14 September 2012

Laura (Fiction)

It's not as though the world has won, I'm just giving it a head start.

I peel my cheek off the page and squint into the light. Afternoons get sunny in this room, I forgot. In the round mirror on my desk, I search my skin for ink stains, half expecting to find my homework imprinted on my cheek. Nothing but redness, however. I get up, shake my leg, yawn. The phone rings and I answer saying yeah. “I hate when you do that,” says the cracking voice of post-nap Laura. “Do what,” I ask. “Answer the phone like that. I could be talking to anyone for five minutes.” I rub my eye with the back of my hand until it starts making smacking sounds. “Can you hear that?” I ask the receiver. “What?” “Nothing. Want to go for a walk?” “Sure.” I hang up and pick up my clothes from the floor.

She rings the doorbell with a bike between her knees, but I don’t have one so she cycles next to me, pedalling so slowly she almost loses balance a couple of times. The only time she ever cusses is at cars. When we start going uphill, she gets off and walks holding her saddle.

Our hair colour is the same, dark auburn. In school, people used to think we were related, which inevitably put us in each other’s field of attention. We ended up close and everybody said “so, they’re cousins, right?” We did presentations together and she convinced the teacher to let us have a time slot in the afternoon each time, because our hair is at its reddest in the afternoon light. Laura realises things like that. After school, we’d go to her house and pretend to work. We’d stare at the computer screen and look up beer commercials, then make fun of how happy the people depicted were, and how wholesome the setting. “So beer makes you attractive and everybody wants you?” “Yeah, it also messes with the climate, apparently. Eternal sunshine for everyone.” “It also doesn’t make you old or fat or sad.” “Seriously,” she said, “you should see my dad.”

Laura’s father is a concert violinist. In the evenings, we hear him come in from work, and Laura goes downstairs to say hi. Peaking through the railing of the stairs, I see into the dark living room where he is watching TV, the box with his violin leaning against his armchair, his slumped figure flickering in the blue light.

Laura sits on a rock, her foot rubbing against the grass. Her bike lies behind us and I keep an eye on it because she won’t. Her left knee supporting her chin, she rolls her head toward me and closes her eyes as they’re hit by the light. “I’m going to the States after this year.” “What for?” She holds a hand over her eyebrows as if the sun had just gotten brighter. “College. I want to do physics, I’m pretty sure they’re good at it. Better than here, anyway.” “Isn’t it expensive to live there?” She scratches a bug bite on her thigh, and her skin glows pink under her nail.  “Not really. I guess the most expensive thing is getting there. You can’t exactly take a train, you know.” “Aren’t you scared your plane will crash?” I ask. Laura continues picking at her bug bite and the skin around it turns red. “No”, she says.

A few years later Laura calls me and tells me her father died. I say I’m sorry though I already knew it. I ask her where she is, she’s in town, and we agree to meet. She needs someone to talk to. We meet at a café, which is odd, which we never did before, we only ever discussed cafés to make fun of people who frequent them. We hunch over cups of steaming something and poke at them with our fingers, occasionally, and Laura doesn’t talk about her father, she talks about the States instead. Her clothes have changed, she wears shirts now, not like a schoolgirl in a uniform, she wears them with ease as though she always had. The funeral was yesterday, I had a four-hour dentist appointment and my gums are still sore which is why I drink in small sips, slurping a bit, making sure I only drink when Laura’s speech falls into a pause. Her mother fainted at the funeral; Laura doesn’t tell me this, my sister did, but maybe she’s exaggerating a bit. Laura’s eyes are red and she has highlights in her hair, she looks grown up. My lower teeth scrape the polish off my thumbnail when Laura says “It was good to see you, we should keep in touch more.” I nod and we hug and then Laura has to leave, her mother needs her. She walks fast and swings around the corner, grazing the wall with her shoulder. The sun falls into my eye and I squint the corner and Laura away.

Sometimes she laughs and says: es ist nicht so, als ob die Welt gewonnen hätte. Ich gebe ihr nur etwas Vorsprung. When she laughs, her hair jumps as if woken from a deep slumber. It is never clear whether she laughs with or at something. When asked, she replies I laugh against things, and leans back on her chair.

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