Boy/Girl by Brian Warfield
They didn’t fall in love. The boy and the girl. The boy with anyone, the girl with her dog. Running in the backyard after dreams or nothing or things thrown out in front of them. The boy chased after dead rabbits. The girl followed her dog around like a sleuth. The dog was a golden retriever. When she cast forward glances or hopes, the dog would always return from the future with them clutched firmly in jaws. Teeth careful not to puncture.
The boy sat with baseball bat in lap looking out over the yard through links of chain at her in her yard and dress cradling a ball with its stitches showing the places where she’d sewn it. She threw the ball into the air and the air caught it. He swung his bat at nothing and the bat went through it.
Before anything happened to either the boy or the girl, they had both been born but under different, separate circumstances–full moon, spring equinox, a non-midnight hour, in a hospital, years previously, states away.
His name was Henry and her name was Mary and they would call each other’s names over the fence like lobbing shuttlecocks over the net of their yards, watching their names bounce back and forth, waiting for them to drop, waiting to see where their names would land, off-sides or not.
They would die later, much later, too late. They would die of natural and unnatural causes, respectively. An avalanche would dump a metric ton of rocks upon the head of one of them, and a car would drive through the side of the other one’s car and body, and they would both die, unaware of the other. They were unaware of these fates that waited for them in their futures.
A sandwich waited for Henry in his kitchen to be eaten and a glass of lemonade waited in Mary’s kitchen to be drunk. And their houses waited to hold them, to contain them protectively from potential harm to which they were susceptible. The houses did a fine job.
And Henry in his house, on his bed, opened a book about mathematics and studied it for a test he would have, and he would pass the test; he’d pass every test. And Mary would sit in front of her television and watch the images that would display themselves there for her because she had no test and she wouldn’t start to have self-loathing thoughts for years yet.
There was a storm building itself in the mountains, clouds piling upon clouds, turning dark and heading in the direction of the town where they lived. But the storm would never arrive at their town, having been blown to the north by winds off the lake. Other children’s sleep would be disturbed, but not theirs. They would have plenty of restless nights, but not due to the storm. The storm felt itself fulfilled but also depleted, so it ran itself into the ocean where it died a quiet death that no one mourned.
When Mary got married, she said “I do.” When Henry never got married, he got dumped by about seven girls, none of whom found him attractive but only dated him because of his personality, which at the end of the day, at the end of every day, just wasn’t enough, even though he probably had the best personality in a ten-mile radius. And when the girls, one by one, dumped him and asked him if he understood that they just wanted to be friends, he would also say “I do.” And both Henry’s and Mary’s “I do” was the same.
There was the fall evening when they both tried on necklaces that didn’t fit them. She put a rope one around her neck but couldn’t bring the clasp close. He wore a railtie necklace, his neck against the cold flat jewelry that a giant wouldn’t wear. He stood back up before the train came and she put the rope away before her husband came home. Mary’s husband had grown up in an entirely different town and state and had not had a yard so much as a cement patch where there was a chain-looped basketball hoop. At night, he couldn’t make out the constellations because of the bright lights nearby.
Their families would sometimes have supper together, back when their lawns touched and at the dinner table their hands when passing peas. And they would look at each other while their parents talked and imagine themselves asleep, dreaming this scene. But in their dreams, their parents were birds and instead of supper they were flying over the terrain of their town. And they could see their houses and what their roofs looked like and how every fenced-off yard ran together and became one blanket of land under which the dead and the past slept.
Brian Warfield lives in Philadelphia and publishes chapbooks through Turtleneck Press.