THE DOUREST OF SHARED DREAMS
High school was hardly a haven, but the hell of it was far less informed than the directives of home. Carey’s parents had a weekday routine that only worsened when it wavered. Her mother would return home by four and turn on an afternoon talk show. Her father would slink in by five-thirty with a parched throat, and they would take in the news with martinis. At six they would unpack the cutting boards in the kitchen and prep for dinner with the muffled angles of NPR crackling through the radio. By seven the food was on, the drink was in full flow, and the two daughters would face a panel of eviscerating questions about the blanket failures of their young lives.
____The notion that she would be back in her old school library hardly surprised her; the memory train had decided to source it as a refuge and plant her there with her tender reflections and her empty stomach, some arc of humiliation soon choosing to play through her imaginarium, but carrying with it an innocence to the violence—the attacks would be lovingly less pointed, the pulling from all sides above ground, and not from the roots.
____She was back in her cubby with a notepad, a bag of julienne carrots, and a brick of cream cheese. She must have skipped lunch again, she thought, as she felt achy and scattered, the carrots sticking around as some late-hour surrogate to prevent her from passing out. There was a shoulder bag of books by her feet. She was wearing her favorite wool sweater, rust, olive, and brown, and her hair was tied back with a favorite blue trinket of elastic and speckled grapes. Her senses were sharp; her face was tickled by the grunge of the white table, she noted the ripples in the simulated wood grain contact paper adorning the cubby, and the bank of fluorescent tubes above her would tick and ting like fireflies in a mason jar. Carey noted it must be after seventh period. Only a few other sets of feet could be seen when she tucked her head down to rug level. Now entertaining the immersion, she knew the options were limited. She had no money, so a matinee was out. If she went home she would only spend the time rehearsing counter-interrogation tactics. She only understood that she had to eat the damned carrots and take to walking the halls. She had to look like she was intently on her way somewhere. She had to feel like she was full of purpose and short on time as she walked, as if she was running between a yearbook committee meeting and a drama club workshop. She would flip the switch and emanate brilliance in the halls as another harmless and adorable busybody, late for important things brimming over with budding grace.
____She watched as her meek topsiders marched her through the morgue-shrouded halls and to the gate of the natatorium. The Varsity girls were slipping into the water for their afternoon eight-hundreds, but not before sharing ironic conversation immured in poorly modulated laughter on the deck, first. Carey slipped into the locker room, found her old keep and combination, and inside, as if the Smithsonian had been charged with the upkeep, discovered her teal one piece for the water. Padding over the aquamarine and olivine tile work in her bare feet and formfitting suit, she peered at the girls in the lanes; they were varied in appearance but amorphous and anonymous to her—none sprang from the vault as trench mates from the era of unarticulated pain, and—so she guessed—none were available to entertain her tender confidences. She veered for the default sanctuary of her young years—the far side of the diving well—and slipped into the emerald brine.
____The diving well was a sanctuary for those audacious enough to admit defeat in their social lives; those on the diving team would work their repetitions unfazed by the addition of a lonely soul or two carving out laps on the far wall. Divers were lonely, too, and they deferred to other orphans. Carey settled into the womb of water and began a breaststroke. A yolk of meditation set in. She was part of an old routine again, she felt the assurance of her lonely role guiding her to the far wall and returning, and the warmth of the well pulsed into her like the buzzing lap of the Madonna—it rang in her present consciousness that this well was one of only a few places in her existence that defied the scourge of time and guided her mind to detach from all thoughts. Her limbs pared the water with tender ease and her lungs pulled the chlorine vapor down through her blood. The green water tapped like a snare drum at every turn of a child on the springboard. The light in the vast rafters dribbled down in ribbons of sulfur. She spotted toes dipping into the well, and then a full foot, followed by the immersion of a boy’s body, wrapped in a thousand bubbles, flailing in healthful shock. As his face cleared the surface it took the form of the youngest David, the boy who became her relentless witness and cumbersome animal companion in the tempest.
David was familiar with the pattern. The maze of halls and chestnut stained archways laid into him with gross familiarity over the years when he fidgeted in the predawn. He only had to give in to the reality of the mis-reality and believe he was fighting for his life—once again—amid the timber of stronger men and the wrath of school administration. As a quantum assumption his mind delivered him into the venue and placed all physical investment in this mawkish world, leaving him to fight the millionth battle for the freshest and most hellish first of times. Once he felt the light of his surroundings it became the height of his canon of challenges. Time had bent for him, commanding a depth of outcome, and this would be the time he garnered a peace from it.
____The keen grapple from behind dug into David’s shirt. The cigarette boys from south parking sighted him outside the fire exit and snagged him for a cycle of fun under the goonish adolescent sky. The familiar sensation of asphalt grinding into his sternum returned as he fell pinned to the lot, listening to his change leap out of his flannel shirt pocket and dance across the blacktop. The wind brushed along the ground, tapping his upper lip with a gum wrapper and the stem of an oak leaf. All around him stood Chucks, Vans, and East German tactical boots. A collective laughter conjoined over the back of his head. His back ached. One of the boys was standing on his back.
____“You lookin’ for some ink, pussy?” came the familiar clarion from his receiving corps. The boys rolled him over. The largest one straddled his stomach and pulled a purple permanent marker out from his jean jacket. Seven pungent strokes later, David was adorned with a message across his forehead. Before letting him back to his feet, they passed around an empty cola can filled with increasing amounts of dip spittle and, once filled to ordnance capacity, let the can pour across his front, leaving a web of mouth molasses in the shape of a butterfly on his shirt. David flew up and danced away, relieved—at least—that they spared him his ribs.
____Staff and students averted their gaze as he rejoined the labyrinth of halls in search of the nearest bathroom; the behavior from bystanders being customary and conditioned, as David preferred little attention from others in these matters, especially when pat condolences did little to elevate his sense of self or stop the patterns of violence in any form. The nearest bathroom was barricaded by a custodian’s cart and closed for cleaning, sending the boy funneling into the natatorium for sanctuary and repair.
____He found his old locker and changed into his ready suit. Pausing in front of the mirror he examined the handiwork on his forehead, but the reverse letters were blurred to him. He was relieved—again—to see that on this occasion, it was only a block of letters in caps, and not the cartoon penis they normally drew on his skin. Seeing the girls gunning out laps in all six lanes, he retreated to the well and found himself sharing the last space of retreat with someone who shared the need. At first he sank down and flailed at his head, wishing against the odds that he could rub off the words in the chlorine. But, as he surfaced, he noted the expression on Carey’s face and knew he was still a billboard for his fire exit fan club.
____“What’s it say?” he said, pointing to his face.
____“GOBBLER,” said Carey.
____The two treaded before each other for a long beat, and then took to quiet laps against the far wall. The swim coach and the diving coach, however, joined and spoke together for a minute and soon decided to make an example of them. They claimed the two were filthy and unsanitary, having leapt into the water without showering, first. The coaches commanded them back into the lockers for a presoak.
____David, grabbing the laurel of entitlement through his pseudo-grievous wounds, was done with the guidance of his authority archetypes. He followed Carey into the girls’ locker room instead, and stood across from her in the showers. They beheld each other for a lasting length of time within the veils of steam - hungry, solitary, drooped and numb to consequences. They would have preferred to stand there indefinitely under the hot water, staring into each other’s endless bewilderment, learning from it, but the sounds of the girls’ team pattering in tipped them to the ensuing stage of continuing humiliation. The girls of the team huddled by both entrances, filling the shower with high-pitched chatter and needless confusion. All were puzzled by the presence of the two outsiders, and the vault of showers was suffocating from the absence of standard, untargeted laughter.
____The steam saturated the venue, but the venue churned into an altogether different space, carrying them away from their lifeline and crucible of school. The steam turned richer. Acrid. Light began to penetrate the margins. A throbbing sound filled the room and rang in their feet. David stood against hinges and wood, his shoes returning to his feet. He made out the faint form of a crimson ’79 Bonneville, its narrow bracket of taillights dark but the idle churning folds of exhaust into the space they shared. In the high left corner sat a small glass window with a flaking white sill and jars with nails and screws on a ledge beneath it. The sun poked through and took on a shroud of pale green. Tranquility seized his legs.
____Carey saw David steps away, standing in front of the panels of a garage door. Her left hand gripped the driver’s bay of a broad and monstrous car, righting her balance. Exhaust in plumes obscured their gazes. At once she assumed a rhythm of breathing, taking in the nutty poison with the eagerness of Christmas morning, awaiting an outcome that no one could admonish or correct. A beautiful disorientation overcame her and she fell on her back, smacking her skull on the floor, feeling no impact. David approached her—penetrating her senses with the spell of Morpheus—and fell at her side, attempting a numb embrace. Carey improved her rhythm, drawing the mist inside her, until she lost the sense of breathing entirely, and soon felt a lump expanding below her throat. Pressure grew inside her head and blinded all incisive feeling, leaving her blurred and in a free fall that sank through the vibrating floor. She no longer knew herself; she was swaddled in the relief of innocence and released from following all things.
They awoke inside a stifling motel room in Flagstaff, the sound of a freight train shuddering through the walls.
The Beryl Delve, ©2017, by p. elliott doherty
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