the willowy girl and the secret keeper

“I think there were skeletons? Yeah, they were dancing around a fire. And there were weird demon things with horns. And it smelled like smoke and trees and spices.”


“You can smell things in your dreams?”


“Of course.” She tilted her head, frowning at him. “You can’t?”


“I don’t think anyone can. I don’t think that’s even possible.”


“It is. It definitely is.”


“You might be crazy.”


She exhaled sharply, her face twisting into a terrible imitation of anger. “I think you’re just jealous.”


“Is that so?”


“Mmhm,” she nodded, confident in her assessment. “Because I get these intricate, beautiful dreams, and yours are just boring. Boring, boring, boring.”


He stared at her, a secret smile playing on his lips. He wanted to tell her that she was the most beautiful person he’d ever seen; that she made his blood feel electric; that if his dreams were as intricate as hers, he’d smell her lilac perfume, stare into her stormy eyes, take her on dreamland adventures. He wanted to tell her that her lips were too red for her face, and her eyelashes were too long for her eyes, and her slender nose was too crooked to be as adorable as it was.


He wanted to tell her that she didn’t make sense. He wanted to tell her that sometimes he ached for her. He wanted to tell her that maybe his nightdreams weren’t as beautiful as hers, but his daydreams certainly were.


“What are you staring at?” she asked through a mouthful of sandwich.


He grinned a secret-keeper’s grin. “Just thinking how crazy you are.”


She threw an empty juice box at him, but he continued unfazed. “Schizophrenic, maybe. Do you hear voices?”


“Shut up.” But she was laughing, and he laughed too, and then he asked her to tell him the rest of her dreams, thinking that maybe, someday, he would tell her his.


anemic, broken, and growing up anyway

when my sister was five, she dictated a letter to me in her strong little voice
while dust drifted in the sunshine
of our creaky old room.

dear me [she said],
barney is the best. i will wear blue all the time even though i’m a girl. my heart beats without me telling it to and that’s pretty cool. i think people always feel better if you tell them you love them. i will always smile because i have dimples when i smile.

“did you write it?” she asked, and i told her i did, every word
with the chunky yellow pencil i’d fished out of my school bag.
i handed her the letter, and she folded it up carefully
and she smiled.

when my sister was fifteen, she was a little bit broken
anemic and pale, with unsure hair and shaky hands.
when i came home to visit she whispered to me that
she didn’t understand
and when i asked her what she didn’t understand, she said

she wrote another letter that night.

dear me [it said],
this isn’t a suicide note. this isn’t another angsty poem. this isn’t a journal entry. this is me saying that i hurt even though i’m fine, and i’m broken even though i’m whole, and i’m lost even though i haven’t gone anywhere. this is me saying that i wish something bad would happen so i’d have an excuse for feeling this way. this is me saying that i’m too tired to smile anymore.

i found her original letter, written in my handwriting on a crumpled piece of paper
and i showed it to her
and asked what had changed.
mascara covered her freckles as she whispered

but the earth kept spinning and children kept growing and stars kept twinkling and this morning when i woke up, i had a letter from her.

dear you [i read],
today it’s raining, which is silly really, because i can’t stop smiling. was just going through some old things. found that letter from when i was five – remember? michael read it and he says that my dimples are indeed adorable and i should definitely keep smiling. he says hi, by the way, sends his love.
anyway, i just wanted to write you because you worry and i worry too so i know what that’s like. but i’m happy. my heart keeps beating even though i don’t tell it to. that’s pretty cool.

i sensed some secret words hidden behind the blue ink.
the smell of coffee drifted lazily through my sunny little apartment as i picked up the phone,
and i could hear my sister’s dimply smile as she answered, and her dimply laugh as i asked her what had changed, and her soft voice as she said, simply

tea colored eyes and worried hands

you took my soul with you when you left, but you forgot to tell me what i should do without it.

but that’s okay, my dearest, i can forgive you for that. you were always so forgetful with your tea colored eyes and your worried hands, and you took off in such a hurry that no one could blame you for neglecting such a small little detail.

you were beautiful. did you know that? you had a crooked smile and you were too skinny and your feet were too big, but you owned your imperfections with such confidence, such assuredness, that people would look twice and wonder if they were really imperfections after all. you made yourself perfect through sheer will.

sometimes at night i start to ache without you. all you left behind when you went were some pictures and a sweater and your smell. your smile looks fake in the pictures. i’m wearing your sweater. your smell makes me cry.

you know, when i close my eyes i see all those freckles on your hands. they stuck inexplicably in my mind, a piece of you i never knew i cared about. i wish i could trace patterns in them again, my darling. i wish i could.

you took my soul with you when you left, but that’s okay.

i wasn’t magnificent enough for you anyway.

the broken people

I can’t speak and I don’t know why. There’s nothing wrong with my throat, and my tongue works perfectly well. Doctors always tell me I’m fine. But when I open my mouth nothing comes out but stupidity, half-formed thoughts and monosyllables and sentiments like My, isn’t the weather nice today? My mouth, I think, is empty.

I can’t see and I don’t know why. I don’t need glasses, not even for reading. My eye doctor just smiles at me when I tell him my problems, just smiles at me and gives me a lollipop. But no matter how hard I try I can’t see anything but dirty looks and angry people and fear. Maybe there’s just nothing beautiful left to look at.

I can’t hear and I don’t know why. Music sounds empty to me, repetitive and ugly with beautiful singers spitting meaningless words through my radio. I wonder if maybe they’re sick with whatever I have – maybe they can’t speak or see or hear either, maybe they’re really empty and they just hide it with their makeup and their muscles and their tans. It doesn’t really make me feel better.

I can’t feel and I don’t know why. I wouldn’t say no one understands me because that’s stupid and wrong, but everyone in the world could understand perfectly and it wouldn’t make me any better. I’m surrounded by people who love me, but sometimes I feel so empty inside that I make my arms bleed to check I’m still alive. I guess I am. But I don’t know why.


spring sunrises with you smell like the ocean, when it’s too cold for anyone else to come near it. you put your sweater around my shoulders and i dig my toes into the sandy footprints you made, and we watch the sun stain the ocean red. we have the whole beach to ourselves and it’s just us and the world and you whisper ‘i love you’.

summer nights with you smell like woodsmoke and fireworks. the stars are reflected in your eyes as you teach me all the constellations, and i have grass stains on my knees and mud under my fingernails from our day of adventures. i think i might fall asleep on your shoulder. i think you won’t mind.

fall afternoons with you smell like the apple pie we just tried to bake. it looks kind of messy but i think it smells just perfect, and you agree with me. as the wind rustles the bright red leaves outside and the cat meows, you hum softly. maybe i won’t make you do the dishes this time.

winter evenings with you smell like hot chocolate and popcorn. it’s too cold outside and it’s been dark for too long and i don’t like it anymore, but you smile warmly and wrap the blanket around us. when i still shiver you kiss my cheek and you whisper ‘as soon as spring comes, we’ll go to the beach.’


she was a  s e v e n t e e n  year old girl from nowhere [or was it everywhere?] with dark hair and long eyelashes and skin that was always pale white. when she was young she played in the poppy fields of greece and when she got older her tongue started yearning to speak italian and russian so that she could travel to other far off places.

she was born on a friday between two ice storms, and the first word she ever heard was  b e a u t i f u l. her mama told her that when she first opened her dark blue eyes, her pupil was surrounded by a ring of pure white. the blue stayed but the white turned to green [and from then on her eyes were always her favorite feature].

she always had nightmares, never good dreams, but maybe that’s because she could never stop  d r e a m i n g  with her eyes open.  all she ever wanted was dirt roads and stars and mud under her fingernails.

[maybe one day, when she’s older, she’ll take a crinkly old map and a pocketful of cash and all the languages she managed to learn

and she’ll go exploring.]

her name was probably gretchen

she loved the night because that was when all the best people came out.

she was one of those ‘youcancallme’ girls – ‘you can call me cindy’, ‘you can call me sky’, ‘you can call me suzanna’, like she was giving them permission to enter her twisted little world. she had more names than she had fingers and toes and she could never decide which was her favorite but that didn’t matter because she never kept one for very long.

her eyes were a bottomless black, lined in ink and shrouded in lashes that smeared when she cried [maybe that’s why she only ever cried crocodile tears] and her lips were the color of blood. sometimes she still sucked her thumb.

she had her eye on a someone now, a someone with beautiful blond hair and bright blue eyes and an overconfident smile. he was on his third beer [she’d been counting] and she had on her strappy high heels and her reddest lipstick and her prettiest smile, and once she decided the time was right she slinked her way across the bar to him.

“hi stranger,” she purred. “you can call me jenny.”

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