Jennifer Love

Sweetheart

I have a lover and he sends me messages that no one else can see. The last I heard from him, he told me to come find him. You know where, he said. I’ve been waiting for you, he said.

 

I had never bought a plane ticket before.

 

* * *

 

A stewardess drops something on my lap– peanuts. I check the package to make sure palm oil isn’t listed in the ingredients. If it had been, I might have called the stewardess back to speak with her for a moment about orangutan rights.

 

The package did not have palm oil in the ingredients list. In fact, it didn’t have an ingredients list at all. Instead, perfect white letters:

 

I BELIEVE IN YOU. I AM SO EXCITED FOR US. OUR LOVE SPANS THE SEVEN SEAS.

 

I am so delighted that I almost go blind. It’s Blue Fly.

 

* * *

 

There was a time before Blue Fly. There was a boy named Chris. He presented me with collages he had made in art therapy, and once a cardboard box painted purple and blue and glittery. He wrote me letters filled with nonsense about my blue eyes that I don’t have, they’re green, and my laugh that I never laughed while I lived there in that hospital that didn’t look like a hospital, and which we weren’t supposed to call a hospital; it was supposed to be our home.

 

I didn’t care much for Chris. He never talked to me, just dropped his offerings on the table in front of me during meal times. I wondered about the blue-eyed girl he was writing the letters for, if she was a babysitter, maybe his babysitter when he was nine, but I never asked. I guess he always kind of scared me, with his skeleton sweatshirt and big brown pit bull eyes.

 

A girl threw a slippery-when-wet sign at my head once, while I was living there. I pretended a businessman in a business suit had seen it, imagined him saying, my tax dollars are paying for this? before going home to a dinner of broccoli and chicken with his wife and their purebred Pomeranian. The girl used to stand by the door where visitors came in and scream and scream for her mama. I quite admired her for this. Thought about doing some screaming of my own. But then I sat down with myself to think of someone I could scream for, and came up empty.

 

* * *

 

“To be so terrified is to know that you are finally alive,” I announce to myself and pretend someone great and dead had said it a hundred years before. Blue Fly has guided me to a carnival made of wood, sitting on a beach, creaking under the weight of a thousand careless footsteps who have no idea that this place is about to become sacred.

 

Every neuron fires under the winds as I march through the grease-stained air, through the strangers with faces like the backs of thumb tacks, scared and happy and pretending not to notice that the sky is sagging like a busted mattress. I think about buying a hot dog because it seems like the right thing to do, but everything feels so important that I suspect I might die any minute. And I don’t want the last thing I ate before I died to be a hot dog.

 

I wonder if thinking like this means I’m going to have a panic attack soon. I wonder if, when I do die, I’ll think it’s just another panic attack. She died as she lived, the obituary would say, thinking that she was going to die.

 

I buy and eat the hot dog anyway, then feel immediately sure that it will crawl back up and out of my body like a wet snake without bones.

 

The boardwalk is buzzing with a swarm of pulsing bodies and rolling eyes. I look at the sky, but it burns too bright before I can count to ten and picture myself in a field of daisies, so I look down at my feet instead. Deep grooves in the wood spell out a message for me.

 

TURN AROUND AND LOOK UP. YOU HAVE ARRIVED, MY DEAR. YOU LOOK SO BEAUTIFUL TODAY.

 

I whip around, and there he stands in untied shoes. He can’t be more than seven years old. I didn’t expect him to be so young, but I don’t care because we are together now and destined to share a great and eternal love.

 

“Blue Fly! I’m here!” I dance through the elbows and shoulders of the crowd to where he stands in a blank halo, untouched. Untouchable? Can I kiss him? Hold his little doll hand?

 

He sucks on the sleeve of his blue striped shirt and gazes up at me with blank eyes. It feels wrong to be hovering above his tiny body, so I kneel and lean in close to start counting the freckles on his face.

 

“Why are you talking to me?”

 

“What? Am I not supposed to? Should I be doing messages? I don’t know how, Blue, you’ll have to teach me.”

 

“What are you talking about, lady? I’m just trying to stand here and wait for my mom.”

 

“You don’t have a mom. You said, ‘don’t worry, darling, I don’t have a mom, either, and I’m still living my life in the sunshine.’ Remember?” The snake crawls up my throat. “And you told me you were right here. So, what are you talking about?”

 

A sharp noise splits the air between our skin- “Toby!” Hands grasp my Blue Fly’s shoulders and pull him away from me. Hands connected to arms connected to shoulders connected to a head wearing a horrible sewn-up face. She looks angry and dead. Her forehead glistens like a wet fruit.

 

Is this Blue Fly’s mother? She looks at me the way I imagine someone might look at spoiled milk bubbling up through a sewer grate. “Don’t talk to these people, Toby, got it? Let’s go.” Blue Fly takes his mother’s hand and turns to leave without another word, without another glance at me with my knees still pressed to the wood, feeling as if I might throw up and look like I’m praying while I do it.

 

“I can’t believe this, Blue. I came all this way and I didn’t even mind. Because our love spans the seven seas, remember?”

 

I cram my fingers in my suitcase, feel for the cellophane crinkle, throw the packet of peanuts at the back of his head. “Or does this mean nothing to you?”

 

And I guess I could tell that I was screaming, but I didn’t think to stop because I hadn’t done it in such a long time and it felt good, good to be as loud and horrible as the rest of the world for once. I was a cowgirl. A banshee.

 

Blue Fly, Blue Fly, come back Blue Fly, I wish the girl who had thrown the sign at my head could see me now, could hear me now, and she would scream mama, mama, let me see my mama and after a while, our chorus might drown out this lonely hum in my brain where his name used to be.

 

Blue Fly becomes a blue-striped patch in the crowd, I can’t get my knees unstuck from the ground, and high above our heads, further than we can reach, the big American sun burns a hole in the big American sky.

 

* * *

 

Blue Fly had first come to me while signing myself away from government care. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, he had said, on the bottom of the last paper, under the line where one final signature would set me free. I had just turned eighteen.

 

“Did you guys write this?” I asked, grinning at the two horse-shaped ladies across the desk. They glanced at each other.

 

“Write what, honey?”

 

This,” I pointed. “Happy birthday. Right under where I’m supposed to sign.”

 

One of them pinches the skin between her eyes like a true-blue cartoon character. “That just says ‘signature here.’ You just sign and then you’re all set, okay?”

 

I look back down at the form, but all the words are gone. I turn it over in my hands.

 

 SHH. I AM FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU NOW.

 

“Are you in love with me?” I ask hopefully. The horses say things like excuse me and what was that dear, but I ignore them and close my eyes and open them again.

 

The form is blank, except for one word.

 

YES.

 

I try to remember where the line had been on the paper. Sign my name there, big and sloppy.

 

* * *

 

My last days in the hospital that wasn’t a hospital had been frosted with daydreams of a final loving walk through the halls, but she just takes me through the common room, out the visitor’s door, and into the front office. I want her to put her hand on my shoulder as we walk, but I know they aren’t allowed to touch us. She gives me an envelope full of what she calls “resources” and tells me that services are always available if I ever find myself in need again. The cadence of her voice as she says these words is so perfect, it sounds less like a promise, less like an answer, more like a nursery rhyme.

 

For about twenty seconds I feel as if I should say goodbye, or thank you, or something appropriate to end this part of my life and begin the next. Something to place in between the quickly receding past and this present, right here, in an office decorated with a blissfully unlocked door, and I don’t even know if I remember how to open doors anymore, it’s a room with a window, with a jar on a desk full of regular pencils instead of the dull, flexible ones they gave us so that we couldn’t hurt ourselves with them.

 

Like the girl who was caught trying to unscrew the screws from her bed. They were swearing at her because they thought everyone was asleep, but I was awake and thinking about how I shared something with this girl, the same blink in our brains, maybe the missing links of our DNA joined hands and went walking and raised a family in Minnesota and never came back. Missing Links. That could be the name of our girl band someday, except she refused to eat and had to be fed through a tube, and flushed four jigsaw puzzles down the toilet as revenge after the first tube down her throat, yelled things at the plumber that made the orderlies call her slut and lock her in her room until dinner, and this girl would probably be here until the end of time, when the next comet hits and explodes into glitter and extinguishes the population. And here I am, hands all filled with an envelope and an unlocked door. I should say thank you.

 

“You smell like apple pie,” is all that comes out of my mouth.

 

 * * *

 

The woman had dropped a soft serve ice cream cone with sprinkles on the boardwalk when she had snatched Blue Fly away. I consider the wilting ripples and try to decide if it reminds me of myself.

 

Are the sprinkles spelling out a message for me, or is it sewer water in my eyes?

 

HIGHER UP. UP. UP. I’M MADE OF WOOD AND STEEL.

 

Vomit or ecstasy, welling up my throat? I raise my eyes up, up, up, above the human heads and into a painted plywood face grinning like a jack-o-lantern from the center of a Ferris wheel. When our eyes meet, I know this must be Blue Fly towering high beyond my reach, teasing, his face frozen into a knowing smile that I am just now realizing will always be there for me. His skin is alive with red streaks, chipped and rugged. I think I’m blushing, he’s so handsome.

 

“You’re so handsome,” I tell him. “You look like Dracula.”

 

Human eyes scorch craters into my skin. I know they are watching me and clenching their children, but I do not care, because I am happy and in love and they are jealous of me.

 

And his steel is so warm and strong beneath my body, feels like the home I have been searching for my entire life as he lifts me, creaking and groaning, high above the people-tops. The operator didn’t let anyone into the same carriage as me– he must have sensed the scream of pheromones, must have known to give us our privacy. Blue Fly is safer than a coffin, a wheel with walls; the steel-cold lack of a heartbeat is a silent promise that he will never hurt me.

 

The ticket has too much printed on it, more than it needs. I squint;

 

DO YOU KNOW WHAT MADE ME FALL FOR YOU?

I THOUGHT, THIS GIRL’S GOT A HEART LIKE AN OPEN SIGN STILL BLINKING ON AN ABANDONED STOREFRONT.

WHAT I MEAN IS, YOU’VE ALREADY FORGIVEN A WORLD THAT NEVER ASKED FOR IT.

WHAT I MEAN IS, YOU’RE A SWEETHEART. WILL YOU RUN AWAY WITH ME?

 

This is the longest love letter he has ever written. My heart blinks butterfly-quick.

 

“Of course, Blue. Of course, I will.” I ran all the way here. If I don’t keep running, who knows what will catch up to me?

 

“Where you go, I swear to forever follow.” I want to sound indentured, want to make him think about his great big steel beams and my little calcium bones now nestled in between them.

 

The snapping steel is the cleanest sound I have heard in a long, long time, ringing in my ears and across the glaze of the sky. Blue Fly dislodges his wheel from the axle and rolls down the boardwalk, crushing the hot dog stands and parting the crowd like the great red sea. I am dizzy with longing and belonging and the blurry beginnings of a sense that I am finally on my way.

 

There is a place for me. The feeling swells even as we crash through the wooden barrier and into the ocean. The boardwalk splashes across my vision in severed snapshots as we spin, invisible fingers reaching from my eyes and scrambling for purchase. Corn dogs. Clam bar. Sideshow. Balloons. As it shrinks into the blue abyss, I admire how out in the open everything is, bright and honest under the sun, you just know they aren’t hiding any extra roller coasters beneath the ground. The trash cans. Carousel. Open mouths. Salt air and cotton candy smelling like the flu, and Blue Fly and I immune. We are bigger than the ocean.

 

There is a place for me. Even as Blue Fly and I are chewed up and swallowed by the sea. A string of water wriggles and twists behind my eyes, connecting the sockets of my ears and nose, coiling in my mouth. This is what it feels like to be filled with love, I think. The current pulls me deeper, towards where the water looks like ink. True love. There is a place for me. That is the place for me. And he is taking me there.


Jennifer Love has been writing for as long as she can remember but has only recently begun to seek publication. Her story “Tender Meat” was published in Autre Magazine in June 2016. She teaches literacy skills to ESL learners and works as a fiction editor for Reed Magazine in San Jose.


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