The Sea of Tranquility(5)


by Katja Millay

After we eat, she rushes to shower off a day’s worth of sweat and suntan oil and I pack up container after container of leftovers and wait for the sun to fade so I can run.

I never even make it out the front door because the sky turns black before sunset and opens up in torrential rain. I don’t mind running in rain but this is even a bit much for me. It’s too difficult to see and impossible to hear anything through this kind of downpour. When I look out the sliding glass door at the back of the house, it seems like it might be raining horizontally, and even I’m not desperate enough to go out in this kind of lightning. I kick off my sneakers and sit and then stand and then sit and then stand again. My brain is on the spin-cycle right now.

I have no treadmill here so I do jumping jacks in place until I get bored, switch to alternating sets of chest presses and mountain climbers, move on to weighted squats and lunges and then do as many push-ups as I can before my arms give out and I drop my face into the carpet. It’s not the kind of soul-draining exhaustion I’m looking for, but for tonight, it will have to do.

I pull out clothes for tomorrow and pack up all of the signed paperwork and shove it into my backpack. I almost wish I had homework, but I don’t, so I wander around the living room. Margot’s got a stack of newspapers piled up next to the front door and I realize that I haven’t checked the birth announcements for nearly two weeks. I grab the papers and sift through them until I find the right section. The first one is disappointing. Nothing new. All of the overused classics and the same trendy crap that I wouldn’t saddle a cat with, much less a kid. My name, of course, is never there, but it’s not my name I’m looking for. I scan four papers; there are three Alexanders, four Emmas, two Sarahs, a crapload of names ending in –den (Jaden, Cayden, Braden, gag), a bunch I don’t remember, and one worthy of going on my wall. I cut it out and grab my laptop. I pull up the internet and wait for my start page to load. Within seconds, I’m staring at the lovely, pink-and-blue-splattered baby name website that greets me every time I get online.

I type in my newfound query, Paavo, which turns out to be nothing but the Finnish version of Paul. It’s kind of a letdown.

I like names. I collect them: names, origins, meanings. They’re an easy thing to collect. They don’t cost anything and they don’t really take up any space. I like to look at them and pretend that they mean something; and maybe they don’t, but the pretending is nice. I keep most of them on the walls of my bedroom at home‌—‌home where I used to live. I keep the ones that echo. Good names with significance. Not the crap everyone seems to be using these days. I like foreign names, too; the unusual ones that you rarely see. If I ever had a baby, I’d pick one of those, but babies aren’t really something I see in my future, even the far off one.

I fold up the papers to put them away, glancing down one more time. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch one of the Sarahs again, and I smile. It reminds me of the one amusing part of my day.

I was running to my locker between classes and had to duck around the corner and wait when I saw Drew in a heated exchange with Barbie, two lockers down from mine. I decided that if I had to choose between being tardy to class or walking into the middle of that verbal smackdown, the tardy was the lesser of the evils. It wasn’t that difficult dodging Drew’s not-so-subtle come-ons when I ran into him by myself, but I certainly didn’t want to take the chance that he’d proposition me in front of his girlfriend. That would definitely make my ever-growing list of things I do not need. So I leaned against the wall and waited for them to move on.

“Give me twenty bucks.” I heard Drew say to her.

“Why?” Apparently annoyed is the only quality her voice possesses.

“Because I need twenty bucks.” His tone indicated that this should be enough of a reason.

“No.” Then, what must have been the sound of her slamming her locker. Hard.

“I’ll pay you back.” No, you won’t.

“No, you won’t.” Smart girl.

“You’re right. I won’t.” I peered around and caught him flash that cocky smile at her. “What? At least I’m honest.”

“Why don’t you go ask one of your whores?” Damn.

“Because none of them love me as much as you do.”

“That stupid grin might work on every other female in this school, but you know it won’t work with me, so forget it.”

“Sarah, you know you’re going to give it to me, so come on.”

Sarah. I smiled. I couldn’t help but appreciate the absolute perfection of the name; bland, common, and wholly unoriginal. Best of all, it means princess.

She exhaled loudly and I leaned around to see her digging in her purse. Seriously? She’s going to give him money? He’s better than I gave him credit for. Maybe I just gave her too much credit. My self-respect may not be off the charts, but hers must be nonexistent. She took out a twenty-dollar bill and shoved it at him.

“Here. Just so I can get you to leave me alone.” He grabbed it and started walking away, but not before she yelled after him, “If you don’t pay me back, I am so telling Mom!”

Mom? Oh.

That little revelation was fun, though it does make me wonder if my observation skills are failing me. Did I really miss that? My brother, Asher, and I used to bicker with the best of them, but our animosity threshold was several levels lower than theirs.

I toss the last of the newspapers back on top of the pile and return to the computer, trying to come up with anything else I can do online to kill time. I’m not on Facebook or anything else anymore, so there’s no point in that. I could torture myself by using Asher’s name and passwords to check up on people I used to be friends with, but I decide against it. There’s isn’t anything I want to know.

The lightning is flashing incessantly outside the window, taunting me every time it lights up the sky. My phone is on my bed, whispering in my ear like a bottle of scotch to a recovering alcoholic, while the rain continues cackling at me through my window. I may actually be desperate enough to go out in this weather. I need to run that badly. More jumping jacks. Lift some weights. More push-ups. Lift more weights. I may not be able to get a treadmill in here, but a punching bag I think I can manage, even if it’s just one of those portable ones. I don’t think Margot will let me hang a heavy bag in her living room, but I’m not that picky. I’ll take anything I can hit right now.

Cookies. I need to bake cookies. It’s the next best thing to running. Not really, but I do love cookies and I don’t like the shit that they sell in packages, which is what Margot buys. Oreos are acceptable. Because they’re Oreos and no matter what you do, you can’t replicate them. Trust me on this one. I’ve spent more than a few days in my kitchen, trying to do just that. It’s never going to happen. So Oreos get a pass, but factory-sealed chocolate chip cookies that are shelf-stable for up to six months are another story. Life really is too short for that. Believe me, I know.

I rummage through Margot’s kitchen and I have no idea why I’m surprised that she doesn’t own any flour or baking soda or baking powder or vanilla or just about any ingredient that could possibly be required for baking. I do locate some sugar and salt, and miraculously, a set of measuring cups, but that won’t get me very far. I resolve to head to the grocery store this weekend. I won’t make it long without cookies. Or cake.

I give up, eat half a bag of jelly beans, leaving the black ones because they suck, and head to the shower to wash the shit that was this day off of me. I have a riveting conversation with myself while letting the conditioner set in my hair. I talk about my crap schedule. I tell myself about the unfortunate irony that is my music class and wonder if that tops the ridiculousness of Speech & Debate. I ponder, out loud, whether any female in the school, student or teacher, is immune to the charms of a certain blond named Drew. Then I answer‌—‌ME. Oh, and Sarah of course, though he seems to be able to badger her into submission. I have these conversations periodically, just to make sure my voice still works in case I ever want to use it again. Returning to the world of the vocal was always the plan, but some days I wonder if I ever will. Most of the time, I don’t have much exciting news, so I repeat names or random words, but today was noteworthy, so it warranted full sentences. Sometimes I even sing, but I save that for the days when my self-loathing is at peak levels and I want to hurt myself.

I crawl into my bed, which is covered in a sage green floral-print comforter, just like the one in my bedroom at home. It was probably more my mother’s doing than Margot’s. I think she has trouble grasping the concept that I was trying to get away from that place, not bring it with me. I lift up the mattress and pull out the composition book I’ve hidden there. I’ll have to find a better place for it soon. The rest of them are in the back of my closet, packed in a cardboard box, underneath old paperbacks and my middle school yearbooks. The one in my hands is black and white with the word Trig written in red marker across the cover. Like all of the others, the first few pages are filled with fake class notes. I grab a pen and I write. Exactly three and a half pages later, I slide the book back to its hiding place and turn off the light, wondering what fresh hell tomorrow will bring.

CHAPTER 5

Nastya

I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.

***

On Friday morning, the first thing I do is pick up my amended schedule from the Guidance Office. Ms. McAllister signed off on my teacher aide position for fifth hour, so I have now officially dropped Intro to Music, which means I get to spend that period making photocopies and handing out papers instead of wanting to bleed myself dry.

At this point, I’ve gotten better on the shoes, even though they’re too cramped at the front and my toes unleash a string of expletives at me when I put them on. I chose my second most appalling outfit for today’s endeavors – more black on black, because that’s really all I have anyway. I keep the thick black eyeliner, the red lipstick and the black nail polish. The stilettos, as always, are the exclamation point on an ensemble that screams Hideous! I am a slutty horror show. I think of pearl buttons and white eyelet skirts and wonder what Emilia would be wearing if she were alive today.

I’ve been successfully hiding in hallways and bathrooms during lunch all week. The disheveled artist boy, whose name I have since learned‌—‌by surreptitiously glancing at the cover on his sketchbook‌—‌is Clay, was kind enough to give me an unsolicited short list of my best bets for solitude when he caught me trying the doors to the English wing again on the second day. I’ve checked out most them. Give me a few more days and I’ll probably be able to draw a map and star the best places for disappearing. Then I can sell it to other losers like me.

I find, from my daily walks, that the layout here stays pretty much the same. You would think there was a designated seating chart for the courtyard. No one strays from the place they planted themselves the day before. I recognize more of the faces at this point, but even the ones I know don’t acknowledge me. I am left blissfully alone. I’ve scared, offended or made everyone uncomfortable enough to stay away. Mission accomplished. It’s even worth all of the discomfort of the shoes. If I don’t do anything wrong, it should stay this way.

I’m considering which direction to head today, when I pass the boy in the force field. I wonder how he does that. Maybe I can find out his secret, because I would love to get one of those for myself. Sometimes I think he’s invisible and I’m the only one who sees him, but I guess that’s not the case, because if it was, I’m sure someone would have grabbed that bench by now. Maybe he’s a ghost and no one goes near the bench because he haunts it.