We finished the game of Rat Screw. It was over rather quickly, even though I hadn’t played since this summer. I still won, and neither Lisa or I were surprised by this. I was only surprised that the breeze didn’t blow the cards away. A bum came up and asked us if we wanted to buy Streetwise, but he went away when we said no. We sat on the steps. Lisa got up and picked a leaf from a tree. “It’s soft,” she said, stroking its underside. I thought about you trying to articulate that the tops of my feet were as soft as some sort of stone that had…I can’t even do it now, what on Earth were you trying to say? Anyway, I laughed at that, laughed a bit sourly I must admit.
A guy and his girlfriend walked past. Of course they were holding hands. I squinted at his white T-shirt. “I think that’s John Lennon.”
“No, it’s not.” Lisa said. “It doesn’t look like him.”
“On the shirt?” As the couple walked past, and the guy turned away from us as the bridge, I caught the outline of the familiar beaked nose, the long stringy hair and circle glasses. John Lennon in Paris, the shirt said.
“It was, it said it.” I said.
“Oh. Well then.”
“It makes sense given he’s been stalking both of us for years.” Lisa nodded and then we didn’t say much until we decided to climb a tree. Well, actually, I decided. I looked over at the trees behind where we were sitting. They were small and stunted from attempting to grow in the middle of the city, but also low and twisted, the kind of tree you can actually attempt to get up in.
“Those are good climbing trees.” I said. “Those two over there.” Lisa followed my gaze.
“I’ve never actually climbed a tree,” she said. This sounded like sacrilege. I got up, leaving my bag over by the balcony, and walked over to inspect the trees, placing my hand on the flaking thin trunk.
“Yeah, these are good climbing trees. Would you like to climb one? Do you think we’ll get arrested for climbing trees in the middle of Grant Park?”
“It’s a park.” Lisa said. “I mean…”
“I think you should climb one.” I said. “These are good climbing trees.” I thought I sounded like you when I said that. I even felt like I was with you, that daring you to climb a tree was something I’d do to you, just like I threatened that I was going to teach you how to ride a bike one day, or how you mocked me for not wanting to walk in the giant mud puddle covering the path and I stuck my tongue out at you and marched straight through, laughing. You probably wouldn’t have gotten up in the tree, though, because you’re paranoid and would have thought the cops would see us. And if you had been wearing a skirt I don’t think it would have been possible. Or your sandals without backs. But you weren’t there anyway, and besides, I can’t see you climbing trees. There’s something slightly klutzy about you, even though you’re so tiny and skinny and you did do figure skating. You move too slow and deliberately. When we’d dance I thought it was amazing that you were just as clueless as me. I think even I had a better sense of the flow of the muscles and joints, where they were supposed to go, what felt right, what we were supposed to look like, and you were just along for the ride. When we were holding hands and swinging our arms back and forth, it was completely ridiculous. No, I can’t picture you going up a tree, whether I dared you to or not. I still suspect that you’re afraid of heights, anyway. And you’re also good about knowing what you don’t want to do. I always envied that about you. It wasn’t just your confidence, it was just the way you said, “No, we’re not going to do that,” and you sounded so decided and because of that, I just went along, even if I did really want to hold hands or tickle you.
Lisa did get up in the tree. It took her a few tries and me climbing it beforehand before she did. She looked good up there; we took a picture on her phone. It was a good thing she got down when she did, though, because right after she jumped out, a horse trailer for the Chicago Police drove by on Balbo and we still weren’t sure if we were supposed to be climbing trees in Grant Park or not. She’s still talking about having climbed a tree, and I’m flattered that she’s still excited.
And I felt better after all that, felt slightly released. I had another moment of realizing I wasn’t with you, though, when Lisa went to go try to climb one of the trees and was like, “there’s a humongous spider web there, I’m not climbing that one!” In all fairness, it was a pretty big spider web, and it was stretched over the fork of the branches and it was very thick, so I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with it either. But even if I never got you up in the tree, you wouldn’t have been bothered by that. You probably would have stared at it for five minutes and told me exactly what kind of spider had made it as I also stared at it, mostly just because you were staring at it. I think that was the moment when I realized despite the return of the same recklessly happy mood I used to get when I was with you, spawned by the advent of this tree-climbing adventure, that I was like, “I’m not with Emily, we are not in the woods. I am here in downtown Chicago with Lisa.” And I missed you at that moment, I’m sure you can tell. It really, really wouldn’t have mattered to me if you hadn’t tried to climb the tree. I can just imagine you looking up at me, though, as I perched in between the branches, saying, “don’t hurt yourself.” I think you would have been secretly proud, though, of your daring, somewhat talented girlfriend. Ah god, I can’t write girlfriend, it hurts too much.
In the tree Lisa and I eventually ended up climbing, there was another spider web right in between the branches, only this one wasn’t as big so I got rid of it with my purple hippie shirt I wore last time I saw you specifically so I wouldn’t give you the poison ivy on the inside of my arms. I felt very debonair as I balled it up and took a swipe at it, like you were standing there and I was doing it to impress you. But then of course, you weren’t there, even if you would have said the same thing as Lisa: “Wouldn’t you have rather used your sweatshirt?”
I wasn’t daring when it came to my mother. But I would have gone to see you anyway. I would have found a way. I would have met you downtown pretending I was going to class, I would have stole my car keys back from her. I don’t know what I would have done given that she threatened to disconnect the car battery, but I would have learned how to reconnect it. I would have done anything for you and I want you to know that.
So maybe I should have kept lying for you, to her, for us. I’m sorry, Emily. You probably don’t know I loved you, but I did. I think. I wanted to spend time with you and this willingness to do anything may have been the closest thing I’ve ever felt to love. I’d do anything for you now even if you don’t want to talk to me. Why do you think I’m waiting a month to email you, just like you said we should? God, I miss you. Even if we just go back to being good friends, if we can after all this, I hope you write back.
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Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice