The Way Things End
He decided to end it.
She didn't understand his decision.
But time was against them.
He could find no alternative.
She would break his heart.
Stars in My Pocket
I’ve dragged my buddy Jase onto the overpass for a Friday night skate, but it’s probably not the best idea. Even the starry sky weighs heavy as we dodge cars.
As I stare over the guardrail into the dirt below, Jase whines, “Guy, dude, this place is like a speedway death trap. The Skatey P’s more fun, and everyone'll be there. Let’s dip.”
I’ve no interest in the park’s new light installation or all those suit-and-tie city officials congratulating themselves for ruining one of the darkest hangouts in town. If only the stars shined a little brighter. Broken street lamps here mean we can hide, doing whatever we want.
“In a minute.” My hands grip the cold rail as I roll my board. My heart thumps like the Little Drummer Boy…pa rum pum pum pum. Only mine’s out of tune. Every year’s the same. Nothing changes. They’re still gone. Still disappointed in me.
At least I’d be.
Jase sets a hand on my shoulder, not giving up easily. “It might not be so bad.”
Balancing my board on the curb, the cool November night licks my cheek. “Stupid lights, what’s the point? So we can see everyone’s ugly faces.” I razz my buddy, skating a fine line between sarcasm and apathy.
“Don’t be such a drag.” He spins nineties around me.
Maybe that line isn’t as fine as I think. Maybe it’s one line.
“Come on, this road's like an autobahn." He studies the late night parade of headlights. He knows why we came up here tonight.
Well, part of why.
Cars zip by, and I yell, “Get glasses...jerk!”
"See," Jase shouts, pressing against the guard rail. “So...skatepark?”
His who-cares-about-fast-cars-that-nearly-hit-me attitude doesn’t fool me. In third grade, Jase ran three blocks after a spider crawled across his bare foot.
"First let’s skip down to the spot." Fall evenings on the low hills are cool and breezy, so I pull up my hoodie, careful not to fuzz my curls.
“No car dodge ball tonight, dude.” He juts an elbow toward the road.
"Should we jump?" I know it’s a dumb idea, but that never stops me.
Jase says nothing, just purses his lips, silly flop of bleached hair dusting his pale forehead.
“Look, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, right?” I appeal to the smarter side of his brain. "We can cross here. I've done it before."
“Shortest doesn’t mean safest, Mr. Weed Brain,” he shouts over the hum of cars.
“Fine… Straight across then dip to the wash. Ready?”
“No. Not ready.” Jase's hand grips my shoulder as a careening sedan brushes past my jeans, spitting hot car breath.
"You're right, man. Let's err on the side of caution."
“Arrow on the side of what?"
"We’ll go down the bunny slope,” I say, holding back anymore sarcasm about who's smarter as we lift our boards and shimmy through the narrow opening instead of crossing the busy road. Maybe it’ll be easier to bring up my current problem, pose my plan that seems impossible, once we’re standing on that patch of dirt. Besides, the last thing I want to do is make Jase mad.
Board in hand, my buddy follows me along the sidewalk, avoiding cracks in the pavement like that’s what everyone does.
After sliding down, we head into the shadowy tunnel. Cars rumble along the road above as small pebbles crunch beneath our feet, grinding together like teeth.
When we step out of the shadows into the pale moonlight, Jase says, “We don’t need to come down here just because…it’s November.”
Heaving a sigh, I shrug off his hand and reach inside my pocket while random specks of light glow overhead. I spy the north star and make a wish.
“Risking your life isn’t the answer.” He runs a finger across his board’s wheels.
“And the question was…?” I light my remaining joint, and Jase rolls his eyes.
“Like that ever helps.” He presses his board behind his shoulders.
“Just follow me, I wanna show you something.” I nod toward the vacant expanse painted with moonlight.
Nearly ten on a Friday night, there’s no lights or cops to annoy us. Naked land stretches fifty yards until meeting the city-made flood channel that divides the mountains from homes like a moat. As far as the city’s concerned, the whole place is a nuisance not a crime scene.
Some of us would disagree.
It’s been six years, and my hope of ever seeing my parents again wanes like the moon.
Duh. They’re dead.
Even still, in seven days, I’ll be back here, standing next to the very spot where they died, just like I’ve done every November for the past five years believing I’ll get to see them one more time, hoping it'll bring my family peace.
What a joke. From where I stand tonight, peace is about as far away as Orion’s Belt.
Still, I hang onto that one thread that the book I keep under my mattress is right, that leaving my dead parents gifts will let me say I’m sorry.
I’m such an idiot, not even dodging cars on the overpass can take my mind off the dirt, the sky, or my dead parents.
“I wish I’d checked that stupid book sooner, you know?” But I didn’t cuz I lost track of time. Or forgot. Or hoped it was all a dream.
“I know...this is the year. Number six. Like I’m not keeping track, too?”
Dull starlight sprinkles the ground in front of us, but I could find their spot blindfolded. Jase knows the routine, yet when I stop, he doesn’t see what I do: my parents, their car, their last breaths. Did my dad grab my mom’s hand or hold her as the car spun and flew? What were their last thoughts? Did they remember their last words to me? Did they hear my last words to them? Words I can never forget, never forgive myself for, as if those five careless words ate up all the good things I ever said, and if I could subtract them from my memory, erase them forever from the failed math test of my life, everything would be okay.
One thing I do know: my dad loved my mom. He did, like a fairy tale. If fairy tales end with dead parents, then yeah.
Fuck you, fairy tales.
Lucy floated in the center of the ocean. It doesn’t matter which ocean. Use your imagination. That’s what Lucy does.
So she’s floating…in a row boat. No. She’s floating on a raft like the kind Tom Sawyer made with rough logs strewn together with twine.
Above her is sky. Clear. Blue. One thin cloud lingers in the far right region—if the sky had regions, which it doesn’t. No matter, Lucy thinks it’s beautiful. While her hand trails the water, she thinks of nothing else but that thin wisp of cloud in the far right corner of the sky. If Lucy had her paintbrushes right now, she’d paint that cloud. It would be larger in her painting. More significant.
Lucy’s never understood why people say small things don’t hold as much value as large things.
Puppies are cute but not to be taken as seriously as a large pit bull behind a chainlink fence. Okay, that one makes sense. But just because something can’t get at you, bite you, scare you, doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.
It’s possible that a small puppy could bite your finger, and it could hurt. If you were a baby, a puppy nipping your finger would be like a lion. That’s significant.
Lucy closed her eyes and imagined a puppy-shaped cloud in the sky. She imagined it so fiercely and with such detail that when she opened her eyes, the small wisp of cloud in the far right region was gone. In its place was not just one puppy-shaped cloud but hundreds.
They were frolicking not just in the far right region but across the entire clear blue sky. Lucy laughed. Did she do that?
A pop of thunder rattled the air. The next minute, sheets of rain poured onto the vast ocean and onto Lucy who was floating in the center of it.
Now you see why it doesn’t matter which ocean Lucy was floating in because that’s not what’s significant.
Lucy never thought she could create a kennel of puppy-shaped clouds that would rain down on her while she floated in the center of this vast ocean. But she did.
*Most things will never happen, but this one did.
*With acknowledgement to Philip Larkin