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The only real way to paint sidewalks is with dead leaves that sweep the ground in the wind.
I remember you saying that to me once. You have that kind of voice that makes me want to crush your skull into the cement, and rub it around until the skin peels away, leaving a moist stain to glisten under the rays of sun. That’s another way to paint a sidewalk. Two can play at being poetical you know.
I felt a little weirder about all of this though, seeing you walk around downtown with that girl clasping both hands to your left arm and giggling into your shoulder.
Where is she?
Maybe it’s best you start asking yourself that question.
You might’ve seen me there, amidst the mob of people staring in captivation at the street performer—we saw him stand on a ladder balanced against the weight of the air and juggle fire. You might have not seen me too. It’s all the same. I only noticed you through the wooden rungs—between the one hosting the performer’s flashy shoes and the one below it. You walked out of a shop and stopped next to the door, rummaging through the decorated paper bag to find the contents—the right one—within. You handed her the shirt with the Colorado flag plastered to the front, then seconds later, the stuffed bear wearing a black hoodie. After a couple feigned groans of false frustration, your face lit up as you dropped the bag dramatically to reveal the desired object in your hand: a marijuana mask. You pulled it around your face until you were only two eyes peeking out of that enlarged, familiar leaf.
I smiled too. That’s the worst part.
I heard her high-pitched titter from across the street, across the roars and gasps of the street performer’s audience. She hunched over, curling herself into you, locking your arm into her small hands. Remember the way her breath hit your skin in sporadic bursts as she marveled at your sheer comic brilliance. Remember the way she squeezed—or maybe you imagined it—her fingers around your bicep, and how you flexed it while trying to pretend you didn’t notice. Remember how her golden hair tickled your skin, your flesh. Remember all these things. Then ask yourself:
Where is she?
Is she on the corner between the place you enjoyed an expensive dinner together and the cement cell you crammed your car into, between the other shiny vehicles swimming in parallel lines, an organized fashion? How do you paint those walls?
Is it with the blood of your skull? Leaves fall—maybe that’s why they’ll be on the ground, crushed under the tires of your silver Honda Civic, or perhaps just drifting away in the cold waters of creek running alongside the town.
But it’s not.
Not the blood of your skull, I mean to say.
Because that would be ridiculous.
It was funny to watch you park cars. It reminded me of how your testosterone-induced ego made it impossible for you to admit your inferiority in any aspect of driving, but I’d always look back, at least for a moment, to inspect the alignment of your car with the space it occupied, even if I didn’t always comment on it. Crooked, but in the lines, was the mark of a good parking day, or at least, a not-horrible one.
Every time you hit a curb, you’d swear you just murdered a child playing in the street. Never once did you consider that it was just what it always was: cement raised slightly higher than all the other cement.
That’s what I remember as I watch her expression change during the moment the tip of your car comes in contact with the wall of the parking garage. Her mouth remains closed, but the shape of her cheeks changes—rising in correlation with her eyebrows, the width of her eyes. Your brows are furrowed, lost in some strange combination of confusion and focus, and you pull the car into reverse, wait until the wall releases it, and push the brakes with a confident nod. She smiles, shaking her head, as she throws her door open, and you take the extra few seconds to collect your wallet and keys so you can shove them safely into your pocket. She meets you on your side of the car, holding out her hand with a grin. You stare at this gesture, pull your hand towards hers, then retract it briefly to shut the car door and lock it.
She might use this moment to shout something along the lines of “Race you!” and proceed to sprint in the direction of the restaurant until you inevitably catch up and grab her into a tight hug to prevent her victory. Then she catches up and beats you anyway because no matter how hard you try, you’re never as fast. Or maybe that’s just what you want her to think. I never could figure it out.
She doesn’t do any of these things.
Her hand stays frozen in mid-air, waiting for your grasp to relieve it. And eventually you do, after everything else is taken care of.
The echo of your footsteps diminishes gradually enough that I can’t pinpoint the precise moment when it stops altogether. That’s okay though. I remain still for long enough after that it really doesn’t matter. The two of you are gone.
Where is she?
Is she gone too?
Maybe now you’ve gotten the urge to at least send her a text to confirm her location. I don’t want you to worry though. She’s not gone. I just wanted to ask, so you could be sure too.
When would she even leave? She’s surrounded by everything during the day—friends, teachers, coworkers, you—and in the darkness, when no one can see exactly where she lies, you’ll still be able to feel her against your body, as she drools on your shoulder and rests her sweaty hand on your chest.
Plus, she’d probably scream if she were being taken, which would alert everyone near her. Unless, of course, you were fucking. Her forced screams of pleasure mimic the one’s she’ll make as a result of terror. I assume. She doesn’t know how to adequately make pleasure screams.
But terror ones?
The funny thing is that if you were the one taken away while you two were fucking, she probably wouldn’t even realize you were gone until a good amount of time had passed. Whether you’re in or out, it always tends to feel more or less the same.
At least I think it’s funny.
But do you know what was really funny?
And I’m not talking about funny like all those stupid pick-up lines you tried to come up with by yourself—your original ones were somehow worse than all the cheesy ones we found on the internet. No. Not funny like that.
Funny like watching you kiss her.
You rubbed your hands across the back of her body until they were under the shirt, under everything. They crushed her into you. You opened your eyes—only for a second, maybe less—and examined the way her eyelashes were so close to brushing against your cheek, your nose.
Do you not remember these things?
Her fingers rifled through your hair, rubbing in and out along every different path they could find. How deep did they dig into your skull? How deep did her tongue penetrate through your lips? How deep did she inhale every breath? These are the things you need to know, and I was sure you didn’t, until both of you broke free from your moments of ecstasy to look into each other’s eyes. You opened your mouth to speak, but only smiled instead. Suddenly, eye contact was harder.
I know what that was too. I remember every moment of that night. That’s the expression you make right before you say the words for the first time. I was number four. What are we on now? Six? Seven?
But you don’t say anything. The words elude you, or maybe I was just mistaking the cause of that familiar expression. The erection you’re not even bothering to hide in the solitude of the parking garage—maybe that’s what’s keeping you from remembering the details, the depth of every moment: her fingers, her tongue, her breath.
Maybe you’re just afraid she wouldn’t say it back, or that it wouldn’t sound the same.
You drove away to head home for the weekend, or at least that’s what I determined by the bag in the backseat of the car and by your lack of her with you too. She watches you exit the garage, we hear you scream from the window as you make your way to away, “Have fun with your friends!” in that overly cheery way you used to feign excitement for things that you have really no concern for.
We’re familiar with this.
She walks—passing the door functioning as a pedestrian exit to the garage, and continuing deeper into the opposite end of the lot. A white Escape stops her in her path. She presses her face against the driver side window, until the figure within seems to jump in surprise. She laughs—that high-pitched titter again, only it’s not quite as high this time.
“What the fuck, bitch?” he opens the door, chuckling alongside her.
“I know, I’m a bad person. I couldn’t resist.”
He rolls his eyes. “Well get in here. Maybe you can make it up to me.”
What? Do you want me to stop? You know what I’m going to say anyway.
They fuck. Okay? They fuck.
But you know, this time, it probably technically counts as making love because do you know what she says to him afterwards? I’ll give you a hint. It’s something she didn’t say to you. I’m going to ask you another time.
Where is she?
Do you know?
Check again. Why don’t you check again for me. Is she gone? Gone like you? Gone like me? Do you want to tell me again how to paint the fucking sidewalks?
I didn’t think so.
It’s okay though. I never actually hated the sound of your voice when you’d say things like that to me. Not that much, at least. It sure didn’t bother me as much as it must have bothered her, am I right?
Well, maybe you don’t believe me anyway. That’s okay, I won’t hold it against you. You’re infallible, remember? The handsome boy with the baby face who doesn’t cry. I like you in the mornings—the way you linger when you stare at yourself in the mirror, long after your teeth are brushed and your hair’s fixed. For a few seconds you seem to not be aware of time’s inevitable continuance. Maybe everything stops with you.
I like the look you give your reflection. With all your body parts on opposite sides, it’s like that man is a different person—a fraternal twin, an almost doppelganger, a you from the other end of the looking glass. He’s the one you scrutinize in the silent moments of the morning, waiting for another chore or responsibility to pull you away. Tell him: you’re wrong, you’re bad, or even worse, you’re not good. Easy.
You walk away from the mirror at a spontaneous moment of your choosing. Start piling all your belongings into the bag. Watch her eyelashes sweep across her cheeks as she lies there, limbs sprawled in chaotic directions. Cleats in the closet, four pieces of lined, college-ruled paper slammed between your laptop, a half-eaten bag of off-brand chips.
The inhale of her soft snore.
Ask again, but don’t look at the other him this time.
Are you bad?
Next time she spits—too revolted to swallow—how about you paint snowy days or bleached sunsets on the sidewalk. No. Paint a snowman. That way when all the kids walk by on the way home from the bus stop, they’ll stop and marvel at the masterpiece, wondering if it’s Olaf or Frosty or the one from the old Rudolph movies. Do you think it’ll be dry by the time they touch it?
Is it time? Sure. Who cares.
Where is she?
Do you know?
I mean, maybe she’s reading this with you, at this point, because you thought this whole thing was pitiful enough for you two to laugh at together, and she’s telling you about how ridiculous everything I’m saying is. She gets a little angrier when she reads the part about her jumping into the car with the other man. Because why would she cheat when she already has the perfect guy? You laugh along, but it might seem like you stop it one giggle short of sounding genuine. You were so close though.
It was one of those days where the clouds were moving so fast that if you looked up at the sky, you felt like you were spinning with the world, feeling the motion of it as it revolves around the sun, or maybe you’re just gliding through the ocean on a small sailboat as you lied against the wooden floor, seeing nothing but the blank canvas flapping in the wind against the sky. I remembered this as I tried carelessly to throw stones up the river—seeing how far upstream I could displace then— and examined the ripples gradually dissipate back into the uniform complacency of the flow of the stream. You couldn’t watch it as long as me; I could stay there all day. I think you knew that too. Is that why you chose her? She wouldn’t make you watch the ripples.
Why did it have to be up to you whether everything in my life stayed with me or left in your suitcase as you walked away? How is that fair? I remember the day when you told me that you thought you were going to love me forever and that you wanted to do everything in the world with me by your side. Cheesy, I know, but it got me. I remember when you hugged me, you’d grab my body and pull me into the air, spinning me around until my breath escaped me—I was only alive by the air breathed into me by the wind against my skin. I remember clutching your hand under the table when my parents interrogated you—quizzing you about the precise storyline of our last date, down to the moment you said goodbye at my doorstep—and laughed suspiciously at all your attempts to be humorous.
I want it back, and I know that I don’t get to have it back, but why do you? How come you get to walk through the mall with the pretty girl on your arm and live your life with someone beside you and meet her family and laugh with her about how strange they are and how did you take that all away from me? I wish we could’ve split it up: you get the hugs, I get the kisses; you get the family, I get the love.
Well, I guess now no one gets anything. Or maybe no one ever did. Does it count if the stories she told you were stolen from the lips—the other—that kissed her moments before in the darkness of a locked car? What about if all her laughs were split in two: half for him, half for you, but never a whole one for either? Or if he got off on asking her to compare her experiences between you, and they laughed upon her describing your inadequacy?
Maybe I am the lucky one.
Where is she?
You still don’t believe me do you? You must know how much I don’t want you to be happy. I guess that’s not false, but there was once a day where things were different, and at the very least, I didn’t think as much about if I was happy or if you were happy, only if we were happy, because if we were, there’d be no distinction.
That’s just a theory though, and those are just words that sounded like they might be right, thrown out onto a page. Doesn’t mean much.
I don’t necessarily mean that I don’t want you to be happy, I just don’t want you to be happy when you shouldn’t be. I can’t live in a world where you flounce around believing you won her love, that pretty girl, and that you take some sort of shallow pride in knowing such a beautiful thing is yours.
I’m going to tell you something.
It’s just because I want you to know.
Remember the day you two first met? Think back.
Are you recalling the day when you asked to join her as she sat alone on the table outside under the tree by the physics building? I saw you stutter a lengthily worded question trying to ask her if she minded you taking a seat, though you were attempting to appear as if you weren’t solely there for the purpose of hitting on her. She didn’t look up until halfway through your proposal, and upon seeing you, she jumped in perplexity, yanking out her earbuds in time to catch the second half of your question.
“No, not at all. Go ahead. Yeah. It’s all yours,” she waved her hands nonchalantly at the seat next to her.
“Is this…some sort of essay?” you peered over her arm at the paper below. She wrapped her headphones around her phone, then stowed it in her pocket.
“In theory,” she shook her head, “Though it might be more like gibberish and less like coherent thoughts at this point.” The cruel ones are always the most charming. It’s the design by evolution: their adaption to keep them reproducing, giving society the illusion they aren’t complete wastes of life.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” you offer her a smile, “I don’t know you that well, but you seem pretty intelligent.”
“Based on what?” she inquires, resting her hand on her chin to lean on the table.
“Wild guess,” you shrug, “It seemed like the right thing to say.”
“Well,” she raises her eyebrows, “Maybe. But then again, maybe the right thing to say was to just go ahead and offer to help me with it sometime, then ask for my number, and then discretely try to turn this tutoring session into some sort of romantic situation.”
You laughed, slinking your head downwards toward the table.
“Am I that obvious?”
“Not particularly. I’m just used to it. You guys are never very original with your techniques too.”
You should’ve known at “used to it.” Used to it. God.
You just laughed though.
“Alright. So you asked the question for me, does that mean I get to answer for you?”
“Why not?” That high pitched titter.
“I’m gonna go with yes,” then you throw your fist in the air victoriously.
The rest, as they say, is history. But you’re remembering it wrong. Think again. Think harder. Was this really the first time? Are you sure you hadn’t crossed paths anywhere else before?
No? Well, maybe in another life. You two are soul mates after all.
If you want to know why you don’t remember her the real first time, it’s because of the simple fact that you had that natural aversion to girls who were with other men. Sure, it might not always stop you from looking at them, if their hand was intertwined with someone else’s, but I know you, and I know you wouldn’t care to consider a face if there wasn’t a possibility that you’d ever get to see a little more than the face, if you know what I mean. This is, of course, regardless of whether or not your hand was intertwined with someone else’s as well, I might add.
I’m less oblivious than I pretended to be.
That’s what you said though: life’s about being open. You’ve got to be open to experiences, open to challenges, but I started to think that what you meant by all that was that you’ve always got to be open to better options.
It nevertheless still does strike me as odd that you have yet to remember the first time we saw her, even under the circumstances.
It was that dessert restaurant. I know it hurts my claim to truth that I can’t remember what it’s called, but all I know is that I got a cube of fudge, and you got a bag of toffee, and we sat across from each other at the table by the window, exchanging exasperated moans of pleasure with every bite into our deliciousness. I left to go to the bathroom at one point, threatening you with various forms of torture if you dared to touch my fudge while I was gone.
When I came back, you grinned maniacally, but were stunned to discover that my first comment was going to be about something other than the subject of why my chunk of fudge had gone missing from the table and where in the world you had it concealed this time.
“I decided to hold it. There were definitely people having sex in one of the two stalls in there.”
You remember those words. You have to.
“You wanna get in on that?” you laughed, knowing full well I would have no choice but to punch you in the arm, though I laughed along with you.
“You know how I like blonde guys,” I winked, motioning my eyes towards your off-black hair.
You stared at me, “Wait, did you look at them?” Your expression was some horrified mix between curiosity and concern.
“God, no,” I sit up straighter, “Come on, I didn’t even want to pee next to them. Look.” I nodded my head towards the door where a man around our age tried to inconspicuously exit the female bathroom.
“Oh my God, should I shout something? You know, to blow his cover?”
“No!” I squealed, “If you do I’m hiding under the table immediately.”
You shook your head, “No, you’re right. I’ll wait for the girl to come out. Girls are always so much more embarrassed about that kind of stuff. Guys…hell, he’d probably appreciate if I commented on his public bathroom sex. That’s like one of those things all guys need to have for bragging purposes. That and like anal. And airplane sex. And a threesome. I could continue.”
“I am sure you could,” I slapped my palm to my forehead, “Also, you do not have my approval to shout anything at the girl, just so we’re clear.”
“Aaron!” a booming voice called from behind me. I jumped at the proximity of the volume to my head and turned around to see the boy who’d just exited the bathroom go in for a tight bro hug with another guy just entering the store.
“Hey! What’re you doing here?!” The other said in excitement.
“You know, just getting away from some of that campus food.”
“I feel you. I’m meeting Em here soon; she was thinking the same thing.”
“Dude, makes sense. I’ve gotta get going. Oh but hey, would you be free to help me with Chem sometime this week?”
“Yeah, sure. Just text me when.”
“Alright. Sounds good. Hey, have fun with Emily.”
“Thanks man, see you around.”
The boy sat at a table behind me, alternating between staring at his phone screen and at the menu hanging behind the cashier and display of sweets.
We saw the bathroom door open for a second time, and then creeped out bare legs under short-shorts, followed by the pink blouse and blonde hair.
“Are you ready?” you looked at me, mischief tainting the color of your eyes.
“No, wait. Don’t say anything seriously.”
“Just…one second. I feel like this might be…” I couldn’t finish the thought in a way that doesn’t feel wrong in my head. “Don’t look. Hey! Just stare at me. Let’s be intently talking about something.”
“What? Okay. Intense conversation. Let’s do this. What do we talk abou—shit!”
I turned around to see the back of a blonde head sit in the table with the boy who had just entered.
“Oh shit!” you repeated in a yell that became somehow subdued into a whisper.
I nodded, eyes widened, staring at you.
“I just,” you shook your head in disbelief, “I mean, do we say something? Should we tell the poor guy?”
“Oh God,” I remember closing my eyes so tightly, “No, ugh, let’s just go. This makes me feel weird. I feel like we should not have seen all this. Let’s just go.”
Where is she, Lucas?
You have to recognize her now, right? You have to remember. Maybe you only saw the back of her head when she sat down with the boy or just glimpses of her the moment she exited the bathroom, but even so. The shape, the way she walked, the cheery tone of her voice the high pitched titter all of these things—it’s her! You know it’s her. Are you going to keep denying it?
Hey! Ask me if it was the same guy from the white Escape from the night I told you about before. I dare you. Ask.
Where is she? Where is she, Lucas? She says she’s in her dorm but is she really in her dorm, Lucas? Is she really with her friends, Lucas? Is she? Where is she? Where is she?
Think of the picture frames—the ones on your shelf, wooden, painted from your own imaginations with the same pictures but different backgrounds. Think of the hat with the ears and the whiskers like a cat she likes to wear when it snows think of the stack of books on your desk as they scatter across the floor in a tumble. Think Lucas. Where is she, Lucas?
Wake up in the morning, see the skewed square of sunlight penetrating through the window to the ceiling, the dim morning making the world inside grey. What about the leaves? Swirling in miniscule tornados, blowing in and out of each other’s dances, trading, switching—all on top of the sidewalk. Isn’t it a pretty picture?
Where is she?
Think of the blood.
But you knew all along, didn’t you?