An Unopened Flower

Chase Newman loitered above me; his lizard lips parted and licked what felt like the lining of my lungs. I lay back on my glamorous Chevrolet mattress, bored. The radio spilled out a love song that demanded Don’t Worry Baby, and I thought about getting home for dinner and wondered whether anyone ever truly stopped worrying because of a Beach Boys song. The darkness outside was weak, and the invasive lighting of the overpass exposed us inside Chase’s father’s borrowed car that we’d parked below. This was a lover’s lane, notoriously the place where the angsts of nervous teenagers collided after proms and before curfews.

My parents would have approved of Chase. His family attended our church; our mothers baked cookies for sick people and Billboard smiled constantly, but Chase smoked dope and knew how to hotwire a car. He had gestured at me during hymns one Sunday, lazily enticing my gaze, and afterward we talked in the graveyard. It wasn’t poetic though, it was shallow and forced – I awkwardly fingered the cotton hem on my dress and hoped my cheeks weren’t too pallid; he confidently hooked his thumbs through his Levis.

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I’d like it if we could hang out sometime, Celia,” he’d asked; and the look on his face told me it was a question. “I could pick you up after classes. My dad lets me drive his car. ” “I’m not sure. Okay. ” I don’t know why. I’d thought maybe it would be nice to care about something, and now I was here. I looked into his dark eyes, pregnant with lust and surrounded by papery eyelashes like bluebottle wings. I didn’t feel a thrill. I observed the bottle of Jack Daniels that lay sloshing about on its side, thick and mahogany coloured.

I’d had my first taste and wanted to spit it out, but Chase had looked at me expectantly, like a puppy, and I couldn’t bear to disappoint, so I drank more. Now my thoughts seemed to be in italics and my blood like honey. A traffic announcement offhandedly interrupted the radio. A man in an authoritative voice announced that drivers should avoid at all costs a certain highway. A red ford was driving down it the wrong way. Remain tuned for updates. My brain swelled with the bizarreness of the situation – what reason would cause somebody to do that? They could be crazy, criminal, old, or suicidal.

I lay there and felt my skin tighten with sorrow, because no eventuality was desirable, death, prison or other. The probability of the red ford driver’s death was all of a sudden inside my bones. I felt sick. I fumbled with the straps of my dress, rolling away from Chase, who muttered curses. “Where are you going, doll? We aren’t finished here. ” He hooked his hand around my waist, but I manoeuvred myself away, opening the door and falling into the unwelcome outside. The tarmac was unforgiving on the soles of my feet, but physical pain softened in my consternation like candle wax nearing the flame.

I slid down the concrete banks of the river, which had absorbed the night and turned a blue-black bruise. I placed my hands and feet in it, and in that moment it did more for me than holy water. It was cold enough to cause an ache, and I felt all my cells grinding against each other. Chase flung open the door and called out to me. “Celia, for Christ’s sake, get back in the car. ” I hazily stared at headlights of the cars above, slinking past like a pearl necklace. I retched; a stream of vomit slipped out of my mouth and polluted the river.

Chase kicked a stone and swore again, swinging his arms. I didn’t need to look over my shoulder to know what he was doing. “Benny said you were a goddamn basket-case. I should have listened. ” I heard his keys clinking, and the Chevrolet glided away across the tarmac. I waited to see if he would come back. The silence hurt. I stood up and walked to the road, up onto the overpass, and sat on the railing, my legs heavy over the side. Car horns blared warnings and people leaned out their windows to scream at my recklessness, but I didn’t care.

I thought about dropping off, into the river. At this time of night it would feel like dropping off the edge of the world. “Jesus,” I muttered, swinging my legs back over to the road and extended my thumb out to hitch a ride home. I was definitely better than this two-bit Sylvia Plath imitation tirade of helplessness. How disgustingly unoriginal. I could see rooves hanging over buildings like scabs beyond the highway, and jutted out my thumb for a ride home. I thought about yesterday and today, how they are just days, when tomorrow is something else entirely.