The memories are strongest when you sit across from me, knee to knee. We close the circle and hold the moments between us like trapped spirits called in a candle-lit vigil.
“Could’ve just gone to my house. There’s whiskey there,” you say.
I drop the planchette on the wooden Ouija board and the sound echoes across the empty tennis court. There haven’t been real matches here since the seventies; the court taken over by the wilderness and other foreign things. I don’t ask if you remember last year’s discovery: that red plastic lunchbox with cartoon Beetlejuice, hiding other people’s secrets. I wonder what secret you left behind, but I don’t ask, because some things are better left in lunchboxes. I think about the memory belonging to this place and know you must remember too. And that’s enough.
“Here,” I say, handing you my flask.
You close your eyes and squeeze the bridge of your nose. I’m not sure when you picked up the habit, but it’s part of you now. You shift over the only existing corner of the boundary line, tracing the edge with your sneaker.
“Can’t believe we still do this,” you say. It’s strange to think about our first time here, before it became a tradition. That summer before high school exists in a sort of haze now, but I remember the first storm of every summer since because we spent them all here.
“Your question first,” I say, savoring the burn of the booze as I sip once and then twice.
You take the flask again and tip your head back with it pressed to your lips. The etched seven disappears in the shadow of your chin and I miss it. Because you’re twenty-one and still a muggle you said on my birthday two years ago. You forever memorialized my love for Harry Potter in just one small etching.
“Okay,” you say. “What word am I thinking of right now?”
The planchette slips across the board from the rain, but our fingertips stay on either side.
V. E. N. U. S.
“Just because we’re on a tennis court,” you say. “Like, how do you always guess?”
“And deprive the Goddess of our connection?” I ask and you smile.
I don’t bother the board or the universe with my own question. Sounds of the storm are all around us, the rain softening beneath the ink-stained sky. We swig and pass the flask back and forth until the court crumbles and cracks and we laugh and laugh like lost echoes.
“Know the story about Echo?” I feel myself ask, feel the words on my tongue. They are full and sure and not mine even though they are.
“You’re drunk,” you say.
“Mmhmm. But the story is just so sad. Because she gets trapped with no real voice. And she can’t tell him she loves him because she really doesn’t and he doesn’t so it’s not, you know?”
“But she fell for him anyway?” you ask.
I can’t focus on your face when you ask because the words don’t match your mouth. Your lips have left so many sentences here already and the rain makes listening too difficult. So I close my eyes and I hear you nine years ago. Together, you said, pulling a book from your sweatshirt pocket. We started reading beside each other and we made a promise.
We keep promises. And you are here and I am here and we’re a different kind of we sitting in the rain at our court. It’s just us, but we’re never really an us.
“The first summer storm,” I say.
“Last one, maybe. I don’t think I’ll be back.” Your voice drifts away because I don’t want the words.
“You won’t come home?” I ask. I drain the last dregs and the whiskey no longer burns, just numbs my tongue. I’m not sure I asked the question right because you don’t answer.
I don’t say your name back because I can’t. Instead I pull my letter to you from my coat pocket. I don’t think I can watch you reading my words here because they will sound so much better on the streets of Seattle with more rain than our court could ever offer.
“Don’t open this until you miss me,” I say, handing you the letter.
“So right now, then?” you ask, tracing the seal. “I always miss you. But this isn’t home anymore.”
“What’ll happen to us? Like we die and then what happens?”
“Why do you always start life talks when we’re drunk?” you ask.
“Maybe there are just some conversations you need to have drunk. And maybe the memory just sits with you for days, like a dream.”
“Babe’s so wise with whiskey,” you say and you pull me to you. I tuck my chin into your neck and you hug me and the shoulder of your shirt is damp. Maybe it’s the rain or maybe I am crying.
The world spins beyond you and stars leak dry dust somewhere out there in the universe. And maybe the ghost of Venus watches us. I don’t have to say soulmate or kindred or best because you know. I don’t have to love you to love you because that wouldn’t be the same as hiding in your neck where it’s safe.
“You think the rain’ll sound different there?” I ask. “That’s the reason you’re leaving.”
You don’t answer. The wind and the rain chink the fence and I don’t see us as caged birds, but the kids we were years ago. The early summer smells thick with worm bodies and rehydrated leaves and whiskey breath. And there is the bitter arugula taste of an ending left in my mouth.
“I’m sure it sings lullabies because—what else?”
Our foreheads meet and they are skin against skin, skull to skull and memories against each other, seeping and sharing this life we’ve had for so long.
“You never asked your question,” you say. We cross our legs, resting the old Ouija board on our laps. I remember finding it in your grandmother’s basement and the way you cried when she died. No one said anything when you curled into me at the funeral. Everyone thought they knew us because they just knew us.
You hold your hands above the board and there are charcoal smudges, the long ago painted letters finally imprinted on your skin. I move the planchette and you follow my lead as we spell words we need. We’ll never be anything more than this because we’re already too much.
When I wake, you’re gone. The ground is mapped with cracks like state lines we’ll have to cross to see each other again. Your folded sweatshirt is nestled between my head and the white painted corner of the court. The morning air is cool, and I slip your sweatshirt over my windbreaker. The pocket crinkles.
When you’re missing me. The words are scratched on the back of a Food King takeout menu.
I read on until there are no words left. I’m already missing you, too.
Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal