by Maya Chesley
We say we will go wandering at 9:00, but we catch our ride at 10:30 when the wind has already stopped teasing and started whining and turning bitter. Chilly. I feel her sour breath slip through the window I lay my head against; through the glass the cold goes, onto my cheek, into my skin.
The drive drifts by, street lamp haze and the smell of tiredness and city hang in the car, and no one talks for most of it, not even Ron. All the while the silence nuzzles its way in between us, into the empty spaces where words have fled and late night thoughts linger. Time tick-tick-ticks slow. We breathe, slow. Elise asks where to turn.
And I am in love with them all, in love with Tamara in the back who sings R&B and has hair like mine. In love with Elise–her grainy voice, her closeness and her warmth. I am in love with Ron who makes me reckless and whose mashed-up face I want to kiss.
The whine of Elise’s broken steering wheel hitches then peters off. I stare out the window into nothing, into a flat landscape where night blacks out the curves of the riverbed and corners of corporate buildings three blocks away. Four seat belts unbuckle. We trail Ron to the industrially lit, open-air gallery plastered along the walls of a broken-down building.
None of the electric blues or pepto bismol pinks we saw splattered across the sides of the abandoned warehouse nearby could express the hysteria. I know because I looked up at them, stared for hours that were really only minutes that felt like seconds. And I almost cried while I looked at the dismembered, printed, pornographic Lichtenstein patterns of Wonder Woman. Graffiti jungle we were in–vibrant and magnetic–and I realized then that I was not brightly colored. I could not help but feel that failure pluck and tear at some inner string. Even the cool concrete walls covered in acid colors were a mystery to me. How could I be part of any of it? How separate was I? Were we? We all beat our own blood and grew on our own and our same worlds and genes gave rise to a million different iterations of nature and nurture.
The wind scoffed, shouted at us with her cool, sick breath. The pull of the paintings dragged me close and kept me clinging to that concrete flat-top, mulling over owl gods that carried forests on their heads and catfish cars without steering wheels. I stood flooded in the jaundiced fluorescent lighting of a deserted haven, then. I was still a mystery to me, then. How could I begin to tell them, those three unbuckled seat belts standing behind me, looking forward, staring off into the forest? I could barely finish a thought. Sentences, I could not. Discussions, I could not.
Words I could not bring to my mouth there. They lingered, there. Bubbled up and hugged the brim, there. Somehow they did not fall out, instead stayed boiling and feigning attempts at freedom. Still I wanted to scream, to yell to the world, “Who is Maya Chesley?” But a million questions hung even in that small space, a million dragonflies dangled midair, asking away. The world gave no words or answers for them, or for Ron who sat next to me, talking about biology and the practical uses of shrooms.
When I looked out into the great blackness around us that night I saw the water was still, knew the pavement was cracked.