Friday, April 12, 2013
I think I might have finally cracked. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
I shove my ear buds into my ears and crank my iPod up as loud as it will go. I know it‘s bad for my hearing, but I don’t really give a damn. Ari used to always give me a look—the one with the raised eyebrow—when she caught me listening to music this loud. I would just roll my eyes to piss her off. But instead of getting mad, she would just smile at me like she knew I would turn the music down. I always did, of course.
I absentmindedly scroll my finger around the touch-dial, attempting to make the music louder, even though I know it’s already at its max. I stick the iPod into my hoodie pocket and take a deep breath. I hate coming to the cemetery, but I come here every day. It’s where she is, after all. The wind carries the scent of freshly cut grass and rotting funeral flowers, and the sun is too warm on my skin, and it’s all I can do not to scream. I want to scream. I want to scream. I need to scream.
Geez, Adam. Get a damn hold on yourself.
I bite my lip and try to turn my music up louder. Why won’t this stupid thing go louder?
I sit right down in the middle of her grave, not caring if anyone thinks it’s disrespectful. Ari wouldn’t care, I know it. I trace my fingers over the inscription on her headstone, even though I have it memorized.
Ariana Elizabeth Brown
Dearly missed and dearly loved forever.
I hate the lame epitaph her parents chose, no matter how true it is.
I pull out a book and start to read, but a gnat flies right into my left eye. I throw my book down and rub the sting out of my eye, welcoming the darkness that comes when you press against your retinas too hard.
It takes a second for the world to come back into focus, and when it does, a shadow is covering me. I’m nowhere near any trees, so I squint up towards the sky to find out where it’s coming from. There is a person standing over me—a girl. I can’t see her face because of the glare from the sun, so I stand up.
“Can I help yo—“ I say, but my words stick in my throat like glue coated pine straw when I see her face. She looks exactly like Ari. A rush of blood fills my head and I think I might either throw up, or pass out, or both.
She smiles at me. It’s her. It has to be her. No one else has a smile like that. No one else can make my stomach turn like that.
“Ari?” I whisper. It can’t be her. I must be seeing things. Maybe my little brother is right, and you can rub your eyes hard enough to cause brain damage. My brain darts back and forth between certainty and disbelief, and I can’t decide which emotion to stick with.
She eyes my ear buds, raises an eyebrow, and puts her hands on her hips. I immediately rip them out of my ears, not bothering to put them in my pocket. They dangle down the side of my leg like day-old deflated balloons.
“What—“ I start to say, but what can I say? I take a deep breath and try again. “What are you doing here?”
She doesn’t say anything. She throws her arms around my waist and presses her body against mine. We fit perfectly together, just like we used to. Her curves melt into mine like we are two puzzle pieces, and I want to kiss her. I want to kiss her. I need to kiss her.
No, what I need to do is back the hell away and run full-speed to my psychiatrist’s office. I’ve obviously lost my damn mind.
Ari’s lips brush my collarbone and I almost groan out loud. In that moment, I really don’t care if I’ve lost my mind. This is pretty good way to go.
“Come with me,” she mutters against my neck. Her words, dripping with desperation, leech my soul through my skin.
She intertwines her fingers in mine and pulls me back down to the ground. We sit cross-legged, our knees close, but not touching.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
She doesn’t answer. She lets go of my hand and slides her fingers through the grass, catching blades between her fingertips. The absence of her skin on mine makes me feel hollow. I need to feel it again. This girl is a disease, running through my blood like wildfire.
“You promise you’ll come with me?” she says, barely speaking above a whisper.
I will follow her anywhere. She knows that. But not until I find out what the hell is going on here.
“You have to tell me how you’re here. How can I see you? How can I feel you? Why are you just now coming back? Why not sooner? I—I…” I have so many questions for her, but she shakes her head with a smile creeping up one side of her lips. I always kind of hated that little half-smile. I always kind of loved it, too.
“I can’t tell you that. I just need you to promise that you’ll come with me. I can’t stay here long.” She continues to play with the grass, refusing to look me in the eyes. I want to reach out and lift her face to mine, want to dive into those green eyes that I’ve missed for so long.
But I don’t. I’m afraid to.
“Of course I will,” I say.
“It’s not here, though… I can’t stay in this place anymore. I can’t breathe here.” She stares down at her hands and frowns.
I look at the grass she’s touching and see that it’s all turned brown. It’s withered and crumpled like all the water has been sucked from the ground. She finally lifts her eyes to meet mine, and they’re greener than I’ve ever seen them. They’re the chartreuse green of leaves in the spring.
They’re the color the grass had been just a few moments earlier.
I realize that she is definitely not a ghost. She isn’t human either. I’m not sure what she is now, but it can’t be good. I’m also not sure that I care.
I nod at her, and scoot closer so that our knees are pressed together. A smile teases the corner of her lips as she grabs my hand again and brings it to her mouth for a kiss.
“You’re sure you’ll go with me? You’re sure you want to leave everything behind?”
If wherever she takes me means that we get to be together, then I don’t care where it is or what I have to leave behind. She’s the only thing I ever wanted, anyway.
“Let’s go,” I say. I run a finger across her lips, smiling when she squeezes her eyes shut like she always used to do.
The earth suddenly shakes beneath us, jarring us closer together. Dirt, grass, and moss cover our feet and knees, and I try to brush it off, but it sticks to my skin like it’s been glued there.
“What’s going on, Ari?” I ask. My voice shakes, but not because of the uneasiness that’s thickening the blood in my veins—the ground is still rumbling and pitching beneath us.
The bramble continues to cover our knees, climbing up our legs like it’s alive, wrapping around my thighs like it’s trying to pull me into the earth to take root there.
“We’re going home, Adam. Isn’t that what you said you wanted?”
The ground shudders one last time and Ari and I are pressed together so tightly that I can no longer breathe. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when she said she was going to take me with her. I guess I pictured heaven, or hell, or a cloud, or something, but I didn’t think the earth would swallow me whole.
I didn’t think her grave would swallow me whole.
I try to scramble away from her, but her fingers are wrapped around my arms so tightly that I might as well be pinned down by tree roots.
“I’m so glad to have you back, Adam,” Ari whispers in my ear as we sink six feet down into the cold mud of her grave. “You’ll be as dearly missed and dearly loved as me, I’m sure. But at least I have you now.”
I think I might have finally cracked. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
STORY BY: Stefanie Marks
PHOTO BY: Gillian Woods