Friday, January 25, 2008

Letter Number Fifteen

I like mowing lawns. I can’t do it too early, because the noise would wake people up and make them mad, but if I time it right - around nine a.m. is perfect - people are already awake and it’s a good ‘start of the day’ sound for them to hear while they’re lying in bed, eyes open anyway. It’s a sound that gets them up and into the shower, and then they get to feel like the day is all ahead of them.

At nine a.m., the day stretches out before me like a perfect curve of beach against a cerulean blue sea. I have it all to come. The sky at that time, in high summer, is always cloudless, always the perfect roof over the things unfolding below.

I don’t look into houses anymore. There are windows that I get close up to, and sometimes the temptation almost makes me peer inside, but I catch it and put it away quick. I’ve learned my lesson there. It’s a scientific fact that you can alter an experiment by observation alone.

I focus on the grass: the feel of it under my shoes, it’s resistance against the blades.

Jennifer’s dress was as blue as a nine a.m. sky. Its straps were tied over her shoulders like ribbons on Birthday gifts. One of them fell off her shoulder when I stared at it, and I wondered if I had really done it with my mind or whether it was just coincidence. I tried it with the other strap, but it stayed put. But the first one, no matter how many times she slid her finger underneath and pulled it back into place, I could always manage to make it slip back down again.

I stared at the naked space it left on her shoulder. The freckles made their own constellations. She was the Universe. I am the moon: in the dark half the time, a satellite the rest, watching from the sidelines, never quite making up the distance between me and everyone else.

She couldn’t hear the mower. People who live near to the sea don’t hear the sound of it after a while, the same way those that live near railway lines soon get used to the cacophony of trains. But that’s not the reason she didn’t hear me. Jennifer didn’t hear me because she doesn’t hear anything. She never has. And so it didn’t matter that I had turned the mower off, and was just standing pretending to mow, all the while staring in at her through the gap in her curtains.

With the money I make from mowing lawns I am going to buy a horse. It will be an ex-racehorse, the kind they usually kill for glue because it can only run at fifty miles per hour now, instead of the hundred it used to. I will buy such a horse and we will become friends, and the horse will know it had a lucky escape, and will be eternally grateful for being allowed to live out its life, and for getting to breathe the air and eat the hay and run at whatever speed it wants.

Jennifer’s dress clung onto her for dear life. It wanted every nook and cranny, every curve, to be blue. I was in control of that one strap, though. I wanted it off her shoulder. I wanted the whole dress off her, slipped to the floor and her body to be just gold again.

My horse will have once won gold medals. It will know success, but see it for the sham it is. Each time it ran like the wind, when it felt its heart bursting out of its chest, after the cheers and the jubilation it still only got to eat hay, was still just a horse.

There was a boy in Jennifer’s room. I’d already made the strap fall again before I saw him, and then it was too late, by then he had got the idea for himself. He did it with his hands. He did it with the other strap, the one I couldn’t budge. He slipped it right down. I tried to undo what I’d done. I tried to make the strap go back to where it had been. But he was in the room and his fingers were stronger than my mind. They pulled at her dress the way my mind had tried to. His hands wanted the dress off, and so the dress slid down her body and made a sky on the floor. Jennifer stood there breathing. I stared at her feet, where the perfect day rested on her toes. Everything was upside-down.

I thought then that I’d been wrong to do the thing with the strap, that I had made all of this happen. Jennifer and the boy were completely silent. His hands were on her skin. His hands were in the places I’d wanted my own hands to be. Then I heard the sound, and I realised something was happening that I hadn’t understood at first. And then I knew it was a necessary thing that I had done.

In the space of her room, without words, without the mimicry of everyday, the boy was teaching her letters. He was beginning with O.

Emma Lannie

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