The Writing Quarter May 2019 Winner

Posted 3 weeks ago under Uncategorised,

Atreyee Gupta explores the liminal spaces in which humans interact with society, geography, and identity. She is also the creator of Bespoke Traveler, a digital alcove which explores the transformative power of travel. Her work has been published by Sunlight Press, Chicago Literati, and Rigorous Magazine.

 

Certain Expectations

by Atreyee Gupta

We chew the cherries slowly grasping their sour flesh in our mouths the way cows mull over their cud. I pretend the deep blood skin is your lip as I suck on it. You spit out the seed like a pro and it lands with a ping against the pudgy pine trunk to our right. You also tie the stems into perfect little knots. You do everything expertly; I’m jealous, but also proud because in my mind you belong to me and your talents are gifts I hug to myself.

“I wonder if these’ll grow into trees and choke out the others,” you say spitting another cherry seed out of your mouth. It arcs in the air dipping into the pond by which we lay on our bellies.

“I doubt it,” I reply.

You sigh. “You’re right. This place’ll never change.”

“Would you want it to?” I ask afraid of your answer.

“In my memory it’ll always be like this…dark and green and cool…with you lying right next to me as we tell each other secrets.”

I smile wanting to put my arms around you to kiss your ear lobe.

“I’m jealous that you’ll bring someone else here to share secrets with when I’m gone,” you whisper leaning in with that sly upturn of your mouth.

“I could never,” I swear, “our magic forest won’t be the same when you go.”

“Come with me.”

“What would I do? I have no grand talents like you.”

“We’ll get waitress jobs together and shack up in a dumpy apartment while we troll for boys.”

I shake my head. “You got in to one of the best tech schools in the world…this’s what you’ve been working so hard for…late nights and extra classes and exam prep…so you can get away from your parents…from all the shit here…this is your chance.”

You screech with your head hid in your arms while your legs pedal the air. “Yeah, I can’t believe it! I mean…California!” You screech with excitement. “California, where the sun shines…can’t believe I’ll be moving there in a week. Who would’ve thought I could do it?”

“I knew.” I’m happy for you, but I want to beg you to stay. When I can’t sleep I imagine us bussing tables at the Lobster Shack living in a one-bedroom above Tony Clements’ repair shop. We have no need of boys. This isn’t your dream, so I stay silent.

“That’s why I love you,” you say. I watch you glide up in one swift motion bark bits sticking to your elbows desperate for attention. You’re ignorant of them when you balance along a fallen branch at ease in your summer dress. Its hem stretches taut with each lift of your thigh. You peel off your clothes and I can feel the heat rising from my chest into my throat as I look at you naked. You jump into the pool knees drawn up sinking into its clouded depth. I hold my breath; I always hold my breath at this point until your head bobs up again even as the ripples continue vibrating across the water’s surface. You paddle your arms describing elegant semi-circles. “C’mon in,” you say.

“Too cold…maybe later,” I reply. I shift uncomfortably onto my haunches. My blood yearns to swim in the cool abyss where we might accidentally touch. My overthinking brain warns me not to. We’ve shared secrets, but my longing I’ve kept hidden from you. This is the difference between us: you step into the unknown while I hold back.

You float on your spine. “D’you think I’ll make it over there?”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“What if I don’t have what it takes?”

“You’re as sharp as they come. You’ll be fine.”

“Wish you were coming too. With your imagination you’d kill it in Cali. I tell you you should be a writer…you could do screenplays over there…how cool would that be?”

“I’m not ambitious like you.”

“I could use the moral support.”

“I’ll be here anytime you need…phone call away.” Once you leave you won’t need me anymore. You’ll forget about me. I push the thought away before it tightens my throat.

“You know you’re gonna get outta here right?”

I shrug. “I don’t know…maybe.”

“I’m sure of it. You’re gonna be famous.”

“So I’ve heard,” I reply.

Your laughter sets the oak leaves around us twitching until the woods fill with their swooshing song. “Come in…it’s no fun swimming without you,” you plead.

Shame of my body forces me to go behind a bush to disrobe. Fear of the murky pond inhibits me.

“What the hell’s taking you?”

“These jeans have zipper issues,” I mumble.

“Why don’t you wear dresses? They’re so much easier to move in.”

“I can’t do anything in em,” I complain. Leaving my underwear on I awkwardly slide into the water. My teeth chatter pimples rise on my flesh. I pump my fists and legs to warm up. My unwieldy appendages wave erratically. The pool enters my nose even as I raise my chin above the surface. Next to you I am clumsy hippo.

You come to my rescue. “Here tilt your head back.” You place your hands upon my neck to angle it. Immediately my lower torso shoots up. I fight the instinct to panic. “Relax…I got you.” You lean me against your chest with your arms encircling my waist. Every part of me pressing against you tingles. “You’ve such nice color,” you say lightly rubbing my left bicep. “I wish I had your cocoa tones. I’m so pale I could be a ghost.”

I feel your hair tickle my chin. I wonder if I dare reach for your caressing fingers to hold. “I like your skin,” I tell you, “it’s soft alabaster…medieval queens would’ve killed for it.”

You chuckle; it’s the sound of rain falling on dry leaves. “Shall I be Guinevere then?”

“Yes, and I’m your obedient handmaiden.”

“No,” you chide, “you’re a queen too. We’re equals…best-friend-sisters.”

“We can’t be sisters…we look too different.”

“Sure we can…our parents adopted us both from foreign lands and now we co-rule our kingdom with wit and kindness.”

You never make me less than yourself though the sibling comment rankles. “What shall we do now your majesty?” I ask sarcastic.

You yawn. “We should prolly get out or else we’ll wrinkle.”

I regret the question. I want this moment to last forever. I want to float upon your body until eternity.

Our clothes squelch over damp flesh even after we dry ourselves on the towel you brought. “Ugh, I’ve got so much packing,” you say.

“I can help you tackle it tomorrow,” I suggest. I’m trying to spend the remaining days with you by whatever means necessary.

You fling yourself onto me as I’m fiddling with my zipper behind the bush. You pelt me with kisses on my jaw and ear and cheek and hair. “Promise me,” you implore, “promise me you’ll leave too. It doesn’t have to be for Cali…just anywhere but here. You’re too good to be stuck in this place.”

I chortle. “Okay, okay, I promise!” It’s a pledge that I’ll break. I’ve grown accustomed to the miseries of our town. I understand how to navigate them. I can continue to pretend that one day you’ll return to me wearied with your battles. I’ll collect you in my withered arms and as I hold you close you will at last be home.

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