by Travis Hedge Coke
When Marianne, short and round, followed tall, rugged Joe Petrelli, to 1743 Mulberry, she had never done it. He had been her boyfriend since the end of middle school, and he had even been her boyfriend when she had dyed her hair and it came out two different colors in bands like a raccoon. But, they had never done it. She hadn’t.
She had written sex scenes at least thirteen times, three of which she had felt had enough artistic integrity that she posted them to a fic repository online. But, she was still a virgin after that night, in the abandoned house a block over from her own home—or, her parents’ home where she lived—at 1743 Mulberry Street.
Marianne's parents had come, found Joe and her in the still-furnished bedroom, where they had been lounging on the floor, ignoring the dusty but otherwise okay bed. Marianne’s dad lifted her off the tile floor like a tiger and before she could understand why her brain had compared him to a tiger, she was in the family truck and then she was home and then she was at the police station, because her parents are insane.
How else do you explain them insisting the police run a rape kit on her? Her mom and dad both saying it over and over. “Rape kit.” And demanding evidence for trial. It already felt like they were being watched on camera, alone in the abandoned house. Knowing her parents must have been there at least long enough to come in and take her was frightening.
Not only did she not get laid by the sweetest boy ever, which was probably a good thing anyway, she was sitting with Sheriff Brant who was maybe more embarrassed than she was, but definitely not as angry.
“I’m sure this has to be done at the hospital,” the Sheriff told her mother, who had jumped in front of her dad as if she was saving him from an oncoming bullet. “I’m sure this has to be done with an accompanying female officer, and we don’t have any female cops—”
“That Indian boy—” Marianne’s mom cut him off, “I know you have female officers! I know—”
“I know we do, too, but they are all off tonight. Tonight,” Sheriff Brant stressed, “tonight, we don’t have any female officers on duty.”
“And I haven’t had,” Marianne piped up, then changed it to, “we didn’t do anything.”
In the end, he sent them all home. That probably is not how the Sheriff is supposed to handle a rape accusation, but if her parents had kept arguing it, Marianne would have started reciting statistics on how long rape kits sit without being tested, or never get really looked at. She did not have to, though. Her parents, excitable, were just as fast to calm down, and once they did, something like this, they would pretend it away.
Before she went to sleep, Marianne wrote unoccupied in her notebook and crossed it out. Unoccupied, looks odd. Unoccupied, is weird. She wrote empty, beside the twelve long lines covering up the other word, and went to bed.
And, by morning, the Island family had pretended it away. Marianne knew her parents would avoid talk of it, so she was never going to bring it up to them. She held her pink sheet over her face for an extra few minutes that morning, got up stridently, went to the shower, ran the water too hot, and had some instant oatmeal with hot water from the tap instead of using the microwave, while her dad stood at the range, boiling a little blue pot for his instant coffee.
“You should invite Susan inside,” her father said, and the invocation of her smarter, thinner, more pleasing to her parents friend, brought Marianne back to Earth.
The school, nine blocks away, felt like a distant future that did not even have to be worried over, it was so unlikely to be reached. The girls walked together with an unhurried speed, crossing the street regularly without reason, stepping off and back onto the sidewalk. Marianne tried not to reach up to touch the leaves they passed by. Unlike Susie, she did not want to appear or behave younger than the adults that, in the days before their seventeenth birthdays (three days apart!), they were soon to be.
“He said it?” Susie Peyer asked Marianne as they moved in the direction of the school. “Like that?”
“He did,” said Marianne. Susie pinked up at the mention of her dad. That used to bother Marianne. Now, it felt like power she had over her friend, and that bothered her. Susie is the white girl best friend in any movie you’ve seen about a girl as brown as Marianne. Of course, her dad liked her better than his actual daughter.
Marianne said, “I think it’s absolutely weird that you stand outside and wait for me, but my dad loves you, so it’s ‘You should invite Susan in, and not make her stand out on the sidewalk like a goon.’”
Susie kicked at her friend’s leg, missed, and pretended she hadn’t, saying “He did not call me a goon.”
Marianne still touched as many of the lower branches as she could whenever they went beneath a tree and she noticed that Susie walked backwards at lengths, always sort of glancing at the ground or to the side of behind, just to be careful.
“My dad should leave my mom and just marry you.”
Susie tripped a little. She kept going backwards, but slowed. She said, “Speaking of which, you’re going to have to tell me if you and Joe did it.”
Susie laughed, but did not smile. “It.”
Marianne grabbed her friend by the shirt and stopped walking.
“How is that a speaking of which?”
Susie’s smile broke across her face like the dawn. “You did it! You did it in a murder house! And, your parents found you!”
The school seemed a lot closer. Marianne could see the tiny brick wall that rimmed the front doors. Less than two feet high, it had always perplexed her. Now, it reassured in its way.
It was not a murder house. Not even a particularly sexy house. Just abandoned, with a green awning and two saplings at the end of the drive. But, it had felt particular. The house had been empty awhile, she knew that, but she had still felt observed. Watched as if by camera. Maybe, by ghosts. It seemed to have been evacuated quickly, with determination. Somebody, maybe, wanted to make sure they could leave. The house and flight flitted through her normal thoughts like a bat dipping panicked in the sunlight, looking for somewhere to go to sleep. Maybe they had not been alone before her parents got there. Maybe that’s why she could not do what she assumed she was supposed to.
“Nothing happened,” she said, to make sure that Susie understood. “My parents showed up immediately. They pulled us out of there like someone was going to kill us and—”
“It’s a murder house. Someone could kill you. Plus Joe’s gay; he’s not going to have sex with you.”
“They made me go to the police. They wanted it reported as a rape.”
Susie halted her bff with a hand on each shoulder, just outside the school parking lot.
She screwed her eyes around, looking somewhere in her peripheral vision for something not there, then asked, “Joe had sex with you?”
“They know nothing happened,” Marianne demanded, forging on towards the school. “They made me go in. Words were had. Then we went home. There is no report. There is no…anything.”
“Your family,” said Susie.
“And, you know it will never be brought up again,” said Marianne.
Time is not your friend when you are a high school junior. It is neither reliable nor persistent.
Ninety more minutes until school ended. The world just sat there outside the classroom windows. Some days, you might take careful stock of how its beauty entices closer knowledge. You might not take notice at all, some days.
Marianne always got more poetic in the afternoon. Why did English have to be in the morning? She could write so much better after lunch, but the school insisted on putting her in Music Appreciation, where she occasionally shook the little eggs full of sand or open-mouth hummed, hoping Mrs. Sandoval would not realize she wasn’t singing while everyone else belted out the same songs they seem to always make you sing in school.
Twenty minutes later, she had Algebra 2 in a room with the windows papered over by freshmen paintings on butcher paper. She discretely texted Susie from under cover of her desk, while the teacher began lecturing. The bell had not even rung yet. It was rude, but so was texting, so Marianne let her teacher have hers and she took her own.
Is your aunt picking us up? she asked Susie.
Susie wrote back, She has a motorcycle, presumably from her class.
Susie’s parents had become Jehovah’s Witnesses overnight, and so Susie could have a friend sleep over, and her aunt came into town to help celebrate, but she could not have a party, or presents, or decorations. Both Susie and Marianne were anxiously awaiting the Peyers’ eventual awareness that they did not truly want to be dogmatically religious at all. Far from a holy calling, their joining a church was roughly the same as them signing up for courses at the junior college last fall, or when Mr. Peyer took on a newspaper route nearly a year back.
Marianne knew that Susie’s whole family was bored. And, they were distancing themselves with every day. It was why Susie had dramatically stopped demanding everyone call her Susan, which had been the case as long as anyone could recall. It was why her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Peyer, constantly involved themselves in anything that would keep them from having to be at home, together, and feel the need to talk.
By contrast, Marianne’s parents were locked at the hip. Her dad did not really have a crush on Susie, even if it was funny to see Susie get somehow upset about it. It would be more exciting if he did. Her dad was as in love with her mom as he’d ever been. And her mom was worse over him. It might have bugged her less, except that their love was often expressed by smothering Marianne with the intensity she imagined the rest of the Peyers’ new church probably experienced every time they had mass or whatever it is Jehovah’s Witnesses have.
Sunlight jumped from the teacher’s bald head. Light ovals vigorously elongated, meticulous, enchanting. Marianne penciled notes for an acrostic in her math notebook, while Mr. Edwards lectured on vapidly, ending each point by articulating towards the chalkboard chock-full of equations that she would never care about. Acrostics obsessed her where mathematics failed to even elicit a little interest. Hidden messages. Clues and cues hidden in the open.
Maybe she’ll borrow mom’s truck, Susie texted. Which is how Marianne realized she’d been daydreaming for an hour. It was almost time to go.
She drew Susie in a margin. For a second, she hoped she would always draw her friend in margins at times.
She put her pen down to look at a text from Joe. I hate this stupid mantreat.
I’ll miss you, she wrote back.
Cud I hide in ur basement? came next, Like a refugee.
She wanted to send Joe her small poem, the acrostic of his name, of love, of herself, part of herself. Maybe you don’t text poems to your boyfriend from your math class. Maybe, it was just Marianne who did not.
She knew she was not good at these things. Maybe, not at anything.
You could, she wrote, not go.
He sent to her, or, with no capitalization or punctuation. Or, follow-up. or
“Came to town for a break, not to drive you two around.”
Marianne was glad to be in the cramped backseat, and glad that Susie sat next to her instead of up front with her aunt. Karen was Susie’s mother’s sister and every visit Marianne ever remembered her coming on meant some new level of adult troubles that Marianne and Susie learned about. Susie, for this, loved her Aunt Karen.
Karen Blue terrified Marianne.
“So,” Karen continued, “both you birthday girls owe me three things: Don’t get me into trouble. Don’t get into trouble I need to bail you out of. And, tell me something exciting enough I don’t feel I’m wasting my time driving you around.”
The truck cab smelled of eggs and sugar and carpine™ (the trademark scent emitted only by cardboard dash-hanging Christmas trees, having nothing to do with actual Christmas trees, pine of any sort, or any other form of cardboard). Karen was not smoking the cigarette in her mouth, but chewing on it ferociously. Marianne, who suspected the cigarette was not tobacco, felt very unbalanced.
The whole world felt off-balance.
“Marianne’s boyfriend is gay,” said Susie, not blurting or yelling, just a declaration.
Marianne swatted her shoulder. “Is not.”
“And, going to gay camp.”
Karen looked back to Marianne, which worried her since she was directly behind Susie’s aunt at the time. Something in her face asked for confirmation, and even though they were in the middle of a conversation, Marianne suspected it was not about that topic, but something different. Not even only something else. Something different.
“That part is true. It’s a ‘mantreat.’”
We need to tkl, he texted her, because speak of the devil.
“They’re going to get all drum circle and endurance with each other. A banging, sweating gay—”
“All right!” Marianne shouted. She could admit she shouted it. She wanted to not hear what her friend was too happy to say. And, it really was not like that. “It’s not that gay. It’s just a dumb name for a confidence-building camp thing. Your parents make you go to church services.”
Joe texted an amendment: Talk.
Karen’s eyes were in the rearview mirror, but she was not looking at Marianne. Marianne looked at her.
Her blues eyes made time jump like they made a lump in Marianne’s throat.
It is a good thing that Marianne does not believe in signs. Karen’s eyes looked prophetic. Older than fifty-something. Older than anything.
Was her birthday really coming right after Susie’s? She knew it was true, but could not bear to think of either of them getting much older. It seemed such a pain to be older. Maybe that’s why they were still doing sleepovers and planned this one out essentially no differently than a sleepover between nine-year-olds, or tweens.
They could dye their hair and get it right this time. They were old enough now.
The street was wobbly under them. Karen accelerated.
Marianne flicked through the playlist on her phone, looking at the song titles, hitting delete as they came up. “The House Where Nobody Lives.” “Too Bad About Your Girl.” “Girl From Detroit City.” “Sea of Monsters.” Her phone was a lot more emo than she was. “Art of Dying.” “Little Bag of Gloom.” What even was “Little Bag of Gloom”? Had she really downloaded that?
A text: We need to talk, k?
Then came one of Joe’s odd emojis.
“Is that him texting?” Karen asked.
Marianne swallowed against the lump balling in her throat. Her neck cramped. Yes, she wanted to say. She finally could. “Yes.”
“Text him back.”
She toughened up, pressure intensely dousing her spirit in the same fashion as an ocean of gasoline might press your clothes against your body but also burn your skin and your eyes. Was that her age talking, or her immaturity?
“I’m mad at him,” she said, not really knowing if she was. “I don’t want to text him back.”
Karen did not even shrug. She said, “Well, la-di-da.”
The night was fun and silly and was going by too fast, when they received the call. The voice on the other side, which no one recognized even though it was Marianne’s mom, refused to say what it was about to anyone except Marianne.
Marianne, after a moment of listening and arguing, and listening again, told Susie and Susie’s aunt exactly what it was about.
“My father killed himself.”
Not “dad,” not “pops.” Father. It was an unfamiliar formality. Being dead was not like him. Having died was unlike him. Marianne felt stupid and threw up in her mouth and swallowed it. Life was a series of links on a chain just now and all of the chain was stupid.
“There is no way your dad killed himself,” said Susie.
Marianne knew she was only trying to help. ____ her anyway. “He is dead.”
Marianne did not know what to do. She felt silly that she could not even think of a swear word against her friend, and Susie looked more messed up than she felt, standing there blank and crying already. Marianne realized she was not crying. Was she sure she could cry about it? Do other people ask themselves permission to cry or to react to things when this happens? She did not know what to do.
If Susie’s aunt knew, she gave no indication. Karen, for her part, settled back into her chair as if standing was not the thing to do.
Leia Marianne Island hid inside soft undulating susurrations. Inside empty space, a room of air and quiet that had ascended to surround her. Empty aches formed like ice.
Marianne walked out of the world’s most uncomfortable kitchen to the porch, shutting the door carefully behind her, making sure it shut all the way. She sat on the step, taking her phone out, her earbuds, and putting the buds in her ears, she cued up music, skipped two songs (“Seventeen” and “Dweller on the Threshold”) and listened to “Better Than Revenge,” thankful, for a moment, that she had not fully outgrown Taylor Swift mostly because her mom had not fully outgrown Taylor Swift yet and gave her earworms regularly.
Pushing the left earbud in deeper, Marianne was grateful her mom was not there and so wished she could magically show up and sit with her. If your mom could just appear when you needed, maybe things like suicide would not be as bad.
A hand touched her arm. She jumped, throwing the earbuds out of her.
Joe leaned away from her and whispered loudly, “I need to talk with you.”
She said, “My dad,” but no sound came out of her.
“Your dad did not kill himself,” said Joe, sensitively. “And, I’m gay.”
In the far future, this moment would cause Marianne to hyperventilate and to drink. There would be a phantom earbud pushing sickly into her ear canal so soft and plastic it would make her sick. This was in the future, a future she could see but not touch as she stayed there with Joe and his dumb words. Some evenings take your life from the frying pan and into the garbage bin.
“Devil is the name for he who comes when you call him.”
Marianne wrote that when she was fourteen, feeling at the time that she was being provocative and smart. It was a paraphrase of something in a Betty comic. Betty’s Diary or Betty and Veronica. Maybe, less paraphrase and more she stole it.
Laughing in secret.
The way named satire.
Devil is the name for he who comes when you call him.
Funny how two years will make wit seem stupid. And, another few months, stupid is scary.
Joe saw a man argue with Marianne’s dad hours before they discovered his body with a hole blown clean through his skull one end to the other. The police were, presumably, looking into that.
Marianne’s mom was holed up at a hotel with her sister, planning the funeral and interment. Marianne was not invited and she could not just stay home, so she was living with the Peyers.
No one volunteered any new information. At all.
And, Joe had to go, for the weekend, on his mantreat.
Stupid to stupid scary in so many seconds.
They skipped over her birthday. No one had time for her birthday. Or, they were afraid to inflict it on her. Marianne really could not be sure. People could be kind. It might not be that she was being forgotten.
“Mantreat,” seemed less funny than it had. That made her a worse person, Marianne understood, whether the loss of humor was from homophobia or jealousy.
She played “Little Bag of Gloom” on repeat. A lot.
She wanted someone to pick a fight with her over it. Criticize her. Question her. And, though no one would, she remained ready to jump to the defensive. Laughing in secret.
Maybe her dad was gay, before he killed himself. Gay with Joe. While she thought her dad crushed on her best friend, maybe he was after her boyfriend.
You think things, especially when bored, that are not going to be true. She was more in love with Susie’s Aunt Karen than her dad was going to be chasing Joe Petrelli. She did not really think about Karen that much, but she thought about thinking about her. Could she be in love with the idea of being in lust with her? It would be easier if it were homophobia.
Swallowed words still escaped Marianne’s mouth. “I want to talk to Joe.”
“Good,” said Susie. “He says your dad was murdered.”
It was so early in the morning that half the channels were still infomercials. Susie had on a dirty movie she shouldn’t have, even though it wasn’t hardcore dirty and maybe it was a TV show and not a movie. Marianne’s house did not have all the channels the Peyers sprang for, even when they had religion. Susie was weird. She liked putting on things that were practically biological, then pretending not to care or notice.
At least, this time, she did not turn the sound up to two or three bars and test to see if her parents would hear. If they would come down.
Marianne realized her dad would never come to the door and knock if she turned up the volume on a dirty TV show. That couldn’t happen anymore.
She said, “My dad wasn’t murdered,” and “I want you to talk to Joe. For me.”
“You can talk to him.”
“Maybe your aunt can talk to him,” she suggested.
The sharp, TV-worthy thing to say would be, “No, you’re Aunt Jemima,” or “No, the other aunt you have visiting.” Marianne said neither, because neither was something you should say outside of snarky television. They would need to both have no consequence following them, and a canned ooooh! in support.
The pornography bolstered her discomfort. The lights being off, the early hour, the quiet of the room and the muted television, her awareness of other, sleeping bodies in other rooms. She spoke quickly, still in whispers though she had not noticed they were whispering till then. “Your Aunt Karen could maybe help Joe with being gay.”
Fussing new mp3s onto her playlist also helped Marianne not pay any attention. She wiped off everything on there. But, then she only loaded up seven songs.
“Why doesn’t your mom call?”
Susan Peyer: model of five a.m. tact.
“Well,” Susie continued, “your dad died at the murder house. Your mom is completely out of contact with you. Your boyfriend took you to the murder house. Your boyfriend is out of town. And, he’s gay.”
Susie rolled onto her back and the whole bed they had tried to share, that Marianne had until just then avoided thinking about for loads of minutes, rocked on its thin metal legs and loose screws. She said, “Miss Marple would be on this stuff now.”
Kevenn Mayhew owned the home at 1743 Mulberry, until it went unoccupied, then became abandoned. This is fact. Possibly fact. It was something Susie told Marianne and reasonable, is all. Nescient, non possumus except that it did make sense. It fit.
Our heroine had been in the Peyers’ living room for an hour. Susie just had entered, lazily lolling on the couch, then off the couch onto the carpet.
Marianne had been committing re-doubly to her homework, as her home life fell further and more awkwardly apart. “Did you know that nonscene is a word?” she asked her friend. “It’s maybe a pun.”
She ran through the seven tracks. Skip skip. “Seventeen”. “Dweller on the Threshold.” “Better Than Revenge. “Flip Sting.” “We Are the Normal.” “Lonely Hunter. “Something to Believe In.” “Seventeen.” “Dweller.” And, left it there.
They had committed to a lot of research, mostly fruitless. Less effusion is actually called for now, but Marianne was improving at it. Research, though, was difficult. Repetitious and mostly fruitless.
Marianne leaned into the door frame. She hoped someone would open the door and hit her, but it swings out, so that wasn’t going to happen.
Susie was on her back, fingering the carpet with her bared toes, throwing a pencil just a little in the air and catching it. She asked, “Were we ever going to ask Aunt Karen to talk to Joe?”
Everything was wrong. Front doors were intended to swing in.
If Marianne could crack this, she could get life on a track. It did not as much matter which track or the right track. A track was sufficient. Some acceptable control.
“In stories, research is always easier. You just look at microfiche until you see a familiar name. Or, ask your friend on the force.” Marianne had not meant to say it aloud. Or, she had, but now she regretted it. Things we believe we did not mean to do, but did, are mostly always matters of regret. More deliberately, to cover, she said, “There was a Kevenn Mayhew. And, then the house is abandoned. I don’t think Joe knew that there was a Kevenn when he took me there, though.”
The pencil hit Susie in the face.
“The only thing Joe and I have in common is that we like horror,” said Susie. She started to add, “And…”
Marianne said with her: “We both like boys.”
“Lost its luster?” Susie asked Marianne.
Marianne closed her textbook. Self-righteousness and selfishness flared in her brain. She decided to try Biology. Maybe she would have more luck with cell division, fauna and flora.
Wholly absorbed in her father’s death, Marianne did not graduate with her classmates at John Locke High School. She made it through the Junior year. But, in the last, she crapped out. A perpetual-clean-up-duty employee of the unimaginatively named The Barn, she screwed her eyes around, looking somewhere in her peripheral vision for something not there. She smelled of BBQ sweetness, propane depth, and the cleaning products used to keep the white, white, and the off-white clean in the bathrooms. And, that was her every day.
A missing neighbor.
A quiet, empty house.
Rape accusation from parents.
A satisfied, if tired woman.
And, here she was now.
She had lost regular contact with Susie, and with Susie’s parents, and mostly with her own mother and sister. She shared a small apartment with Joe, and barely thought of the days when they were dating and she could have married him even though he was kind of dumb. Now, she was here.
She went by Leia and felt she had in essence outgrown nearly everything. She had outgrown her family. Her plans. This town.
She had made friends with the police, because that was what all the mystery literature made clear that you should do. Sheriff Brant. Sheriff Brant’s replacement.
Both sheriffs died on Mulberry Street. No obvious connection between their deaths. No causal connection. Like acrostics or anagrams, meanings could be found, connections could be made, but short of a confession, they could be impossible to substantiate. Regardless of how events ran together, how elements might appear as systems, much could be written off as chance.
The sketch of her life would be a cartoon investigation, a mystery seeking. Seven sequels to a splash debut.
Kevenn Mayhew cut a rent check for 1430 Mulberry, just up the street, and Leia had run to it like charge down the length of a lightning rod, but Mayhew, if there was a man, never occupied 1430 Mulberry, and the check had not cleared, either. The owner of the property tired quickly of Leia Island, reporting her and her suspiciously made-up-sounding name to the police force she no longer had any friends on.
Coincidences. Joe was marrying in June, unless something happened. They had met, the first time, the mantreat Joe’s parents made him go to. Joe had not remembered, but Harold had.
Past floating Joe’s end of the rent for him, once a month, Leia was not sure she had any reasons remaining in this town, to stay.
And, it was on the twenty-second birthday of her once upon a time best friend, that things did turn.
April twelfth circled around the corner. She’d be older. She went back and forth between feeling that age and the reality that it was days off. Leia had gone back to Marianne. She was grateful for this April ninth, and she was grateful for Susie Peyer.
“I wanted to tell you so bad, I left my birthday party,” said Susie, over video chat.
Not changing your log-in name since high school apparently did have at least one benefit. Marianne was glad she had been found.
“Where are you?”
“My apartment,” said Susie, lying on her back in front of her computer, throwing a pencil a little in the air above her face and catching it. “Why?”
Susie wore a red cape-coat and red leggings with white stars—no, white snowflakes. Sometimes it snows in April. This could have been much odder.
“Where was your party?” Marianne was steeling for disappointment.
Susie threw and caught the pencil. “Quit complicating things. Do you want to know the news?”
“Your parents bought you that pony you always wanted.”
“Remember 1743 Mulberry Street? The murder house? Okeh,” said Susie, “you wouldn’t forget. But…”
“Did your aunt Karen, sleep on the floor?”
April 9. April 12. Our birthdays, three days apart.
“My Aunt Karen? Yeah, but…”
Left to its own, the Mayhew House at 1743 Mulberry Street was a divinity school of orchestrated furniture and arranged resonance. The house sat, turning into earth, turning into the Earth like a multi-room screw that had only been rented to Kevenn Mayhew and now impermanently and longly bore something dangerous, but close to his name.
Joe Petrelli and I were only transient visitations to the house on Mulberry. I was obsessed with my dad. Obsessed with Susie's Aunt Karen. Obsessed with the legend of Kevenn Mayhew. The Legend of Kevenn Mayhew. And, I convinced myself I was not. The worst is that I more than believed I was not obsessed, I believed I had never heard of him or the home or the Legend. I would play naive so I could seem precocious. I lied in my head, to keep from shame.
I called myself Leia for how long? It is my name, yes. But, I did not use it day in, day out, because it was my name. I was avoiding Marianne. The humiliations of Marianne.
I’m going to cry.
Enthusiastic people make stuff up to have something to get excited about.
Days piled over each other like dog mess in an untended yard. I sat in the house with the soundtrack of my childhood on playback, looped for hours. I grew old and ingrown. I watched TV older than me. Estelle Getty. Jasmine Guy. The tall bailiff guy who was always sticking out his chin.
What would have happened to Marianne and Joe if they hadn’t been pulled out of the house?
A waste. A waste was I. But, I was incapable of synthesizing Leia and Marianne Island. When the time came, the devil swallowed Kevenn wholly and left no trace, but nothing would ever come this way for Leia, Marianne, or me. Even embarrassing psychic moments meant nothing. He ran away to LA. I mythologized a rental property.
My parents had been a unit of two. The Islands.
I was, as a child, a part of the Islands, but I think it must always have been obvious to others that I would not last under the sobriquet. Should I say, under the title? For me, maybe, it was only, after all, a sobriquet. A longer, unusual word, but with less weight and no duty. Sobriquet will have to do.
“No way, am I forty.”
“You’re not,” I told Susie, “you’re thirty-nine.”
“It’s one year different. It’s coming. Forty is already here and knocking.”
My friend. My friend. My good friend.
To be old and hold her hand. To be kids in our hearts and almost old women in body. The threads of our friendship are ropes of soul. We are wrapped in friendship. In Christmas tones in April sunlight.
Susie jerks her hand left and right, almost shaking mine off.
“You haven’t done that since we were little,” I said. “When did you turn into a kid again?”
A ripple in a rivulet of windshield rain. What she said, meant, “In the fall.”
Travis Hedge Coke is a regular columnist for The Comics Cube, associate editor of Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, and a Hugo and Pushcart nominee. Until recently he taught at Shandong University, and is enjoying his return to the United States. A former editor of Platte Valley Review and Future Earth Magazine, his own writing can be found in Gargoyle, The Lumberyard, and in anthologies including The Willow's Whisper and The World is One Place.