This is the latest in TMN staff writer Allison Maschoff’s collection of short fiction stories.
When I first saw her, she was standing outside in the middle of a snowstorm — arms out, head thrown back, coat unzipped. The occasional car would pass by, and she would just keep standing there, perfectly still. I wasn’t sure at that moment whether the moment was beautiful. It was the kind of moment where you don’t know if someone is soaking in the world’s beauty or wallowing in its everlasting pain. I stood on the sidewalk across the street from her for a whole 10 minutes until my ears were numb and my fingers were red. Then I walked over and asked her what she was doing.
Without looking at me, she said, “Calling out to the sun’s rays like a lightning rod, darling. I’m redirecting the bits of warmth we have left into the ground so that the flowers can awaken and spring can come sooner.”
I didn’t know how to respond other than, “Do you want to go to dinner with me?”
That got her to turn her head, although her arms remained stretched out as if she was pinned to an invisible cross. There was a playful constellation of freckles sprinkled across the bridge of her nose, and her eyes were such a light blue that they almost turned grey, just like a winter sky.
“Will you buy me pizza?” she asked.
I nodded. And then we went on our first date.
Some people have these grand, Hollywood-esque stories of how they met and then settle into a “normal” relationship. This girl didn’t know how to do “normal.” She didn’t tell me her name until the third date, even though I asked at least a dozen times.
“I’ll tell you when you’ve earned it,” she’d say. “Names are precious things, you know. Shakespeare got it wrong. We should all be as tied to our names as John Proctor screaming about his at the end of ‘The Crucible.’ We should be much more protective of them.”
At the end of our third date, I found out that her name was Patricia Jo-Ann Lee. She liked to go by Patti. “With an ‘i’ instead of a ‘y’ because it invites curiosity and suspicion,” she explained. “Curiosity because it makes me seem interesting and suspicion because it makes me seem extra and dramatic and maybe even a little hipster.”
I was never quite sure what she thought “hipster” meant. Sometimes it meant indie music and nerd glasses, but other times I swear she used it interchangeably with words like “emo” and “whimsical,” as if all three should make you think of the exact same type of person.
Patti meditated every day because “chaos killed the dinosaurs, darling.” She tried to get me to do it with her, but I was never able to keep my eyes closed. All I could do was watch her. She’d get as still as she’d been that first day, except she’d look so much smaller folded onto her lavender yoga mat. She wasn’t the kind of person to say “om” or anything like that. It was total silence, beautiful and heartbreaking and addicting. I could have sat there forever. But after a while, she’d always say, “I can feel your eyes on me,” and eventually, she stopped asking me to meditate with her.
I guess that kind of stuff was why it was so shocking. When she drove her car off the side of the road, I mean. Into that ditch. She never denied that she did it on purpose. She never confirmed that she was disappointed to be still alive when the first responders got there. She never told me why any of it was true or false, or why she would answer some questions but not others. She only ever told me one thing about that night.
We were sitting in her hospital room; her parents had gone to grab food, and so it was just us for the first time since it happened. I squeezed her hand, and I was about to tell her how glad I was that she was alive, how much I wanted to help her stay alive, how much I loved her. But before I could get any words out, she said,
“Chaos killed the dinosaurs, darling. Why shouldn’t it kill me? Do you know how much chaos is going on inside my head? A life-eliminating meteor doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
I thought for a moment, unsure what to say. Finally, letting go of her hand, I said, “Pretend to be meditating.”
“Just sit as much as you can like you would if we were back in your dorm room and you were meditating.”
“Daniel, I stopped meditating months ago.”
Is that the real reason she stopped asking me to join her? I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter. Just do it for me, please.”
With a sigh, she straightened up a bit, closed her eyes, and made little o’s with her thumbs and forefingers.
“Feel my eyes on you?” I asked.
“I never take my eyes off you. No matter how much chaos there is on the inside or the outside. You’re never like the dinosaurs, unsuspecting and hopeless without help. You can always ring the alarm if you feel like a meteor is getting close, and I swear I will shield your body with mine if that’s what it takes. And you can trust that if I see the chaos before you do, I’ll ring the alarm myself. The chaos won’t kill you, darling. It will only make you stronger and stronger until you evolve into something so spectacular that no one will even talk about dinosaurs anymore. They’ll just talk about you.”