Cut from the Team
Short Story by: Diana Christina
I've developed a method for biting my nails.An algorithm, although math is far from my strong suit.Rip, rip, peal, chew.Rip,
Right brain:this is cannibalism.Left brain:stop romanticizing.
Lips:scrape below teeth in sad attempt to rid mind of seizure.
Seventy-five cent cherry cola lip stain, first date blush, store bought mascara.Those lips were made for bubble gum.Your turn.In my head, I fit pink balloons between the consonants.You-inflate-r tur-inflate-n.
Harbinger.That hoodie used to have sleeves.
"Harbinger."It comes purple out of my throat, a bruise."Why can you call him Bryce."This is violet, tinted by the conversation of the night—crimson—and lost amidst it:the overdone laughter of twenty-somethings, the exasperation of younger siblings so eloquent in its language, the platitudes of first dates that have become new and novel on a Saturday night in the bowling alley such as this.
His arm is amorphous as it reaches out for the ball, and so is his hand.The letters move further away as he steps to take the shot.I squint.
H—r-b.They are lost with Bryce's hand, which—my ears register—has flicked to release the ball.The picture in front of me ebbs and the sudden notion that the bowling alley is representative of my life and Bryce its vanishing point possesses me.
"Don't vanish."I squint as hard as I can, trying to pull my focus back in, but all I get is bokeh.Eyebrows tingle.Water.Sweat.Fever.Right.Idiot, why'd you come—
"Shit, what's he—"
"Oh my god—"
Throwing up never felt so good.
And when I am pulled to the table by the door and cold again, "Are you okay?Shit, if I'd known you were this sick I wouldn't have…"
"It's fine," he says."I'll be at your house at six?"
6:05.You can change the station if you want.It's alright.You sure?Uhuh.
The rain sounds nicer than the music.I bet he knows that, because he doesn't turn the radio up.
"You gonna play tonight?"
"Maybe."Drawn out, like a soap bubble, followed by a laugh."I mean, I'm fast and all, but that whole tackling ordeal—well, you know me."
I do?"Yeah."Breathe out of my nose.
6:24.Car stops—actually, lurches forward and then stops, like adhesion.We are stuck to the road, and I am stuck to this moment.His eyes move to my nails.My eyebrow raises.
"Does that prevent you from biting them?I remember in eighth grade when you used to bite them so bad they'd bleed."
Right brain:Brody, you're an idiot.
Left brain:Stop biting your nails.It's not sanitary.
Familiar paper-airplane expression:eyebrows upturned, nose pinched, smile crooked.Five years of math with Bryce have made that face notorious."I've always wanted to paint my nails black."
Right brain:How are you not dead from your stupidity?
Moratorium as we both exhale.Bryce breaks it by delivering another expression eminent among awkward male car conversations:"You taking Merissa to homecoming?"
My eyes ignore the incredulous pumping of my heart and the distraught insistence of my teeth upon the inside of my lip—I look at him.This is the true moratorium.In the time that it should be searching for signs of comprehension in Bryce's clever blue eyes, however, my mind has zealously occupied itself with the conundrum of whether or not I will freeze to death in his car.
"I—Oh.I didn't know.I wouldn't have—"
"Is this Emma?"Now that I am enlightened of the fact that muteness better serves my character than words in Bryce's presence, I nod."She looks prettier in this picture."
Sometimes, I have to speak."It's just because I drew her in profile.People tend to look more elegant that way."
"Yeah, I can see that."Face flashes with a smile.
Mock disbelief:curl brows, flare nostrils, show gums.I have achieved a talent for expressions that I will never with words.
He grins, showing his gums, too.Leans back.Says, "Why not?"
"Well, you know.I wouldn't be able to make you more attractive than you already are—since that's what you were hoping, I bet."But, every thousand times or so, I get lucky with them.
Bryce nods his head slow for dramatic effect, then springs himself off the table with quarterbackly grace, landing, leaving and swinging his backpack over his shoulder all in one movement.
Inhale.Taste paint.Let it bite down your throat, devour the lump that talking has put there.Look down at my sheet of paper:white and tired, like the weather today.Trace a tree.
Fuck, how am I late for my first game.
Right brain:Why are we doing this again?
Left brain:He needs the exercise.
Footsteps, steady—must belong to an adult.Body responds in the same fashion it does to the ball during practice:swivel, catch breath, snare—
"I know I'm late, it won't—"
"Don't get a stroke."Bryce.
"Coach is gonna—"
"I had Andy stand in for you.I don't think he can tell you guys apart.I swear, you and him are twins."
"Oh."Better stick with the words I know.
"Yeah.That whole tackling ordeal."Never too late for some personality, Brody.
Airplane smile, which I make a point to ignore."I would give you a whole monologue about how this is your defining moment, but…"
"But?"Second nature to play along.
"I'm gonna try something."
He punches me in the face.No, he hasn't punched me, because there is no blood on my nose and no pain where my lips are.Where Bryce's lips were.
"What the he—"
Those letters again.His back to me and already at the door, laughing unashamedly."There had to be a reason for that obsession you started with drawing trees."
Convulsions—that's it, I'm going to die—but I am laughing.The words spill out with no trouble."That's right, Bryce.Thanks to your fucking good work, I can stop drawing trees now!That is, if I survive getting mowed over tonight!"
© Copyright 2017 Diana Christina. All rights reserved.