by Anna Sheppard
I heard from an old teacher that they had to pump your stomach the day you swallowed a handful of your boyfriend’s painkillers before your engineering class. I didn’t believe it, but I knew I couldn’t ask you if it was true. I didn’t have your new number or the bravery to call you, to face the possibility of you not answering or calling me a coward for leaving you behind. Even if we’d stayed on good terms after I left town, I know you wouldn’t have told me the truth. I know you would have found a way to convince me that you’d gone home sick with the flu, but that everyone at Beaufort High had had their minds too made up about you to believe anything but an overdose. I know I would have believed you too easily, that I’d fall back into our habit of blaming everything on the town and its idea of people like us as soon as you gave me the opportunity to.
You used to talk more than anyone I ever met. I could recognize your Jersey accent from a table away in the lunch room, could make out the bitter stories you told about the other girls in our class who had somehow hurt you. I was scared of becoming one of your villains, of what would happen if I was the one who did you wrong. I remember in the fifth grade, the first year we were ever in class together, how I used to form plans in my head about how I would avoid you. I always sat with my backpack in the seat next to me and went to a different swing set than whichever one you were on. It all ended up being a waste of time and effort. Mrs. Sams, the art teacher, made us partners for the second half of the school year, so every day for an hour we sat next to each other, drawing pictures of the woods and of the moon and of our homes. We were best friends before the first class was over.
I used to like to go to your house after school because it was in walking distance from the ice cream store. You never wanted to be home, though, so we almost always ended up on my living room floor, eating whatever we could find in my pantry, finishing our homework as quickly as possible so that my dad would let us go play in the marsh. We spent hours with our feet in the mud, jeans rolled up to our thighs, following the paths the deer had left between the grass. One day in the middle of January when we were twelve, you forgot a jacket, and I let you borrow my favorite black coat. You started chasing me before we even made it to the marsh and got the jacket caught on the sharpened branch of a dried up pine tree. My coat tore right down the middle. I told you that you had to go home, and you waited outside for your sister to come and get you. The next day at school, you brought me your old Beatle’s hoodie to try to make up for it. The only song either of us knew by them at that point was “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,”and I couldn’t tell Paul from John, but I started wearing the hoodie every day, anyway.
Those are the times with you I’m trying to remember now. Not the fights. Not your new boyfriend, who played bass in a local band, who introduced you to acid and alternative music, who had seemed nice at first. Not the cop lights or the sirens or the way you dragged me down with you. Not the entire year before I left, when we kept tally marks of our mistakes in the visors of our cars until, eventually, we both ran out of room. I don’t want to remember that version of you, but I don’t know if there’s any way around it.
There’s one night I keep coming back to from our last spring break. Neither of us knew I was leaving, but we knew that the chance was there. You hadn’t started to resent me yet, but there was a certain urgency to everything we were doing, like all of it could or could not be happening for the last time. It was near the end of the break. You’d spent the week living at your parent’s beach house with your boyfriend, eating mushrooms and sleeping on the porch because there was no air conditioning inside. Your last night there, you invited three more of us out there. Me, Ethan, Bryce. Your parents hadn’t told us we were allowed there, but they hadn’t said we weren’t, either, and you knew where they hid the key.
I remember how the boys made a game of trying to make themselves faint. They’d all heard of different methods—staring at a light for too long, standing with your knees locked, holding your breath—but none of it worked. At one point, Ethan tried acting like he’d lost consciousness just to see if playing the part could actually lead to the real thing. Bryce and Philip believed he’d done it when he managed not to move for thirty seconds, but then he started laughing, and there were all on top of each other, throwing random punches into whoever’s guts to try to hide the fact that all of them had failed.
You and I wanted nothing to do with it. We lay in the bed, shared a thin sheet between us, and tried to pay attention to what they were doing. Eventually I think we both just fell asleep. I remember noticing that it was the same room we’d slept in the time we stayed there when we were younger. An old movie neither of us was paying attention to was playing on the TV. There were homemade quilts big enough to be carpets in the closet, and when your parents went to sleep, we wrapped ourselves in them and took turns rolling each other down the stairs. It was supposed to be a competition, but I don’t remember what the end goal was. You probably won.
The boys woke us up at 2, when they’d finally given up on unconsciousness, probably because they realized that we’d achieved it without them. Once we were awake, they didn’tknow what to do with us. “Let’s go for a golf cart ride,” Philip said.
I wiped my eyes. “Are you serious?” I said. “No one wants to drive right now.” But you said you would. The golf cart was too small and too slow for the five of us, but we made it work. You drove. Philip sat next to you with his hand on the inside of your thigh. The back seat was only meant for two people, but we made it work. I sat in the middle, with my legs on Bryce’s lap and my head on Ethan’s shoulder. I couldn’t see you but I could hear your laugh, could smell your shampoo whenever you drove fast enough for the wind to carry your hair into our faces.
There was no radio on the golf cart, but we didn’t know what to talk about or how to sit in silence. We settled with singing any song we could think of, songs that would have played on the radio and songs from middle school and sometimes more than one song at once. Half the time I didn’t even know what you guys were singing. There was one song we all knew every word to. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. You and I had finally learned to really love the Beatles, to know them for more than Abbey Road and the hoodie you gave me, but none of us ever loved a song by them as much as we loved that one.
We sang it more than once. We sang it when we passed the park and in the neighborhood with the bigger houses. We sang it over the sound of the ocean and of other cars driving too fast when they passed us. We sang it when we drove over the bridge where kids who should have been in bed hours ago threw dead fish back in the water. We sang to them about cellophane flowers and rocking horse people and the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, and they spit on our feet and told us to fuck off, and you drove faster to keep Philip and Bryce from jumping off after them. We sang it as we pulled into your driveway when the night was over, all of our voices barely a whisper.
The golf cart died the next day. Its battery ran out before we could make it to the beach.We tried for a while to push it back to the garage, but eventually we just gave up and walked the rest of the way home. Someone might have towed the cart. Someone might have thrown it in the back of their truck to keep for themselves. It might have just stayed where it was. I haven’t been back to that beach since that weekend, and I don’t know what scares me more: that the cart will still be there, trapped in the grave we’d left it in, or that it won’t be, with no one but us to know it had been there at all.
Author Biography: Anna Sheppard is from the low country of South
Carolina. She currently lives in Greenville, South Carolina, where she studies
creative writing at the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. She
likes Fleetwood Mac and talking too much about her twin sister.