from the novel Freight
by Mel Bosworth
I found her in a white tee shirt that was too big for her. The collar was all stretched out. Her neck was thin and pale. Her hair was short and blonde. She was sitting on a dirty carpet. She had ashes on her cheeks—thumb-smudged, a game. She was drunk, young, and laughing. She was surrounded by summertime friends.
We sat on the curb in the dark. Our knees touched, our feet traced nervous circles. We spoke of things we thought important. Like how we missed people and how quickly things change. We spoke of time and distance.
We spoke as if we knew things. We thought we were wise but we were young.
Later, we kissed and it was good. We ate each other with our mouths. We ate each other with our eyes, too, because that’s how it starts—with the eyes. She ran back into the house and I ran after her.
We spent the summer that way: drinking and laughing and eating each other in the dark. When September came and the air turned cool we went our separate ways.
I found her again a year later. She was wearing a white bra and panties. She was thin and pale. She was on that same dirty carpet, only she wasn’t sitting: She was recumbent, drunk, and laughing. She was surrounded by hazy friends.
It was then I also found I was drawn to pretty things, small things, things that smelled of sleep. Like cats on blankets. Or girls on blankets. Later, women on blankets. Essentially, anything on a blanket I was drawn to and it didn’t necessarily have to be sleeping. Just on a blanket, carpet, bed or couch. Prone. In a prone position. Recumbent like she was the second time I found her.
Another summer of warmth and magic and drinking and eating. Another summer. We ate with our eyes, hands, mouths. We hopped fences, floated in pools and lakes, kissed and smiled at the stars. We laughed because we were so wise. We laughed because we didn’t know we weren’t.
We’re still not wise and the laughing has become harder. But it’s still there.
We still do it.
But it’s harder.
When September came and the water cooled we drifted our separate ways.
I found her again a year later. She sat on the grass in the dark. She wore tight jeans. Her hair was long, smooth, and blonde. She was growing so quickly into a woman, a real woman no longer a girl. And her skull was soft. Like a baby’s. But she wasn’t a baby.
She’d been attacked, beaten. It had left her skull soft. I’d heard about it over the factory noise, the heat, the smell of candles. She was beaten by a man, my friend had told me. She was beaten by less than a man, I told myself. A man who stalked her at work, then slid beneath the door of her bathroom stall.
My stomach fell to my ankles when I heard the story. My hands crushed candles.
Sitting on the grass, she was smaller than she was, smaller than I’d ever known her. But she was there, and we kissed and tried to laugh and maybe we did laugh. I didn’t know what to say and so maybe I didn’t say anything.
We didn’t swim or drink or eat that summer because she went to sleep and I went to sleep and the world around us raged while we slept and starved. When September came we turned to shadows.
The last time I found her was on the computer. I was sitting in the basement. Ten years had passed and it was time to find her again. I sent her a message and she wrote back.
She wrote she was working and sleeping. I wrote I was working and sleeping, too. I added I was doing laundry because it’s important to let the people you haven’t seen in ten years know that you’re doing laundry. I wanted her to know I was wise and independent because wise and independent people do their own laundry.
She was impressed. I could tell by the way she included a smiley face in her response.
She came to visit one afternoon in the summertime. I wore a beard and a thin shirt with a collar. I felt strong from all the cutting and lifting and working in the lumber yard. My cheeks were red and my hair flecked with gray.
She got out of her car. She was pressed and pretty. She was smiling and freckled. She was ten years later and so was I.
The horizon ate the sun. We sat on the back porch in plastic chairs. We drank from bottles. We looked at each other and then out to the darkness and then back again. We knew each other in the darkness.
“You look skinny,” she said, and I said, “Yes.”
A candle kept the mosquitoes away. Then it started raining so we sat beneath an umbrella. My roommate peeked out the window. He waved and smiled. He remembered her and me from before. His smile told me he was happy to see me eating again.
When I found her my plate filled. I ate with my everything. I try not to be sloppy when I eat but sometimes I can’t help myself. Especially if I’m hungry, or if my skins smells of sleep, a waning hibernation.
For three months we found each other again. We ate each other. I chewed her blonde hair. She chewed my whiskers. We talked about how we’d been carrying each other for years and how it was good to have someone to share the load. When we slept in the same bed I rubbed her collarbone and she whispered, “I feel safe with you.”
She told me her story. I listened.
She told me how she’d screamed so hard she tore her esophagus. She told me of the nightmares. She told me of the trial, and the tears. She told me how her life had changed and how she missed people.
I still didn’t know what to say so I just listened and breathed her in. She smelled of sleep and strength. She smelled of years carried.
She asked me to write about it. I asked her how much I should tell. She said, “I don’t know.”
Then we fell asleep in the dark. We always knew each other in the dark—summertime fireflies with purpose, eating.
But after three months we became full so we stopped eating.
Because we were scared.
Because we didn’t know.
Because we still weren’t wise.
Because we stood in the sunlight together too long.
When September came and the air turned cool we kept what we needed and went our separate ways.
So I lost her again. Just like that. But it was okay.
Because I didn’t really lose her this time. I can call her right now if I want to. I know where she is and she knows where I am. We’re still carrying each other. We’re doing a better job now than when we were younger. So maybe we’re growing wiser. It’s hard to know.
When I was a kid I found out I had to go to school. I didn’t like that so I hid in places. Closets always seemed like a good idea at the time but closets are always the first place people look. Beneath the bed is the second place they look. Third is the attic.
My mother would grow angry with me when I didn’t want to go to school. This made me feel all empty inside. When I hid she’d find me and that made me feel even worse: the finding. Because some people don’t want to be found. Or they do want to be found so they can feel bad.
I’m not sure what I wanted to feel then. Maybe I wanted to feel bad because I thought that’s what I deserved.
I think when you find people who are hiding it means they want something. But they want something more than to be found. They want you to look for them. They want you to give. Maybe they’re empty because you’re not carrying them around as much as you should. Maybe people who hide are sad. Or ashamed. Maybe they’re ashamed because someone told them they should be.
My parents never told me I should feel ashamed but I used to hide anyway. Because I didn’t want to find people. And I didn’t want people to find me, either. I had my parents and they were enough. I had my sister and she was enough. Sometimes my sister was too much. She used to call me names and we’d fight a lot. Then when I grew bigger she didn’t call me as many names and we fought less and less until we didn’t fight at all.
I found friends when I grew older because I eventually went to school. I still hid sometimes but it was because I was scared I might lose what I’d found. So I hid myself and the things I’d found inside of me. The people. The places. I kept them for myself because I thought that if I let people find me they would take everything I’d found away.
Children are selfish and don’t know how to share. Grownups can be this way, too. It’s not cool but sometimes it’s hard to know any better. We can only know worse. Until someone finds us cramped in a cupboard and smacks us on the head with a wooden spoon.
When I was a teenager I had a girlfriend. I found her once in bed eating chicken. She wasn’t hiding but she didn’t know I was coming over. She was sitting in bed wearing a tee shirt that was all stretched out at the collar. It had chicken grease on the front of it because her hands were covered in chicken grease and she was wiping her hands on her shirt.
I crept up the stairs and I found her. Her eyes were big. She had big eyes anyway but they were bigger when she saw me.
“Hey,” she said, and her mouth was full of chicken so it sounded funny.
“Hey,” I said.
She was very surprised to see me but she was even more surprised because I’d found her in bed eating chicken. But I didn’t want her to feel ashamed so I didn’t say you should feel ashamed of yourself.
I kissed her instead.
Then we lay down together on the blanket.
People are always the best things to find because when you find people you find yourself, too. And the world is big and it’s easy to lose yourself so it’s good to look for people because they can help you home.