To Live in a Name

3 minute read.

A single snowflake on a dark backdrop, capturing the wintry setting.
Photo by Shashank Dholakia

Lekha patted the floor until it turned into snow—powdery, believable snow, drifting downwards and settling under her palms. The rhythm summoned the rest of her imagined, sprawling arctic: slats of white ice like starchy moonlight against an indigo sea, stars crystallizing domes of lacy light, lumbering polar bears flipping silver fish into their mouths. She opened her eyes. At the lap of the sky, an electric green aurora bristled like wintry pine.

Lekha’s hair frizzed with the hum of electricity, warm static brushing the peaks of her snow into icy pools of water. She loved how compartments of her imagination sang with each other, began to tell a story of their own, beyond her.

And suddenly, as if in reaction to the dynamic unruliness of stories, Chloe appeared. Lekha soured instantly.

The months it’d been since she’d seen her had been an exhale of relief. She still wasn’t sure how she’d managed to create an imaginary friend who hated her—maybe because it wasn’t friendship she had in mind when she made her, but something else, something which held grief right behind it, pressure building behind a thin shell of magic.

Chloe was beautiful. Lekha hated that before she ever spoke to her, even though it was her doing. She was thin as steam, her eyes salt-blue with sad, wide pools, and her hair long, thin, and nearly white, tinged golden the way snow looked behind a sunrise.

In Lekha’s dreams, it was possible to unzip her own body and reveal Chloe, all the heavy, rough reality tumbling away to free a feather, invisibly light, everything she wanted to be.

The aurora fabric stitched and re-stitched overhead, the ruffling movement of branches against the wind.

“Do you want to build an igloo with me or something?” Lekha asked. Chloe just shrugged. Chloe didn’t have to be kind to look kind, Lekha thought. All her meanness looked gentle and quiet, like little twinges in a cloud of mist. Anything Lekha did was loud, wrong, a thousand times louder under the brown skin, a mistake hardened into her texture for the rest of her life, solid and unmoving.

These feelings were everything she had been trying to run from, and here Chloe was. She picked up a giant cube of ice and began building. Chloe moved across her, as if on command, and began mounting the other side. She hated her, but there she was. Lekha wished she was real. At least real things could be detached from, imagined away.

But what to do with the things she made?

The igloo turned full, a closed sphere. She and Chloe crawled inside. Lekha drummed the heat of their sweat into boiling mugs of hot chocolate. The ice above them was tinged green, just faintly, flickering with the memory of something spectacular. From inside the dome Lekha heard the distant sounds of a bell ringing, kids filing indoors, the jokes boys shot between themselves, the laughter, the laughter, the laughter.

And Chloe glowed brighter and brighter, a shining star. The igloo melted, then the aurora, then the nighttime sky. Chloe was everything, blistering, and Lekha was exposed again, cold in the snow, cold on the classroom floor, where light was spilling everywhere, harsh and unforgiving.

 “Lecka?” said the teacher, though the ‘e’ should’ve been long, like lake, like lament, a shimmering waterway which led to the meaning “picture,” though this word in her teacher’s mouth meant nothing at all.

“Here,” Lekha said anyway. “I’m here.”

Devaki Devay

Devaki Devay is an Indian writer of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Their work can be found at Barren Magazine, the Dawn Review, and Best Small Fictions 2023.

Devaki Devay is an Indian writer of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Their work can be found at Barren Magazine, the Dawn Review, and Best Small Fictions 2023.

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