It’s 2:21 am and you’re thinking quite a lot about eating your own name-tag. You’re supposed to be researching David Edgar’s play Pentecost, more enthralled by the part where a character recalls herself a child during World War II, hearing of a train of deported Serbian children so hungry they ate the cardboard names around their necks. “Which is their family, their age, their name,” she says. “They eat their history.”
It’s 7 am, you’ve been up all night thinking about the friend who’s starving herself to death. By noon you’ll be rubbing your hand across her shoulders as she sobs into her steering wheel again, 12:15 playing old Avril Lavigne from your phone as she drives you to the arcade, her stereo broken. 7 pm you’ll be back again in the Walmart parking lot rubbing her shoulders, nothing new to say.
Now, you have to walk. The road you turn onto to reach your neighborhood is called New Hope, the irony of which need be unsaid as you walk past rusted fences, carrying a dirt-stained baby doll arm you’re going to leave in the sink, missing your brother trying to tell you he’s broken his arm, and missing Carlos calling to say he’d passed you and wanted to stop, because your phone is always on silent. You wanna take it all in because a neighborhood you don’t know like your own skin makes it crawl, but you won’t see Cops episodes spilling out into the freshly-cut lawns, you won’t see teenagers making Halloween sacrifices, you won’t see red bubbles frothing up from the fountain that marks the neighborhood entrance—it never runs anymore.
No, instead you’ll pass the empty fountain and maybe see someone walking their dogs into the first cul-de-sac, sure to send your own into a frenzy. Maybe you’ll see cars drive past and catch a glimpse of a dark face studying you with raised eyebrows. If you continue down the hill and come at night playing Pokémon with your brother and his friend maybe you’ll see a drug deal taking place in the pool parking lot, like those that they say happen in the house on the hilltop that has its windows always covered and driveway always full of fancy cars—not like Sarah’s Jeep that takes you to parking lots to scarf down Plan B, and not like the nondescript Sedan that leaves suitcases in the middle of the road and convinces your grandmother her neighbor is a hitman from New York.
No, right now nothing but you is so interesting, because the streets are empty and the sun is about to crest the horizon and you’re in your pajamas carrying a hammer in one hand and a bag of dogshit in the other, dog whining, grass growing taller and sidewalks cracking as you go deeper, gotta duck under branches now, eye the cop car in the driveway of another copy-pasted house you do/don’t recognize, curtains drawn and if not drawn then open to empty living rooms like yours whenever your father’s car comes cresting up the driveway,
but what’s it like at dinner? do they sit down together and drink out of mason jars like your ex, Philip, do they play Mexican Train before Carlos shuffles off into his cop car and the rest shuffle off to bed, do they sit around in the student lounge cracking jokes about how Carlos queers fatherhood by being a good dad, and as you walk you try to imagine the dogs barking at you behind fences, and as you walk you try to imagine the conversations that fill all these houses you can’t look into, and as you walk to try to clear dumb motherfucker and bitch and all the other stock phrases from your mind, and as you walk you imagine the childhood friends you’ve abandoned who live down the streets you’re avoiding, does she still have to wait on her brother to use the computer, does she burn her school supplies like her brother at the start of every summer, would she let you tag along because she remembers you and not because your brother invited you, does she also stand awkwardly amongst all these younger boys she never recognizes as smoke billows into the sky, does it seem weird to you that I find the thought of abandoning a favorite show harsher than the fact I haven’t seen these girls’ faces in over six years?
more importantly, would the squirrel rotting on the hill’s grey tie mind if you took it home, because how much better a use as a metaphor, ants in his skin and a hole where your brain used to be
no wonder you can’t remember if this or that happened last year, last hour, last century, staring through his eye socket to clear concrete, stepping over limbs twisted like twigs and focusing instead on the red blossoms that fall from the half-arch trees leering over you, and after having thrown the dogshit into the pool’s trash-bin you fish your phone out and call Carlos as said phone fails to capture the way the sky bleeds red/blue/yellow in this deafening bird-call silence, and he tells you his favorite part of working the night shift is getting to watch the sun rise. How much better it would be, I think from my back porch, if I were watching it at home.
Taylor Drake is currently a senior at Agnes Scott College in her native state of Georgia, finishing up a degree in English Literature and a minor in Religious Studies. When not in school, she can be found reading folktales, mentoring teenage authors, writing speculative fiction, and spending far too much time cataloging human curiosities online. (“Without realizing,” as one of her professors once said, “that she herself is one as well.”)