Art by Sarah Menard, 20
The air shimmered with the early morning mist; nestled deep down in the soft gray-green grass, she watched the lavender sky pass by overhead, one huge undefined cloud illuminated by the dawn. Little breezes rushed by, tickled her feet, and vanished. She was deaf to the world, ears cradled in warm leather headphones. Lost in the music, her mind was free to wander; it ran far away from her life, from her past, her future.
She was flying, flying into that wide open sky. The world was spinning, but she was not there anymore. Her body was covered in silvery waves, alone in the valley, alone in the world, a tiny stick figure splayed out on the ground. She sighed and rose higher, propelled by her own wind.
Water surrounded her, she gasped for breath, but she was falling down to the earth, down to the bottom of the sea. Should she bother, bother to swim? No. Surrender. It felt good, the water was warm and she could still feel the breezes playing with her naked toes. There was no need to breath anymore, it was almost over. She sighed again, felt a spreading warmth in her stomach. Oh no, she couldn’t give up. She wasn’t alone, she was trapped.
And then her stomach didn’t feel so warm anymore. It was empty. She hurt. She shouldn’t have done this, it wasn’t her choice. But it was, it was her body. She couldn’t have let something in her body destroy her life.
Nothing else was important now, she just wanted the warmth back. She used to love being alone, but she wasn't happy now because it wasn't the same kind of alone. It was an empty kind of alone. She curled up, fell quicker. Why wasn’t it getting darker down here? The depths of the ocean were dark and cold, but she was only cold. There was no reason for it to be getting lighter.
Her feet were wet. She was drowning in the ocean and her feet felt wet. She was confused, cold and confused.
A dog barked and she sat up; it had been licking her feet. She turned off her music and wrapped up her headphones. The air had cooled down and it was starting to drizzle. She kneeled and pet the dog. It was warm and smelled like dew. She hugged it and it licked her face.
“Ava! where’d you go? Ava!” A young woman in a yellow raincoat burst into view. “There you are Ava. I’m so sorry, was she bothering you?”
“Oh no, not at all. She saved me from getting drenched.”
“Oh, that’s good. You’re a good dog Ava, aren’t you. Alright, time to get out of the rain.” She smiled shyly at Ani.
“Thank you Ava. Bye,” she said as the yellow raincoat vanished into the thickening mist.
The music is too loud and it's making her head buzz. She doesn't see Diana anywhere in the room, but it's too dark to see much of anything anyway. She wonders why she's there. She's supposed to be having fun.
A guy comes up to her, she wants to run away.
"Hey," he says, focusing on her face. She waits for his eyes to wander. They don't. "I'm just being paranoid," she thinks. She wishes she could have worn a dress with a high waist, but she only owns T-shirts. A sigh slips past the knot in her throat and escapes through parted lips. The guy walk past her to the drinks, eyeing her strangly. He must be able to see something. She looks down at her stomach. Nope; it's still flat underneath her tight shirt. "I'm just being paranoid," she reminds herself.
Inside the writhing mass of flat, sweaty stomachs she instinctively wraps her arms around her own body. The warm scent of over straightened hair reminds her of simpler times when the loud music was a relief. On the outskirts of the crowd she spots Leah and makes her way over to her.
"Hey Ani! You having fun?" Leah shouts in her ear.
Not bothering to even shrug, Ani shouts back. "Have you seen Diana?"
"Yeah, she went upstairs with some guy."
"Oh, that's great."
"What?" Leah screeches.
"Nothing." She catches a glimpse of a door and remembers Diana's roof. Perfect.
Outside, the city is awash with lights. Not the frantic flashing lights of the party, but millions of tiny white lights burning steadily into the emptiness of the gray night. Ani drags a flattened cardboard box over to the wall and sits down. The concrete is rough but cool, and a shiver runs down her spine.
Ani wonders what it would be like to live in the country. She knows that she wouldn't mind the crickets as much as the cars and sirens. They make her constantly stressed out; the only place she can get away from all the noise is on roofs like this. She wants time to stop and relax and figure out what the hell she's doing. She wants to be alone, but she's never alone now, she's trapped. A thought enters her mind she feels instantly sick to the stomach. "You couldn't," she tells herself. "So don't even think about it."
She hears a creak and turns to look. A guy walks outside, closes the door behind him. He catches sight of Ani and immediately walks over to her. She silently berates herself for lettinganyone see her leave.
"Hey," he says.
"I can't stand how loud that music is, it's crazy." He sits down on Ani's cardboard but makes sure to leave enough space in between them. She notices.
She smiles. "Haven't you ever been to a party?"
"Ha, of course. Just not with you city people. It's hard to get used to, but I can imagine liking it."
"Hey, why do you think I'm out here?" She turns and looks him in the eye. "I hate that music, it makes me feel like I'm drowning."
He does not smile, but his mouth changes. Ani had been about to turn away, but instead continues to stare at him. Something about his eyes hold her attention and he is so pale, his skin is glowing like the missing half of the darkened moon. She can't look away.
Another breeze tickles the back of her neck, and an electric current rushes down her skin. Ani realizes that for the first time in months she is not thinking about the future. She smiles a half smile and tears her eyes away from his.
"Where are you from?"
"An island in Maine that might as well not be on the maps." He grins, looks out at the city.
Something inside Ani flutters. Maine, she says to herself. An island in Maine. "Wow," she whispers. "By the way, I'm Ani. What's your name?"
A couple are on the bench next them, or at least the guy is. The woman is standing and pushing their baby in a stroller, back and forward, back and forward. She is agitated, and jerks it in and out, in and out. They are arguing. The kid peeks out at Ani and smiles. She wonders how much he understands. She forces herself to smile back. He can't understand.
Nick is very close to her, his body heat warm on her arm and shoulder. He's trying to see her face, but she has her head turned. 'It's almost over,' she tells herself again. Her concrete wall stretches; she knows those words will mean something completely different if she lets it collapse. She won't let the pain in until there's nothing it can do. She tenses up and Nick grabs for her hand. She lets him hold on but feels the wall bending. His hand is warm and she laces her fingers through his, continuing to stare at the baby.
Ani tunes in to the couple's argument.
"Why do you do this?" the woman says.
"Do what?" he whines. "I just don't like the pants." He mutters something else, staring at the ground as though it could rescue him from his life.
She realizes Nick has been trying to get her attention. She reluctantly turns to meet his gaze.
"Are you sure you don't want me to come? I could at least bring you to the clinic. Please."
She starts to answer, but her throat catches, so she looks at her lap as she slowly shakes her head. She takes a deep breath. "I don't want you to have to feel like you had anything to do with it."
"I wish you wouldn't talk about it that way. You made the right decision. You would have to give up your life if you had a baby right now. I know it's not my responsibility, I just don't want you to feel alone. I mean, you wouldn't even tell your dad anything. You're not being fair to yourself." He sighs and squeezes her hand.
"This is the only way I can do it."
"I know. I'm sorry."
The train comes screeching out of the tunnel. Nick wipes a tear off Ani's cheek. They stand up and he hugs her.
"Call me when you can leave. I'll be nearby," he whispers.
"Thank you Nick." She manages a half smile.
Nick watches as the train pulls away, the scared face of a seventeen year old girl barely visible through the dirty glass window.
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