It occurred to me to get off. Danforth was the next stop—the platform there was level with the strip of growth that ran along the tracks. It would lead me straight to him, who I imagined unmoved in all the time it would take me to get there. I grabbed my books.
The sun ate through my eyes and I curved my back, sucking my belly in, like the old trees on either side of me. I let a mosquito hide in my ear.
And that was how all friends were made, crouched in the sandbox, whispering in ears, until one said get up and one said tomorrow and one got left behind.
And of course he was still there, because why would anyone want to leave?
I wanted to tell him I was sorry and the mosquito bit me. She was right, of course. The three of us crossed together. We were not worried about trains, or the law, or why there were four tracks when I knew there should be two. Our hearts doubled in each other’s company, and everything with it.
My books seemed to want to go in a different direction. They dragged me (and I could feel in the slug of the heat, air rolling, like I was being pulled backwards through oil) back, dragged me down.
“You were supposed to be helpful,” I said.
They were ahead of me and I was starting to get worried. I put my books down to catch up to them but when I tried to leave I realized I had put my books on my feet and I could no longer move. There were books on my hands too, my chest. I knew I shouldn’t have bought so many books, but there in the bookstore I had needed them all.
One book told me I could be a good writer, and I wanted that so badly. I wanted that more than anything in the world. So I took thirty copies to cash.
The cashier, a girl my age, said, “That will be $32.84 – cash or credit?”
I took everything out of my backpack but could only find $30. It was the money my dad gave me for my birthday. I didn’t want to use it unless I had found something really special.
“You’re short three dollars.”
“This is all I have.”
“Come back later, they’ll still be here.”
A line had grown behind me. My palms began to itch so I hid them in my pockets. I opened my mouth and my breath was sour. I wanted to cry. I told her I would put them back on the shelf. She had to lean over the counter to pass the books to me. I was so small.
Then my friend, who was behind me the whole time, gave the cashier the rest of the money, and that was when I really started to cry. I was crying so hard my empty backpack bounced on my shoulders. I wished my dad were there.
My dad would say, why do you need thirty copies of the same book and I would say because it is my favourite book. But you haven’t read it. Which is why I need them. You want them. I love them. Then he would put another thirty dollars on the counter (even though that was all he had) and say we will take every copy you have and the cashier would say sir that is still not enough and I would say keep them, because who needs books, because I would take my dad’s hand and there would be nothing I wanted more in the world.
But then I just wanted to get those books off me. My mind was so heavy.
The more you tug at your earpods the more they tangle and your breath, caught in its knots, sweaty and gaspy, while the song escapes.
When I woke up the books were gone. The sun had melted them into me. I found that I could not speak: when I opened my mouth something large tried to crawl out. It was – so colorful it was – brown – and lumpy. There was no one there to see it, but I swallowed anyway. My eyes followed the vertical light of the trees to a purple bike. I ran to her.
Her chains needed some oil but she worked fine (and I only had to give the trees the rest of my water in exchange). I rode her through the little forest and we were faster than any train. She sparkled whenever we passed under patches of light, and all the while her rusty chains squeaked a strange and wonderful sound. We were going so fast and I was shouting and laughing and there was something wet flying from my eyes.
I stopped at a little creek and put her against a tree. My friends were there. They had their backs to me, hands cupping water. I asked them if they’ve seen any frogs and they said they’ve got one now and I got excited but then I remembered him and I asked if they’d seen him too, a little coyote, with red-brown fur and they said yeah he’s right over there but their faces were a little curious, a little pointier. I ignored them and ran to him (I was always running back then). My shoes were wet and muddy but I barely noticed, I hopped from rock to rock like an acrobat.
He was there, of course, why would anyone want to leave?
I pointed at my bike, to show him, but it was too far away. I told him a story, I was getting good at it, having consumed all those books, but he didn’t seem to understand. He was so still. I walked closer to him and saw that the mud had eaten his legs, his tail.
I tried to tell him I would get him out, but instead I started telling another story, then another. I was speaking Old English then Latin then German. I thought maybe I had another book in my backpack, a science book, about mud, but I was in such a rush I broke the zipper.
I looked to my friends for help then saw that they were in the mud too.
They looked so curious, with their pointy faces. Sinking in mud that was – so colorful it was – brown. The itch spread from my palms up my arms, to my neck, until I was choking.
“W-why,” I said, coughing up mud, “why would a-anyone want to leave?”
And they were happy! They must be. If only my dad was there too. Then it would be perfect. Then we would all be together. And our hearts would double until everything lay in it. Up to their knees in its thickness.
Something pinched my ear and I yelled. I slapped my hand to my face and drew blood. It was my own blood, and in it, sticky and sweet with it, was the mosquito. I had forgotten about the mosquito.
I put her gently on the handle of my bike and rode out into the open. I could not go fast, because of the mud, which had hardened on my clothes. Clumps fell with every turn—soon I was able to see the iridescent colours that mixed into the brown—my legs were as light as wings, again. I stopped at the tracks – the ground was rumbling. I took her in my hand and lifted my arm. The train passed—
—and she was up in the air. Twisting at first, then dancing, higher and higher. She waved goodbye, or buzzed, I can’t remember now. She told me not to be sad but, oh, how could I not be? Why would anyone want to come back?
I returned my bike to the forest. One of her tires were punctured. I wiped the mud off her so her purple paint could sparkle.
The creek was quiet without my friends.
Because Every Exit Is an Entrance and what happened is I can’t actually fly. Not today.