The Perpetual Rhythm of Escape by Emily Slaney
Evan plucks an egg from the carton of twelve on the grass in front of us, gives it big frowny eyes, thick black lashes and a small angry mouth. Holding it between thumb and forefinger he shuffles back until it’s in proportion with my head. “Perfect.”
“Pfff, whatever, it doesn’t even have hair.” I uncap a sharpie and choose the largest speckled egg. Give it huge cartoon eyes. Slice them in half with sleepy eyelids. Tuck the exaggerated semi circles of pupils beneath them. Slope the eyebrows into perpetual confusion and finish with the dumb wobble of a smile and a small protruding tongue.
Evan leans closer, rests his chin on my shoulder. “Like looking in a mirror.”
“At least you have eyebrows.” I toss egg-Evan into the air and catch him gently in my hands. He lands face down.
Evan switches egg-me to his right hand, stands and looks out across town. “Target is the Hello Boys billboard, ten points for a hit, twenty for a head shot.” He adjusts his stance, leg back, brings his arm forward fast as he can and sends egg-me arcing over the highway. I explode against the billboard in slippery fragments. Gravity slug trails me down to the asphalt below. “Woo, yeah.” Evan victory dances in my face, all pointy fingers and jerking shoulders. Sits back down, chooses another egg and begins to draw.
“This—” I get to my feet and wave my egg in Evan’s face. “This is your brain.” Pull my arm back and throw egg-Evan across the street. He falls short. Rushes to meet the curb and smashes against the gutter.
Beside me Evan laughs, holds his sides like it’s the funniest thing in forever. “You throw like a girl.”
I make finger guns, point at my tits then my face. “Well duh.” Sit down, lean against him. “Obviously the weight of your big fat head pulled it down.”
He shows me his next egg. This time the eyes are wide and scared, the mouth a big gaping hole of fear covering most of the lower face. At the top of the egg there’s the scribble of wavy lines. He jiggles it. “I gave you hair.”
I mimic the egg’s expression. Make my eyes pity-party huge, my voice breathy damsel in distress. “No you can’t. Please don’t.” Evan stands and I slide my arm around his leg, look up at him from thigh height. “I have a cat. She depends on me. And two baby hamsters.”
Evan smirks, offers a hand and pulls me to my feet. “Yeah nice try, probably it’d work if I didn’t know you.” He squints his eyes at the billboard, bites his lower lip in concentration. “You’re like the queen of making shit up.”
I hold the big puffy edges of an imagined skirt and sink into a dainty curtsey.
Evan steps forward into his throw. And egg-me is whooshing through the air, ricocheting of supermodel tits and drip-drip-dripping on to the tweedy coat of an old women with a shopping trolley. She touches the sticky fluid on her lapel, brings her fingers up to her nose for a tentative sniff. A thick globule slips off the rim of the billboard and settles into the tight curl of her silver perm, trickles on to her forehead and over her brow.
His breath a storm against my neck, Evan says, “That has got to be worth fifty.”
A laugh bubbles up. I try to trap it, muffle it beneath my palm. The woman looks over, yells something that ends with shit. Evan snatches up the pens, hightails it over the crest of the hill. I’m two steps behind playing catch up. The carton tucked under my arm, eggs bouncing gently against the cardboard lid. My heart thunders the rhythm of escape.
Down through the stagnant water piss smell of the underpass, I follow him. Holding breath from entrance to exit, jumping dubious puddles. Rubber soles thudding, our feet in unison. Out into the sunshine and round to the alley behind my house.
Evan stops, inches forwards in tiny steps until the rims of our shoes are touching. Our feet surrounded by the twinkle of shattered glass. Leans close until our noses meet. “I totally just owned your ass, you scored how many points?”
“Lucky shot is all.” I stick out my bottom lip give him death row puppy eyes.
There’s a rattle of wheels just beyond the corner. Kids on bikes, or mother’s with buggies I can’t tell. Evan steps back, slips away as I press the latch on the gate and slide into the yard alone.
The backdoor’s unlocked, the kitchen stale with the stink of leftovers and nicotine, floor sticky where something got spilt. I pass through into the living room and there’s a guy sitting on the couch. He flashes sepia teeth at me. “Hey.” Slow pats the space on the cushion beside him like an invitation. “Your mom’s just upstairs.”
I don’t move.
Couch guy stops patting, brings his palms together. Slow rubs them back and forth. “She is your mom, right? Yeah I can tell.”
Upstairs a door opens, clumsy footsteps descend. A big guy with glasses brings the sour cloy of sweat into the room. He nods at couch guy. “She’s all yours, bro.” Runs his fingers through damp thinning hair and settles onto the armchair next to the television. Eases something out of his teeth with a dirty fingernail and wipes it on his pants leg. Fishes a crumpled pouch of tobacco out of his pocket and looks at me curiously.
I turn, walk back through the kitchen. In my head I can hear the dull thud of my mom’s bed chaffing away at the painted wall. The groans, the take it bitch. I close my eyes. Suffocate it with the sound of escape. I’m out of my gate and back through the underpass before I realize I still have the carton of eggs under my arm.
I go back to the hill and roll every one of those fuckers into on-coming traffic.
The house is quiet, backdoor still unlocked. Upstairs mom’s bedroom door is half ajar. From this angle there’s the sole of a pale foot coasting the edge of the bed, nails painted scarlet to match her slip. The rest of her face down, dark hair splayed out.
My stomach balls, forces my heart into my throat. My head spin-cycles panic. I push the door lightly with my finger tips, step into the room. “Mom?”
The figure shifts, rolls lazily over. Eyes drifting into focus, a smile breezing across her face. “Hey, hon.” She stretches her arms out to hug me. Blinks slowly and laughs. Already I can see the bruises on her arms.
My tongue dries to useless. The air is molten, burning my eyes. My heart ricochets back down to settle in my chest. Somewhere inside fear turns to sorrow turns to rage. Love dissolves to hate. I shut the door before she can see the tears.
Instead of school we go to the hill. Lie flat on our backs, grass tickling my neck, tickling the backs of my bare legs. Above us the un-tangible drift free, forever shifting temporal shapes. A fluffy white bunny cloud gets longer, stretches out and breaks into road kill. The imagined wisps of a cliff fall into coastal erosion against a perpetual sky.
I sob my feelings onto Evan’s shoulders, snot and mascara tears against the soft grey of his top. He smells of rainy days and quiet misty mornings. I breathe him in. Hold his essence in my lungs until it’s infused in my bloodstream. My head a tilt-a-whirl, my heart beat rapid fire. I exhale in a big rushing gasp like I’ve been drowning.
Evan just laughs. “I saw that awesome picture you drew, the crayon one of you and me holding hands.”
Best friends forever in thick waxy lines.
“I was seven. We’re potato heads with giant smiles.”
“I’m glad you kept it.” He slides his hand in to mine.
I hold my window open while Evan climbs through. He settles onto my bed, shifts over so there’s room for two. I sit by his feet, pull his chucks off without undoing the laces and drop them on to the carpet. Shuffle back and curl up next to him, big spoon little spoon.
There’s a creak of someone ascending the stairs. I do the finger to the lips silent shhh thing and click my bedside light off.
Pretend I’m already asleep.
Whoever it was turns right at the top of the stairs, heads into mom’s room.
Evan slides his hand beneath my top and over my stomach. It’s so dark he’s a shadow, shifting shades of obsidian to granite. My lips graze his ear, whisper kiss a trail down to his mouth. His hand slides lower, fingers finding the places only I’ve been.
And I’m melting, coastal erosion, lost at sea.
Mom has an ugly bruise on her cheek that she doesn’t bother to hide. She pulls a long draw from a cigarette. Taps the snowflakes of ash into a half empty mug of tea and watches me with a small frown. Makes me think of the egg-me that Evan drew, only instead of angry her eyes look tired, confused.
“You don’t need to worry. I’ll be fine.”
Mom trails me into the living room where couch guy is sat, his finger tips pressed together in a kind of pyramid, same way psychiatrist do in movies. He’s turned the T.V onto mute so not to miss the floor show. She catches my arm. “Dalia, wait.”
I pull back so her fingers slide off my skin. Fold my arms, give her nothing. Drop my voice to solid plateau like I practiced in my head. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. I’m leaving with Evan. You’ll be okay.” I nod towards couch guy. “You won’t be alone.”
Mom says, “Evan?”
I roll my eyes. “God, what’s the matter with you? Evan Furreva, I’ve only known him for like my whole life.”
Mom tilts her head. “Since you were seven, Evan?”
I breathe distain loudly through my nose.
And mom laughs, dismisses everything with a casual wave of her hand. A flurry of ash cascades to the carpet. She rubs it with the tip of her pump, tries to blend it in. “Jesus, you had me going. I actually believed you.”
I look down. At the dull white stain left on the carpet. At anything but her.
She heads back into the kitchen, her voice loud, talking to couch guy. “Evan Furreva. You get it, Travis? Like For-ever. When Dalia’s dad died she created this invisible friend, someone who’d never leave her.” She laughs again. “I’d forgotten all about him.”
Travis watches me, his eyes all over me, jumping from hips to tits to lips.
My head is dizzy, a roar of empty static. Seconds slips into time lapse, become eternal as I cross the room. All the way up the stairs, my eyes burn and blur. I bite my lip until reality bleeds, thick and bitter between the cracks of my teeth.
I spit the taste from my mouth, push open my bedroom door.
Evan’s lying on my bed, still wearing his chucks. I scoot up next to him. Let him pull me close until he’s all I’m breathing.
Every inhale an endless rainy day, every exhale I’m further out to sea.
Emily Slaney writes nihilistic emotional satire because she likes to make you laugh before she pulls it all away. She fills her stories with snarky underdogs and broken rebels, with vulnerable miscreants and beautiful darkness. You can find all the links to her stories at http://emilyslaney.com/ She lives in England with her husband and kids.