. Or so she said. I’d never seen anybody’s hair so naturally straight. “Are you sure you don’t straighten it?” “Of course I don’t,” she said, “I just told you, it’s naturally that way.” Michael. Michael. Michael you come back now youll get lost but mom i can smell you what i can smell you so so that means youre close enough for me not to get lost oh no michael it just means some of the smell stayed with you smell doesnt mean somethings close but i guess she didnt understand because she was older. Feel it. I went back to the bears. Isn’t it soft? I went back to the dolls. Yeah, it’s really soft. I like it. Their hair was straight. Her hair was straight.
“I still don’t believe you.”
“I’m not kidding. I promise. It’s like this naturally.”
“What about in the morning?”
“It’s like this.”
Her hair was straight. And her eyes were gorgeous in the sun. But only at sunrise and sunset, when the angle of the sun was such that just by holding her head naturally, just by being, the sun hit her irises directly and illuminated them with such passion—
“Keep your eyes on the road. You drive horribly enough already.”
“I don’t drive that horribly.”
“Yeah, you do.”
“No I don’t.” And I smiled. And she smiled. But then she told me to keep my eyes on the road. Which was hard because the sun was right in front of us, rising up slowly. Later today, I could drive on this same exact road and be fine, because the sun would be higher and I could see. The sun was beautiful over the water. But not right now. Now, he said. And I jerked my arm and it flew and it made ripples but it didn’t matter because the sun was beautiful over the water. Now was a bad time for driving. I still looked at her. Her hair was straight.
“Now you just have to wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“For a pull.”
So I waited. And I sat there with him and the sun was beautiful over the water. It was right in front of us and I knew it would be a long day, because we wouldn’t leave until the sun was behind us. And I knew that although the sun was moving, it was moving too slowly for it to be quick. And I thought that it was strange that we were measuring how long the sun took to make its journey with time even though the sun created time. But there was a tug. No there wasn’t. Only the sun across the water.
“Maybe there’s no fish today.”
“There are always fish.”
But I didn’t believe him, even though I was older. Because I knew that before, there wasn’t a lake here because it was a manmade lake, and therefore, there were no fish. And he couldn’t tell me that I would understand when I was older because I was already older.
I wanted to go sit in the truck, because it was hot outside.
“You can’t sit in the truck because by now, the truck is too hot and you’ll die.”
“I don’t think I’ll die. If I’m dying I’ll know that I’m dying and I’ll get out of the car.”
“Just stay out here.”
“You don’t understand.”
And I looked back at the truck and I saw the sun glittering off of the hood. It hurt my eyes a little bit but no so much as when I looked across the lake because the sun was right there in-your-face. This was just a reflection, and as a consequence it lost some of its intensity. But it still hurt my eyes, so it didn’t matter how unintense it was.
And I saw the truck driving away down the road with the sun in front of it as we put up balloons. I didn’t really want balloons, because I was older and older people don’t want balloons. Older people wanted strippers and weed and beer. But my mom was there, so balloons were the middle ground even though it was completely her idea and none of mine. So we were taping balloons to the wooden fence and some of them popped—actually, a lot of them popped—because the wooden fence was splintery. “Why don’t we just tape them somewhere else?” She didn’t answer.
Christy was at my house right then. Her hair was straight, but the sun was on the wrong side so there wasn’t any in her eyes. I saw me in her eyes. But she made me back off because there was too much of me in her eyes and not enough of everything else. And she said it like it was a joke even though it didn’t feel like a joke even though I understood it was a joke because I was older and I understood things.
“Can I feel your hair?”
“Yeah, but don’t mess it up.”
So I felt her hair and she got mad at me for feeling it for too long, but when I took my hand off her hair was still straight. “See, it’s still straight.” But she was still mad at me and it hurt in my chest.
My chest felt really cold even though the back of my head felt really hot because the sun was behind the car and it wasn’t in her eyes. She wasn’t sitting next to me anymore. There was an empty seat next to me, but I realized that it wasn’t so empty because there was still the leather and the filling and I felt sad because nobody ever remembers the leather and the filling. But I remembered that Christy was in the backseat with Sean. I don’t know why I was driving. I wanted Sean to be driving so I could be in the backseat with Christy and feel her hair and see myself in her eyes even though the sun wasn’t in her eyes at that moment because the sun was in the wrong place. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I knew that the sun wouldn’t be in them because the sun was behind our car. I think it would’ve been in Sean’s eyes, though. Even though Sean should have been me. It would have been in Sean’s eyes because he was on top of her. And I wanted to be Sean so I could be in the backseat and feel her hair and see me in her darkened eyes. Or maybe she could be on top of me so that I could see me in her sunlit eyes. But I don’t think they noticed the lack of seeing-in-each-other’s eyes because both of their eyes were closed which was weird because I can feel a lot more with my eyes than with my lips but maybe they would understand when I was older. And I realized that I wasn’t looking at the road. Sean should have been looking at the road, and I should have been in the backseat with Christy but it was okay. But it wasn’t okay because Christy’s hair wasn’t straight anymore because Sean only cared about her lips and I wanted her hair to be straight.
She sat on my bed and her hair was straight. “Stop feeling my hair.” “But you like it.” “No I don’t.” “But you’re smiling.”
The dolls were smiling. And I didn’t get lost. Stop michael youll get lost. No mom no i wont but i didnt say i could still smell her because i didnt want her to tell me id understand when i was older because i didnt like puzzles or enigmas as the sophisticated said. And the dolls’ hair was straight and they were the first straight hair id seen because my mom and dad’s hair was curly and thusly i had curly hair and so did my brother and the dolls were the first time i felt straight hair and i noticed later on when i could understand that christy looked a lot like a doll to me because she was the only person with straight hair or maybe the dolls looked an awful lot like christy and when i was older i thought that to her if her parents had straight hair then i might look like a doll who had curly hair and i knew once i was older and her hair wasnt straight that it all depends on where you stand because i understood.
“You don’t understand.”
“When you feel the first tug. Then, all of this waiting will have been worth it.”
But I never felt a tug once the sun was behind me because a tug wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to see the sun across the water. Which I did. But this time, I came when the sun was behind me instead of in front because when it was in front I couldn’t bear to look over the water. But now, now that the sun was behind me, I could look because it was only a reflection and this time the intensity mattered.
“Why can’t I touch your hair?”
“You’ll mess it up.”
And the lady came over and yelled at me for knocking over all the dolls and my mom said sorry sorry sorry but the lady said that it was okay because i didnt understand even though my dad said ignorance is never an excuse and my mom took my arm and led me away and i was happy that we were going to not makeup shop but i was sad because i missed the dolls and i cried and my mom didnt cry with me and so i was crying alone.
“I didn’t want to put up balloons.”
“But you did anyway.”
“Because my mom asked me to.”
“You could have said no.”
“But I would have felt bad.”
“Don’t feel my hair.”
And then I got off of my bed but she stayed sitting down like always that singular day. I showed her my collection of cards and she smiled even though in her eyes which weren’t illuminated by the sun she looked bored. And I regretted showing her the cards. And I showed her my muscles but I didn’t have muscles like I thought I did and I regretted that too. And so far my fifteenth birthday was a lot of regret and not a lot of smiles and she looked bored. “Do you want to go home?” “No, it’s fine.” “Well, what’s wrong?” “Nothing.” But the rest of the day was filled with regret because I tried to make her wear a party hat but those were for six year olds, according to her. And I asked her if she wanted to go jump on the trampoline, and she said no because that was also for six year olds, according to her. And I regretted that. And I regretted that she didn’t want to have fun, and thusly I regretted inviting her. Even though I loved her. Her hair was straight.
And I felt an obligation to just drive even though Sean was in the backseat with Christy. And I felt jealousy and it really hurt my chest because I hadn’t ever felt jealousy before and it feels like emptiness inside your chest. I didn’t like it because the pain only got worse because I felt bad for being jealous because I was driving and Sean was seeing her with his lips and I wanted to see her with my lips even though the eyes were for seeing.
The water rippled beautifully, sending sunlight into my eyes. I didn’t feel alone, even though this time I had come when the sun was on the other side and thus, not with my father, because I had me. Self-reliance. I skipped rocks across the water for a while, but then stopped when I realized I couldn’t skip rocks. I was probably scaring the fish away, which was fine because I had already gotten all the tugs I needed from the fish. Now scaring them would maybe make them swim to somebody who didn’t have all the tugs yet. Someone who didn’t regret.
Although the sun was rising it was still in front of us and my chest was hot so I turned on the air. Christy just turned it back off, because her chest was warm, but it was a good warm, according to her. And I felt terrible for even turning on the air without asking her. I wanted to open the window but it wouldn’t be the same because even though her hair was naturally its nature, the wind would still mess it up and she would have to take a shower to make it straight again.
And Sean got off of her and I asked if it was my turn and I smiled but only I was smiling. Sean wasn’t smiling and Christy wasn’t smiling and the sun was behind me and I was in front of Christy’s house. And I started to get out because it was the gentlemanly thing to do but neither Sean nor Christy was smiling so I stayed in the car. And then I was alone so I could turn the air on. With her back turned to me, I saw that her hair wasn’t straight. Her hair was straight but then Sean was on top of her and it wasn’t straight anymore. And I felt bad that I wasn’t on top of her and then I felt bad because I felt bad that I wasn’t on top of her and jealousy hid behind a shroud of guilt and the engine turned on even though it had never been turned off and I decided to take a left instead of a right like the time my dad took me to the lake to fish.
It was time to cut the cake so mom got out all the candles and complained about how dad was taking too long but I couldn’t wait for him because Christy had to go home and I was glad she had to go home even though I was in love with her, and even though her hair was straight. Because once she went home I could cry and once she went home it would be just me out of me crying instead of me out of us crying and 100% is better than 50%. She said it was okay to cry, because when her boyfriend told her he didn’t love her she cried a lot but I think it was different because I was older and I understood and I was upset not about the fact that she didn’t love me but about the fact that that hammer failed to shatter the rose tinted glass and it still stood. Because once we know what’s behind the rose tinted glass, the rose tint goes away metaphorically not physically and we’re left with a view of the world that is quite real and quite sad and that should be a paradox but it isn’t.
“Are you okay, Michael?”
“It’s okay to be not okay.”
“It’s not okay to be not okay.”
“If it ever becomes okay to be not okay it’s okay to talk to me.”
“Okay.” Even though it wasn’t okay because Christy didn’t understand the concept of permanent not-okayness.
We went to the checkout line and i helped put everything on the conveyor even though my mom kept telling me not to because i put the eggs first and eggs are fragile so they should go last but mom wouldnt it not matter because the eggs could just go aside and we could put them on top later but no because it was never okay to be on the bottom even if you eventually ended up on top.
And I understood that when Sean’s hair wasn’t straight and Christy’s hair wasn’t straight, and now that their hairs were the same even though they had started out differently. And Sean had the same hair as I, which, by extension, meant that after Christy was on the bottom her hair was the same as mine but I didn’t like that because she was bottled water.
My dad opened up some bottled water and took a long drink. And once again I thought I felt a tug.
“I think I feel a tug.”
“How do you know?”
“Because when you get a tug, you don’t think you’ve got a tug. You know you’ve got a tug.”
And when I was sitting in the car with Christy the time that the sun was in front of us not behind us I realized that it was the same thing with love because I KNEW that I loved her I didn’t THINK that I loved her.
“You’re a pervert,” she said, before she opened the door, and the back of my head was hot.
“That wasn’t okay to say.”
“It was a joke.”
“It was a dumb joke and you should apologize.”
But I refused to apologize because I really did want to be in the backseat with her even though I knew she wouldn’t want to be in the backseat with me because she was QUITE clear about that.
“I would never.”
And before she laughed but now she had a serious face even though they were the same jokes as before because now she was older and she thought she understood and that’s bad. It’s okay to understand, but to think that one understands when in fountain-water reality one doesn’t understand is bad and thus the crusades and the inquisitions. And I realized that I was fountain water.
The water was very cool, which was unorthoprax because after a whole sun-trip of soaking in sun-rain the water should have been hot. But I realized that the lake was big and I was small so although one sun-trip makes me hot the lake will always be cool. And it can be cool and it can be cold and it can be frozen but it can never be hot.
And I cried the time I was at the lake with the sun behind me because I was alone and 100% of us were crying, which is the only time it was okay.
And I cried the time that I knocked over the dolls.
And I cried the time I was in the car with Christy and the sun was both in front of us and behind us because she didn’t love me and her hair wasn’t straight respectively.
That was when I forgot how to write.
“Bye, my love.”
And I can still pretend to write. I know logically where periods go. I know exactly where a comma or an exclamation mark ought to go. But the tugs taught me that ought to is quite different from is, because ought to is bottled water. We were twins in that regard. Ought to versus me versus her straight hair.
She rolled down the windows because her chest became a bad hot and her hair was still straight because we were on a slow road because the freeway scares me and she punched me for being scared and I punched her and she punched me again and I punched her again and I laughed and she laughed and 100% of us were laughing, like bottled water.
But when the sun was behind us and only 33% of us were laughing it was like fountain water.
As she left with a bit of frosting on her lips that I didn’t tell her about because it was sexy her hair was straight and everything was right in the world. But when she walked off and I only saw her backside and her hair wasn’t messed up and there wasn’t any dissonance between our hairs that was when I decided to go left instead of right and I thought about my mom and I cried and since Sean was on top there were 100% of us crying and it felt nice and that was why I decided not to go right.
She gave the lady her card and she swiped it because the card was money as far as i could understand and we took the bags that now appeared around our groceries because it wasnt okay to leave the store without plastic bags wrapped around our food and we went to the car and my mom opened the door and it hit the car next to her door and she swore but she didnt write a note and we just left even though she had left a dent and i didnt know whether the swearing or the denting was the worst of the two.
My mom cried as the balloons still blew in the wind and i knew it was because the sun would never glint on the truck again and i cried and she cried and 100% of us were crying but that time 100% was not as good as 50%. And 50% was not as good as 0%. And 0% was still not as good as the sun glinting on the hood of the truck.
And I didn’t get a truck the next year because it would have made 100% of us cry and that wouldn’t have been good. I got a car. A regular car that was grey and had both headlights working and an audio jack so I could listen to my music because I didn’t like the radio.
“Don’t love me.”
“I can’t not love you.”
“You have to not love me.”
But i would get lost so i couldnt not makeup shop because even though she didnt need the slightly whatever eyeliner because in my opinion she was beautiful without it and she yelled at me for still pouting about the makeup even though i was already home and i said i still remembered it so why does that matter because mom a memory is no different from reality but i didnt actually say that because that wasnt something i understood until i was older.
And the sun reflected across the lake from behind and my dad said it was time to go and we loaded the empty cooler which wasn’t really empty because it was full of ice but it was empty as far as we needed to understand. And I asked my dad if today was a success and he asked me if I had fun and I lied and said yes so he lied and said it was even though we had an empty cooler.
I told myself I could see the marks where we had the cooler when the sun was glinting off of the truck, even though my brain knew that I couldn’t but my mind held on to the bottled water. And I could still see the marks of Christy in the backseat because it was just hours ago and she left a hair there and it was straight. It was weird that it was straight because Sean did a good job of unstraightening her hair but I like to think that this one escaped before Sean ruined it and was on top. And I didn’t see any marks where Sean was because he was on top and Christy could see herself in his eyes even though he couldn’t and wouldn’t see himself in hers. Which I regretted because when Christy was in the car with me and the sun was in front of us neither of us were on top so we both saw ourselves in the other’s eyes but what was a hopeful future for me was a reflection for her, even though they’re often the same thing. And I closed my eyes because I didn’t see the marks, and I opened them because the sun was beautiful from behind me on the lake. And the sand felt good on my feet, even though it was kind of warm because even though there was as much sand as water sand tends to behave as an individual whereas water understands teamwork, because it’s older than us all. And I understood how to write again, although at the same time, I understood that it’s okay not to use synonyms despite how frequent some words are because the words should be frequent. Punctuation is sometimes unnecessary because sometimes there shouldn’t be an end or a break or emotions. Sometimes there should just be the sun over the water and the sand hot under my feet and the marks of Christy not in the backseat but in the passenger seat, but that was long ago and the marks had faded. I thought of how probably right now Sean was on top again but that was okay because her hair was already messed up. And the sand was hot on my feet, and although I understood I wasn’t any older. And I buried my feet in the sand, because the farther down I went the more cool that it got and burning turned to warming like frozen turning into cool. And I realized that the sun would soon not be on the water so I got my feet out of the sand, burning again, but they were cool in the water. And my toes were cool in the water, and then my feet, and my ankles, and my knees—
© Copyright 2016 Austin Mordahl. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Other
Short Story / Other
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