Stacey came over today. Her pink hair ribbon was gone, replaced by a sort of butterfly comb that raked through her auburn tufts. I felt the outline of the comb, my fingers tracing latticed wings and pinpricked eyes. It was cold to the touch. The ribbon had been warm.
Stacey and I stayed outside, slowly rocking on the hammock. She said her dad was thinking of quitting his night job at the gas store.
“For something silly too,” she said. “Some guy in a trench coat spilled a few boxes of chocolate, made some remark about how it was dad’s God-given destiny to keep stocking boxes into shelves. So, sure, the man’s an asshole, but I don’t get why dad was so worked up.”
She’s always been the babbling type, going off on circuitous tangents like a hound on a drifting scent. I think she’s a born storyteller. If she stands, she gyrates about the room, not just describing a scene but reenacting it. Her fingers are the main characters, her curling toes and flashing elbows the cameras. But today she was splayed on the hammock and the action was restricted to figurines painted in the air above us, her fingers the brush.
I used to be enamored by her energy. She was always moving. I never could tell what sort of steam powered her, but I was drawn to it, to how it transformed her. Made her larger than life, a valley’s lily, ripe with its fragrance, with its sturdy promise of potential. She often took me to the Wicker Fields on the outskirts of town, where we sat on picnic mats, ate almond nuts—“my favorite thing in the world!” she often cried—and invented stories about why her neighbor Roger Whitney was scowling that day. When we were not in the harmony of chirping birds and wind-washed flowers, we were in my backyard, canoed by the hammock and the waft of air from the nearby kitchen, or in her house two streets away, in her room, blankets pulled over our heads, tongues exploring the jungles of our bodies.
Before Stacey became mine, I used to spy her from the back of our trig class. Not spy on her, like a hopeless, demented thing, but spy her, a timid glance made from the corner of an eye, never a full-on stare. I guess she’s always drawn attention to herself, the sort of colorful, flavored flower insects circle and pollinate. It wasn’t really anything she did. It was more of who she was. The echoes of her laugh never felt like fading mirages, but were perpetually substantial, as if chiseled directly from the fabric of the laughter. Her voice was loud and keen, her movements self-assured. She appeared too real, and therefore never seemed real. The nuances of her existence shone too brightly, and thus enclosed her in a coffin, within which she glistened like a museum artifact, to be admired but not touched. Then one day at gym, I fell off the top of a four-step stairs while trying to run into the basketball court. Got sent to the nurse’s office, and there Stacey was, getting a bandage wrapped around her left hand. She noticed me then, stared at me with brown eyes, the touch of her gaze sharpened to a javelin’s point. The prelude to our romance unraveled then in giddy, energetic jumps.
Two months later, eleventh grade rolled off on a shadowy trail. Free from the limitations of school (we had only shared trig class and her mom had attached her to a small study group, of which I was not part), we had more time to ourselves. Ultimately, I think that was the problem. All that time. Enough time to really know her.
She started wearing the ribbon at the start of the summer; it was pink and folded, clasping the side of her cascading hair with a lover’s touch. Three small letters were etched on the ribbon in her familiar small handwriting—E.A.B. I noticed the ribbon the first time she had it, even kissed it tenderly (my cheeks flushed hard then, and I thought they were swimming in flames). But I didn’t notice those letters until nearly a week later. I asked her what they meant.
“Oh nothing,” she replied, giggling. “It’s just bae backward.”
I laughed. “Well, glad to see you’re a regular twenty-first century wordsmith.” She elbowed me hard and my laughter became a howl. When I recovered myself, I asked her why she wrote it backward.
She shrugged. “Oh, no reason. Just figured it’d be cooler.”
That summer, we watched movies in Auxville’s local cinema, played in the fields, made out (and then some) in her room, and fled with the hours on my hammock. We built memories that had formerly taken shape as unreachable dreams in my mind, but those memories finally provided the answer. Finally showed me what powered Stacey.
Today, we spoke about college. I hope to leave Auxville for New York, get a mechanical engineering degree in NYU. New York is made of the same fabric Stacey used to be made of, the diamond-in-a-shroud fabric, the bigger-than-life drape. Stacey doesn’t care about college yet.
“I don’t get why I need to put myself through nightmares figuring out the right place,” she said. “Heck, I’m fine with Auxville Community.” Of course she was.
We hugged before she left. Her comb brushed my face as we parted. I almost asked her what happened to the ribbon, but I thought I knew the answer. The same answer to the question of what drove Stacey. The reason my initial affection had forked in strange paths, weariness with Stacey, dismay with Stacey, boredom with Stacey, shame of my growing condescension. But could you blame me? She took in the world as she saw it, a blank slate in the hands of a blank artist, and I had finally figured out she was no more complex than that.
About the author:
I am Vincent Anioke, an 18-year-old rising sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I was born and raised in Nigeria, and moved to the United States just slightly over a year ago for college. I’m a Computer Science major, but spend a very substantial portion of my free time writing fiction. I blog for the MIT Office of Admissions and my novel has been published by Acena Ventures in Nigeria. In my spare time, I can often be found screaming expletives at non-functioning code, binge-watching Netflix shows, listening to an insane amount of Taylor Swift songs or simply sprawled on my bed, writing.