Eggs and the Elephant with Leafling
Go back and figure this out. How this moment came about. Ten years ago. High school. Lips too tense to pout. Your older sister urging for sex appeal. Screeching from behind her Nikon, “You’re killing the camera!” a quote from her favorite song. Follow her directions. Hold the eggs tight in frame. Wear the scrubs with smize on your face. Keep your mouth shut as cotton balls fall on your head. All for the perfect shot.
Convinced to model for her Photo 1 final. Why? Can’t remember. She must have something on you good. Her hissy fit at the end of the semester? That’s something to remember. Thought those prints were destroyed then and there. A bonfire in the living room. Your sister’s final mark on the art world before she moved on to captaining the fencing team.
Yet, ten years later you walk in and there’s you.
Think back to an hour ago.
Something juts into your side. Happens again and again. Each time pushing farther and harder. This phone’s vibration must be hiked up as far as it can go. It’s not yours. You can’t answer it. It won’t stop. Why doesn’t the caller hang up? How can Red Track Suit next to you not feel it? Probably all that meat on those bones. Tap the shoulder. Return moist fingertips. Grimace, turn to smile. Don’t say anything about the obesity rate in this nation. Don’t upset one of JoJo’s friends.
Try to give Red Track Suit some phone privacy. Not much room to scoot over in the back of this station wagon. Definitely don’t want to end up on String Cheese’s lap. Some shuffling, an unbuckling, and a lingering hand on thigh, and the cell phone is retrieved out of the velour pocket. Red Track Suit murmurs into it too quiet to hear.
JoJo, you think, we had such cool friends in college. What happened to you?
JoJo asks from the driver’s seat. “What are we doing?”
Snow falls outside. Windshield wipers turn on.
No answer from the car. “Where am I going?” JoJo’s warm eyes appear in the rearview mirror. Think back to last night. Wonder why it never happened before. Said it was only for the one time, but from that look, maybe JoJo would be up for keeping it going until the end of your visit. Try to make your eyes smile back.
JoJo says, “C’mon, I’m not going to just drive around like last time.”
“Let JoJo’s friend pick.” Beak Nose says from the passenger seat.
String Cheese tears into another package of mozzarella. “JoJo’s friend doesn’t know what’s around here anymore.”
The car goes through a few traffic lights and reaches the center of town. JoJo turns the wheel and enters the traffic circle.
“Just want to go to Lincoln?”
“We always go to the diner,” String Cheese whines.
“We always go everywhere,” Beak Nose counters.
The car starts its second loop around the circle. It’s still snowing and JoJo’s going fast. Grab onto passenger’s headrest. No use. Forced leaning to the left. The spinning mixes with the smell of armpit and cheese. Feel bile start to rise.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” JoJo’s getting anxious. Head is reeling. “Baltimore, York, Biglerville, Chambersburg, Baltimore, York, Biglerville, Chambersburg. C’mon, somebody pick! Biglerville, Chambersburg – “
Swallow hard. Don’t mix in the smell of vomit.
“Baltimore Street.” Red Track Suit flips the phone shut.
“Is that a decision?” JoJo takes the exit without waiting for an answer.
“It’s a party.”
“JoJo’s friend will get to meet Kit!” Beak Nose says.
String Cheese leans over, “Kit’s great.” Strands of cheese meddle back together between teeth. “You’ll like Kit.”
Only a few other cars out front, but it still takes JoJo a while to find a spot. Scramble out of the car after Red Track Suit, whose door opens fastest. Take a deep breath. Inhale an unplaceable smell. Must be coming from the French Café run by Americans off to the left. The group is headed to the apartment above it. Walk up the stairs next to JoJo, following the others.
“They’re a trip, aren’t they?”
“You could say that.” Hands accidently brush. JoJo blushes. You almost do too.
Once through the door, the party’s pretty lame. At least it’s out of that car. Red Track Suit, String Cheese, and Beak Nose get lost in the mass. There isn’t a particularly large crowd, but everyone looks the same. The front room of the apartment is very plain. Painted white. Probably to make it look bigger. The black furniture is counterproductive. A sofa, a small table, and a few mismatched chairs. Cramped.
Look around for people you know. Though you know you won’t know anyone there. Sigh. No one there would be someone you would want to know, anyway.
Then you do see someone you did know. They definitely were someone worth knowing. Perhaps still are.
Of course you’d meet September again in December.
“September,” you whisper.
“Huh?” JoJo takes off a scarf. “Oh, you know September?” JoJo watches you stare.
“From high school.”
Funny, everyone runs in the same circles.
JoJo forces a smile. “Let’s go over there.”
A person born in July named September screams for adoration.
A quick head shake. Come up with some excuse. “September graduated two years ahead of me. Haven’t seen each other since. Probably doesn’t remember me.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
JoJo is beckoned by Baby-Faced-Bald-Man and impulsively squeezes your hand before walking away. Examine hand.
Settle into chair on the other side of the room. Palm turns cold when placed on leather. Gaze still glued to September. Watch the picking up of glasses. See the forced pleasant smiles. Realize this must be September’s place. Never thought fascination would come back so strongly. 10th grade, suddenly, doesn’t feel so long ago.
Overhear Kilted Guy saying that this Kit person everyone is so excited to see is held up at the airport due to bad weather.
Think of September. Think of JoJo. Then back to September. Let the feeling of almost guilt disappear. What else is there to do here other than stare? You could stare at JoJo? In a few minutes. Now, study the boredom that creeps over September’s face. The fingernail chipping away a dried spill on the counter. Scrapping once up then twice down. A pattern. Remember to return a few glances from JoJo. Out of common courtesy.
Think back to all those afternoons, spent in your room during high school, pining away for a glimpse of September outside of school. Obsessed about hair and clothes and that onetime eyes met between 6th and 7th period. But mostly about that laugh.
That laugh erupts again. The one not heard in a decade. Can’t help but join in. September looks over. Sees you for the first time all evening. Grow pale, having forgot that recognition can go both ways. September’s dark eyes grow wide and feet race up the hallway.
Hadn’t anticipated that reaction.
Then you remember. Back again. Back to 10th grade. Back in the bathroom of your parents’ house, which was then your house, which was also your sister’s house. Your sister was standing on the other side of the door. You locked yourself in the bathroom, hiding away from the admission of the name of your crush. Your sister found a poem and she was determined to find out whom it was for. She got “September” to fall from your lips and pretty soon the whole school knew. Then there were no more eyes between 6th and 7th.
Back at the party. Bolt from the chair. Rush up the hallway to see a door being closed. September stands in front of it. Jumps at the sight of you.
“September, I just wanted – I came with some friends – I didn’t know it was your apartment – I’ll go.”
“Why? You should stay.”
Funny, your stomach still clenches whenever that voice is directed towards you. “No, it doesn’t feel right, especially because of that poem.”
“Back in high school. About …” Stop. Wait. “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?”
“But my sister said… Never mind. Should be going anyway.” Start to walk back down the hall.
“Hey, wait.” September calls. Stop abruptly. September bumps into you, spilling wine cooler on your shirt. Shiver as it bleeds through the cotton.
“Oh God! I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You are the only person here I’d be trying to impress anyway.” Tack on, “Not that your friends aren’t totally awesome.”
September laughs. “It’s fine. I get it. But if that’s the case, let’s get you a new shirt because that one ain’t cutting it.” Closed door opens. “I should have something in here that will work.”
Follow behind. The air is stale. Stop short of closet. The room’s one piece of decoration catches your eye. A 72×40” photo hanging across from the foot of the bed. You stare at the you holding eggs as the you holding eggs stares back.
September enters from the walk-in. “Oh.” A pause. “You came in here.”
“You did say ‘let’s.’”
A nod. “I guess I did.” September stiffly walks across the room, hands over a shirt, then retreats back to in front of the closet. Turn your back. Take off the stained shirt. Slowly button up the new one. Try to think of something to say. Look at September who looks uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as you and definitely not as uncomfortable as the you in the photo hanging on the wall.
Clear your throat.
Turn back to the photo. Feel the need to address you. The other you. The elephant in the room. It’s like you are riding the elephant. You are the elephant. Rock up onto the balls of your feet and back down. Again. “Well.” Gesture to photo. Then to bed. “If I’ve never had the pleasure, at least I’ve gotten to see you do it.”
“What an awkward thing to say.”
“Yes.” Your color drains. “Sorry.”
September sits on the foot of the bed. “How long are you in town?”
“A few days.” Look back at photo. There’s more to be said. But, instead, you say, “Visiting a friend.”
Continue to stare.
“What line of work are you in?” September asks a little louder.
“Oh, uhh – “
September cuts you off. “I got it from your sister.”
“Oh, this?” Point to photo. “I imagined so,” you mumble.
“Right around the time she gave me that poem.”
“You said you never heard that!”
September laughs. “Come, sit next to me.” Sit. “You liked me in high school, didn’t you?”
“I wanted to sniff your laundry.” Laugh. An afterthought, “That was in the poem. A bit of… humor in it.”
Your shirt’s off again.
Kiss cold skin. Notice September’s eyes focused on the 2D you.
“Why don’t you wear your hair like that anymore?” September asks.
“I was 16. I was stupid.” Kiss September’s neck.
“I liked your fingernails back then.”
“Yeah, they were much longer. You should consider growing them out.”
“I’ll think about it.” Lips to jaw line.
“I like to look at it – “
“From bed – ” Kiss behind the ear. “When I get bored.” Hesitation. A kiss on the mouth. September breaks away, attention still fixed on the photo. The you stuck in time rather than the you wrapped up in the moment. “Kit doesn’t like it.”
“Why? Can’t appreciate art?”
“Says I like it too much.”
“Why should that matter?”
September’s lips press to yours. The lips that are attached to the breathing you. Eyes meet. “Kit and I are married.”
Stop mid-kiss. “You’re married?”
“About five years now,” September says.
Grab what is probably Kit’s shirt. Run back down the hall. Heart pounding. Need to find JoJo.
Oh God, JoJo.
Pant while buttoning up last button.
“Where have you been? “ JoJo asks, eyeing your shirt.
“Nowhere.” Your face burns. “Want to get out of here? Let’s get out of here.”
“We can leave in a bit. Kit just got here and I want you two to meet. Hey, Kit!”
Kit starts towards the pair of you and stops. Getting a good look at you, Kit enters the bedroom. After few moments, shouts, “Thought it was just a picture of a stranger?”
Frantic, you say, “JoJo, give me your keys. We’re getting out of here.”
The bedroom door opens. Kit charges out. Points at you. “You’ve seen September naked!” September follows, hugging the you neatly tucked into a frame. Everyone puts a lid on their cheap gossip to watch something much juicier. JoJo starts shrieking. You can’t really hear what’s being said.
Back slowly towards front door. Plead, “No, no, please, I didn’t.” Turn to JoJo. Gesture to the photo. “That me did. I didn’t.”
“I could kill you.” Kit lunges.
Funny how the 10th grade you has finally worked up the nerve to fight. That you in the photo is wielded by September, it’s one true love. One blow over the head is all it takes. The match results in Kit’s crumpled body on the floor covered in shards of glass and bits of frame.
Then you, the real you, the you in another person’s shirt, the you with blood pounding in your ears, the you who thinks this is all nuts, that you, that you runs.
Samantha Vakiener graduated from Spalding University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing with a concentration in Playwriting (Fall 2015). Her works have appeared in The Louisville Review, Women Writing Letters, and Jigsaw Literary Magazine. She now lives in Boulder, CO exploring where her writing and theatre career will take her.