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Katherine never got to tell Ginny what she was going to do if she’d lost her. It was, instead, a swift break. They weren’t the same people, Ginny had said. We need different things. You need to grow up. Katherine had sat on the floor of her childhood bedroom, looking down at the stained, cream-colored carpet. She observed the bruises on her arms, blue and scabbed, envisioning them as constellations. You’re not good for me, Ginny had said. This isn’t healthy.
Katherine left after that. She tried to call Ginny once before she went, but she only reached the machine. She told it she was going to hide in the black, steel beams of the city, that she was leaving her and the cornfields behind. Katherine never made it that far. She’d missed her bus transfer at Chicago. She ended up taking the next bus out of Union Station, heading west. She didn’t know exactly where she was going, but she knew that it would take two days.
Out of the bus’s fogged window, she glimpsed the scenery outside. As she neared her destination, the ground rose around her. Hills transformed into mountains, soaring into the sky, their tips hidden by clouds. Cornfields shifted into rainforests with overpowering canopies, emerald with sickly vines hanging low from trees, their bark darkened from the rain. The deep brown contrasted with the lush leaves that surrounded her. Mosses and lichens covered the ground, invading the shoulder of the highway, a neon green against the wet black of pavement.
Katherine, leaning her head back on the 90s-style fabric of the Grayhound, let her eyes lose focus in the verdancy. She watched the raindrops drip from the leaves of the trees and race each other on the window, watched how the drops of dew reflected the light.
It was twelve o’clock when Katherine signed a lease. She paid the deposit and first month’s rent in cash, most of it taken from her parents’ house or from what savings she had left, and her friends from back home pretending to be former bosses and landlords to act as references. She got a job at Washington’s parks and rec department. She became one of those people who sat alone in a booth and collected admission to the rainforest from the cars entering. It was an hour walk from her place, but she liked walking, and she didn’t mind the rain.
Cars never came during her shift since she worked the last one of the day, the one right before nightfall, and it was an off-season. Every shift, she stared at the clock and listened to the rain hit the tin ceiling of her booth. She let her eyes wander, seeing right into the heart of the Hoh Rainforest. How the moss grew over tree limbs. She only saw the faintest color of the deep brown bark, shining wet in the crevices of the different plants that covered it. If she stared for long enough, she could feel the forest breath in, shaking the ground and her booth and her.
The view from outside her apartment was different from her booth. A liquor store’s neon sign took up most of the skyline, reflecting off wet buildings and adding a pink haze to the street below. When she looked down from her third-story window, she could see people bustling across the sidewalk, holding umbrellas and wearing raincoats, sidestepping potholes that pooled with water.
She hoped to erase the thought of Ginny in the crowds, but each time she went out, Katherine saw her in every soul she passed. One time, she’d been looking at apples under the supermarket’s blinding, fluorescent lightning. Their ruby bodies glistened—she knew the red ones weren’t as good, but she couldn’t stop thinking about them. When she looked up, a red apple in hand, she saw Ginny walking through the aisles. She tried to call out to her, but the crowd with their small children and their shopping carts and their leisurely gaits swallowed Ginny up. The shoppers devoured her. Katherine saw limbs unique to Ginny every time the crowd opened its hungry maw: a finger with chipped, black nail polish; a tanned, thin leg attached to a pair of dirty white Keds.
She tried to stay inside after that, sitting in her unfurnished apartment with the sign’s artificial glare shining through her cheap, translucent curtains. She had herself and her pills. That was enough.
A month later, her coworker asked Katherine out on a date. She’d never dated a man before, so she’d yes.
She now stood on top of the rooftop bar they’d agreed on, looking at the mountains. Their tops crowned in a halo of stringy clouds, stretched thin like cotton candy, appeared pink from the setting sun. They looked so different than the fields of silos and corn and beans she’d left behind. The mountains looked more formidable. Less likely to fall.
She ordered a drink, aware that she couldn’t afford it, but also certain that he’d paid. She didn’t really know the man—the woman who worked the shift before her told her that she should try to make more friends in the city and kept going on and on about how nice he was and how sweet he was.
Katherine stood too close the edge of the roof. She clutched her glass, and the sweat from its condensation seeped into her palm. The man who brought her here looped an arm around her, but she didn’t turn towards him. She looked to the dimming sky. The city lights hid most of the stars, but she could see the faint outline of Orion’s Belt breaking through the twilight—three faint pinpricks on a velvet sky.
Sure hope it doesn’t rain, he said. Katherine doesn’t know his name.
I like the rain. It’s different than what I’m used to, she said.
He laughed at her. His body shook hers a tiny bit, and a couple drops of her cosmopolitan dripped on her fingers, leaving small pink pools. You’re just saying that because you’re new here, he said. I promise you won’t be thinking that in a couple of months.
Katherine watched a heavy cloud obscure the three stars of the belt, and slowly but steadily, the pinks and oranges of the sky turned blue. When she looked away, she turned to the man, to his eyes. She couldn’t tell where the pupil differed from the iris. They looked a bit like Ginny’s—such a deep, dark brown like bark. Katherine felt pulled into them, and she drowned. When she pushed her head above the water, she was back at the flumes in Indiana with Ginny. They were younger, about fifteen, and they were swimming, laughing. Katherine remembered her parents had told her to never go near the flumes because god knows what was in that water, but the mystery or the potential danger frightened her.
I can hold my breath longer than you can! Katherine screamed to Ginny, who sat at the top of the rock, overlooking the ravine as if it were her kingdom.
Like shit you can! Ginny jumped, landing in the water with a loud splash. When her head broke through the surface, Ginny laughed, snorting water from her nose. Do you know when your mom wanted you to get home, Kat? Katherine ducked her head underwater instead, holding her breath, and Ginny dove under and pushed her up by her armpits. Your mom’s gonna be all worked up about you, she said.
Katherine told Ginny that her mom didn’t give a shit anymore and that she hardly ever saw her mom much anyway and that she didn’t really give a shit about her mother and that all she wanted to do was to see who could hold their breath underwater for longer.
Ginny laughed at that, and they both went under. Her fair fanned from her face, tangled up her arms, coiled around her body like water snakes.
Hey! Hey, man, you okay?
Katherine blinked, and she felt pulled up from the water. The man she didn’t know the name of stared at her.
He started to ask her if she needed anything, but a clap of thunder interrupted him, and he flinched. Rain broke free from the clouds, sending down coldy, heavy droplets. She felt like a neonate as she let the rain pour over her. The people behind her shrieked, and their shoes squeaked on the now wet pavement of the rooftop bar. Droplets hung heavy off the star-shaped string lights above her. Katherine wiped water off her forehead.
The man sighed. Goddamn it, he said. Can I get your number? I would love to hit you up once this rain stops. If it ever does in this city. He laughed too hard at his own joke.
Katherine pressed her lips together. Water hung off her eyelashes, making it hard to see through the blur. Yeah, let me enter it in your phone. Her hands slipped on the hard plastic of his flip phone. Just text me or something.
When she handed it back to him, he grabbed her wrist, thumbing the pressure point. He drink overfilled with rainwater, and it flowed from the martini glass in small, pink rivers over her clenched fingers. The air smelled of petrichor, and she heard the rumble of thunder, felt the crackle of lightning before she saw it cut the sky.
Are you okay? he asked.
She pulled her hand back, but he tightened his grip on the soft, thin skin of her wrist. I’m fine, she said.
Are you sure you don’t wanna head to mine later?
She pulled her hand back, tipping over the rest of the drink in her other hand and letting it slide down her forearm, hitting the pavement in a darker shade than the rain.
I’m fine, she said. Maybe later.
She watched him head towards the door, most of the patrons already gone, and she followed a minute later.
The next day, Katherine stood in a laundromat when she saw her again. The woman was putting in her second load of laundry. Katherine saw her black hair first—longer than she’d remembered, stopping right before her waist. The woman stood by one of the high windows of the laundromat. The rain blurred the view outside, adding a Vaseline shine to the glass. She still looked like Ginny, and when she turned around, Katherine thought she looked like the sun breaking through. Her high cheekbones looked backlit with gold; her hair looked almost like gloss. The Ginny look-a-like leaned over the laundry basket, grabbing a handful of towels.
Katherine didn’t know how to approach her. The woman made eye contact with her, causing Katherine to flush and look away. She imagined talking to the woman, inviting her over, how there wouldn’t be enough time to turn on the lights before they touched each other, grasping fast and quick under the neon light of her apartment. She imagined the woman getting up and leaving, shutting the door too gently on her way out.
When she got home, she texted the man from the rooftop bar, and she found herself and his apartment. It was nicer than hers, on the ground floor, fully furnished and drenched in warm, yellow light. They went out for drinks, and she joked with him, lying to him, saying she used to be a dancer back home in New York, that she knew French from attending a private boarding school. When he questioned this, she just laughed and repeated, Je danse!
When he demanded that she speak more French to prove it, she had taken his hand instead, and they started on the long walk from the bar back to his apartment. The world looked bright. Saplings lining the road looked iridescent under the street lights. Cyan from Budweiser signs of corner bars looked so bright that Katherine felt they reflected the entire Pacific Ocean.
When they went to his bedroom, it was dark. She didn’t want to turn on the lights, so she fumbled them to bed. They grasped at each other, pulling hair and pulling off clothes. He laughed. She thought of the act like a ballet—she was rigid, keeping her back held tight and high. There were certain positions she needed to be in for the dance. Straddled on top of him, she looked down. His eyes still looked like Ginny’s, but the rest of him felt grotesque. Katherine felt like she was being poised by an instructor. A hand here, a leg there—show him how flexible you can, show him you’re the New York ballerina. She tried and thought she could try harder, but she hated contact with him. She hated his body moving under her. She was trapped in the ballet, untrained wand with her feet bleeding from her pointe shoes until the end. Her first and last dance.
Early in the morning, after he joked with her and made them both breakfast, she told me that she was leaving and never coming back.
The next day, after an hour walk through the rain to her job, the clock stared at Katherine, facing her as it hung on the other side of her wooden booth. She rubbed her arms, moving the fabric of her long-sleeved shirt back and forth in a vertical motion. The harsh fabric of it hurt the raw underbelly of her arms. She smelled the wet ground from outside, the natural musk of it. She felt as if the thick, heavy, moss-covered vines were going to break through her window and seize her from her post.
When she looked at the clock again, the time hadn’t changed. She felt faint and claustrophobic in the confines of her booth. Her peripheries bloomed into a variety of neon flashes that took over her vision, slowly but steadily. She squeezed her eyes shut and put her hands on her temples, circling the skin there. She wanted everything to stop moving.
Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t stop the motion. Ginny was carved beneath her eyelids, and Katherine had forgotten the color of her eyes. She couldn’t tell if they were brown or blue or gray or green. Every pigment of her looked vacated, leaving behind only vague shapes so white and bright they stung. The impression of Ginny broke apart into different snowflakes at a slow diagonal, falling towards her. She grasped at them to hold them tight in her palms, but they melted on contact, and the cold burned her hands. She tried to look at what remained of her, but there was nothing left, not even her shape.
When she opened her eyes, a man was knocking at her window. The sound rocked her head. He looked annoyed.
Katherine indicated that she saw him, opened her window, and told him the price and how they close at sundown.
When his car drove into the forest, she swore she saw the vines closing in on it. Lichens grew over the paved road, covering the path back to her.
She opened up the door to her booth and breathed in the smell of the rainforest, the dampness of it, and she threw up on a patch of moss. Falling back into the booth, she rested her back on the side of it, sitting on the wooden floor. She closed her eyes until she felt she could work again. She wanted another car to come by so that she wouldn’t feel so alone, so that she would feel like she was alive and not already dead, but no one came by until the park closed. If the car had come back, Katherine didn’t notice. She stayed on the floor of the booth, her back pressed up against the wall, her feet stretched in front of her, her boot touching a medical kit, until she finally stood on shaky legs to begin her long walk home, aided by drugs that helped her feel numb and thin and cold.
That night, Katherine jolted awake in her sleep, eyes wide and full and frantic. She felt afraid, and she didn’t know why. She grabbed her phone to check the time, and the neon green light read midnight. A gust blew in from her open window, moving her hair, tickling her ears. The neon light from outside reflected across her floor. She clutched her damp pillow and stared into the darkness, watching the shadows climb from the corners of her eyes until they were all she could see.
She remembered sitting with Ginny on the floor of an out-of-season fish fry house. They’d snuck in—they were seventeen, but the magic of finding a treehouse was still felt. The moon and all of her surrounding stars shone through the open window. All the light landed on Ginny, who looked nervous and bit her lip.
Katherine leaned over to kiss her, and she felt Ginny melt into her. It felt right, so she said, I love you.
Ginny just smiled, but she didn’t say it back. When she spoke, she sounded like an older Ginny, a twenty-five-year-old Ginny. You can’t keep doing this, Kat.
Katherine started to cry. The gross kind of crying where she couldn’t stop, and the sound echoed around the room and in her head, and she couldn’t stop the tears from leaving trails on her cheeks, and every part of her felt and looked too hot to touch. She didn’t know if she was at the flumes or in the fish-fry house or in her apartment, 2000 miles away from where she grew up.
Katherine reached for her phone and dialed Ginny’s number. Her hands shook as she pressed down on the keypad.
The phone was answered quickly, but she gave them no chance to speak. Gin, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it, I love you. Katherine clutched the phone with both hands, still shaking and crying and too hot to touch. I’m sorry, Gin, I fucked up. I don’t know what to do. I’m fucked up, I didn’t mean it, I didn’t mean it at all. Please don’t say I didn’t love you. I loved you so much.
The voice on the other end wasn’t Ginny. It sounded almost elderly—deeper, like a mother. She misdialed, and the woman on the other end was asking where she lived. She read out her address, stuttering the words. The woman told her that someone was coming and to stay on the phone with her, but Katherine hung up. She curled her body on the floor, into a tight ball, and she fell asleep.
She became younger again, around thirteen or twelve. The days felt like television then. Everything looked so brightly lit and perfectly placed like a theater set. Ginny’s basement looked like an acrylic backdrop, painted too quickly, only made to look good under harsh lightning.
Katherine held a popsicle. The icy, sweet drops from it slowly dripped down her hands, leaving behind stripes of blue and red. Ginny sat across from her. They had a beer seated between them, one they’d snuck from Katherine’s mom. It was a Bud Light, and the blue from the can shone bright. She passed the popsicle to Ginny, all sticky and sweet.
Wanna try it? asked Ginny. She licked the popsicle before licking the drops off her hand.
Katherine responded by grabbing the can and popping it open. She took a sip and made a face. This tastes like shit.
Let me try, said Ginny before taking a sip. When she did, she squeezed up her face.
Katherine stared at Ginny for too long before leaning towards her, kissing the top of her head, laughing childlike and innocent.
Ginny wiped the blue popsicle spit left from her forehead. That was gross, she said.
They both laughed, and then the set started to break apart. The image Katherine had built began to crumble, and it toppled over, burying her underneath its weight.
When she woke up, there were sirens outside. They sounded distant and unreal. She didn’t think they were meant for her. Rain fell through the open window and hit her back. She noticed her hair was water laden, falling in tendrils around her face. Katherine closed her eyes and relaxed her tense muscles. She hated the rain. She couldn’t stand it at all.
Molly Harris is a writer and editor out of St. Louis, MO. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and she currently works as an associate editor at Boulevard and december. In 2019, she was named Writer of the Year by Over the Edge. She has been previously published in The Interpreter's House, Vagabond City Literature, and elsewhere.