By Amanda White
This Story Won Second Prize in Our Contest
The boy is on one end of the couch. I am on the other. He reads his homework. I write a song. We’re alone together with the ping pong table as a chaperone. Bookshelves, built in among the bricks, line the wall with books whose covers have been nibbled off by my cockatiel. Narnia, Caddie Woodlawn, Pilgrim’s Progress. An opposing window looks out onto the backyard with its playhouse, my family’s two dogs, and the withered yellow grass.
Stairs, leading up to my bedroom, rise up from the far end of the room. Though I wouldn’t know what to do with anyone up there except sleep—innocent sleep. “Would you like the mattress or the floor? A pillow? A sleeping bag?” But that would never happen with a boy. Not in this house.
He drives a red car—this before I come to associate red cars with words like flashy, fast, narcissist—and I think, When I’m old enough to drive, I’ll have a red car. Just like that one.
My best friend lives seven houses down the street. Her house has a magnolia tree in the front yard with large, white, pungent flowers rich as a wedding bouquet. She’s three years older than I am. Two years younger than the boy.
This night, the red car is parked in front of my house. The boy, his brother, and his parents are visiting. This is not an infrequent thing. Our parents are friends. Maybe now they are singing, maybe they are talking about God. The brother is playing Space Games or Planetary God Games with my brother.
“I’ll be back in a while,” the boy says, after some time, getting up.
“Okay,” I say. Indifferent. Innocent. As if I don’t know that my best friend has arranged to meet him behind our neighbors’ tool shed. It has a ledge large enough to sit upon in privacy, wrapped in the evening’s darkness.
“You can come listen,” she had told me. “If you’re quiet. If no one knows you’re there.”
When the boy leaves to go meet her, I stay on the couch as if I plan to stay there forever, staring at the empty ping pong table with its green surface—as flat as I am.
Counting the seconds in my head the way my friend had ordered me to, I give the boy a minute’s head start. Then I dart out the back door, across the withered yellow grass, past the playhouse, past the dogs, over the wire fence with the diamond shaped holes my toes fit in naturally from the experience of previous adventures.
As I dash across the road, no one sees me; maybe not even God. I’m a ghost. Silent as a red car at rest against the curb.
“I like you,” my friend says from her spot on the cement ledge next to the boy.
Is there space between the two of them? Is there space between their fingers? There is infinite space around me. Empty space. A wall behind me. The hard ground beneath my bare feet.
“Do you want to be my boyfriend?”
He must answer. But his words are nibbled in the darkness by a flock of mischievous cockatiels—there are missing bits at the edges of my book cover memory. But is there space between the two of them? Any space? A net to separate them? I never know. The shed which I press myself against holds me to privacy, mine and theirs.
Then. A cricket of sounds. A rustling of bodies and of clothes. Panicked, I fly off into the night and back to the house. When he returns, I am sitting where he’d left me a childhood ago, pretending that I hadn’t run in, run away, run at all.
“I wrote this,” I say, handing him a paper.
It’s my song with rhyming words. A song of spiritual things, not worldly ones. Certainly not a red car. Certainly not a shed wall. Certainly not a scramble back alone over a chain link fence.
“This is good,” he says.
His sentence is stronger than a promise—even the one I made to my best friend or the one he might have made to her, redder than his car, greener than the surface of the ping pong table with its sagging net that takes up most of the space in the room.