short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
Thirty-five years ago I met a girl, a child.
Her eyes were terrible, old, penetrating eyes. I didn’t want to look. I couldn’t turn away. She sat across my table behind the candle, her clothes soaked – rancid – hung around my bathroom. She’d been hitchhiking in the rain for hours.
Her destination, it seemed, was my small kitchen table.
“Obviously, because here’s where I am.”
I couldn’t actually see her eyes. I looked. My reflection looked back.
She had terrible eyes.
And, she was terribly young. Horribly young. Obscenely young. When she climbed in my car and I asked where to, she answered: “Wherever I go.”
Boys, teenage boys, have dreams and fantasies.
Something maternal moved in my stomach. I fetched a towel and a blanket, directing my guest to the bath. She peeled her clothes where she stood, layer by layer as if not aware of my presence. She wanted me to watch, so I did.
She wanted my bed and not to sleep. At least, in those early moments I thought that’s what she wanted. In reality, she wanted what she thought I wanted. I heated soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle, because that’s what people with something maternal moving in their stomachs do.
She sat across my table behind the candle’s dancing flame. She demanded: “Tell me about the people you’ve loved.”
A surprising question coming from a girl the lean side of puberty.
“Tell me,” I answered. “Tell me how you got here.”
I have no reason to believe her next statement. I have many reasons to discount it.
“You’re the first person who’s ever wanted to hear what I have to say.”
She told, I listened. I’ve always had a knack for objective listening. I like a story as it’s told. I don’t see everything as something needing to be fixed. My seeming lack of empathy took the hyperbole from her storytelling. She abandoned trying to shock or impress, then her life unfolded. I should say: she told a story, unfurling events as she understood the events.
If objective reality is the measure, no one tells the truth.
She ate my soup, all four cans, along with some leftover pizza. Hours passed, stories told. She took the bed, I the sofa. When I awoke, the rain was gone, she was gone, some of my clothes were gone and all the cash, what little I had in the apartment was gone.
She’s been with me, this horribly young child with the terrible eyes, for almost thirty-five years. She’s never aged, dancing in my imagination, singing songs with no words, festering and manifesting. The child I met is merely the bone of a story. I’ve sung the flesh onto the bone.