Amber Lenore Winckler:



I sit here and think of the night’s dreams.  I think I drink too much.  I think I smoke too much.  I think three cups of coffee a day is too much.  I think I daydream too much.  I think I wish too much. 
Seems like I dream every night now.
I think I throw too much away.  (It seems to me that one shouldn’t throw away so much.) 
I want to go home.  I don’t like it here anymore.  I hate it here.  And I hate you.
It feels like I have been fifteen for so long…


            I stared at the open suitcase on my small bed.  It was filled with the things which mattered — my favorite jeans, the imitation body spray in a can that was my signature scent, my new black monkey boots, and my journal.  Always start with the most important. 
Kitty languidly stepped into the suitcase, stretched himself out on my jeans, his yellow orbs unconcerned.  He didn’t understand I was leaving and wouldn’t be back for six long months.  He was unconcerned we would be separated for the first time since fifth grade.  
“I have to leave for awhile,” I heard myself explaining to the obese grey and white cat.  I stroked his coarse fur (he was a tough feline).  “But Dad will feed you and you’ll be all right.  I’ve got to go now and find my own way in the world…”  I choked up and had to stop.  


    This is our world, Mommy.  Remember when we lived here, tied to the ground by the very flesh and blood which marked our mortality?  It wasn’t all a waste, was it?
    I mean, even though we couldn’t fly and the magic had long since died, it wasn’t all for nothing.  It was just a place with new rules.  (We had to learn them rather quickly, wouldn’t you agree, Mother?)  The blood between us can never be stolen.  Memories of a place like this are just as safe.  
     I have to admit, sometimes I just wish it would take its toll and be over with. 
     But the world Mom sent me to this time was unlike anything either of us expected.


            “Harvey’s Lake, Pennsylvania isn’t just a place…” the boy with vampire eyes said wryly.  “It’s an experience, a state of mind.”  He blew a steam of warm white breath into the cold air.
“Ah yes.”  I agreed, staring as I always did at Mark’s blue eyes; iced blue to the point of translucency, with the smallest black pupils I had ever seen.  His skin had no trace of even the tiniest blemish.  His affect was a tad robot-like, sturdy, yet awkward. In contrast to his almost sickly sallow skin tone, cherry red lips, and dark mop of hair, his eyes hissed in his face like cool fire.  Indeed, he looked like a vampire.  I was entranced by him.  His pale arms looked carved from alabaster like a statue of old, with veins standing out — alluring, yet strange on such a young man. 
“When a person first comes to Harvey’s Lake, they think: ‘Oh, what a charming little place for fishing and boating!  I think I might stay and raise a family!’  But they don’t know it is actually a cistern-like hole filled with run-off regret over desperate lives, and hideaways for family members who destroyed their own lives and are relegated to living in the grandparent’s cabin until whatever time they are finally inclined to get back on their feet.”  Mark ambled with an air of absurdity in his pitch and the dry splendor I so adored.  He spoke more eloquently than I; after all, he was sixteen. 
“Well, lucky me to have an Aunt that just so happens to live here.” 
Mark grinned.  “Lucky you, little Loulou, you have really struck a gold-mine here.  You had no idea what you were in for…”
“None whatsoever.”  
“It’s a good thing, I suppose — or you may never have come!”  Mark asserted. 
I wrinkled my brow.  “Well, I’m not so sure I really had too much of a choice for that matter… It was either this or private school.  My Mom sent me here to change my reality and keep from getting into more trouble.” 
“Change your reality, huh?  Hmmm… I kind of like that.  Harvey’s Lake ought to adopt that as a slogan… ‘Harvey’s Lake, a good place to change your reality!’  I love it.”  His vampire eyes darted my way again, sparking me with electricity, “Your Mom must have really been mad at you!”
I shrugged and broke the stare.  “I don’t know… she thought I was possessed or something because I was drinking and ditching school.  I didn’t really understand all of it.  She tried to give me an exorcism one night… it was pretty lame.  Gina isn’t even my real Aunt; she is my Stepdad’s sister.  I think my Stepdad thought sending me here was a clever way to get rid of me and keep me from bugging him about wanting to live with himself and my Mom instead of my Dad — like that was ever gonna happen!  He had his shiny new life with my Mom and he wasn’t going to let any of her former brats come and spoil it.  Whatever… I am glad to be here where nobody knows me and I don’t know them.  It’s all shit.” 
“What about your Dad?” 
“Whatever.  He said I could stay or go.  It was all the same to him.” 
“Man, that kind of sucks.”  Mark sat down next to me on the dock.  
“It doesn’t really matter.  It’s all shit.”           
“Why did Gina agree to take you if they all thought you were that much trouble?”
“I don’t know — maybe she has some kinda Messiah complex or something.  I don’t understand any of it.   I mean, she doesn’t even like me.  I certainly by now have crushed any masochistic dreams she may have clung to about me being the daughter she never had.” 
“You think that may have been what she wanted?”
“Who knows?  I know she couldn’t have kids of her own.  All I can figure is that my Mom didn’t really want me around.  I have lived with my Dad since my parents divorced when I was nine… and he didn’t seem very unhappy when I told him I was leaving, so how am I supposed to know who cares about what anyway?”
His expression turned sad.  “That really sucks.  I don’t know what I would do if I thought my parents didn’t care.”
“Who cares?”  I shrugged.  “It’s all shit anyway.” 
He tried to look hopeful.  “Well, at least you are here now… on the shores of the beautiful and bountiful Harvey’s Lake!  No better place on this earth in which to be exiled!  Napoleon should have been so lucky!  No siree, Loulou, surely no better place.”
A small smile appeared at the corner of my mouth.  I began to rub my hands together for warmth. 
He studied me intently.  “Your nose has turned completely red.”  He observed with fondness.  “You California people certainly freeze easily.” 
I covered my nose with one frozen hand.  “I suppose I have thin blood.” 
Mark flung a rock sideways into the frigid lake water.  “You know a whole family got killed here in a boating accident one summer a few years back.  Right over there, near the general store… that was where they laid all the bodies out, kids and parents, five bodies, covered in bloody sheets.   The littlest one was so small, barely just a bump on the ground...”
“How horrible!  How did it happen?!”
“Two boats smacked into each other or something… I only saw the aftermath, when they were pulling bodies out of the water.  Some lady kept on screaming and screaming… I guess nobody even had so much as a scratch in the other boat, but as for the family — well, every single person on that boat died,” Mark recanted solemnly, shaking his head as if in wonder.   “Come to beautiful Harvey’s Lake, a great place to take your family for its final fishing trip…” 
I let out a long breath and stood up, swiping snow off the back of my coat.  “That story really creeped me out.  I will never be able to go near that store again without thinking about that family.”
Mark jumped up and held out his best gentlemen’s elbow for me to grab onto.  He bowed his head slightly; pomp and circumstance permeated his ritual existence.  I laughed shyly and looked away as we began to walk in the thin layer of crunchy brown snow beside the main road that would lead us back to my insane Aunt’s cabin. 
The sun was beginning to set.  I slipped after a couple of steps, causing Mark to laugh and strengthen his arm for support.  
His magnificent profile stood out in the fading day like a marble effigy.  “I don’t think I would be able to bear it if you ever actually learned to walk in the snow without slipping every six steps…”
“Will you ever stop teasing me about that?” 
“I’m serious, LouLou,” he said earnestly.  “There was nobody good in this town before you came… I love it that you can’t walk in snow.  It reminds me that you aren’t from around here.”


   They don’t know.  They just keep walking.  They think they are in control until they taste moisture and find themselves in the clouds.
   The taste is sweet and the silence comforting.  After a while, it doesn’t even shock them when they look down and can’t see their feet.  My eyes are clouded.  Look closely, can’t you read?  My eyes are clouded and see only what they will.
    I close my eyes for I need not see. 
    Your eyes are tender —  
    I can not tell,
   and down upon my wish I fell.

          “He’s gay, you know.  Your little friend… what’s his name… Marcus?” 
Aunt Gina flared her already offensive nostrils.  “Well he is!  Trust me.  He may not even know it himself yet, but I can tell.”  She tapped her temple with one stubby finger.  “I have a sense.” 
I shrugged.  “Oh well.” 
“Is he your boyfriend?  You make sure not to do anything with him… that boy!  I know of his family… they are strange people.  If I didn’t know the boy’s Dad was married, I’d say he was gay, too.  Strange people… strange eyes, too!  Crazy eyes, the whole lot of them.  I don’t understand why you want hang around with that fag when Lisa is right next door… she was your first friend here, in case you forgot.”  
Aunt Gina stood on massive legs, thick from hip to ankle.  Her back was large and square, heavily muscled as evidenced when she stirred her stock pot filled to the brim with dark, greasy chili.  Nudge, nudge, with her big beefcake buttock.  Always nudging things.  It was a grand display, buttock grinding up against buttock — they sometimes woke me up at night.  Like huge, hard boulders.  My God, with buttocks as tremendous as those, shouldn’t she be in charge of some government agency instead of making chili in a cabin near Harvey’s Lake? 
She noticed me staring.  “Why aren’t you setting the table?  You see me making dinner here and you know the table will have to be set… why must I always have to ask you to do it?!”
How I loathed her.

I wish I was God, and you my servant.  
 I wish I was teacher, and you my pupil.
 I wish you were buried, save a small place at your ear where I could blow quietly and whisper your regrets.


          I was pretty sure I would meet my maker on the bus to school each morning.  Gina was a teacher at the high school I attended, but she insisted I take the bus to school instead of drive with her… she said it would give us ‘autonomy’ or some bullshit.  I blasted my Big Audio Dynamite tape into my ears through my Walkman and prayed for God’s mercy to survive another turn about the dark water.  Swerving around the icy roads at break-neck speeds, the crusty woman driver seemed compelled to tempt the fate of the rubber that barely held us to the wet pavement. We followed the path of the freshly plowed dirty snow banks, me, swaying from side to side, chewing franticly on a lock of my hair, waiting for the screams which would surely commence when we one day inevitably would slide of the narrow mountain road and plunge into the icy waters of Harvey’s Lake.  
The other kids seemed unaware of this potential danger.  They laughed, traded lunches, discussed the latest school hook-ups.  Idiots, all of them.  Except for Lisa.
Lisa was my nearest neighbor.  Most of the houses around the lake were a half mile apart or so, but our houses were only about twenty-five yards away from one another.  Neither house had a lake view, both set further back in the forest.  Lisa was a year older than I was.  She cleaned house for Gina on Saturdays and slept with Gina’s quiet husband, Randall, when Gina wasn’t around.  Lisa informed me of her affair with Randall on the first night we met over a revealing game of Ouija Board.  She had been waiting for someone to tell whom she could trust.  Since I took a fairly immediate dislike to Gina, I guess this fact alone made me that someone.  
“Randall is very unhappy with Gina’s weight,” Lisa told me as if in defense of her crime.  “And she snores so bad he hasn’t slept with her in years — that’s why he sleeps in the front bedroom.” 
“Ahhh… I was wondering how that whole situation worked.”
Even with a face full of braces, the mousy yet ruggedly attractive girl-next-door was also having an affair with the married father of a girl she babysat in town.  She liked her men mature.  
She told me where Randall kept his marijuana stash, a habit he picked up during his service in Vietnam.  She said Randall never minded if you only took a little from the old leather satchel hanging in the basement.   Sometimes we would pilfer some of his stash, smoke it way out deep in the woods and just talk for hours. 
Lisa’s family was poor and her house was run down.  There were a bunch of old cars and parts strewn about the yard and a mean Chow-mix dog that growled fiercely at me whenever Lisa wasn’t around.  I always called her before I came over so she could tie him up first.  Her older brother was a straight-up hunk with greased black hair and sparkling blue eyes, exquisite except for a missing front tooth her parents refused to pay to fix because he lost it in a fight.  He was always in a hurry on his way out to pick up some girl or another for a hot date.  Lisa’s Mama was usually asleep on the couch when I visited, but was nice enough the times I saw her awake.  Her Papa was a big, rough-looking sort who never uttered a word to me or Lisa.  
Lisa spent most of her time at Gina’s house.   I think she preferred it to home.  
Strangely enough, Gina liked Lisa much better than she liked me.  I guess real enemies can be hard to spot sometimes, especially when the adversary is really just a confused kid like Lisa.  It didn’t matter to me.  I didn’t like Gina and I didn’t really care who hurt her or why.  She made herself a bed without allies, and that is where she laid.  It all seemed like a bunch of shit to me in a town where nothing mattered anyway.
We made plans for Lisa to move to California with me after she graduated so we could be roommates.  She wanted to work with animals, maybe start up a pet shop one day.  I promised to help her run it when I wasn’t busy attending the brilliant four-year college that I was in no way prepared to enter.  We were pretty sure everything would work out just the way we planned it.   After all, parents were the ones who filled your head with all the crap about ‘being whatever you want to be’ and ‘the world is your oyster.’  We believed that stuff. 
It would have been kinder if parents just told you the truth instead.

I was becoming quite a problem and so I was sent to live in Pennsylvania during my fifteenth year.  I hung out with a freak, a fag, and a hippy.  I tried to remember what mattered, but in the end, I couldn’t.
What do you mean have I got a problem?
You really don’t know, do you?

And having trouble (as I often did) deciding what mattered, I surrounded myself with people that did (at least, to me).


          “You know what the problem is with this school?” 
Mark nodded passionately.  “I can think of a hundred problems with this school on any given day… a thousand if I really stopped to apply myself.”  He popped a tater tot into his mouth. 
We sat amongst our other two friends in the noisy school cafeteria, our Styrofoam trays out in various directions before us.  Except for Dana, who wore a peace emblem necklace and braids in her blonde hair; she brought her vegan lunch from home each day and yet somehow maintained a zaftig figure.  Mark secretly contended that Dana went home every day and ate pork ribs and sirloin roasts. 
“The problem with this school is that everyone is white… it’s creepy.  And the tater tots suck.”  I held up one of the soggy tots from my tray.  “How can a school possibly ruin tater tots?  It’s a disgrace!”
Mark closed off his vampire stare and laughed. 
“I don’t know how any of you can stand eating the crap in this place anyhow,” Dana commented.   “Everything they make here is so unhealthy!  Fried or stirred in dirty pans… it’s all going to kill you one day.”
“Hey, you may be right on about the tots, but Louise, I think you are wrong about the white people thing!”  Tad belted out from the other end of the table.  “We have one black guy and there is an Asian freshman girl that I just noticed the other day.  So you see, Dallas Senior High has been officially integrated!”  He lazily flicked a tater tot across the bustling room of eating teenagers to land where it may.  A girl’s loud protest a second later caused us all to laugh.  
“With that hair Tad, some would think that you were black,” Dana quipped, causing Tad to shake his curls petulantly in her direction. 
Most of the kids at Dallas Senior High called Tad a freak.  He was a rarity in those parts.  His kinky black hair stuck out in strange angles, with no attempt made by him whatsoever to contain it.  He wore thick black horn-rimmed glasses.  He was wearing an Echo & the Bunnymen t-shirt beneath a fuzzy old man cardigan he purchased from the second hand store, and finished the look off black and white creepers with two inch thick soles.   It was Tad who first befriended me and made me feel welcome, opening the conversation by telling me my hair reminded him of Jennifer Grey’s hair in the movie Dirty Dancing.  I was a stranger in a strange land, and I guess he knew how it felt. 
“Integrated or not, this school is just another slush-pile of pimples and hyper-sexuality.  I see nothing wrong with it.  I love it.  I vote nothing change.”  Mark quipped.
Dana shook her head disgustedly and unpeeled her banana.  “Nothing ever changes around here, so that should make you very pleased, Mark.” 
“Indubitably.”  Mark’s grin was huge, smoothing his normally stoic features.  
“Well, I for one am high-tailing outta this town as soon as I am eighteen!”  Tad said with a certainty which made me believe him.  “I have an art college picked out in Los Angeles.  This place is like poison to the soul.  I intend to leave and never come back.” 
“Why not just go to New York?”  I asked.  “There is more culture there and it’s closer than LA.”
Tad wrinkled his pointy nose in thought.  “Nah, I kind of have the feeling that in my heart I may just be more of a West-Coaster.  What do you think?”  He held his lanky arms out in a grand display, revealing the full splendor of his latest ensemble, crowned with the dark wood rosary he always wore as a necklace, the small silver crucifix dangling upside down, tortured Jesus staring blankly.  “Will I fit in out there?”
I laughed.  “More than you fit in around here, my friend.”  
Tad would be fine anywhere, I decided. He was designed to taste the world around him.
“Well, apparently Louise is the one who should go to art school…”  Dana purred.  “After all, she got the blue ribbon for her still-life in the art show.  I saw it hanging in the hallway by the gym.” 
Tad turned to me with wide eyes, “Did you?!”  He immediately began laughing.
“Hey, don’t laugh at her…” Mark immediately came to my aid.
“It’s all right, Mark,” I said, smiling myself.  “He can laugh because it is a total joke and I can’t paint a lick.”
Mark looked confused and at the same time profusely interested.  “So tell me.”
I threw a mirthful glance at Tad.  “We had to do a monochromatic western still-life, you know, a hay bale, a cowbell, saddle, that sort of thing.  But  I don’t know how to paint… I don’t even know why they put me in art when I asked to be in ceramics, but anyway — I decided to rebel by painting the whole canvas black.  When Mrs. Lawson asked me why I would do such a thing,” I glanced at Tad again, who was holding his sides and laughing.  “I ended up telling her it was the inside of the cowbell…”
Dana’s cornflower blue eyes shone with amusement.  “Mrs. Lawson bought that?!”
“She thought it was brilliant!”  Tad belted out.  “She said that Louise had made true art by testing the boundaries and concepts of perspective or some other crap like that!”
I shrugged.   “Art is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.”  I still couldn’t help laughing.  “I wonder how many artists start of as a joke until someone else comes up with an angle that makes them seem legit…”
Tad popped a tater tot into his mouth.  “Oh, only like, ALL of them!  All the best artists know the whole racket is a sham!  Look at what my favorite artist, Mark Kostabi, has done.  He built his entire career on playing into the commercialism by having other artists paint his paintings; all he does is sign them.  He is the master at the art of the farce.  He takes patrons’ money while simultaneously telling them to screw off because they are morons…” Tad winked at me and added, “So Louise just basically told Mrs. Lawson and the student art committee to screw off.”  
“I love it,” Mark’s vampire eyes twinkled. 
I laughed.  “It is nice when someone takes the time to lay out my intentions for me.  I just thought I was being lazy.”
“Honey, an artist is never lazy… he or she is merely pre-occupied with loftier thoughts!” Tad grinned at his cleverness. 
“Very ingenious of you, Loulou.   After lunch let’s go look at your ribbon.”  Mark was staring at me, startling me as always with his strange eyes. 
“God!  Why do you stare at me like that?  It totally freaks me out!”  I blurted out.
“This is the way I always look.” 
“Well, if you stare at me like that while I give my report in English today, I will probably go hysterically blind and fall from the podium,” I warned in earnest.  My heart began to race just thinking about speaking in front of my classmates.  My hands began to tremble worse than usual. 
He smiled.  “Well then, I guess I will be forced to pry my eyes from your loveliness for one hour then.”  He slapped his expensive wristwatch, “Actually, more like fifty minutes or so… but wait — just so I am in complete understanding of your terms, will I be able to observe you in the moments before and after you commence your oral report?” 
I looked away shyly and smiled at his words.  He reveled in his ability to make me blush.  We had never even kissed, but the air between us seemed to pulse as weeks passed into months since my arrival.            
“We should all do something together this weekend,” Tad broke back into our reality.  He bristled with the possibilities.  “Maybe we can take Louise into New York…”
“Gina would never let me go…” I quickly informed.  “She hardly lets me walk around the lake, even if I take Lisa with me.” 
“You can tell her that my Mom is taking us,” Mark suggested, looking hopeful.
I remembered the things Gina said about Mark’s family and I knew she would never consent to letting them take me anywhere.  I shook my head sadly.  “She wouldn’t let me go.”
“Your Aunt is a real bitch,” Dana said lackadaisically.  “She never lets you do anything.” 
“She lets me do some things…” I replied sarcastically.  “For instance, I get to clean the whole house every Saturday with Lisa.  Only difference is that Lisa gets paid for it.”
Tad shook his head in commiseration, but a glint in his eye told me that he wasn’t out of ideas.  “So maybe New York is too much to ask, but how would she feel if we went to show you the old library in Wilkes-Barre?” 
“I think she might agree to that…” I wrinkled my nose.  “It’s not my first choice for fun venues, but I would give anything to get out of that house.”
Tad leaned in conspiratorially, causing his round glasses to slide down his nose.  Excitement and deception caused him to lower his voice and look around suspiciously as he laid out his devious plan.  “We will head for the library and even check out a book for evidence, but actually, we will head for an abandoned house I heard about out that way.  It’s supposed to be kind of scary and filled with a bunch of cool old stuff.  My cousin told me that you can break in really easy.” 
Dana leaned in.  Mark and I crowded close and glanced at each other once before nodding. 
An old abandoned house!  Thoughts of The Amityville Horror permeated my brain and kindled my fervor.  
“What about cops?”  Dana asked, lowering her voice to match Tad’s.  “What if someone catches us?” 
“My cousin says that he and his friends break in all the time and nobody has ever caught them.  It’s at the end of a cul-de-sac and set way back in a bunch of overgrowth.  He said it’s been empty for years,” Tad explained, pushing his glasses back into their proper place.  
“I say we do it!”  Mark proclaimed.  He looked at me hungrily, “Your Mom sent you here for some new experiences, right?”  He spread his sculpted hands out in a show of wonder, “How many people can say that they broke into an old abandoned house in Wilkes-Barre when they were young?  Isn’t it great that this fine experience has nearly dropped in your lap?” 
I smiled as the possibility for deceiving my huge captor-guardian seeped into my brain.  “I’m in.”


Why do you lie like that?
I don’t usually; you caught me in a bad year…

I was sitting in math class later on that day when I began to feel light-headed.  My heart was racing and I silently cursed myself for taking too many caffeine pills… a habit I picked up shortly after arriving in Pennsylvania.  My palms started sweating and the overwhelming urge to cry came over me.  
I glanced around me.  Students sat silently poised over their literature books.  The teacher, a thin woman with thick glasses, had her back to us, busily writing study questions on the chalkboard.  The room started to close in on me.  
Panic filled my senses and I felt myself stumbling towards the teacher, attempting to appear as normal as I could even though I began to tremble.  
“I need to use the bathroom,” I heard myself blurt out from far away.
The teacher nodded without turning from her writing.  A kid in the front row was staring at me with an odd look on his face.  Sweat beaded up on my forehead.  I struggled to catch my breath as I robotically walked out of the classroom.
The long hallway with its rows of flickering lights didn’t help me feel any better.  I thought about just sitting down and crying until someone found me.  I considered running through the emergency doors and taking off for the woods; maybe I could get away.  Hot tears stung my eyes.  I looked around helplessly.  Maybe I should just go to office and ask them to call an ambulance. 
And then I saw Mark walking towards me.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he said with a smile. 
I flew into his arms.  “Mark, thank God it’s you!  Something is wrong with me!”  I cried, breathing in his expensive cologne.  “I can’t breathe!  My heart is beating too fast!  I am so frightened!”
He was unerringly calm about it.  He drew me back a bit and studied my flushed face closely for a moment.  “Aww… you’re okay.  You’re just having an anxiety attack — believe me, I get them all the time.”  He stroked my hair tenderly.
I blinked through my tears and looked up at him questioningly.  “You have had this happen to you before?” 
“Sure, more times than I can count,” he said nonchalantly.  He wiped a tear from my cheek, an intimate gesture that made me blush and avert my eyes.  “What you need is to ditch the rest of class and come to the library with me.  I’m supposed to be researching a project for science, but the teacher doesn’t know that I finished that project last week and have just been messing around instead.  So you come to the library with me and you’ll feel better soon,” he looked at me earnestly.  “I promise.” 
I let out a shaky breath of relief.  Already, my head was feeling less dizzy.  “I have never felt like this in my life.”
“You’ve been lucky then,” Mark replied, his arm around me as we walked in the direction of the library.  “I’ve been getting them ever since I can remember.”  He proceeded to enlighten me in the finer points of anxiety attack fundamentals as we traversed the empty hallway.  I gulped sheepishly when he cautioned me get enough sleep and stay away from caffeine.  I concentrated on the sound of his deep voice and stared into his vampire eyes until things began to normalize. 
“I am convinced that anyone intelligent must have an anxiety attack at least once in their lives,” Mark continued his dissertation on the subject.  “After all, the world is a horrible place filled with awful things; the realization of the angst alone has to manifest in a physical way at some point.  Only the unaware and the ignorant get through unscathed.”  He took my hand in his, “This is just proof that you are alive, Louise, and not one of those walking zombie people.  But I always knew that about you.”
I shook my head unbelievingly.  “The things you say…” I whispered.  “I have never heard anyone talk the way you do.”  It was as if he came straight out of my journals.  
He smiled.  “Most people don’t get me.”
“I get you,” I told him. 
The black dots in his impossibly ice-blue eyes constricted.  The large adam’s apple at his throat dipped to accommodate a swallow.  “I get you, too.”


Do you stare and not smile because I remind you of your past — or do you dream of other places?  People seldom look into my eyes and smile gleefully — and I hate myself for it.

But still I wonder
(I still wait)
for you to look inside me and

          Getting out of the house wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be because Gina left for the weekend on a trip to New York for a teacher’s conference.  Randall and I had the house to ourselves and it appeared he was as relieved to have Gina gone as I was. 
We started Friday night with Kentucky Fried Chicken, which Gina forbade us when she was home.  (No good Italian woman was going to let corporate fried rubbish in her house!)  Randall let me stay up as late as I wanted and I got to have full reign over the television.  Instead of spending the evening in the basement like he usually did each evening, Randall brought up a metal toolbox and began cleaning one of his guns right on the kitchen table.  Licking fried chicken grease from my fingers and watching something other than ‘Murder She Wrote,’ (the only show Gina approved of) was like heaven.  Randall and I didn’t talk a lot, but peace and harmony had us both smiling.
I started clearing the trash up from our feast, but Randall told me to leave it.  “Take a break, kiddo,” was all he said, and then went back to polishing his gun with an oily yellow rag.
A break.  I liked that.  I felt comfortable in that house for the first time.  
When I asked Randall if I could go to the library in Wilkes-Barre with a few friends from school the next day (Saturday), he simply shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”
I stayed up well past midnight in front of the television before exhaustion finally forced me to climb the creaky narrow lake-house staircase to my cold bedroom.  Frost clung to the double-paned windows.  The outside lights illuminated tiny white flakes of snow as they fell from the sky.  I flipped on the knob to my space heater and fell onto my thin mattress, happy.   

There was an old artist called Carrow,
He’ll write til the sun of tomorrow,
I know what you’ve seen
But he is only fifteen
An artist made old by his sorrow.

          Randall went to work Saturday morning for a half-day, as he sometimes did on weekends.  Tad and the gang were coming to pick me up later that afternoon to go find that old house that Tad told us about.  But for the present, Lisa and I cleaned Gina’s entire house, as we did every Saturday.  Lisa would be paid, but I was just an indentured servant.  However, I refused to clean Gina’s bedroom after the time I came in and found Gina’s dirty underwear on the floor, just waiting with the yellowed crotch face-up as if she’d just stepped out of them.  And God forbid, if she happened to be on her period… she’d just leave the soiled pad stuck to her panties right there on the floor.  The fact that Gina knew we’d have to come in and pick up her mess and deal with it is what disgusted me most of all.  I think Gina may have enjoyed it a bit.  Sick people did such things.  
I left Gina’s room for Lisa.  It seemed fair for her to get the crappiest job; after all, she was the one earning the bucks.        
When I began to fill the mop bucket with soapy water Lisa bit her lip awkwardly and said, “Gina doesn’t want you mopping the floors anymore.”
“Why not?”
Lisa looked uncomfortable; she knew the things Gina said affected me.  “She uh… said they don’t stay clean for as long when you do them.”
I immediately teared up.  For some reason right then I missed Kitty something awful.  I just wanted to go home and be somewhere familiar, with Kitty purring beside me.  Screw this place!  “Now I am too incompetent to even mop a floor?  God, why does she hate me so much?!”
“I’m sorry, Louise… you can mop them anyway.  Screw her.  What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
“Nah, just forget about it.  It’s all shit.  I’ll just go down and start on the kitchen — ” my words faltered when I saw the pained look on her face.   “What?!”  I asked, groaning.  “I don’t do the dishes right, either?”   
Lisa shifted feet and sighed.  “It’s the counters.”  Obviously uncomfortable with the whole situation, Lisa tossed her dust-cloth into the air.  “You know what I say?!  I say screw this!  Gina isn’t even here and she is still managing to ruin the day!”  Her expression brightened as she came up with a solution.  “Let’s raid the liquor cabinet!”
“Sounds like a plan.”
We decided to drink a few red shots of sweet cherry flavored cordial from a decorative decanter, making sure to add water to the bottle afterward to cover our theft.  Then we each had a clear shot from a different decanter that tasted distinctly like black licorice.  
Soon enough Lisa ran downstairs to the basement to roll a joint from Randall’s stash. 
We began to giggle as the buzz set in.
“I should slow down,” I said after a while, even though it was too late.  “Tad is coming to pick me up soon.  We are supposed to break into that old house today.  Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?”  My words slurred slightly.  I laughed at myself.
Lisa smiled and lay back on the sofa.  Her eyelids always closed halfway whenever she smoked pot, making her appear like she could fall asleep at any moment.  “Nah.  Randall will be back this afternoon and I am looking forward to some alone time with him.”  
I wrinkled my brow whenever I thought about Lisa and Randall being together.  They were a strange pair — he a weathered, short Vietnam veteran with a soft-spoken voice and wrinkly eyes, and she a crispy-haired, brace-faced teen with dreams of getting out of town one day and running her own pet shop.  
I decided we were all just victims of the tyranny of life with Aunt Gina in Harvey’s Lake.  The three of us like wounded prisoners of war, bumping into each other only in passing errands.  Only seething disdain and passive yet lethal rebellion could propel Lisa and Randall to carry right under Gina’s nose the way they did.  Randall could go to jail for screwing a minor.  All of these things were fueled by hurt and rage.  It was too much for me to think about.  I headed to the liquor cabinet for another shot. 
From the couch, Lisa began to snore.


Go away, you who are blind.  You bump into me and spill my water.  You wake me from thought and touch my face with your dirty fingers. 
You catch my eye for too long.
You make me hurt.


          The house was perched back in a large lot at the end of a quiet street.  Brambles and thin, ashen colored young trees poked out of the snow.  The house was frightening in its aloneness.  A house without a family or a soul, only echoes of yesterday.  My chest tightened as it loomed into view over the crumbling low brick walls surrounding it. 
“Man, it looks like the house from the Amityville movie!”  Dana said under her breath.  She pulled her multi-colored scarf tighter around her. 
“I love it!”  Mark exclaimed excitedly.  “What a find.  I bet it’s crammed with good stuff!” 
We had parked Tad’s car a couple of blocks away, so nobody would see what we were driving in case things went bad.  I suppose we thought we were very clever and far less conspicuous walking down the sidewalk like the cast-off crew of some teenage sci-fi flick.  The freak, the fag, the hippy, and me — now a raging drunkard who slipped on the snow at least once every fifteen feet only to be caught by a grinning Mark. 
It was an old, two-story house with boards nailed over angry windows.  White paint curled up to reveal the dark wood underneath.  There was a modest wooden porch out front with broken steps and the underbrush grew up through the many cracks.  The battered front door had a large crack down the middle and a dingy NO TRESPASSING sign nailed upon it. 
My stomach fluttered as the excitement of being really naughty grabbed hold of me.  Sneaking into an abandoned house which might be filled with derelicts, used condoms and syringes, or even worse was the ultimate screw-you to the adults in my world.  I almost hoped something terrible would happen.  They might appreciate me more when I was gone…
“My cousin said the back window is the easiest access,” Tad whispered, leading the way through the brittle trees and crunchy snow.  “There is a broken window with loose board…” 
As we turned the corner at the back of the house, an unusual sight greeted us.  The back stoop was covered with black and red candles, burnt down to waxy rivulets over the concrete steps.  There were several large pentagrams painted thick with a red substance.  Someone also painted a large pair of blazing eyes across the chipped back door, in the center of what appeared to be a giant goat’s head.  
“Holy crap!”  Tad exclaimed. 
We all gathered around the dark shrine. 
“Satanists,” Mark said curiously, breaking up a bit of dripped wax with the tip of his loafer.  “What a trip.” 
“Is that blood?”  I asked.
“I think it’s just red paint,” Tad answered. 
“Is anyone else scared out of their freaking mind, like I am?”  Dana asked, holding onto my arm.  “Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this...” 
“Too late for that now, babydoll!”  Tad replied.  He eyed the house with an expectant grin and steadied his round glasses.  “We are going in.”  The rotten wood on the back porch cracked noisily beneath his thick-soled creepers.  My heart squeezed in my chest when he walked directly through one of the pentagrams.   
After Tad and Mark pried the loose board back from the back window, we all slowly clambered through and into the private world of a forgotten home.  That house might as well have been us, the teens of a generation without a purpose.  Forgotten and filled with crap, but still sitting in wait at the end of a wasted housing tract, the elephant in the room of an otherwise respectable block.  Every generation had its cross to bear.  Those of us who experienced adolescence in the 1980’s had mothers freshly suckled on the women’s right movement; women who had their own lives to lead (unlike their own Mothers), and some of us kids were lost in the shuffle of worthier pursuits.
Inside the home was a veritable cornucopia of filthy and forgotten delights.  Old clothes were strewn everywhere, broken pieces of furniture, glass, and outdated fixtures hanging from their wires in the walls.  My mind was already filled with things I could not process.  Too many new sights and people, smells and stories had filled up the last couple months of my young life.  Too much to possibly ever have time to write about.  For some reason, I felt like crying.  This world was sometimes too much.  I breathed in the musty air and felt alive and dead at the same time. 
We each had our own private interests in regards to the crap of old.  Dana looked through old boxes in search of old jewelry and scarves.  Tad appeared to enjoy perusing the cobwebbed chandeliers, faucets, and dresser knobs.  Mark moved through the piles like an untouched porcelain sculpture come to life, gracefully stepping through the vast wasteland without coming in direct contact with any of the filth, maneuvering silently and purposefully within as if he was completely at home and knew exactly where he was going.  
“Where are you going?”  I asked him, when he moved further away from the group. 
Mark motioned around the corner with one stone hand, pointing towards a rotten piece of turned wood post peeking out beyond a mound of old wood and drywall.  “Stairs.”
I immediately followed.  The stairs were rotten, some were missing, and the entire staircase swayed and creaked beneath our weight.  Slowly we ascended into yet another room, this one even richer in treasures.  
“I love this!”  Mark exclaimed excitedly, pulling a dirty old grey mens fedora from the closest pile.  The floor groaned beneath us and we both looked at each other in momentary panic, awaiting a possible plummeting to the floor below.  Then it seemed to stabilize and we relaxed.  “You need this,” Mark shoved the fedora into my hands.  “It belongs with you.” 
I propped the filthy thing atop my head and smiled.  “How do I look?”
He pretended to fan himself.  “My dear, you look lovely!  I just knew that hat was for you the moment I saw it sitting there in the dung-pile!  The most venerable Harvey’s Lake Ladies Auxiliary will surely ask you to join after seeing you in this fine piece of craftsmanship!”
I removed the fedora and fingered it curiously.  “I’ll bet this hat belonged to a mob boss at one time…”
“Or a serial killer!” 
“Or maybe a Satanist!”
“Or maybe it belonged to your Aunt!”
Then we both howled with laughter.
We stayed in the house for a little over an hour before Dana noticed cops coming through the field of yellow grass out of one of the side windows. 
“PIGS!”  She yelled, struggling to grab up her booty and head for the back window. 
“Oh shit!”  Tad spat, moving awkwardly in pants now stuffed with rusty iron doorknobs and drawer handles.  “Everyone get out and run in a different direction!  Meet at the car in an hour if you don’t get caught!” 
“Gina is gonna kill me!”  I said frightfully to Mark, who grabbed my hand and led me assertively to the back window.
“Gina will never know anything about this,” he assured me.  “You’ll see.  Just hold my hand and run as fast as you can once we get outside.”


  Sometimes I feel like my hands ache to write.  Sometimes I am compelled to fill these pages with endless blather because it is all I have ever known how to do.
  Sometimes it just feels good to watch the words appear on the paper —
  taken out of nothing,
  and made into forever.


            Mark and I ran until we got to the end of the cul-de-sac, and then we just kept on going, losing ourselves carelessly amongst the meandering streets, laughing breathlessly, sometimes holding hands.  We ended up in a small old graveyard.  Wilkes-Barre had many graveyards scattered amongst houses and city streets — and they weren’t all covered up and hidden behind towering brick walls like they were in California, either.  Back East people didn’t seem to feel the need to hide death away like Californians did. 
We walked until we were in the Polish section, notable because of the complex last names and bigger monuments.  The Polish monuments always fascinated me.  Scattered patches of snow and dead leaves completed the poorly manicured landscape.      
Large white clouds flowed out of our breathy smiles.  His cheeks were bright red from the recent exertion.  He looked so alive right then, so handsome in his long black coat and scarf amongst the headstones.  I found myself staring uncontrollably, locked into his vampire eyes.  For once I did not shy and turn away from his unyielding gaze. 
The smile drained from his features.  His look became something else, urgent maybe.  Without word, he closed the distance between us and grabbed me by the shoulders.  I never realized how tall he was before; he appeared to loom over me.  My eyes widened as I waited for whatever was going to happen.  
Then he kissed me. 
His nose was cold and his mouth was bigger than mine, and ever so slightly clumsy in the initial approach.  His lack of prowess didn’t matter, however, and I felt heat rise from my belly.  His normally stoic countenance faded away, replaced by a passionate man of flesh and pulsating blood.  I had to fight to keep my eyes closed as he wrapped his arms around me and drew me closer to his body; I wanted to look at him this way.  I wanted to memorize every moment.  I hoped that I didn’t smell too much from the liquor that Lisa and I had earlier.   
At last he pulled his lips away and buried his face in the hair at the curve of my neck.  To my surprise, I felt him kiss me lightly there.  “Your hair smells like I knew it would,” he said, hugging me tightly.  I felt like as if my ribs might break underneath my thick coat, I never would have guessed his frail body could have so much strength.  The intensity was slightly uncomfortable, but I just stood there in his arms because I felt him breaking down somehow and I wanted to feel every moment of it.  I had wanted to know his thoughts for so long, and be privy to what was inside his un-readable eyes.  The old grey fedora remained clutched in one of my shaking hands at his back. 
“I always talk about the things I love,” he whispered into my ear, his deep voice cracking with emotion.  “But you are what I love.  It’s always been you.” 

My name is Louise.  I think Louise’s thoughts do Louise’s things.
Love me, it is all I know.


            I was still floating on air from Mark’s kiss and declarations of love until Sunday night — when Gina returned from her trip.  She was standing in the kitchen with her arms crossed and a serious scowl on her face when I came in from a walk around the lake with Lisa.  Lisa glanced at me with her eyebrows raised and quickly left through the back door.
The many possibilities of why Gina might be pissed ran through my mind like a filmstrip; Lisa and I got back too late from our walk and the sun had started to set, or maybe she found out Randall and I ate Kentucky Fried Chicken, she noticed the liquor missing from the cabinet, or perhaps she figured out I was the one who had mopped the upstairs… 
“I hear that you went to Wilkes-Barre on Saturday,” Gina said gruffly.  I realized her anger made it difficult for her to even speak.  A vein at her temple pulsed beneath her thick brown hair.  Her nostrils flared slightly.  She resembled a raging bull, holding back just before the charge.  
I instinctively stepped back.  I had never seen her like that before.  “Randall said it was okay,” I heard myself stutter.  
“Of course it was okay!”  She snapped, as if it should have been self-evident.  “But what is not okay is the fact you didn’t even bother to invite Lisa, who befriended you first when you got here!  I guess you think you are better than her now that you are hanging around the artsy kids and that gay guy!”  She narrowed her gaze, smoldering anew.  “How in the hell do you think Lisa must have felt to have you running off and leaving her like that?!”
I was thoroughly confused by that question.  I thought of a million ways to answer, but none of them could possibly work in my favor.  There was, ‘Well, I think Lisa felt very nice when I left  because she was quite drunk and high at the time…’ or perhaps, ‘Lisa felt much better after your husband had his way with her all afternoon in your bed.’  Nope.  No good either way.  I could have simply told her Lisa didn’t want to go with me, but then it may have gotten sticky if Gina started asking me questions about why Lisa wouldn’t want to go.  It was a conundrum for sure.  I stood there dumbly, and that just pissed Gina off even more.  
“There must be something wrong with your brain!  I don’t think in my life I have ever met a more ungrateful person than you!  No wonder your parents sent you here!  No wonder they couldn’t deal with you!  You have absolutely no thought for anyone but yourself!”  Her bull-like nostrils flared, her beefcake buttocks clenched and seethed.  She snorted and stomped and I continued to back up towards the staircase.  At any moment, I thought her head might just pop off her body and shoot into the ceiling.
At last I was close enough to grip the stair rail.  My only thought was to get away from her until she calmed down.  I lifted one foot up to the first step when Gina reached out furiously and clamped her meaty hand around my wrist like a vice and spun me around to meet her enraged brown stare.   She leaned in so close I could feel her hot breath. 
“You go up those stairs and I swear I will come up there and beat the shit out of you!”  She told me through gnashed teeth, causing my eyes to widen in disbelief.  “Oh, I see you’re scared now, huh?!  I see you’re thinking about something other than yourself now, aren’t you?!”
I stood like a bleeding lamb tied to a stake, being circled by hungry lion, wondering only briefly where Randall was hiding while Gina shook the house to its foundation.  Tears began to sting my eyes.  The unfairness of the situation and my complete inability to defend myself without getting Lisa in hot water began to sink in.  
“Some things are going to change around here from now on!”  Gina continued, now confident that she had me on the run.  “The only way you are going out of this house again other than to school or somewhere with me is if Lisa is with you!  You will not leave this house without her!  And I won’t allow you to go anywhere in your friend’s cars, so don’t bother asking!  And I am forbidding you, absolutely forbidding you to hang around with that Mark character!  You can still have lunch at Tad’s table, but if I so much as see you and that gay Mark walking down the school hallways together you will be even more sorry than you are right now!  You have no idea what that boy is going to do to your life, but I do!  I will protect you even if you don’t have the sense to protect yourself!  And you can glare at me and cry all you want; I don’t even care if you hate me, but I will not allow you to continue a relationship with a guy like that!  It’s for your own good!”  After all this was said, she sighed heavily, as a woman with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  “One day you will see that I am right.  I only wish someone had done the same for me when I was young.”

Put on your new expression, not the smile or the frown, but the third face.

(The one nobody likes to talk about.)
The face that stands waiting behind every laugh, every cry.  The face that exists when you know they’re not watching.  The one you keep hidden.
Put on the expression of nothing.  Relax facial muscles.  Close your mouth.  Lower your lids and stare at nothing.  Think nothing.  Now realize for one moment what a comfort it would be to die, and then let it go.
I do believe that is the face.


            Mark didn’t come to school the whole next week.  He wouldn’t answer the phone, either.  I found myself thinking the worst possible thoughts; maybe he got caught for busting into the abandoned house and his parents sent him away, or even worse, maybe he changed his mind about loving me and didn’t know how to face me. By the time he called on Friday evening, I was an emotional wreck.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call, I got sick with a fever.”
“I was so worried about you…” my voice was shaking.  “I thought maybe you got busted for the house.”
“Nah, they don’t know about that.  I had a really high fever.  I mean really high; the kind where you hallucinate and shit.”
“I’ve never had one like that.” 
“Well, you have been missing out, let me tell you.  It is probably my favorite kind of sickness.  I transcended space and time.  I call it ‘rusting.’”
“Yes, rusting… because it comes in layers out of my body.  My body turns red, then gold, and finally white.  It finally rusts back into darkness, but only after my mind is stripped clean.  I rust and then I wake up and I feel nothing.  But it’s a good kind of nothing, you know?  All the bothersome meanderings are gone.  I feel nothing but peace.  I feel pure.” 
“Hmmmm…” I mused as if I understood, even though it all sounded like shit to me.  I really wanted to know what he was thinking about us, our kiss.  I wanted him to comfort me.
“My Mother is making me stay in all weekend to rest, even though I keep telling her I am better, but you know how Mothers are.  So, I guess I’ll see you Monday then.”
“Okay.”  I felt like crying.  “See you Monday.  Bye — “
“Wait!  Don’t hang up.  Loulou, are you still there?” 
“Bye, and… I miss you.”
“Okay.  Bye.”  I hung up the phone, not knowing whether to smile or cry.             


Seems I have always longed to be somewhere where I am not.  What does it matter when we are bound by our own inadequacies? What does it matter what I have to say when the bones in my hands can only write for so long?  Has anyone ever been fifteen for this long before?
How does one make sense out of all this shit?  
(Some people were born to destroy.)


            Around noon, Mom (Mimi) was just finishing up her morning activities.  She already wiped down all the counters and completed her bookkeeping, sweated for an hour to her Jane Fonda videotape, showered in the huge master bathroom in the plush townhome she and my stepfather shared, and stood for hours before the lighted mirror primping and applying Chanel makeup with various animal hair brushes.  A skillet bubbled warmly with a concoction of chicken breasts, dried apricots, parsley, and onions simmering in a sauce made with cream sherry.  I always called Mimi at lunchtime.  Lunchtime in California meant it was three o’clock in Pennsylvania… meant I was fresh off the school-bus and had a few blissful minutes by myself before Gina came home. 
After our confrontation near the stairwell, Gina and I were only tolerant of each other.  We barely nodded in the hallways.  To Gina I became merely a passer-by.  I was only there for a limited time, and maybe this was the fact which made her hate me most of all.  Or maybe she was embarrassed because I have seen her monster, her dirty underwear, and bore the brunt of her vicious insults.  I was proof she failed in her first attempt at a maternal undertaking.    
“I’m sorry, baby girl, I had no idea that Gina was so messed up…”  Mimi’s voice was saddened, even though I hadn’t told her everything.  I hadn’t revealed the affair between Randall and Lisa.  I knew if I told Mimi that was going on, she would have made me come home — and I wasn’t ready to go yet.  It was all worth it to be near the boy with the vampire eyes.  “Man, I sent you there to get out of the frying pan; but I never thought I was sending you straight into hell.  Why don’t you just come home?  I think we can chalk this up as a failed experiment.”
“Nah.  I may as well stay at this point.  The school year will be over soon.  I have friends here.  Although Gina doesn’t seem to like anyone besides Lisa…”
“Lisa… she’s the neighbor girl, right?  Do you like her?”
“Yes I like her.  She’s great.  But I have other friends, too.  Gina is insane.  She obsesses about one of my best friends, Mark… always giving me a hard time about him being gay or whatever.  First of all, he isn’t gay, and secondly, why would she even give a crap about if he was gay?  What’s it to her?!  I think she has some kinda homophobia thing going or something.”  I anxiously watched out the window as I spoke, making sure that Gina didn’t drive up and catch me talking shit about her. 
Mimi let out an audible breath. 
“What?  What was that sigh for?” 
She sighed again, heavier this time.
“Okay Mom, spill it.  What do you know?” 
“John would kill me if I told you…”  Mimi began with no small amount of trepidation.  “But I may as well, since it sounds like you are getting the tail-end of it…”
“Oh, you have to tell me what you know now.  Hurry up, please, because she will be home soon.”
“Gina was married once before, when she was very young.  The family, John included, tried to tell her that he was gay… I guess he had quite a reputation about town.  But you know Gina, being the hard-headed person that she is; she ignored everyone and married him anyway, even though he tried to back out once or twice before the nuptials.  Apparently, John and his Father had to go find him the morning of the wedding and drag him to the chapel…”
“They physically dragged him?” 
“Yes, or maybe just figuratively… honestly Louise, I don’t really know because John isn’t very forthcoming about the whole affair and it’s like pulling teeth to get any information out of him.  But that isn’t the worst part… the worst part is that when Gina and her husband were on their honeymoon in Paris, he took his own life…”
“He what?!”  
“He jumped off the Eiffel Tower — ”   
“You’re not serious!”
“He jumped off the Eiffel Tower, Louise.  I swear it happened.  So maybe that will help you understand a little more about her and where she is coming from with your friend Mark.”
I shook my head and sat down to collect my thoughts.  “That sounds too incredible to believe… like a made-up story.  I mean, such things don’t really happen…”  I pictured the young Gina, on a plane coming home from her honeymoon, her newly dead husband laying supine in a box a deck below.  Such things didn’t really happen, did they?  How could God account for it?
“I guess her husband couldn’t face the thought of a life of lies…”
“My God, that is just so… sad.  That is just really so freaking sad.”  
“It was Gina’s own stubbornness, Louise… everyone tried to warn her.  She just wouldn’t listen.”
I regained my senses along with some of my former anger at Gina.  “Well, even so, it doesn’t give her the right to go around making accusations about my friends!  She may have been unable to admit or to see what was going on, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is blind as well!  What do her mistakes have to do with my life?!”  I heard Gina’s car screech to a halt in the gravel driveway.  Gina always pulled in as if she had the devil himself on her tail.  “Oh shit, Mom, I’d better go… she just got home — ” 


  My fears?  All of the people I could not please (some made me wish I had better grammar).  All of the phantom sicknesses and my constricting throat (I could not breathe).  All of the excitement, all of the confusion — and in between every 20 seconds of life, I spent 20 hours just waiting
  (for something… anything)
  The waiting was the worst.


            One day near the end of the school-year, I dyed my hair black with a dusty, crumpled at-home box kit Lisa and I found rummaging around at the general store by the lake.  It had a black woman on the front, proudly displaying her glistening raven locks.  
Lisa was sure I had gone mad.  “Gina will kill you if you dye your hair black!”  She warned, fingering the ancient box.  
I smiled and the deed was done.  In the end, there was nothing Gina could do.  Of course she accused me of getting multitudes of black dye splotches all over the bathroom which she made me clean again and again, until Randall finally stepped in and told her to lay off.  
I loved my hair.  I wanted everything black.  Black was how I felt and black was what I wanted to see in the mirror.  Summer was almost here and soon I would be leaving.  Leaving this strange and God-forsaken place and leaving Mark.  I would be leaving and all I would take with me was my black hair and the old grey fedora.


   I wonder if I can bear up under the weight of you.
   He already had a place here, with me.  He could live whatever truth or lie he wanted.  He was so fragile — his slim artists’ hands and ice blue stare, the mole on his neck and his sunless body, depriving himself of earthly pleasures in hopes of breaking the monotony — starving, walking, longing, in hopes that perhaps one day he could only (all I ever wanted to do was) matter.

            “It feels good to be near you.  Nobody touches me at home.  I was a child the last time my Mother hugged me.  I have no memory of my Father ever touching me at all.”  Mark candidly admitted one afternoon as we sat glued together within the safety of a library cubicle, many books around us as props for our deception.  We were forced to hide this way.  For some reason, the librarian never ratted us out to Gina, who often roamed the hallways at lunch to make sure Mark and I were not together.  Maybe she felt sorry for us. 
I looked at him carefully, his expensive button-up long sleeve shirts, the soft deck shoes that reminded me of the boys back in Orange County, his executive hair cut high and tight around the edges, his vampire eyes that were flickering with pain only for a flash before becoming unreadable again.  His gaunt frame, so impossibly white, was so beautiful to me I had no words.
A smile surfaced.  “I really like your hair this color.  It really brings out your dark eyes.  Your eyes are so dark I think they go right down into you.”
“Thank you.”  I took his head in my hands and brought it to my chest, where I hugged him tightly.  The old grey fedora I had stolen from the house sat on the desk beside us.  I seldom went anywhere without it these days.  Gina hated it.  She thought it was a dirty, horrible thing and told me it looked awful because my face was too round. 
“I have a darkness in my heart that is so deep I can’t explain it.  Do you know what I mean?  When I was sick with fever that one time after we broke into the house, I was laying in my bed drenched in sweat and I wished I would just die already.”  His body heaved as he remembered through telling.  “I thought maybe I had begun to rust, like an old steel pipe or something.  My outside was oxidizing, layer after layer… do you know what I mean?”  He shrugged with resignation.  “And then I just — woke up one day and felt well enough to come back to school.  Nothing.  No grand finale — just another day in this miserable place…”
“I know.”  
“When I die, I want you to be there,” he said softly.  “I want you to hug my head like you are right now.  I swear I won’t be good for anyone until you do.  I’ll kick and rant and cause a ruckus!  But as long as you are there to hold my head, I’ll be good.  I’ll be still.”
We never kissed after the day we broke into that abandoned house. It was strange, and I was sure that my constant confusion over this fact would surely drive me mad.  I didn’t know what we were; I only knew that I wasn’t willing to give it up just then.
I was determined to stay until the end of the school year, which is just what I did. 

The girl walked for a long time, but she walked very slow. 
So slow and steady that she might actually fool someone into believing she actually knew where she was going. (And all the while — she was too far away from home to ever feel whole again.)
She still carried her satchel of things that mattered, now within her crucified hand.  She still remembered everyone she loved.  She remembered everything.
And she probably should have buried some of the bodies she left behind — laid them to rest and uttered some prayer — but there wasn’t always time to do everything right, and so she walked on.

            I sought Mark out years later and located him in New York City.  I found him on a popular social networking site.  When I saw the picture, so unmistakably him, even despite the huge sunglasses he wore to hide his vampire eyes, my physical reaction was such that I actually felt sweat on my brow.  Looking through the posted evidence of his life made my head reel.  Mark had become an architect.  He currently resided in a posh New York flat with his life partner, a man named Nicholas.
Gina had been right about him all along.  The years I had spent wondering where he was or if he ever thought about me churned instantly into smoky streams and flowed back into Harvey’s Lake — back into the stillness of runoffs and regret.  
I never spoke to Gina again after I left Pennsylvania.  Maybe I tore her up as bad as she did me.  That’s what some people do to each other I guess. 
Harvey’s Lake remained dark and languid up in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful trees and looking very placid at first glance.  Lives continued to go on around the lake, weaving their twisted course around its perimeter, some anxious kid other than me now gripping the school bus rails in a frozen death grip while waiting to plunge into its icy depths.  There was at least one anxious kid in every group, sitting there scared and unsure, waiting for the world to end, but at the same time sure she had been alive for an interminable amount of time.  
I toyed with the idea of going back as an adult… by myself.  Maybe I could drive around the lake and finally get some sort of mastery over it.  Perhaps behind the wheel of my own car, I could find some peace down beneath its murky depths.  Put to rest the bodies of the family of five which stayed emblazoned in my brain even though I had not even witnessed the incident with my own eyes.  Put to rest Mark’s vampire eyes and the breathless kiss by the old Polish graveyard.  Snuff out the candles of the satanic display still smoldering outside the abandoned house in the back of my mind.  Stop the constant replaying image of Gina’s forlorn face as she returned from Paris after her honeymoon was cut short by a suicidal husband.  Maybe burn an old grey fedora which still sat on a shelf high in my closet (the one my face had always been too round to pull off).  
There was a sickness there, strange and unknowable.  I left Gina to her fate, adrift in her soul-less of fear and regret; and her husband screwing the teenager next door.  I left Lisa, whose letters soon drifted further and further apart, until all dreams of living together and owning a pet shop just faded into young girl fantasies.
I spent years afterwards telling people how much I hated it there, but time softened all that.  Truth was, Harvey’s Lake became a part of me, and so did Gina, Lisa, Tad, and yes, the boy with the vampire eyes… the boy who said he wouldn’t be good on his deathbed unless I was there to hold his head.  I wondered if he still thought about me.      
I never did go back.   
It still all seemed like a bunch of shit to me.  But how would I know when it feels like I have been 32 for so long?