Kim seems antsy, aggressive. She asks if you’ve ever stared at a turtle.
You try to remember. The smell of burnt plastic comes from somewhere unseen. “Sure I’ve stared at a turtle,” you say. “Hasn’t everyone?”
Kim leans forward on her elbows, drawing her voice close to the hot sidewalk cement like she’s chatting with the heat, urging the warmth upwards. “No. I mean have youreallytruly stared at a turtle in nature trying to get back to nature?”
This is specific. This excludes pet-store staring or friends with pet turtles plunked in old fish aquariums. This excludes the number of times you’ve been high and hallucinated turtles. This excludes the faded turtles on the yellow plastic shower curtain which hang in your Boyfriend the Bassist’s bathroom.
When Kim narrows the options, you realize that you stared at a turtle once near the mailbox and maybe other times in roadside ditches as well.
Kim shakes her head and smiles like she’s got you. “That’s the illusion of turtle. Your eyes followed a tor-to-ise which is not the same thing.”
You insist it was a turtle. In its shell.
Kim repudiates your claim as well as your tone. “Fuck insistence,” she snaps.
You want to know how Kim can be an authority on whether you stared at a turtle or a tortoise. Can she see through time? Does she live in your body?
“I just know you,” Kim says. “I know you lie. You’d say anything to find common ground with a friend you’ve been ignoring for weeks. You’d gush over her shitty haircut. Or say you stared at a turtle. And then swear your perfect little life on it.”
Your perfect little life. It is. Too easy.
And then Kim leans her palm on your knee. It is summer; your skin is a landscape of fire ant bites and rosy mosquito lips. “I know you so well,” Kim whispers. The feel of her hand is softer than the Bassist’s –but the pressure she puts on your knee is more relentless, insistent.
“Let’s go,” she says.
And you follow.
You rise from the sidewalk and follow Kim to the vinyl wall behind the gym where janitors sneak their cigarettes in a way that feels familiar. A bike stand serves as a landmark. Somewhere in the cafeteria, the Bassist is holding your seat.
You stand with your back to the wall, and lean forward, letting your hair inch across the tips of your leather sandals, as Kim counts down from ten, her voice far, hollow.
Seven…. six….The blood pools in your head, a tender thickening, a known pressure.
The Bassist is probably wondering….
When Kim says Ze-ro, you flip your head up and press your back against the wall. You hold your breath and close your pumpkin eyes as Kim’s hands circle your neck, the firmness of her palms meeting in a butterfly shape at the center of your throat. She presses hard, cuts off a supply of blood, air, light, sky–flashmarks beneath your eyelids, the pulse of blood in your temples, the world of high school blurred, broken.
It is comforting to let go, to remember how it felt–how it always feels–as it comes off again: the knees weakening, blood leaving your lips, Kim’s freesia lotion, grass somehow touching and not touching your body–the worried eyes of the Bassist asking where you’ve been. And what happened.
“I found a turtle outside,” you’ll say. Then you will touch his cheek and settle into the seat he saved for you. “I found a turtle and decided to watch it.”