She wore a tattered blue dress displaying what was left of her curves and he, a faded flannel, unfashionably ripped jeans and a hazy smile. She held him a second too long and asked him where he’d gotten his cologne.
He couldn’t quite remember where he’d gotten it; it had been a department store, he thought, so maybe Nordstrom’s or that new place, the one where the coffee shop used to be.
She bobbed her head more than necessary and rubbed her hands together. He didn’t have gloves or body heat to offer her so she shivered the entire block, her twitching only ceasing the second they reached the Greenes’ residence.
He should’ve expected it—this was a holiday party in the suburbs, after all—but the sunny disposition of four snowmen, three reindeer, and a Santa Claus made him wither. The snowmen had unnatural, manic grins plastered across their inflatable heads and the eyes of the reindeer were wide as an abyss.
A glance through the window was enough to awaken his morbidly unironic hatred of party goers. Balding guests swayed between platters of champagne, naked hunger emerging from glazed over eyes as they snorted in derision disguised as admiration. Dear God, some people were clad in matching sweater sets. Hell on earth.
He glanced at Faye, all quivering eyes and disjointed breathing. What on earth was she worried about? She loved socializing, held no preference or lofty standard when it came to people, would earnestly converse with even the truly moronic. It was one of those things that had drawn him to her, but over time had evolved into a trait he despised.
“We should go in,” he announced abruptly.
She nodded but made no move to cross the lawn. They stood there, surrounded by muffled chortles and Christmas decorations.
“You know, it’s still a bit early,” she said quietly. “And it’s nice out.”
He could see the imprint of her breath against the biting winter air.
“I mean, I wouldn’t mind walking around for a bit. Just a block or two, get a feel for the neighborhood. I haven’t been here in forever.”
He watched her study the ground, suddenly intent on observing the withered blades of grass.
“I wouldn’t mind that.”
Under the fluorescence of mangled Christmas tree lights, her minuscule girth was especially apparent. Her body was an alabaster plane of angles and contours, her legs more reminiscent of telephone wires than limbs. In the absence of chubby cheeks, her eyes seemed to have engulfed her face, framing her in a portrait of darting pupils and a fringe of inky black lashes.
When they walked down the street, she stayed close to him, not allowing even an inch of space between them. He made no attempt to move away.
Ahead of them, tar black branches writhed in the breeze, sheltering only the most indomitable of creatures. He’d forgotten— this was the only part of suburbia he didn’t mind, the occasional presence of nature.
“I’d forgotten too,” she conceded.
He looked up, startled. He hadn’t realized he’d been speaking out loud.
“It makes me think of a ghost story. Trees in the winter always do, it’s like they’ve got alter egos depending on the season,” she mused.
“I think I like them better in the winter.”
“Why is that?”
“I’m not really sure. They seem more honest like this.”
Her lips twitched.
“I’ve never heard of an honest tree before.”
He was suddenly glad for the dimness of the streetlights, which hid the blush of his cheeks.
“Well, I don’t know. More true to themselves, I guess. We like to think of nature as this beautiful, vibrant thing, but it’s just as much about death as it is about life.”
He allowed himself a quick glance at her expression and found himself inhaling her scent of dish soap and violets. He caught the burst of a spontaneous grin dancing across her face.
“I missed this,” she said suddenly.
“I missed this too.”
“I’d forgotten what you’re like when you’re not being an asshole.”
“I wish you were still here.”
She smiled sadly.
“You’re not ever letting go of me, are you?”
He shook his head. The glow of her skin made him think of fireflies at night.
“I’ve got to go,” she whispered.
She didn’t kiss him goodbye.
He walked back up the street and knocked on the Green’s front door. He was assaulted by the distinct stench of pine and freshly baked bread.
A tipsy old lady greeted him, planting a rough kiss on his cheek and fiddling with his collar. Lila spotted him from behind the arms of a drunken Uncle Ted holding her captive. She wriggled free and rushed towards him, peeling his hand from his pocket and taking it in hers. Her eyes reminded him of the reindeer.
“Thank God. I was worried you’d never show up. Save me from these people, I’m begging you. All they’ll talk about is baking cookies and Donald Trump.”
“Sorry I’m late,” he said stiffly.
She narrowed her eyes.
“Are you alright?”
“Now I’m not. Did I tell you my latest epiphany?”
“I might convert to Judaism, just to avoid these goddamn holiday parties.”
“I think Buddhism might be a better bet. Jews can be staples of middle aged mediocrity too, you know.”
He smiled at her. She was still holding on to his hand. The music was too loud and the laughter sounded like the screeches of someone being strangled.
She lowered her voice.
“You didn’t have to come, you know.”
“No, I mean it. It must be hard for you, being in the celebratory mood around this time.”
“I’m doing alright.”
He wondered how long it would take her to let go of his hand.
“You were visiting her grave, weren’t you?”
He didn’t reply. He was looking out the window, where he could make out the beginnings of the forest and the faint silhouette of Faye’s figure. She walked into the woods and let the darkness swallow her whole.
[image: reflections (A) | Camil Tulcan ]