The air conditioner is broken in the office and the air is like a solid thing, heavy and damp. Someone has pulled an industrial fan out of storage and aimed it towards our cubicles. The motor is so loud that the phone people have to shout to their customers, hunched against the noise, one finger plugging their free ear. They fan themselves with stray memo papers, all that white like dove wings flapping.
All morning I’ve sat around doing nothing, staring at my computer, sometimes clicking the screen to make myself look busy. My fingers find the scar on my wrist, the shiny white V along the bone, a souvenir from a long time ago, my sister and me in the field, her fingers, slick with mud, dangling limp at her side. Her face, her flared eyes, and the way I felt my heartbeat in my wrist as the wound pumped open. Later Maggie helped me wrap it up in our bathroom, careful to be quiet so no one would know how we hurt ourselves on purpose.
My fingers find the scar on my wrist, the shiny white V along the bone, a souvenir from a long time ago, my sister and me in the field, her fingers, slick with mud, dangling limp at her side.
Our manager Rob is in his office playing with his phone. My insides feel loose, scrambled. I take a deep breath before pushing myself up and moving to him. I knock and enter without waiting for an answer, leaving the door open behind me. Rob likes for us to leave the door open so everyone can see that he isn’t molesting us. At the Christmas party last year, he talked a lot about how hard it is to be a male manager these days. This was after he asked me if I was a natural blond.
The truth is, though, I like Rob. I like men like Rob. They’re so easy to be around, so open about what they want.
He quickly slides his phone out of view when I sit down across from him. “Hey. You handling the heat?”
Rob has dark, coarse hair that runs everywhere, beyond the borders of normal hair, along his neck and temples and the upper parts of his arms. He splays his hands on the shining surface of the desk. When he lifts them, an oily imprint of his palm remains.
“I’ve called maintenance three times but they don’t know what the issue is. Sandra keeps threatening to call OSHA.” He rolls his eyes. Sandra is the office busy-body. Last year she called me an ice bitch in an email that got around to me like those things do. Rob asked me if I wanted to file a complaint with HR, but I didn’t. I guess I was flattered.
“So what’s up?” Rob asks when I don’t say anything. I see the light from his phone flash under the desk. At the Christmas party, I stole his phone while he was in the bathroom. You can find out anything about a person from their phone. His is filled with pictures of big-titted blonds from glossy magazine pages, as if he bought a Playboy and then took pictures with his phone for safekeeping. The pictures depressed me, or maybe that was the alcohol. Sometimes I drink too much. It makes me maudlin, sad for the whole world. I bypass the fun part everyone talks about.
My index finger trails the smooth skin of my scar, tracing and tracing.
Sometimes I drink too much. It makes me maudlin, sad for the whole world.
The last time I was in this office, it was last year when Rob finally took me off the phones.
“You don’t sound friendly enough, Claire, and you’re a friendly girl, aren’t you?” he said.
“I thought you said I need to say sorry more.” That was what our main job was, it seemed: When people called us after rear-ending someone or outside of a burning house, we had to apologize again and again, as if all the world’s ills were our fault.
“Well, you do. But say it with a smile. Try it now. Smile and say you’re sorry. You don’t believe me, but people can hear the smile in your voice.”
I could never manage it, but Rob likes me and kept me around. Now other people take the insurance claims and pass them to me to be fixed before they’re given to the adjuster. I’m aware that my job is redundant, but I don’t think anyone else has realized it. Mostly I sit at my desk all day reading or playing on my phone. I take pride in not caring about my shitty job. I’m twenty-seven now. I figure that I have at least three years before I need to start caring like the people around me do, older women and a few men who have worked here for decades or in places like this, who don’t mind staying late, who go to every work-sponsored potluck and barbecue and employee appreciation day. Who roll their eyes at customers and pass around candy dishes and kick their shoes off under their desks.
I tell him that I need to take some time off. Not long. A week or two.
Rob dabs at his upper lip with his sleeve. “That’s short notice.”
I know that I have to tell him why. I don’t want to. His eyes soften. He says, “God. I’m so sorry, Claire,” and then, “I didn’t know you had a sister.” And then, finally: “What happened?”
Before it was plowed over, turned into rutted mounds of dirt that sit around waiting for development, there was a field next to our house, long and yellow and blocked off by barbed wire. We were never in the house if we could help it, always out in that neighboring field. Running, untamed. We became adept at sliding under the barbed wire, only occasionally nicking our tender shoulders on a rusty spike. We knew the places where the wire was older and laxer. One of us would pull up on it to give the other room to shimmy underneath on her belly, dirtying our jeans and burying dirt under our fingernails.
Then we would run. We would tackle each other onto the dry grass. We were not gentle. We hurt each other, biting and clawing at skin. Hitting with curled fists. Maggie often cried but I never did, even the time I fell wrong and split the skin of my wrist on the sharp edge of a rock.
I don’t know why we did that. I guess it felt necessary.
Once we hurt, we moved on to other things. We chased each other, played games whose rules were uncertain. We wandered over by the drainage ditch close to our elementary school, a small creek that ran over large pink and white boulders and cattail reeds. We would take off our shoes and sink our toes into the soft mud, catching salamanders and garter snakes and snails, decorating our bodies with them. Peeling cattail reeds and watching the pulpy fluff fly away in the wind. With our feet still slick with mud, we would run over the boulders, or I would run. Maggie was afraid but I was fast. That was the key, I told her. You had to be fast. You could not look at the jagged points, at all the ways you could be hurt.
Peeling cattail reeds and watching the pulpy fluff fly away in the wind.
The last few nights, this is what I’ve dreamed of. The two of us out there, the way we were then.
There isn’t a direct flight from Portland to Cheyenne, WY, so I have to fly in to Denver. Nathan drops me off at the airport. He kisses me goodbye in the terminal.
He never offered to go home with me and I never asked. When I got the call about Maggie, I took the phone away from my ear. We were in our shared studio sitting on our ratty, secondhand couch. I stared at the phone like it was poisonous, my mom’s tinny voice rising through the speakers. On and on, until finally she said, “Hello? Hello?” and then it cut away. When she called back, I didn’t answer. “I didn’t know you have a sister,” Nathan said, which I thought couldn’t be true, then realized it probably was. I don’t talk about myself much. Nathan isn’t the type to ask. That’s one of the things I like about him.
“I love you,” Nathan says. His long fingers curl at my neck as if he’s trying to grasp something. Maybe my hair, which I usually wear down but today have pulled back into a ponytail. Nathan likes to do things like that—run his fingers through my hair, touch my cheeks, brush my collarbone. He thinks it’s romantic. “Are you going to be okay?”
Nathan keeps a guitar pick in his wallet, purple and slick, which he let me hold the first time we met. It was in some smoky bar. We both came in with other people. I lifted the pick to the light, then tucked it into my own pocket and walked away. A short time later he found me, grabbed my elbow, his breath in my ear. “You took something from me,” he said. A pinched-face girl behind him glaring at me, my own date long gone. To this day, Nathan thinks that he was the one to pick me up.
“Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” I say. I kiss him one more time before saying goodbye.
Jay, my step-father, is the one to pick me up from the airport. I see him standing amongst the sea of people. He’s skinny and wears a white t-shirt with mustardy stains around the armpits and collar. His thin brown hair feathers around his ears. His skin is perpetually sunburned. When he sees me, he waves a big, body-shaking wave. He wraps me in a hug. He smells like cigarettes.
“Hey, Claire. You look so grown up. Wow.”
I was seventeen when Jay married Mom, but he always tries to pretend at a greater history between us.
Pink borders his eyes. It surprises me that he’s been crying, but then I realize it shouldn’t. When we talked on the phone, Maggie always sighed, half-laughing, when I made fun of him. “He’s not that bad. Really. He’s nice, at least. He’s nice to Mom.”
The back of Jay’s pickup is filled with dried brown pine needles, rusty old tools, crumpled Pepsi cans. It’s the same truck he had when he moved in with us, the one Maggie and I used to steal at night to careen around the dark, quiet streets of Cheyenne, nearly empty after nine o’clock. We’d spread a blanket in the bed of the pickup and park somewhere and stare up at the pale backwash of light above us, pretending that we could see more stars than we did. Maggie’s thin arms curled around my waist, her head on my chest. Her hair smelled like the baby powder she dusted into her roots to keep them fresh between washes. Maggie was a year older than me, but no one ever remembered that. Not even the two of us.
“You mind if I smoke?” Jay asks, already flicking the lighter to the end of his cigarette. Smoke fills the small space.
We don’t talk much on the drive back to Cheyenne. I watch out the window as the world flattens and dries up. I’ve never really known what home means. In Portland, people blink when I tell them I’m from Wyoming. Usually they say something generic like, “It’s so beautiful there” because they saw some Wyoming-based movie that was really set in Utah or Northern California, or they drove through Yellowstone once. They aren’t thinking of my southern corner of the state, which is bland, the buildings flat and tired, the air greasy with pollution from the local refinery. It’s not a place you talk about. It’s a place between places, one you pass through on your way somewhere else.
As Jay turns off the highway and coasts down South Greeley, I’m surprised by how much everything looks the same. I haven’t been home since I was twenty-two. I came home for the summer after college and then left again, packing everything in my car. Maggie asked me where I was going. “I don’t know,” I said, trying to pretend I was being whimsical, that I wasn’t afraid.
I never asked Maggie to come with me, not outright. But I asked her in all the ways I could. In the way that I hesitated when packing. When I asked her where she’d go if she could choose.
And she answered in the only way that she could, pulling me in by the elbows and hugging me tight. “Call me when you get there. Let me know you’re safe.” Then letting me go.
Even our trailer looks the same, a double-wide, the pale blue paint scabbed over the outside, parts of it peeling away to reveal the silver base underneath. The lawn is a spread of patchy dead grass and dandelions, their ghostly tops disintegrating in the wind. Lawns are never green here unless you can afford to water them constantly, and Mom never could, though a sprinkler sits half-buried in the dirt, the green hose still attached to one end. One of those sprinklers that shoots water in useless, limp arcs back and forth, only really good for playing in. When Maggie and I were kids we would strip to our underthings and leap back and forth through the dirt that turned to mud, painting our pale legs brown with it. Then we would stand, shivering, holding our elbows while Mom aimed the hose at us, the water so cold that it hurt down to our bones, washing us down before allowing us in the house. “Why can’t you play like girls?” Mom said. She grew up playing with paper dolls and stuffed animals. She never understood our wildness.
Mom meets us on the narrow, creaking porch that Dad built around the time I was born. It sways alarmingly with our combined weights. Mom’s hair is grayer than I remember. She’s already dressed in black, a heavy wool sweater and leggings. She makes a movement as if to hug me but then changes her mind, her fingers moving to twist the scaly skin around her elbow. Her lipstick has leaked into the crimped lines around her mouth.
“Well,” she says.
I follow her into the house. It’s in the process of being cleaned. The brown couch is pushed at an odd angle, blocking the TV, a square of flattened carpet by the wall showing its usual space. A vacuum sits in the middle of the floor. The house smells overwhelmingly of lemon.
“Trying to clean before tomorrow,” she says.
“It looks nice.” Mom has always needed praise for doing things like this, things other people do without mention.
“We’re not doing much for dinner. We thought maybe we’d order in.” She looks around and for a moment it’s like she’s the one who doesn’t belong here, she’s the one new to this old place. “The room’s all ready for you.”
The room that Maggie and I shared is on the opposite side of the house from Mom and Jay’s room. It is the same as we left it, too pink and young and frilly even then. My twin mattress is against one wall and Maggie’s against the other. At night we sometimes pushed them together and would crawl underneath them. We lay on our stomachs, our nightgowns twisted underneath us. There was little light under there. It was comforting, not being able to see each other fully. I could only feel her breath mingling with mine, the damp heat of it on my cheeks as our dad pounded through the house, his boots vibrating the floorboards. “Don’t let any boy treat you bad,” Maggie whispered to me, and I said, “ I won’t.”
Later, I look through Mom’s medicine cabinet. She can always be trusted to have something interesting in there, and I find it soon enough. Pills in an unlabeled container, small and blue. I take three pills and swallow them dry. I crawl into Maggie’s bed and pull the comforter over my head and breathe in the stale smell of old sheets. For a while, I listen to the television in the other room, Jay’s and Mom’s voices murmuring to each other in the dark. When I finally sleep, I don’t dream.
After the service, I stand at the back of the church to greet the mourners. Mom clasps hands with people while I fiddle with the hem of my dress, trying to tug it down. It’s the only black one that I have, but I forgot how short it was when I packed it. A man from Channel Five is smoking outside the church, eyeing my legs in a bored kind of way, a camera held loose at his side. There were a few stories after it happened. I poured through them on my phone while Nathan slept next to me.
“Claire? Hey. Don’t you look pretty.”
I recognize her right away even though she’s heavier than when we were in school, her hair dyed a shade of black that doesn’t fit her. Sheila Reynolds. We weren’t friends but always ended up at the same parties. She went because of her boyfriend Caleb. I went because there was nothing else.
Her stomach is round and protrudes out of her black knit dress. “Eight months along,” she says, cupping her middle the way pregnant women do, as if they have something that others might try to steal. Another kid, tow-headed and dull-eyed, grips the back of her dress. It’s so strange to see people my age with babies, but I know it shouldn’t be; I’m not that young. Maggie and I used to talk about raising baby girls in neighboring houses, but even then I was lying. I couldn’t picture having kids. I’ve never understood why you would want to risk caring that much for someone.
Sheila looks me over. I wish I brought a different dress.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Sheila grips my wrists with hands that are warm and damp as fresh dough. When someone dies, the whole world wants to apologize for it. Everyone is so damn sorry.
“I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. That someone we grew up with could do that.”
I nod, but I want to ask her why that’s so hard to believe. Why it’s so impossible to think of someone from a place like this turning out bad.
Beside us, Mom wails. She’s cried most of her makeup off. Someone I don’t know clutches her as she lets out a keening scream. After our dad died, Mom was left with a vacuum of sorrow. She became a connoisseur of tragedy, clipping sad stories out of newspapers, reviving old stories of hurt feelings. Whenever someone was sick, she was sicker. If a well-meaning acquaintance asked her how she was, she would answer with a litany of bodily pains and personal complaints. We made a game out of it after a while, Maggie and me: She’d ask, “Now, how’s the weather, Claire?” and I would say, “Mags, how could you ask me about the weather when there are refugees struggling in the world? I just care so much. But now that you mention it, the rain really does bother my knee…” Maggie would giggle behind her fingers the way she did when she didn’t want to find something funny.
“Poor things,” Sheila says, and to my surprise her eyes are actually glossy, glimmering in the dusty light. “A parent should never have to outlive her child.”
Why? I want to ask. Where is that written? When was that guaranteed?
“It’s such a shame. I came to the wedding, you know. Maggie looked so beautiful.”
Maggie wasn’t beautiful. Not really. I didn’t come to the wedding but I saw the pictures, and Maggie looked like she always did—round-cheeked, curly-haired, her teeth too big, her eyes a little too wide apart. She was cute, never pretty, but I don’t know why she has to be more than that. Why people want to make her into something more than she was.
That was three years ago. I told Maggie that I couldn’t afford to fly out, but it was a lie. I was angry with her. I didn’t want her to marry Brent. I knew that she would never leave Cheyenne if she did.
And I was right. Now she’ll be buried here.
I leave Sheila and go outside. It’s warm and humid as it almost never is in Wyoming. People mill around the parking lot talking, wilting in the heat. I can still hear my mom crying.
Across the parking lot a dark red pickup chugs as it idles, a black tail of exhaust curling up from the back like a scorpion. It’s parked at an angle from the other cars. Beyond it is a grassy culvert filled with snagged plastic bags and discarded fast food wrappers. I begin to move towards it, but it starts with a growl and putters away. I stand there as time folds over this moment, which is just one of billions of moments, smoothing over it to leave room for the next, and the next, and the next.
Maggie started dating Brent when she was sixteen. After the field by our house was gutted, we had to find different outlets for our wildness. We started spending time in smoky basements, beer splashed on the carpet, music thumping through the floor. It was the year after our father died of liver failure. We were naïve, then. We thought his death meant that we escaped something—that promise that hung over us like a shadow all our lives, that girls from homes like ours would grow up to date men like him.
By then, I had already done everything there was to do with boys, was well used to their groping hands in dark corners. Maggie was different. Brent was the only one.
He grew up a couple of blocks away from us, he and his older brother Jacob. Jacob was the one we were afraid of. Brent was too small, too soft to really hurt anyone; he cried too easily, he was sensitive. He wrote Maggie poems that he scribbled on the back of receipts, tucking them into her bag so she would find them later, unfurling the scraps with her thin fingers, her smile growing as she read over his crimped writing. Jacob, bigger and broader than everyone else, was the one we avoided. Jacob, who had dark, mean eyes and who used to throw firecrackers at little kids when he drove by in his truck. Who once, in a fight, ripped out another boy’s eyebrow piercing and then kept the bloodied silver hoop on his keychain for a year. Who I once made out with in the closet of some party, his big hands grasping my jaw so hard that it hurt, leaving dime bruises at the hinges for days afterwards, exciting and shaming me every time I saw them.
After the first time she slept with Brent, almost a year after they started dating, Maggie drifted into our bedroom and curled under the covers with me. Our knees touched. Her cold toes pressed against my ankle.
“Claire, I think I love him,” she whispered. I watched her eyes, the dim glow of them, the slick gloss of her teeth when she parted her lips. I was surprised by the way I felt—almost angry. The only person I had ever loved was her. Boys were for other things, not love.
Three months ago, on the phone with Maggie, I asked, “Is Brent messing with you again?” There was something about the way she spoke, a certain hesitancy, her words slightly muffled.
Maggie sighed. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Of course I worry about it. Of course I’m going to fucking worry. Is he, Mags?”
There was a long pause, the static of her breath crinkling in my ear. After I moved, I would call Maggie to listen to that sound. Months passed before I could fall asleep without it.
“I love him,” Maggie said after a while, sounding like she had on that night when we were teenagers, her knees touching mine under the covers, eyes open and glowing in the darkness of our room.
After the funeral, people file into our trailer. Mom stands in the center like an actor cast in the role of a lifetime. Her makeup has dripped down to her chin. Jay stands next to her, dwarfed by his too-big suit, the shoulder pads erasing his neck. People watch her while she weeps and beats her chest. Maybe it’s not her fault. When someone dies like this, everything is called into question. Love is no longer a given; it has to be shown, over and over, exaggerated and twisted.
Someone brought wine that tastes like vinegar and burns my stomach. I grab a bottle, filling my cup to the brim, my third.
“It’s just such a shame. She was an angel,” an old woman says. I don’t know her.
“Well, she’s in a better place now,” another woman says, another stranger. “That’s one thing. Bless her.”
I give up on pretense and snag the bottle before going into my bedroom. It’s the one room that is unoccupied. I close the door behind me, lock it, and punch myself in the stomach as hard as I can two times. I sit on the edge of the bed and drink from the bottle and fray the hem of my dress with my fingers, pulling it up until my black panties show. I take a picture with my cell phone and then send it to Nathan. Then I send it to Rob, too, thinking of his sad porn collection. Outside, I can still hear their voices.
Maggie doesn’t belong to me anymore but to all of them, theirs to remake, recast in this other light. But the truth is, Maggie was good. Not in the rigid way that they want her to be, but in the only way that matters. She was kind. She tried not to hurt other people. She saw people as they wanted to be seen, even if it was a lie.
A moment later, my phone buzzes. A text from Rob.
That’s really inappropriate, Claire
I turn off my phone and leave it on the bed before moving to the window. I hook one leg over the sill and then the other. A jagged edge catches the tender underside of my thigh when I slide down. A flare of heat and pain. Blood drips down the back of my leg as I step through the long, tangled grass.
No one looks at me as I leave. The sky is full of bruised, anvil-shaped clouds. The sky luminous and green. It is true what people say, I realize. The sky is bigger here. There’s more depth to it. You can see the way it goes on and on. You can see the curve of the earth if you really look.
It doesn’t take me long to reach the single-wide beige trailer. One of the windows is taped plastic. A leaning chain-link fence marks off the yard. Next door, a muscular dog lunges at the fence, barking, a heavy black shock-collar around his neck. I expect there to be yellow tape marking off the place, but there’s nothing. The doors are locked. I peel away the plastic tape and climb inside.
It smells soggy and sweet, like produce gone bad. Yellow linoleum floors, the counters clear, the sink empty, a few plates resting in the strainer beside it. The refrigerator hums. I peer inside—a few containers of leftovers; a gallon of milk, half-gone; condiments cluttering up the shelves in the door. In the freezer there’s a stack of venison steaks wrapped in butcher paper and a bucket of Neapolitan ice cream, the grocery store brand Maggie favored, a spoon still sticking out of it, frosted and burning cold to the touch.
All of the furniture is aimed around a massive flat-screen. A few pictures line the walls, Maggie and Brent together, his thin arm slung around her shoulders, Maggie always smiling, smiling, showing all of her teeth. There’s even one of me, to my surprise. It was taken before I left. I’m standing with Maggie in our front yard, her arms wrapped around my waist, bodies flush against each other, Maggie’s head against my shoulder. I wish the picture was different. I wish we were covered in mud and weeds, hair clotted with leaves, but I take the picture anyway. I pluck the frame from the wall.
The articles that I read said it happened in the bedroom. I thought there would be evidence, but I can’t see anything. There’s no blood—but then, I guess, there wouldn’t be. That happened internally. Inside of her skull. That was all that I knew, and this: Mom telling me that they couldn’t do an open casket, not telling me why. Leaving me to picture it—Brent’s sharp fists, again and again, each hit an erasure, until nothing was left of her, and now she is nothing—a body in the ground, part of the root system of a place she never left. This was the farthest she got: Three blocks away from the place where we grew up, where we hid under our beds and touched pinkies and make promises to each other that we had no idea how to keep.
I leave through the same window that I came in.
There’s a truck waiting outside. Rust red. Jacob Casey leans against the hood. He holds a soft pack of cigarettes. He claps the top against his palm to loosen one and fits the filter between his teeth, a white slash within his dark beard. His hair is overgrown. His fingernails are blunt and cracked. My jaw aches with the memory of his big hands, the thud of the back of my skull against the wall, the taste of beer on his tongue.
I should hit him, I think. I should attack.
I look down. I forgot about my leg. Red trails down the back like a seam in a stocking, dry now.
“What do you got?”
I hold out the picture frame. His eyes skitter away from it and back to his hands, scarred and older than he is, which isn’t that much older than me, after all. This is the closet we’ve ever been, besides the kiss, and the longest. That day at the party there were no words exchanged before or after, just his mouth hot on mine, the pressure of his grip. Brent was the one we hung out with, following Maggie everywhere like a puppy. Jacob was only seen dropping off or picking up his younger brother, this silent presence in his old truck. I’d always thought that Jacob was somehow above everyone in town, apart from them, but really he was Cheyenne. He was this place more than anyone.
We stand there for a while. I’m not sure what to do. I watch the smoke unfurl like a lizard tongue between Jacob’s teeth and chimney up between us, a ghostly partition. He moves to the back of the truck and slams down the tailgate and climbs into it. The truck rocks from his weight.
“Here. You look like you could use this.”
I follow him around and climb into the truck bed before I see what he offers. The bed is scabbed with dried dirt, empty otherwise. Jacob holds out something pinkie-sized and white. He lights it. Skunky-smelling smoke rises between us. I take it and inhale deep. The smoke burns my lungs and spirals into the back of my skull, whispering there.
“Slow down,” he says at one point, but I don’t. I smoke nearly all of it before he snatches it away, his callouses saving him from the burning ember. His fits the small section between his lips and smokes what remains.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. My spine curves back towards the pickup bed, the metal hot against my skin. My limbs are heavy.
“Checking on things.”
“You were at the funeral.”
He doesn’t say anything. The sky churns, the smell of ozone thick in the air. Maggie and I used to do this, first in the field and then later in Jay’s truck. We would stretch out and watch funnel clouds form. We were never scared of storms, not even Maggie. We liked to watch the way the world went on and on, so much beyond two rural girls in tired clothes. As kids we talked about being storm chasers together. We read somewhere that the hardest thing wasn’t chasing the danger but was staying put. Letting it run over you.
Maggie worked at KFC before she died. She came home every day smelling like chicken, which she couldn’t eat anymore. “It’s disgusting,” she said. “But at least we get free food sometimes.” She thought that working in claims sounded so interesting, and I never told her otherwise, but it wasn’t. Tragedy is so common, you hear about it from everyone, everyone has a story. Everyone has that part of themselves that they can bring out and show, palm up; that bleeding, jagged piece of the worse that’s ever happened to them.
I listened to them. I smiled. I said that I was sorry.
Jacob shifts. He smells earthy, smoky—not like pot but of something closer to the burnt head of a match. I realize that my skirt has crept up. I don’t really care. I’m too drunk, too high, too everything, my body so apart from me that it could belong to anyone that came along. I’d never wanted it. This body.
Portland feels very far away. For the first time, I wonder if I’ll go back there.
Jacob moves closer to me. I feel the heat of him against my side and I close my eyes. I decide then that I’ll let him sleep with me if he wants to.
“Are you sad he’s in jail?”
Jacob doesn’t answer and doesn’t move away.
“Your dad was a piece of shit, too, right? And then your brother. And you are too, aren’t you? I bet you are.”
I open my eyes. The clouds look stirred, something dark forming above us. The air shivers.
Jacob finally moves and I close my eyes again. His thumb brushes along my cheek, along my jaw. Soft, so soft, and only then do I realize that I’m crying. So is he.
He finds a blanket in the back of the truck and puts it over my legs, covering my bare skin. We sit there for a long time watching the sky, churning and wild, and us, silent and broken beneath it.