The Art of Mirriam Neal

as the trees keep on growing, growing higher

hourglass

She hasn’t spoken to me in eight days.

There have been lapses before; I mean, this isn’t the first time. Sometimes she’s gone for three or four days without so much as a brushing glance.

But this…this feels different.

There was that time in middle school where she decided she was too cool for me. That stung, but her determination to ignore me only lasted forty-eight hours, barely.

Then there was high school. I had thought maybe this was it, maybe she was going to say good-bye to me for good. Instead, we were closer than ever. I held her when she cried on my shoulder, I swore at the boys who broke her heart, and I ached for her humiliation. I wanted to help her with homework, but I’m no good at that kind of thing and anyway, it’s cheating.

High school. They were tough years, but they were good ones. We talked every day, sometimes late into the night. We laughed until her father came up and said, “Be quiet, you’ll wake the whole neighborhood.”

I liked high school.

But high school is over. I’m watching as she takes down her wrinkled, torn-at-the-edges band posters down from the walls. I’m half expecting her to roll them up, place a rubber band neatly around them, and put them in her suitcase. Maybe her closet, for when she comes home.

When she throws them in the trash, I don’t know what to do.

“Annie!” Horror fills my voice, horror fills my mouth. “Won’t you want those?”

She can’t hear me. She has those stupid headphones on, probably listening to Fall Out Boy or whatever group she’s currently into. She used to tell me what music she loved. She would pull up iTunes and blast the music as loud as it could go while we danced on the bed, on the floor.

Now, I never know what she’s listening to. It’s a little thing, but, like a thorn or an arrowhead, it’s amazing how much the little things can hurt.

I try again. “Annie?”

She glances over her shoulder and gives me a confused look.

No, not me.

The wall behind me.

She shrugs and zips up her bag. She pulls the handle out and pulls it along behind her, out of the room. The wheels protest with a steady thumpthumpthumpthumpthump as she tugs it down the stairs, across the foyer, and out the front door.

There’s a car there, a little yellow VW bug.

Someone honks twice and a girl climbs out. “Annie!” She waves.

Annie pulls her headphones down around her neck. “Hey, Cat!”

Her name is Cat?

Is this the girl she’s been texting? The girl she’s been laughing and crying with, the one she shares her heartache with, talks about boys with, spends all her time with? Is this her new best friend?

“Is there anything else upstairs?” Cat asks, taking Annie’s bag and putting it in the trunk.

I wish I could fit myself into that trunk. Curl up, compress myself, stow away. Annie is leaving. She promised her family she would come home for Thanksgiving, and again on Christmas break, but I don’t know if anyone believes her. Everything about her sings of moving forward. There’s no room for looking back, not yet.

She runs past me while Cat waits. Annie’s parents and little brother – well, not so little, he’s in high school now – wait by the front door. When Annie comes back down, she has a backpack, a purse, and a box in her arms. I know what’s in that box – a few books. Her computer. Those little collectible action figures that she loves. She might be growing up and leaving, but maybe she hasn’t left everything behind.

Maybe she hasn’t fully left me.

She hugs her dad, hugs her mom. Wraps her arm around her brother’s neck, rubs her knuckles across the top of his head while he moans and tells her to just go, already, so he can have her room.

I look to my left, at Cat, leaning against the car.

“Hey, Annie,” Cat shouts. “Come on! Brian’s already at Starbucks!”

Annie tells her family she loves them.

Then she walks down the drive, toward the car.

Toward me.

“Annie?” I reach out to touch her arm.

My fingers float through her, like she’s unreal, like she’s nothing but air.

Except it’s me. I’m the unreal one. I always have been.

Annie climbs into the car. Her hand sticks out the window, waving as the bug pulls away from the curb and heads down the street. How does twenty-five miles an hour look so fast?

I look down at my hands.

I can’t see them.

Heartbreak is a very quiet thing, I realize. There are no tears. Nothing but a silent suffocation, a desperate, grabbing feeling inside me. I can’t let it out. I can’t do anything but stand at the end of the drive and watch as my very real friend disappears around the corner of Pacific Avenue, leaving her very imaginary friend behind.

I turn around.

Toward the door. I used to live here, in this house.

In that house.

But now the family is filing in; Annie’s father, Annie’s mother. They’re both crying, now that she’s gone and can’t see them.

Annie’s brother stands there, his hands in his pockets. I know he’s going to miss her. I know she knows it, too.

He’s just begun high school. Did I mention that?

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