The Sea of Tranquility(17)


by Katja Millay

She looks almost exactly the same as the first time she showed up here, except she’s not lost or scared. She came here on purpose. We look at each other for a minute and I realize that I’m waiting for her to say something, which obviously isn’t going to happen. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say to her, so in a bold and unprecedented move, I do nothing. I turn around and continue looking for the stud finder I know isn’t here. I pretend not to care what she’s doing but I’m hyperaware of every breath she takes. I can tell the second she decides to stop standing there. Only she doesn’t turn and leave like I expect her to; she steps into the garage.

I can’t pretend I’m not noticing her now. I watch to see what she’s going to do. She’s looking around again, like she did the night she showed up all sweaty and lost and amazing. She’s not looking at me at the moment; she’s much more interested in the surroundings. It’s just a garage with a lot of wood and tools. I don’t know what’s so mesmerizing about it but I’m not arguing, because while she’s preoccupied with studying the room, I can study her. The make-up is gone again tonight and her hair is up so I can see her face. Even when she went to dinner at Drew’s house, she still had all of the make-up on: black eyeliner, dark red lips, the works. It’s horrible and it makes no sense when you see what’s underneath it.

She’s not as drenched or out of breath as before but she still must have been running. I wonder if she runs every night. Her legs are all muscle, just like her arms. It still doesn’t look right with her face. Her face reminds me of the porcelain dolls that are still lining the shelves in my sister’s room. Childlike. Smooth and hard and flawless and fragile.

She walks around, running her hands along the counters, stopping at the vise attached to the end of one of the workbenches. She turns it a few times, watching it close, before sliding her hand in between the plates and continuing tighten it. I can’t even move because I’m wondering what’s going on, but the more it turns, the tighter the hold gets on her hand and I don’t know how much longer I can ignore it before I have to jump up and ask her if she’s batshit crazy. I get the feeling I’m actually standing in my garage, watching this girl decide whether or not to crush her hand. She stops just shy of that point and loosens the vise just enough to where it releases her hand and then she continues her surveying of the room.

My eyes shift away before she sees me looking and I start rifling through the same drawers I’ve already searched twice tonight before I start working my way around the counters. The workbench my father and I built together years ago lines the perimeter of the garage. According to Mark Bennett, you could never have enough work surfaces. The more the better. So we built in as much as the garage could handle. I think maybe it was just something to do.

I hear her move while my back is to her, and when I turn around, she’s sitting on the workbench on the other side of the garage. She’s just planted herself there and made herself comfortable. Okay. It’s kind of freaking me out to have her sitting in my garage, watching me. Because that’s what she’s doing now. She’s watching me and she’s not even bothering to try and conceal the fact that she’s doing it. I kind of want to scream at her to get the hell out, but I also kind of want her to stay. Which makes me the dumbass I am.

I eventually sit down and work on checking cut lines on some beams I need for a job I have and then planing them. It’s quiet work so I can do it at night, plus I have to stay busy or I’m going to end up in a staring contest with this girl in a lame attempt to read her mind or something. At midnight she jumps off of the counter and heads back down the driveway without a word or any sort of acknowledgement, just the way she came.

***

I don’t pay much attention in my first three classes and no one notices. At lunch I watch for her, wondering if she’ll look at me. I never do see her cross the courtyard, but when I get up to head in to the shop wing just before the bell, she’s leaning against the wall with Clay Whitaker. I walk in the other direction.

I pick up the material box from Monday’s class, bring it to my table and pull out my plans. She walks in and heads to the back counter behind my table to retrieve the box she’s working out of with Kevin and Chris, neither of whom has shown up yet.

“Good morning, Sunshine.” I don’t even bother to think before the words leave my mouth, but at least I don’t say it loud enough for anyone but her to hear. I probably shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have reacted to last night at all, but I couldn’t help it. I feel like she was messing with me last night and I want to mess with her back. I don’t like her thinking she can just show up at my house to play a game of mystery mindfuck whenever she pleases.

She’s behind me but I can almost feel her stiffen at the words. Good. Maybe if she doesn’t want to be reminded of the night she coughed up her intestines in my bathroom, she’ll think twice about coming back to my house again like she belongs there. I wonder what it will take for her to pick up on the fact that she lives in the same world as everybody else, and in that world, people leave me the f**k alone.

She recovers quickly enough and goes back to her table without looking back at me. Kevin and Chris show up a minute later and the bell rings. Mr. Turner sets us all to work and the room gets loud almost immediately. It’s amazing the amount of noise fourteen students can produce when coupled with the sound of sawing and hammering.

Halfway through the class, Nastya hasn’t moved from her seat, but she can’t feign disinterest. She’s been watching everything Chris and Kevin are doing. At one point, she reaches out and slides the scale drawing Chris had done over in front of her, studying it for a few minutes before pushing it back towards them. They don’t say anything to her, but I do notice Kevin look down her shirt when she leans over and I want to punch him in the face.

Kevin gets out of his seat a few minutes later and goes over to Mr. Turner’s desk. Mr. Turner scribbles something on a pass and hands it to him and Kevin walks out of the room, leaving Chris with Nastya. It’s obvious Chris needs another set of hands, and he keeps glancing up at her as if he’s not sure he can ask her to help. Finally, frustration gets the better of him and I hear him ask her to hold the pieces he’s working on in place so he can nail them together. He shows her where to put her hands and she nods, placing them on either side, the way he demonstrates to her. Once he gets them in position, they move on to the next set. It looks like he has four identical pieces he’s putting together the same way. I scan over what they’ve done so far. I can’t see what’s on the drawing and I’m trying to figure out what they’re making. It looks cool.

At that moment, Kevin walks back in, crumpling up the hall pass and tossing it into the trash can in the corner.

“Better not have been slacking while I was gone,” he says, not even bothering to look at Chris before he slaps him on the back. I wish I could say that what happens next takes place in slow motion, like when something catastrophic happens in a movie, where it all slows down so you can see exactly what happened and how. Nothing slows down, but I see it anyway. Kevin’s hand hits Chris’ back; Chris was already mid-movement with the hammer and the momentum he’s already got going, coupled with the slap on his back, sends the hammer down even harder, just not where it’s supposed to go. The hammer hits the ring finger on Nastya’s left hand which had been splayed flat against the table with her thumb bracketing the wood in place.

I’m focused on her face. I catch her eyes widen almost imperceptibly with the initial shock of pain before they narrow again. Water slips into her eyes and they turn glassy with tears that don’t escape. How the hell is she not crying? I saw how hard that hammer hit her. I heard how hard that hammer hit her. I think even I might have cried. I would have felt stupid after, but it probably would have happened anyway. It had to hurt that much. She doesn’t even move. Neither do Chris or Kevin. They’re just staring at her, her hand still on the table. Get the girl some f**king ice. Chris looks horrified. Kevin looks like he has no idea what just happened. She moves now to look down at her hand but she keeps it in place, staring at it. I’m really hoping someone gets up and gets her some ice soon or I’m going to have to go do it. I should have done it already, but for some reason, I’m frozen here, too. I can’t stop watching her. Why won’t she cry? Chris finally seems to break out of his trance and runs to the freezer that’s kept in the shop area solely for the purpose of having ice on hand. Mr. Turner is already over at the table checking her fingers. I watch her just barely flinch as he checks for movement, but otherwise her face is like stone. Or maybe porcelain.

Chris comes back with an ice pack and offers it to her. She looks surprised and almost like she’s about to refuse it. It reminds me of the vise again and I wonder if she’s insane. Then I watch her mind change and she accepts it without any acknowledgment of thanks. I’m glad she doesn’t thank him. He looks guilty as hell. Looking at his face, you’d think he’s in more pain than she is, but he still hasn’t apologized. Kevin is the one who should be begging for forgiveness but I won’t hold my breath for that one. Mr. Turner comes back from his desk with a clinic pass and sends Valerie Estes, the only other girl here, with Nastya, to hold her books.

It couldn’t have been more than a matter of seconds that passed between the hammer coming down on her fingers and when Chris brought her the ice, but it felt longer. Maybe time does slow down. It’s not until she’s left the room and everything has calmed back down that I replay the whole scene in my head. It’s then that I realize that even when the hammer came down, even when the full force of the blow landed on her fingers and the pain had to be excruciating, she never made a sound.

***

You’ve got to be shitting me.

That’s my initial thought as I watch her walk back into my garage for the second night in a row. My eyes go to her hand immediately and I see that two of her fingers are splinted together. She doesn’t hesitate tonight. I initially think she’s going to perch herself back up on the counter where she sat last night. For a minute it looks like she thinks so, too. Then she sinks down, cross-legged, onto the floor and leans her back against the cabinets behind her. She doesn’t seem to mind the layer of sawdust carpeting the ground, but I still wonder why she’d choose to sit there. It’s not like the counter is particularly clean but it’s not as bad as the floor out here. Then I realize that she probably couldn’t push herself up onto the counter with one hand.

I go back to what I was doing before and we remain like this, in silence, for at least half an hour. Me working, her watching.

“Didn’t it hurt?” I finally ask, because I want to know, even though she won’t respond. She turns her hand over in front of her as if she’s trying to decide if it hurt or not. She shrugs. Good answer. What did I expect? I wait a few more minutes, trying to concentrate on recalibrating my table saw and then I ask the real question.

“What do you want?” It comes out nastier than I mean it to but it’s probably for the best. Nothing. It’s driving me insane, wondering what it is that possesses her to keep coming here. It’s not like I’m particularly friendly. Maybe tonight she’ll get the hint and she won’t come back. I try to convince myself that I’m relieved by that possibility, but I’m not convinced. I shove the thought aside and try to focus on the saw.

The silence persists. I don’t know how long she plans to stay, hovering, watching. It’s like having a ghost in my garage. I feel like I’m being haunted. With all of the dead people I’ve got in my corner, you’d think one of them would be the one hanging around. In fact, I used to hope for that. Being haunted seemed like a gift. I prayed for it. My mother, my sister, my father, my grandmother. After every one of them died I would hope that they’d come back, even once, and let me see them again. Give me a sign. Let me know that there was something else and it was good and they were good, but none of them ever came back for me. My grandfather assured me before he left, that there was an afterlife, one he’d seen, if only briefly, a long time ago. I listened but I didn’t believe him. It was a story born of disease and painkillers not memories and truth. He’ll be dead any day now and I won’t be waiting for a sign. I’ll just be relieved that I have no one left to lose.