writing

Appeared in the debut issue of 400Words

It was always cloudy in my town. Some people get a headache when it's about to rain – those people would have a headache all day. When it did rain, the green was electric and the flowers (lilac, forsythia, heather) would spring at you like wild cats. Winters were icy, locked-in, white and grey. Little boys had long hair and little girls wore macramé bracelets that never came off. I went barefoot whenever I could, and my feet were brown and shiny. I never wore a dress, except when I visited grandma. I cursed like a sailor, except when I visited grandma. I took walks alone, to the waterfall, to the candy store.

Mom and dad got divorced and we left that town, leaving the lilacs, the headaches, and the favorite black tomcat. For years I found it hard to breathe, to swallow. Visits home were bittersweet, and now it's not really home anymore. When people ask me where I'm from, the name of the town still comes out of my mouth, but it feels like a lie.

Home now is a rectangular refuge in a brick and asphalt universe. The window screens fill with soot and car exhaust. A raucous music beats against the building – sirens, taxi-horns, drunks, Hip Hop and Salsa from passing cars. Grandma is dead and I still curse like a sailor, but I know how to clean it up. My closet is full of dresses. I never go barefoot. The cats are confident in their permanence. I take walks alone, but there is no waterfall. I belong to myself.

Yesterday some friends told me they had visited my old town, for a wedding. Their heels sunk into the mud, they had headaches, they got wet. They were devoured by mosquitoes. I can see them, city people, slogging through a field toward the bride and groom, slapping at their bare, damp arms, wishing they'd worn Wellingtons. Isn't it beautiful, though, I ask, and regret it immediately. I know their eyes won't fill with tears, they won't sigh and become wistful. And they don't.

Outside the café, it's bright and sunny. A cascade of noisy traffic rushes by, and pedestrians trickle past the window. Soon we're talking about something else, and I'm making a joke, laughing at my own wit. Under the table, I sneak my foot out of my shoe and press it to the cool tile floor.

Leah Ryan