I almost remember the smell of that fall evening. We were walking in the gravel along the train tracks, figuring out how to be around one another. I was wearing the kind of sandals that left my toes exposed. Mostly, I kept my eyes toward the gravel to make sure I avoided any sizeable rocks. On the other hand, if I looked up I would remember why we were together again.
He and I were two drifters walking through the fresh, virginal air of an October sky. As we began to turn away from the tracks, I became lost in the glow of houses. I shifted my eyes upward as we merged onto the sidewalk of the neighborhood and let my feet swim in the crunch of fallen leaves.
This neighborhood was known for their decorations beyond the cobwebs. I felt like a ghost walking with mannequins through a haunted mall surrounded by Styrofoam graveyards. As we came across a house with a skeleton riding a motorcycle, he stopped. I stopped too. He began talking with the man who presumably lived in this oversaturated house. He wanted to talk about the skeleton’s mode of transportation.
My eyes began to glance over the grave markers of the yard in front of me, and once I read them all I turned to look at the house across the street. Presumably, this house had less enthusiasm than the rest of the neighborhood. The meager orange lights and wooden skeleton figure stuck into the front yard barely acknowledging what everyone else had long ago accepted.
Once they were finished talking, he and I kept walking towards the end of the street. I thought it strange that neither of us enjoyed scary movies and yet found ourselves ogling these holiday shrines. As if these decorations were meant to distract us from our human fears. The air was calm, despite the circumstances, and smelled like lukewarm apple cider. We crossed the street and headed toward the tracks, inching closer to his house of tired guitars and secrets.
“Should we watch a movie?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “But I’m not watching a scary movie.”
Nothing is scarier than the day I’ve already had anyway.
The neighborhood became darker, quieter as he and I (we) inched closer to the tracks. He mentioned the movie Beetlejuice and I accepted.
My eyes grazed back onto the train track gravel as I brought myself to conversation.
“I conquered one of my biggest fears the other night,” I said. I remember having my arms spread, as if to fly, when I said this. Not wanting to lose my balance on the rocky gravel.
“What’s that?” He asked.
“What did you sing?”
“Tush.” I laughed at myself when I said this. He laughed too.
“I’ve never had any interest in karaoke,” he said.
“Well, I guess you haven’t lived until you’ve told a room full of strangers you’re just looking for some tush,” I said.
He and I (we) looked at each other and smiled.
If only this look could erase what happened.
When we got back to his house it became clear we wouldn’t be watching the movie discussed. We settled instead for something involving teenage witchcraft, for me evoking memories of nail polish sleepovers and games involving the word ‘feather.’ For him, I could not say.
The longer I sat on the couch, the lonelier everything felt. I had taken off my sandals and tucked my bare feet into a couch cushion. He was sitting on the other side, a different state.
“I have to ask you something,” I said.
“Are you hanging out with me because you feel sorry for me?”
I have to know.
“Not at all,” he said. “We’re friends, I like hanging out with you.”
My toes curled underneath the cushion. It felt simple, to believe him. That this was natural. As if my insides weren’t screaming, burning to be told something different. Was I untouchable? I wasn’t sure if that was different from being unlovable.
By the time I was putting my sandals back on, it finally hit me that this day would be over. We would hug goodbye and I would go home. Eyes in the dark, looking not to be alone.