Birthday

Arna Hemenway

Good morning. September. Your thirteenth birthday. School, the white high-top lace-ups you took from James’ room after the accident. Third period; Benny’s face, his laughter like a song. You will never tell. Lunch, the storm clouds approaching the big windows, crackling; happy birthday, it will rain.

Last period gym. Indoors because of the rain; archery. When Rebecca C. draws back the bow’s string, her breasts push out against her gym shirt, tight and round. You see how she arches her back into it, knowing you are watching. You look away; you have no breasts to speak of. Maybe you never will.

Walking home along the little highway two people pull over to ask if you need help, but its not that far and you hate the bus. Empty house; your mother is at Applebee’s getting drunk, your father is having dinner with the college student he is sleeping with. You met her once, downtown, when your father took you to buy a pocketknife. She smelled like jasmine and soap.

You walk over to the cluster of mobile homes down the road, but Sandy, who is tall and blonde and twenty-one and your best friend, has her boyfriend over, his red Camarro is in the gravel driveway, and you walk on. Sandy is always asking if you want some of what she’s drinking, which is usually alcohol. One of these times, you’re going to say yes. Maybe tonight.

When you get back to your house, Samuel is waiting. He is tall and eighteen, your brother’s age, and what you think people call darkly handsome. He was James’ friend. One time, way back at a party for James’ birthday, Samuel had put his hand on your head like he was going to tousle your hair, but then he didn’t. He just left his hand there and smiled and said that your hair was really soft.

Now he says, “It’s your birthday!” like it’s a surprise. I know, you say. He wants to know how you’re celebrating. You look at your shoes but then realize Samuel might recognize them so you look away quickly. You say you’re not. He says he has a present for you but that it’s out in the woods. So you follow him.

It’s not raining anymore but there is fog over the creek and amidst the trees, like parts of the clouds wandered into the forest and got lost. One time last year you found James sitting on the roof of the back porch smoking pot, and he let you have some and then you two walked out into the woods together and it was like all the blood in your veins had turned to air and you felt so light you might just float up over the water and into the sky.

You’re at the creek now. The water is so still it is like a new kind of glass. In its reflection you look a lot older. What you’re trying to do is think of everyone you will ever meet in the future, all the boys you will ever follow anywhere. You try to think what all your future lovers will look like. James once told you he celebrated his thirteenth birthday by having sex. He told you everything. It will be years before you realize how strange this was. You would let Benny do whatever he wanted to you, if he wanted. Samuel too, probably.

Samuel has stopped, is pointing to a mass of mud and sticks and logs. It is a sort of dam. The water has backed up in a small circle before it. He is pointing at it. I made you a pond, he says. Happy birthday.

You look at it and know it will not last; the water is already seeping through the small earthen wall. Samuel leans forward and down and kisses you once, quickly, lightly, on the lips. You keep your eyes closed but you can hear him already walking away. You are thinking about how the pond will be gone, and everything that’s ever been gone. You think there is a world of gone things, of everything anybody’s ever lost; a world full of favorite hairbrushes and earrings and dogs and people. All of those things seem more real because you miss them, you are thinking, maybe even realer than the real world.

So which is the lie? you think. The world or the gone world? The creek and the rocks and the trees or the spaces between them? But Samuel is already headed back, so far ahead you can’t even see him and you call out, once, thinking of the gone world and how you will be forever overheard by it, but just wanting him to be there.

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© 2009

1:3

Corban Goble

Arna Hemenway

Alex Folsom

Photo by Margret Hall