“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” -Anaïs Nin
This semester I’ve finally gotten into my first creative writing classes, which has forced me to work on my writing semi-daily. Since I’ve gotten much more hands-on criticism and advice, I decided I’d take a chance on a writers competition. I only had a couple days to work on it, so this is a piece that I quickly rushed together from bits of my creative writing journal for an attempt at my *first ever* prose competition. It’s that “I know I won’t win, but better to take the shot anyways” kind of situation. Ya know? Maybe I will actually start my next prose piece earlier than a day and a half before the competition. Maybe.
August 15, 2017
Ripples of color bounce off the skin of our living room. I shut off the documentary of a girl hiking through the sloping mountains of Peru with nothing but a backpack and hiking boots. The pair of tickets taunt me as I force feed myself imitation pad thai that is to join the stack of oil soaked boxes besides our suffocated white china. My eyes blur from liquid emotion as I shove my case briefings into the corner of my, our, leather sofa. The crisp plastic slumped over the opposite end kisses my foot, and I coil into my cave. Today I soothe myself with Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love”. And the smooshed body pillow continues its invasion into the abandoned nation between my thighs and up against my chest.
I take in every word she croons. I let her voice incinerate its way through my memories. I should have seen it coming; his eyes were about as secretive as a toddler. I shout Leona’s melody into the splintered microphones. And her voice jerks to the beginning once again.
The sun is about to infiltrate my blinds, forcing me into the shelter of the navy comforter displaced to the couch. His favorite pillow left behind.
A stampede of notifications I’ve ignored shoots a beam of light at me. The group of notifications from people I don’t care about blurs out. Three calls, five texts from Judy. Two calls from mom. Twelve calls, four texts from Dad. Nothing from him. I groan and pound my fists into the cushions.
It’s not like he’s a big phone person anyways.
He’s the kind of guy who espouses actual hangouts. The fully bolted and chained door catches my eye. I get up to remedy the mistake, and my foot is burned by a touch of the gown dropped on the floor. The tears are already soaking my chest as I limply settle the white dress into the closet recesses. I collapse around the dress as I let the tears repel down the satin into its grooves.
And the chain remains.
August 16, 2017
Someone’s banging at the door.
I jump and barely dodge the closet shelf as I safely tuck the fabric into its nest. My fingers struggle to loosen the entangled hair that’s stuck in the crusty tears caressed upon my neck.
“Nina!” Judy locks me in a bony hug as soon as the door’s wide enough for her to squeeze her way in. I hear her voice falter as she looks around the apartment. She’s usually mocking me for coming into her home with a pair of rubber gloves and Lysol tucked into my purse.
Judy rips the plastic from a dining chair, and places me at the table. I can already smell her Christmas-time chicken and sausage jambalaya that must be stashed away in the paper bag hanging off her shoulder. I devour the home cooked meal as she tears through my room, removing any leftover of synthetic fumes.
“You know you should come stay with me for a while. I think that would be good for you,” She says as she lifts up my hideaway and takes it back into the forbidden territory, “Hav…”
The thick scoop of jambalaya falls into my mouth, a marriage of all my favorite flavors. Last Christmas she’d brought us a pot filled almost to the rim, which Travis took as an invitation to eat exclusively until it was gone. At halfway I’ll save the rest.
Judy’s partially cross-eyed eyes pop up sideways in front of my face.
“Hellooo. Have you called your parents? And look what I just found. You should go,” she says as she fans the two honeymoon tickets in front of my face.
“No. And abso-fuckin-lutely not.”
She tucks Travis’ into her back pocket, and shoves the other into the slits of my hand.
“You know you’ve been wanting to take a solo trip for years. Now that we’ve gotten dimwit out of the equation. Tada!”
I glare her down, but her stupid cross-eyed self doesn’t flinch. My mind wanders to the hiker in Peru. She might have a point.
August 17, 2017
Her CR-V smells of last night’s French fries. It’s the same car she insisted on booking for my arrival into Keflavik. My hiking boots are laced up tightly around the thick wool socks bunched atop my leggings, with my backpack flung across the beige leather. She runs through the checklist I made again, “Passport, drivers license, tickets, toiletries, camer-” I nod my head each time as I grip the plastic bag carrying all my identification necessities within. A part of me hopes for the downpour promised in the thickening gray clouds.
Judy accelerates past every sign pointing to my terminal and I check my phone as we move below the concrete branches. My stomach sinks at the three bars stuck on the empty screen, which now pictures me and Judy overshadowed by the Louvre.
Her car swerves to the right and squeaks in between a golden minivan and white sedan. The skin around her eyes crinkles as she flashes her signature wide-mouthed grin at me. A shrill cuts through Bon Iver’s golden voice blasting from the speakers, and the all-powerful terminal conductor begins waving his hand at us in an erratic circle. Judy puts her two hands up and nods her head up and down then looks to me.
“That’s you Nins.”
I run my hands through my fleece pockets and proceed with my airport ritual of patting for my essentials three times over. A warm river slips down my flushed cheek as I reach to fill the gap between us two. Her mouth meshes against my neck, brushing my ear with muggy puffs of air. I love you desperately bursts from our mouths simultaneously, as we squeeze each other with the force of a linebacker.
The racket of blaring honks and bouncing plastic in the cracked cement assaults my ears as I struggle with the towering green Osprey clutched to my back. Rooted in the same spot, I wave goodbye until her shiny blue car is replaced with the next family stuffed SUV.
August 18, 2017
A baby sobbing a few rows back kicks me out of my sleep. My fingers jam the volume button along my phone and the sobs are quickly engulfed. In front of me is the screen roughly mapping our flight path over the Greenland Sea, showing the quarter of an inch left before we land.
Travis was walking through the cobbled streets of Florence, hand in hand with a curvaceous blonde, while the stone below me turned to quicksand. Him and his curly black hair had somehow managed to infiltrate even my last remaining haven. I smudge the drool onto my palms as I store an inaudible scream into my hands. For once today I’m grateful for the empty seat besides me.
And on my left, the sun is stuck right below the horizon, blending an infinite spectrum of orange into the heart of endless dark blue. The plane lurches back with a hiss of air. I finish off my lukewarm sprite and push myself deeper into the plush leather as we fall slowly from the sky.
August 19, 2017
The coffee pours into my veins while the quirky New Zealand duo I’ve just met hovers over our table flipping through an Iceland guidebook. The thinner of the two, Isla, has her hair up in an impromptu bun. She rolls back her sleeves as she carefully outlines in red around the map. Ayla is crouched besides her, with her angled jaw mushed into the shoulder of Isla’s red flannel. Travis never understood the idea of voluntarily sharing a room with total strangers; he thought it was a concept purely for the lower class.
“That seems like hell, not vacation,” he always said.
After hours of trying to reason with him, I’d relented to Travis’ decision to exclude the west fjords and Landmannalauger. We were going to start in Reykjavík, go up north through Siglufjördur, Akureyri, Godafoss and Myvatn, and east to Jokulsarlon, Reynisfjara, and the Blue Lagoon.
“Nina,” Ayla giggles and hushes Isla with a slap against her back, “We’re thinking let’s walk around and find somewhere to eat, then we can head back to Kex for some drinks, yeah?”
I force a smile, “that sounds great.”
Ayla and Isla down their third vodka soda. They’ve formed an impenetrable circle with some lanky men whose only attractive quality comes from their melting British accents. I coerce the dark stout to slide down my throat and numb my nausea. The table pressed against mine erupts into laughter at a presidential joke the girl has been building up since my first beer. I shoot a response to Judy. Tell her I’m having a great time, as I try to ignore the smothering smell of fried cod drenched in a bucket of decaying beers.
I leave my tart beer behind on the mysteriously sticky table and stumble up the dimly lit stairs into the stiff confines of my bunk bed. I have to carry on, they said, distract myself. But the distractions do nothing more than momentarily patch the leak, like a piece of duct tape holding together a bursting pipe.
August 20, 2017
I gasp for air while the tears surge past its fortress. The open windows allow the wind to nip at my flustered cheeks, attempting to freeze the dam shut. The car races along the gravel road. I love you. I love you ok, marry me nins? I strip off the clunky ring weighing down my hand and shove it into the console. A young girl is ahead of me, with her thumb popped out and topped with the hoodie of her thick green jacket that almost blends her into the moss covered mountain behind her. On her back sits the dark green backpack that’s splayed across my back seat.
I jerk the wheel over, and the car shudders onto the alcove on the side of the road, right across from me. She shivers over to my window, and I wave her in.
“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting there. Thank you so much. I’m Zoe, and…” she says, sticking out her hand covered in a fraying wool glove.
I pause, and consider her pale, blistered face.
“Nainika.” I declare, “We have the same backpack.”
“Nainika,” it rolls from her mouth with ease, “Is that why you picked me up?”
“Yeah I guess so.”
“Huh, lucky backpack then,” she says and shuts the door.
August 24, 2017
We saw a group of whales as we sat on the roof of the car passing back a bottle of wine between us two. That was when I told her about Travis, and when Zoe told me she only had a couple months left to live. Cancer, she said. I dissolved into another bout of tears, with Zoe alongside me that time, and I willed my warmth to send its strength through her body. I could feel her frail muscles shake into me as my arms formed a home around her. She had cried, draining the wine of its drops to fuel hers. She wasn’t ready to leave the whales that collapsed into the still ocean and the freedom she felt as she sprinted through the never-ending green.
She didn’t want to go. But Zoe wasn’t afraid, I know.
Our legs fight up the sloping, silent rim of Hornstrandir. I lay belly down, stretched out with the grass brushing my uncovered caramel skin, as I hang the tip of my head over the side. Zoe wraps her arm around me as we watch the foaming blue clashes against the cliff below. We’re tangled within each other, her white skin pressing into the dark crevices of mine.
And I don’t wait for him to come.