A Little Something in Between

By Steve McPherson

In the middle of the night, they rise and go. Not all of them, but enough. Teenagers. Faces unlined, eyes broken in by insomnia, picking their way across the living room floor. A half dozen of them, the rest splayed out like spilled change. Throaty hard breathing fills the room, but they go, with sleep escaping them and something else calling to them, something beyond the shadows of the house. In pairs, boy-girl, boy-girl, boy-girl, they go, bones breaking against blood cells, the slow thickness pressing against cell walls, arteries, ventricles. Age is a blood borne thing. They go.

They lay down clothed in sleeping bags and so they rise, moving wordlessly through the hallway, the kitchen, where mugs of oversteeped tea sleep, half drunk. Shoes. Scarves. They gathered here for a birthday, the last of their number to turn seventeen, all now the same age, at least until April, when the oldest goes eighteen. He sleeps now against the radiator.

The birthday girl leads, her house, her backyard and driveway, pebbles crazy-kicked in druggy still-asleep. Moonlight meeting streetlight. Tight-packed, one pair hand in hand, another side by side, the last like magnets with pull and push pushing them only far enough to tug them back. Little by little. They go to the side of the road, the month of March dewey around their sneakers, their boots, jeans licked wet but not salty, the blackened snow gone at last. In a line, they wait with no cars distant down the road either way, no high beams cleaving the still air. Across the way, the bridge, the river, the green-black woods are working on something buried in them.

They cross, take up positions guarding the bridge. The hand-in-hand now encircled in each other’s arms, birthday girl cradled by boyfriend against one of the bridges moon white pillars. Whispers between them. A susurration, a dreamy divagation. The side-by-side still side by side against the opposite railing, watching water black-rush away below them. His hands go from front pockets to railing to back pockets to chin, elbows on the railing, sidelong glances measuring what seems inevitable. They have to find their way into these cracks to make themselves. Past midnight, unpegged, latchless, their blood both breaks and makes brave.

And the magnets: him angling cautiously, his north seeking her south and her not sure of her own direction. They stand at the railing, separated by a stanchion. He leans forward, she leans back. She looks away, towards the road. He watches the back of her head, like watching is all. And when she looks back, he looks at his hands. The world smells black and white: acetate, cordite. In a photograph of this moment, in the one they’re all taking inside their exhausted, sleepless heads, the world is weighted and waiting. The sky a vault, the woods a sepulchre, the way ahead uncertain and unrelenting.

They go, moving off across the bridge and into the outskirts of the woods. More or less in pairs, but together they’ll stay always on the bridge. And isn’t it wonderful, they’ll think, each of them alone years from now, to leave a little piece, a little something in between.

 

Steve McPherson’s work has appeared on fictionatwork.com, in rock, paper, scissors and in a forthcoming anthology from Green Lantern Press. He teaches writing at McNally Smith College of Music in Saint Paul, MN, where he also lives—in the city, not at the college, although sometimes it feels like he lives there, too. He is married to the game, and also Calley Graham.

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