This story is by Marty Rachap and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
At this time Kara was leaning hard into a corner of Ainslee and Carla’s no-reason winter party, silently declaring it to be for entirely no reason. Winter is not a reason for a party. At most it’s time to throw a highly belated wake for summer. She glanced toward the front door, made accidental eye contact with several classmates on her way back to gazing solemnly into the flurry of snow swirling the trees outside the window, and decided not to look away again.
Jules was near the window, chatting with a boy from the school play. The boy had been talking for a full five minutes, all the while looking like he couldn’t possibly be less interested in the conversation, which left Kara mystified. Jules’s friends almost always looked bored, and they all seemed to go to the church next to Kara’s apartment complex, divided by a picket fence of course. Us and them.
Jules was written differently. Jules had the pressure of speech, as Professor Plum would say. Kara often wondered if Jules ever wondered what it would be like not to speak, like her. (This depended, of course, on Jules having paid a certain base amount of attention to her, but her silence was generally considered a feat in itself, and whatever was considered by enough people had probably reached them.) Kara had certainly wondered what it would be like to speak compulsively, always with perfect clarity, like Jules. When Jules spoke, they said exactly what they meant to. A teacher asked a question, or even paused invitingly, and Jules’s hand shot up unbidden, spring loaded. Jules bought peach schnapps online, and probably had at least a small flask on them somewhere. Jules the idol kid, child of the hostesses. If Kara was going to talk to anyone tonight, it would be them.
Kara’s head twitched towards the door. She glued her eyes back to the window. She’d been eying a map earlier this afternoon, and she knew on the other side of those woods was a bus stop. Leave, Kara told herself. Go now. Run for the door.
Her thoughts fell into prose. Don’t look back. You’ll want to. Don’t think. You can’t stop. Give up and don’t worry what you’re thinking about. Wish you had emptied your pockets so they wouldn’t weigh you down, so your keys wouldn’t poke like your cut thighs had reopened themselves, but you could hardly in good conscience get rid of anything. If the need came you could probably pass off that crinkled bus pass as still valid. You might still get a chance to return that pen. Get on a bus with the last of your small bills, and already fear spending the two fresh twenties you’re left with. Watch the bus driver. She was immersed enough in the scene to begin describing it to herself, as she often did scenes she was physically in, composing an amalgam of various buses she’d found herself on in the past. He looks poorly fit, and drunk or tired. Feel the fabric seats. Listen for the rush of the highway. Lean your head against the window pane. The glass smells cold. Kara couldn’t call up the cold glass smell through the strong smell of reality, which in this case was a mix of sour perfume and hot apple cider. Her mind dropped back into corner of the party.
Ainslee was whisper-yelling something about the grass on the lawn, trying and totally failing to be discreet, at Jules, whose eyes were wandering the room. Kara, cemented in the idea that Ainslee was the human incarnation of everything she disliked about Ainslee, glanced aside to look for Carla, who was slow-dancing with one of her club friends. Kara briefly considered saying hi to Carla, who would of course combust into a towering bonfire of positivity, and subtly directing her attention toward Ainslee and Jules, but she dismissed the idea upon remembering that she’d never seen Carla displeased. The sight would probably be deeply distressing, like a crying bunny rabbit.
A small group of adults had gotten their coats back on and gone out to sit outside in a circle of fresh un-snowed-upon folding chairs. Kara drifted out the back door, onto the deck where a few of the circle waved to her, then down the stairs to the back yard.
Kara circled below the balcony. She tried to will down an icicle from the wooden edge below the bannister. Her stomach was rolling, and they looked so nice to suck on. None fell. She paced slowly and mechanically, carving a small line into the accumulating dusting of snow on the grass. The woods behind Ainslee and Carla’s house were orgasmically beautiful. It immediately became a genuine tragedy that she had spent her childhood exalting overgrown backyards and abrupt patches of wildlife surrounded by asphalt instead of growing up directly inside these magnificent woods. She started to write this tragedy into her future memoir.
Sometimes, there are woods. Sometimes a six foot thick line of bloodthirsty plant life springs up along the picket fence between your apartment complex and the neighboring church seemingly overnight, although really you were just somehow completely oblivious to whatever process they sprang up by. So you march your way out there with a wooden rod taller than your twelve-year-old self, found in a parking lot and probably a joint “your life sucks” present from the respective gods of driftwood and low-income architecture, and your emergency kit that you started packing when you were about to run away and carried around until any time you open it, there’s an overpowering wave of mint, lavender and garlic, like some kid’s put-everything-in-the-blender foray into cooking, which in a way it is.
And sometimes there are no woods. Sometimes you’re in alone a parking lot finding rivers and ponds and tributaries in the cracks in the asphalt, and you look at the streetlights and see yourself at the top like one of those woodpecker toys that peck their way down a metal rod. You’re not sure how you got up there, but it feels purposeful. And at the far edge of the parking lot there are tall trees with branches that start four fifths of the way up, like they’re avoiding a four-fifths-of-an-evergreen-deep flood, and you feel drawn to them, but if you walk over there all you’ll feel is a sense of deep, visceral disappointment in the appeal of patches of foliage with no rivers, ruins, or other interesting aspects, and with life itself.
Kara could tell tell she was really laying on the misery at this point. The question was whether to lean into it and play the situation for comedy, or pull back into sympathetic territory. She filed it among things to worry about later and turned her attention back to those wonderful woods.
Kara told herself to go, and with a single backward glance, she stalked off into the woods.
Kara found a faint path, and followed it on into the forest. As she walked further from the party, it was pushed further off into the back of her mind. Stalactites of ice weighted the tree branches. She broke into a clearing, and almost instinctively took a seat on a convenient rock.
Kara told herself to leave, but she stayed. She felt like waiting for a cue. A frozen branch snapped and hit the ground yards in front of her, and she jumped, propelled herself right off the rock and onto her feet. She told herself to leave once again, but instead she sat back down.
Jules broke through the bushes into Kara’s clearing, dragging a lawnmower in an unfriendly and probably warranty-voiding manner. Because Jules’s approach was loud enough to be audible from quite a distance away, this time Kara managed to keep her seat. She sat as motionless as she could. Jules exhaled smoke with every breath.
Jules gave Kara a stare, kicked the lawnmower away emphatically, and flopped onto their back in the snow. Kara was satisfied with this as her cue to stay. Her back started to ache, and she melted off of her rock onto the ground. She stretched out her arms, forming a vague angel in the powdered sugar snow, her eyes watching the white sky with strange interest, and propped her feet up onto the rock. Snow hung on the tree branches like it hung on Kara’s eyelashes, and in exactly the way that it failed to hang on the grass Jules was doodling spirals through with their mittened hands. As they stared into the sky, it formed swirls and fractals, paper clips and nautiluses, and as their parents searched, as what had been a slow flurry faded up into a modest but determined blizzard, the pair were covered in snow.