Somewhere in the city are two girls on a train moving further and further away. One girl is visibly deep in thought, so that her eyes are hardened and fixed on the toe of her sister’s shoe. Her lips are firmly pressed together. She wobbles on the edge of concern.
We should really get back to the dog, thought the concentrated girl, I should. It’s my responsibility. Cleo was there when I got it, but its eyes were searching mine. And it was me who gave the confirmation that this burden would now be ours. Sometimes I can feel those eyes hanging over me. I don’t feel it right now, but I will soo—
She’s interrupted. Her sister kicks out at her, having noticed her staring. She is smirking and bright eyed. It breaks the demeanour of their carriage, its yellow light flickering above their heads, and its sticky smell, like old juice and money. It winds her up– the girl, who feels right at home here, slimy and criminal. But she lightens up all the same, knowing that the dog is unlikely to die in the pet carrier before they arrive home.
The fun they’re about to have—what constituted fun these days, was enlarging itself the more they inched towards it. It was finally becoming enough to absolve the girl of anything that sat on its periphery.
“Did you remember Cecilia’s lighter? I put it in your coat pocket,” her sister Cleo asked her, propping her feet on the edge of the seat where mint green fabric had turned dark with age.
The girl, who’s name is Jade, could only smile at their shared anxiety about these things.
“No,” said Jade.
Neither sister wanted to be a burden. They didn’t like Cecilia, though they’d never expressed this with words.
Jade knew Cecilia would smile as if smiling hurt her and dismiss the fretting as ridiculous— to their faces. In inevitable conversations that went on behind their backs, she would say things. They didn’t know what, but Cecilia talked so often of others, that it was a reasonable assumption. She saw to anything worth sniggering at.
Why did you put it in my coat pocket? Jade thought, but didn’t say, You didn’t put it in my coat pocket, but you think you did, because everything must go in MY coat pockets.
Cecilia was only one person. There were two others. Three people in total awaited the girls. When they alighted the train, they would do the short walk to the shopping centre, ascend several floors, and that is where their new friends would be found.
The sisters had known these people for a month. And for Jade, it had felt neither less nor more, though they all now lived together.
Cecilia, Jacob, Sam. These were extensions of people Jade had great knowledge of but did not know. They were the type she’d learnt enough about in the part of the library that allowed conversation. She’d ignore to little avail, as they dragged out their syllables, sheltering behind MacBook’s. In the smoking areas, they’d sit cross-legged, telling patchy stories sponsored by patchy memories. In their online content, they’d under-pose for purposely unfiltered photographs, consciously blurred and red-eyed.
Jade was drunk when she met them, enough to overshare, and elicit proposals that they all move in together. The next morning, somebody that wasn’t her had remembered, and the generosity was still standing tall.
“We’re young babe,” one of them, likely Sam, had said, “you’ll never be younger.”
When Jade had brought it to her sister, who hadn’t been present for the initial meeting, Cleo said, “why wouldn’t we, why shouldn’t we?”
That is why Jade had asked Cleo.
When her sister became a part of the deal, when none of the three had openly faltered, it’d become rude to recant, to move awkwardly to the beat of everyone’s optimistic tune. It would be a good thing, to untense, and remain untensed for a prolonged period of time.
To be at the mercy of others felt inexpensive when the two girls counted it out in their palms. They’d spent more in the past keeping themselves afloat. And, there seemed no debt to pay. Then suddenly there was.
“Someone will have a lighter. I have mine.”
“Do I have to say it?” Cleo asked, but did not need the answer. She didn’t have to say it. Jade knew she was speaking of principles.
“Just don’t remind her Cleo,” said Jade, “be of better use, and remind me to get dog food on the way back. If it’s open.”
“I don’t know why you do this to yourself,” said Cleo, “give it something from the fridge.”
Jade ignored her. She looked out the window as they came closer to their stop. One thing had so quickly become the other, Cecelia’s forgotten lighter, the forgotten animal. Instinctively, she let both go. The clouds overlapped liberally, becoming one white smudge over the sky.
The walk was always an anxious thing. It was the knowledge that short treks led to company that felt perilous in a way neither girl wanted to acknowledge. It always led to places that came as soft outlines in memories barely there. Jade had long suspected that it was better to forget the things that went on. Evening was coming, these days it always seemed to be. The sky was losing the fight to darkness.
The shopping centre was around a corner and down a broad inner-city road lined with large, pillared buildings of white stone; the sort that didn’t encourage curiosity about what went on inside. People with shopping bags and closed smiles passed the sisters by quickly as if to discourage a closer look.
It looked adopted in its tall narrow blackness. The shopping centre had a say in what decisions were made, because it was always there when they were– ‘we might as well’ plans that had an assortment of consequences. People scurried around it, to its doors and out of them, not unlike an ant colony, Jade always thought.
“He’s there, look,” Cleo widened her eyes to direct Jade to the boy.
Neither knew his name, and it felt somehow rewarding to assume he no longer needed one. He was a strange looking boy, with black, gumball eyes. The hair that’d bunched up on itself as it ran from his forehead made his age indistinct. He wore faded clothes, and he’d drawn on himself– sharp symbols by his eyes bled into his grey skin, like permanent marker on a black board.
The sister’s knew who he had been, because Sam, Cecilia and Jacob knew. The excitement that he incited in others revolved around his story. When it was told, as it was often, anything cautionary in the tale was stripped away, so that it hurt less to laugh at him. He’d shown a willingness to overindulge, and somebody had taken advantage. The overdose had neared fatality. Now he was always outside for the sake of it, laughing and cooing to himself, unable to lift his gaze from the ground.
It made them all uncomfortable, to see a boy their age deadened and drifting about on account of something so customary. The explanation for his new identity was an irritant. That is why the three were so cruel, squirming and fighting for air whenever they saw him out there.
“It’s not for everyone you know,” Jacob had said, wanting to sound enlightened, “fun isn’t for everyone.”
The sister’s felt less confident in watching the boy when it was only the two of them. They slipped inside the centre, as if he were capable of suddenly noticing them.