by Christina Rauh Fishburne
Sarah was never really here. Not really. Her hair was here. Her dresses were here. Her slim torso and shapely legs were here underneath her rolled hair and lipsticked mouth. She was waiting for something better, someone larger and more well rooted. They’d known each other for years, gone to high school together, gone to the diner unaccompanied together. Sarah and Jed had consumed each other, come through the parking lot hand in hand, and materialized in church pews the next Sunday as if newborn babes. If their mouths had ever sealed in salty magnetic warmth, if their bodies had ever melded in buzzing swollen agendas of their own accord, none had been the wiser.
Summer had been their language. Heat, beaded sweat, and length of days had been their communication. His eyes drank hers. Her thirst swallowed his. In the deep black of the moment before a movie began, her finger would trail up his hand, his arm, his neck, his ear and draw his entire self toward her unseen face as she whispered, “Come find me.” He would reach for her in that instant but she would already be a gust of risen wind or dust, already two seats beyond him in the dark. They found mutual torment in hours and conspirator comfort in darkness. She was glittering and powerfully absorbent. He was solid and magnificently reflective. They each saw a fitting measure. A missing tool.
She had every intention of lifting, of gathering air to herself and pushing off, up, into the sky and the air and the everything that was above. When she spoke to him of setting off together it was always in a getaway sense. Smelling vaguely of tommy guns and fedoras, leaving behind the scent of burned rubber and cigarettes. Still he clung to her. Jed sank his fingernails into her dream. She was the way out, the map of everything else, the North when mercury leaked, broken and failed.
And then the war came. The money he’d saved from substitute teaching and grocery deliveries and the one short story contest he’d ever won, all of it went into the bank. His blind search for her in the darkened theater became longer and more complex, the reward for finding her more intensely relished. It was a test. He would always find her. He would always win.
The war came. She was not the crying sort so she said goodbye with a joke. She was not the saving kind so she used up most of her stockpiled generosity. She was not the waiting kind, and he knew it. The plan changed. He was measured and weighed. He said goodbye to his father, he hugged his little sister, and he laughed at Sarah’s joke. At the train station Sarah met him on the platform like all movie heroines did. She pulled his uniform lapel toward her entire self, toward the genuine welling in her eyes. “Come find me,” she half-whispered, half-choked. As if she were the one leaving.
Sarah felt the pitch and yaw of her future pushing towards a place she could not salvage. She went down the roads and sat in the seats and spoke to the faces they knew. She wrote several letters and licked several stamps, reapplying lipstick after an artful kiss. Jed read the letters, pressed the paper mouth to his, and focused on the plan as southerly winds pulled leaves from their branches, trees from their roots, and actions apart from their intentions. There was a dissection of aim.
Always buoyant, Sarah felt the roll. She stopped going down the roads. She did not sit in the seats. She averted her face. She lost her taste for stamps. Home had no gravity, no undertow. There was nothing to keep her, nothing to swirl around her ankles and sink her feet down below the surface. There was only air and sky and an aerial view she was meant to see.
When Jed returned, alive and left-handed, he was at a disadvantage in everything. His father lay dying. His little sister was someone’s mother. His plan was now heavy and dense, rooted and not at all fluid. There was no rising. He was a man no one knew well anymore and there was no one to find, only a small tornado of crushed rocks, granules of the path. There was only dust when he remembered to look.
Christina Rauh Fishburne has an MFA from the University of Alabama. Her chapbook, Bird, was published this year by Kattywompus Press. More of her work is found on www.christinarauhfishburne.com.