by Alizée Chesnoy
Louis’ head tips backwards and thunks against the wall, a tired sound. Fuck it, he breathes. We’re not even twenty-one yet, Loma, and some days I feel we’re, like. Ninety or something. His mouth is twisted into something rueful, his eyes lazy. I kick him, gently; his chucks are covered in dust.
Cry me a river, baby, I tell him.
It was the summer we sunbathed on the parking lot on the other side of the drive-through, skin smelling of coconut and popsicle stickiness, tasting of sweat.
It felt like ours, all half-abandoned cracked asphalt and stubborn overgrown weed. The plastic crunched under your feet and it wasn’t exactly the cleanest place, but we’d dragged some beaten-up lawn chairs over from the other side of town, and when you left an old hoodie and some tepid Cokes behind, or a lighter, they were still there the next day.
Darcey’s chewing gum – flashes of purple and tongue. Next year, she mumbles around it, we should save some, rent a car. Go on a road trip. She’s looking at the junk of a car on the other side of the parking lot; gutted rust coming alive at sunset, glittering like bronze, windows long gone. The doors don’t open properly and there’s mould on what’s left of the seats.
The furthest we’ve ever driven is to Rey, forty minutes south. There’s a mall. I just want to get out of here, she says, and don’t we all. I want to go somewhere no-one knows my name and make myself into something different.
Pablo looks up from the cards he’s been shuffling – creased, lost in his huge hands. Yeah? he asks. What’re you going to make yourself into? He’s teasing, light and liquid, and Darcey throws him the smile I know she’s spent hours practicing in the mirror, like the world belongs to her, says, I don’t know yet. Something big, that’s for sure.
Just you wait.
“We were flecks of dust, small and half-way through trapped already.”
It was the summer it didn’t rain, not once, and everything grew cracked and looked blurry around the edges, like something out of a light-leaked dream.
It was the first year we’d grown out of curfews, and we’d lay on our wonky lawn chairs until the sunset dripped into jean-blue, listening to music crackling with static on Pablo’s cheap speakers and talking on top of one another. On the Fourth of July Mina and Louis tried all sorts of homemade pyrotechnics that left us cramping up with laughter – Mina’s face bemused and her eyebrows singed, saying I don’t understand where we fucked up, we followed the WikiHow instructions perfectly.
I nudge at Mina. How’s the college thing going? Kids like Mina are like four-leaf clovers around these parts – teachers snatch them right up and groom them for higher education like it’s the last thing they’ll do. She’s read the Iliad, for Pete’s sake.
She blushes, looks at her hands – spidery fingers – like they hold all the answers. I think I’m going to. Apply, I mean. Computer science, yeah? Maybe—
She’s jumped by Louis and Pablo who holler and all of a sudden everything becomes noise – you’re going to do us proud, Mina, Louis says, his voice overlapping with Pablo’s – you do that, he says, you become a computer genius in a big city. And we can all see it, because Mina’s so sharp you can almost cut yourself on the way she thinks; making money and taking names.
He doesn’t look at me; we don’t look at each other much anymore. What time did Darcey say she was coming again? He’s staring up at the stars that are shy at this hour, still. His voice is quiet, careful – he already sounds like he regrets asking. I close my eyes and inhale.
I don’t want to tell him how I asked her the same thing when I saw her this morning, how she eluded the question with a tired smile and uncomfortable eyes. Darcey’s twenty-one and getting a divorce, and when we talk now the conversation is stilted. We remind ourselves of the places we never left behind and the things we never made happen.
I don’t think Darcey’s coming, Louis. It’s been a while since she has. There’s a shake in his exhale. Right, he says. Right.
Me, Pablo says, I’d be happy getting promoted to manager. He smiles a toothy grin, all dimples and crinkled eyes. I could do with never sweeping that floor again, ‘s good enough for me. Darcey swats him. Oh, come on, she says. Please tell me you dream bigger than that, Pablo. Her hand sweeps at the expanse of the sky, dust-coloured and infinite, like it’s a metaphor somehow. What do you want for yourself?
He relents – OK, OK! – palms up, full-on snicker. I want – I want to own the entire franchise, then. And I want a drink to be named after myself – I want people all over the country to order a tall Pablo with an extra shot of caramel syrup.
It was the summer before Pablo died, the summer before Mina left for college and stopped answering calls, conveniently forgot she had friends back home.
We hadn’t yet known that the soft, liquid sunset light wasn’t a safe place to whisper our dreams out loud to but amber, wrapping around our ankles; that we were flecks of dust, small and half-way through trapped already. It felt like we were on the cusp of everything. It was the summer before we realised we weren’t.
Kids like us don’t leave towns like these.
It’s been years since the lights on the parking lot have worked. The lawn chairs have gone; the car carcass is still here. So are we.
Right, I say, pushing my hands into the ground to hoist myself up. I’m headed back. You coming? Louis shakes his head.
Nah, he says quietly, and I squeeze his shoulder. I’m going to say a little longer.
Alizée is a poet in Paris. When she isn’t writing, you’ll probably find her photographing street art, practicing sarcasm, and drinking unhealthy amounts of tea.