Sunday, September 25, 2011



When we were ten, lying on the grass and dreaming animals out of clouds, Eli said that the only reason we stayed on the ground was because we wanted to. That if we let go – really let go – we would fly off the earth and into the sky. He said that if we were very quiet, we could feel it.
I did. Underneath my shoulder blades first, then down my back, and finally my legs. It felt like TV static. I was barely holding onto the earth. The clouds overhead swam by. I could float up to them. Nothing was holding me down.
I was so dizzy, I almost fainted.
In science class when we were thirteen, we studied the earth’s crust. It’s flimsy and moveable, hence the mountains and new continents every millions of years. Underneath, there are miles of molten rock, like syrup. Eli said later, over trays of formaldehyde rats, that nothing kept the earth’s crust from peeling up, if it wanted to. Pieces could crack off and go flying into the sun or to Venus or black holes.
I had studied the model, and I agreed that nothing pinned it down. What if I wanted to stay here, but my section of crust decided it’d had enough and was ready to fly?
From then on, I had dreams (mostly good) in which I left the earth behind, sitting on a magic carpet of dirt, and flew through space.
Gravity made no sense to Eli. Gravity was the earth’s desire to hold onto you. I tried to explain, having had AP physics classes, but Eli had C level English and pottery, and he threw me vases and built me clay icebergs with little penguins looking up and they cluttered my room, along with the poems he wrote about them.
I told him he’d never graduate if he didn’t understand gravity. He said he understood it perfectly. He had his hand under my shirt at the time, and so I didn’t argue.
On a ledge just off the cliff trail, where we’d scuttled down, displacing rocks with our butts and sneakers, we shared his big army jacket and watched gulls fighting over territory. The moon came up at last, huge and white, and Eli kissed my face and told me the space between the stars was dead space, and if you fell off the earth into space, you had to be careful to avoid it. Stick to the stars, he said. Stay close to them.
I asked him, Like lampposts? And he said yes, that you should stay in the pools of starlight. Unless you were very brave, but hardly anyone’s that brave.
I told him I was, and the moon showed his lopsided smile before he kissed me again, saying, Sure you are, kid.
Eli said nothing at all before he walked onto the tracks and let the 12:20 to Old Saybrook scatter his body like an exploding star. They found a knuckle, bits of bone, splinters for a mile. I walked the tracks myself for six months afterwards, hopeful and terrified I’d find a piece of him. 
One night, crying into the lawn in the shadows of our house, I wiped my nose on the sleeve of my sweatshirt and decided I wouldn’t waste my time like this any longer. I had college apps to finish filling out, a sweet dog, friends who’d always thought Eli was weird. I couldn’t waste my time anymore on a dead boy, someone who hadn’t even cared enough about me to say he was leaving.
The house was dark except for my bedroom window. It was far after midnight; I couldn't fall asleep anymore before two or three, at least. My parents had taken to letting me do this, or any strange thing. I was grieving. It was the grieving process. It was another step, this crying in the backyard or walking the tracks until dawn.
I got to my feet, weary of it all finally, weary of Eli’s ghost in my mind. My knees through my jeans were cold and wet, my shoes damp. The shadows were gray and black, the underside of the old oak a dark nothingness.
After a moment, I relaxed. The ghost in my mind. I started for the house.
Dani, are you there?
I stopped breathing. From that nothingness, flat black, no sense of depth, again: Dani. Dani.
I stepped towards the tree. Closer. Listening, listening. Another step; I reached a hand at the shadow, eyes watering.
Come here, Dani.
I ran for the house, didn’t stop until I’d pounded through the kitchen and hall and into my own room, thrown myself on the bed, and sat there staring at my white, white reflection in the window.
When I fell asleep, hours later, it was the same old dream. Lifting off from the earth, a hill of shivering dirt beneath me, hand on an old oak tree to steady myself.
I’d made a decision, and his ghost was banished. I counted up the years: twelve. And he hadn’t even left me a note.
Applications went out, I ate dinner at a normal time with my family, I studied, I stayed away from the beach, the tracks, and the backyard. I put his pottery in boxes, wrapped in towels, and cried when my dad said that maybe it’d be worth something someday, now that Eli was –
It was a stupid thing to say, yes, and his red face and stuttering words knew it. For the first time in a month, I left the house to walk.
It was snowing on the beach, with tiny flakes dissolving into the ocean. I wondered if the fish came up to snatch at them, realizing then that they had nothing in their mouths but more water. I put my tongue out, and the stars shed their particulates, washing down on me cold and crisp. I shivered in my coat, toes scrunching against the sand that had crept in my shoes.
I wasn’t lost anymore; I was just uncomfortable. I wanted to go home.
I came to the tunnel beneath the tracks, remembering what we’d done there, once. Only a year ago. Kept warm, that’s what we’d done last winter. Kept warm beneath the train tracks.
When I walked into the tunnel, the darkness was absolute, the moonlight snuffed out. I walked on, slowly, a hand out so I wouldn't bump against the stone wall. The parking lot was on the other side. I waited for sand and gravel to turn to asphalt beneath my feet.
But he stopped me.
There, in the darkness. Dani, is that you?
I paused, muscles tensed.
I stared into the blackness, trying to see what was there. Maybe it was a trick. Or a bum. Or a kid I knew from school.
Dani, are you brave?
I put a hand out, feeling for the wall. Instead of cold stones, nothing at all enveloped me, not even air. A terrible absence of everything brushed around my fingertips, curled and waited.
Dani, are you brave enough? Come here.
Eli, I whispered. I put up my other hand, both arms stretched out, and no wall before or next to me. I couldn’t see anything.
Are you ready to fly?
My heart pounded, that familiar static feeling creeping up my legs, my back, tickling the back of my neck. I could let go if I wanted to. I closed my eyes, imagining us on that summer day, our sneakers touching as we lie next to each other. I reached for his hand, shivering at the shadow of something brushing against my fingers, reaching for me.
I wanted to fly. To him. With him. 
I stepped into the blackness, the nothingness, and outside, snow fell and stars were bright and oceans cold, and under the train tracks, I lost my breath and, at the last moment, I remembered what he’d said: Stay in the pools of light. Stick to the stars.
But it was too late, and I couldn’t breathe anymore. Too late, and I fell into dead space.


  1. So sad... I love the way it's layered and structured, the touches of humanity that really bring the characters to life, and their ideas of darkness and gravity that almost make me believe it really could be changed simply by believing hard enough.

    I like that it could all be in her head (leading to the darkness of a catatonic breakdown), or it could be something less mundane. The ambiguity is great; part of me really wants to know, but the wiser part of me knows I'm enjoying the unknown far more.

  2. I love how you build up their relationship, like showing us individual stars in their life, and then the perils as one, and then the other, fall into the spaces between. Touching, tragic, yet beautiful writing Becky.

  3. There are some cool oddities to this that I like, the repeating thoughts of Eli, which give him a good amount of character, and the progression of his and Dani's relationship through the years. It's a short fiction, but it felt much longer and was that much more enjoyable.

  4. I can´t believe I haven´t checked out blogger for two days, look what I´ve missed! A beautifully sad story by you. I never want to miss those!

    Love and sorrow. And then science and creativity and space and that oh, so intriguing force of gravity -- brilliant mix!

    The images!

    ”Underneath, there are miles of molten rock, like syrup.”

    ”From then on, I had dreams (mostly good) in which I left the earth behind, sitting on a magic carpet of dirt, and flew through space.”


    The ending is unexpectedly grim, I really like that. And I agree with John, the ambiguity quality is great.

    Sometimes I feel like we swim in the same pool, thoughts and ideas left to simmer in the cauldrons that are our brains =) Remember Pop Art? This story made me think of it. And no, not in a bad way like this wouldn´t be an original. But like we´re swimming in that pool, being fascinated and inspired by what we encounter, and using that inspiration to create new things -- one of the best side effects of being human, me thinkz =)

    Thank you for a great read, darling!

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  6. Fantastic! I love the crime genre and all that, but this writing, and the story, is all what it is all about, for me at least. I am in awe of talent on display with this piece. I grew up between a canal and "the tracks" and we spent so much time at both. You took me there!

  7. Asuqi -- Your comment posted twice. Silly Blogger. It's been acting odd for a while now. Now... OMG! Pop Art! One of the best short stories I've ever read. It's fantastic. And yes, I get what you're saying about influences, about swimming in a sea of them. Just lately, I've been realizing that there may be things deeper, or above me, but I'm drowning in a cloud of certain memories.

    Sean -- Don't you love the tracks? Miss them? God, they were the backdrop to so much of my teenage life. Thank you so much for reading.

    Erin -- I originally wrote it with a tight 1000-word limit, but even though circumstances prevented it from being published where it should've been (loooong story), I'm glad you felt it was longer. I was worried about that, actually.

    Chris -- I like a bit of tragic, if I'm honest. Untimely deaths, poor choices that hurt others, unrequited love. Some of my favorite things. :)

    John -- Mm hmm, mm hmm, yes, the ambiguity. Another of my favorite things. I'm glad you appreciate that in a story. Many don't, and want concrete answers, endings. I'm always glad for... less.