It’s 2011, and I am still running. I am quiet and cold and prone to rages. I’ve never been in love, and I was born in love. I don’t believe in the idea that people care about the internal musings of a young girl, making this narrative irrelevant before it’s even begun.
The lights flicker hard against the backdrop night. We are young, and there are paper moons in the bayou. Before any of this was substantial, we found one another in the mists of things like counterpart and duality. The thick air of night, and how it eliminates sound.
Every light in the old house is on, and there’s chatter coming from within, in the baritone register of a frat party. It’s that sound toward which I’ve gravitated my whole life, and it’s that sound which has led me to the places I’ve been led, both good and bad.
Inside the house is dim and the boys are playing a video game that each one is increasingly shocked and impressed by. Knowing the boys gathered around it, the game is no newer than Mortal Kombat and each boy is approaching 30 at the same speed I am, which is not at all.
Surrounding the television, closed together around the screen, I know Clyde is buried at the center and Adam is drinking in the middle of the pack. The boys are mostly dressed in blacks and whites and grays of various shades, the armpits soaked through on most of their shirts. On the fringe of the light, smokey from cigarettes and marijuana, Brad is waiting with his arms crossed.
“Can we talk somewhere?” he asks me, his frown deep with something that might be suspicion. He smells like sunscreen and sweat as he leads me outside and into the swamp where I can hear the mosquitoes buzz past my ears in their miniscule warfare.
We’ve been together for two months. Our relationship is new, and fraught with the usual perils. I don’t tell him enough and he tells me too much and so I talk all the time and he never tells me how he feels. We make concessions for the other at the wrong times, but underneath are the currents which direct us back to one another - that we are belligerent dragons trying to solve a riddle.
“I uh. I wanna show you something,” he says to me. I can tell he’s nervous and afraid of my judgments. His hair sweeps the bones in his cheeks, unwashed blonde. He clings to his own hips with the opposing hands like the night is cold when it’s really a hot towel around us. His elbows cross in front of him, pale and bare.
“Okay,” I tell him. In the attic of the house, we’ve begun to share a room. He’s hung his American flag over the bed, and his clothes litter the empty space near the antique blue refrigerator where ice is continually melting and re-freezing when the power buzzes on. I’m learning his smell and his moods with the same caution of an animal adjusting to a new den.
Brad keeps his hands off of me while he walks me to the southeast finger of dry ground which ends in a small dock and collapsing boathouse no one uses anymore. The water under the dock is deep enough to pole a small boat, which is sunk into the mud and broken into four sections. In the dark, it looks like broken bone sticking up out of the black water.
Brad ushers me into the black mouth of the boathouse and strikes the flint of his lighter. He lights an old storm lantern on the dirt ground and sits me down on a wire milk crate.
The boathouse is small - a single room - just wide enough to fit a rowboat. There are paint cans in the corner and bits of trash acting as furniture. The wood slats which make the building are splintering and gray, and I try not to touch them when I sit.
“Those are radioactive,” I remind him as he sets the lantern next to him on an overturned bucket. I can see him smile, but it doesn’t meet his eyes. In the low-angled light, his eyes look heavily circled and hollow. His tank top is stained around the neck with the marks of the heat. He drops his hands between his knees, and his neck wilts.
“Fuck, Evie,” he mutters like he’s already been defeated. “I uh. Look, I haven’t told you absolutely everything, okay?”
I fold my hands together in my lap and I try my best to feel nothing, and say nothing, and express nothing while he pulls his hair back with nervous hands, and wipes his mouth. We’re far enough from the house that I can no longer hear the laughter of the other boys in the house. Out here, there’s just the sound of bugs and frogs.
“I’ve done some things,” he says to me, his face low and his hair hanging down. “I don’t think you’d like what they are. Bad things, you know? Maybe you won’t… be able to…”
He struggles with the words, both the meaning and the way they’ll sound leaving his mouth.
“Maybe you won’t be able to love me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I dismiss him. I mean to sound reassuring, but he’s irritated with the dismissal and suddenly we’re at odds. He clenches his fist and snaps.
“Fuck, you aren’t listening,” he hisses at me. “Listen to me.”
“Alright,” I tell him, and I hold up both hands to show him I’m not armed. His shoes shuffle over the dirt.
“Evie, when I was like 14, I killed a guy, and that was just the first time, okay?”
I arrange my face to not react. Now, having sat here, I can smell the fluid from his Zippo, chemical and sharp in the air.
“I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, okay? It’s not like… that. I don’t know what it’s like.”
Some cold fear starts to settle over me where I realize he’s not at all joking.
“I keep all my best knives in here. I want you to see them.”
“You what?” I ask him.
“I want you to see them because I want you to… well, it would be like knowing who I am.”