The girl takes a shivery breath. She exhales; her breath blooms in the darkness. Night had arrived like syrup: dripping, oozing over campus, thin and translucent. But that was a while ago, back with her friends behind the dorms. Now it is more like hot fudge: thick, shrouding. She leans absently against the arbor’s vined post, then checks her cell phone for the time. He said eleven but already it is closer to eleven-thirty.
A sudden shushing. She turns breathlessly and looks down the long arbor corridor, expecting…what? A troll? A dragon? The campus isn’t magic but then again maybe it is. In the morning the autumn sunshine gives things a burnished otherworldly glow. But the shushing is just the wind, the vines. She laughs at herself, rubs her chilly hands together. Under the arbor, he said. But here she is and where is he?
The girl is eighteen but twelve doesn’t seem so long ago. The rush of years, yes, the tide of time: just when you get the hang of the playground, the playground is gone. Adulthood will claim her, soon. It will come for her like a mean old evil witch, broom-whisk her from campus to cubical. Her fists clench, she feels a sweep of sadness. Humdrum is a horror: the very devil. But maybe she can elude the witch, the devil, for a while. Put on children’s clothes. Hide out in the fudgy night.
A strange but delicious fact: the boy, a shaggy-haired sweet thing, isn’t even the only one that likes her here. In high school, back in Indiana, they called her Freak Girl, because of the purple lipstick, the black clothes. It wasn’t cruelly meant, but it wasn’t strictly fond, either. Not that school was so bad, or that anyone actually disliked her, no. But it wasn’t a home. Here is different; everyone is freaky in some fashion, but they value freaks here, and distinguish between them. It’s finally paying off to be her.
Except the night is advancing. Where is he? Her mind turns, starts spinning out dark scenarios: boy was playing a joke, or boy simply forgot. That’s the twelve in her talking, she knows; she’s still easily discouraged. But still: where is he?
She tries to smile but doesn’t quite get there.
Maybe she’s a fool. Maybe humdrum will have her. Her teachers say she and her classmates will transform the world, but maybe that’s just a teacher’s wish? And what would that even mean in her case? But of course she already knows. She would first do away with all sickness and suffering, naturally, and then move on to the real change. A war of magic, a revolution to make life more enchanted. Maybe there’s a way to make summer dreams last all year? To make autumn magic last forever? If she could, oh, if she could, she’d conjure up a whole world of swirling sunrise excitement. If that means dragons and fairies, all the better. Real witches are better than metaphorical.
Maybe she’ll have everything. Or nothing at all. Maybe maybe maybe.
A crunching of leaves, a bristling of movement. There in the distance a shadowy figure approaches. It could be the boy. Or campus security. Or a troll.
At last she smiles. Her insides glow like butterscotch. No maybes, no more.
The year and her life will be magic.
Mark Benedict is a graduate of the MFA Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Recent publications include short stories in Bird’s Thumb, Catch & Release, and Swamp. Mark loves loves loves music. Camera Obscura’s My Maudlin Career and the Gaslight Anthem’s ’59 Sound are among his favorite CDs.