She asks me to tell her a story. Almost every night she can’t sleep. I’m no storyteller, I’ll say, and at first I would start off with robots and fantastic bears, trying to make my own Where the Wild Things Are where Max gets to stay. Except, in my head, he doesn’t get to stay so much as he can’t get off the island, not before the monsters show their real teeth. I think it’s just the sound of my voice she wants, like the white noise machine my father used to use, the one purchase we ever made from the Sharper Image catalog.
She wants to hear about me, about us. I’m supposed to retell the story of how we met, but I never remember correctly, the good way. So I tell her about growing up southern. I try to remember riding bicycles drunk with my friends until we learned how not to get sick, pressing ever onward through neighborhood streets and the pine tree vacant lots. I brag about Big Gulps half-full of real Mexican tequila, or going shirtless on summer days and playing tip-out until we skinned knees and backs and elbows. I don’t tell her how I would go home, near tears, at the sight of my own blood.
I tell her how we smoked pot through tin cans we found in the woods. How we made pine-needle fires on people’s porches. The night we sent a shopping cart, filled with burning homecoming crepe paper from the art building’s rooftop, how it looked, for a moment, like fireworks. How my brother’s best friend would shoot squirrels with his BB gun, telling me not to tell. A golf ball would later ricochet a tiny metal slug back into his eye, another detail I keep to myself. I don’t tell her about my brother crying on the sofa, too young to know what to do about his friend, even though it’s the stronger memory. I can only see it from my perspective, laying in the hallway, the carpet burning into my chin. I tell her some of these things. The day I got arrested for shoplifting, and the week after that I spent without talking.
She wants to make me her white noise machine, but I’m somehow on the wrong frequency. I give off static rather than ocean sounds, and my voice feels cold and distant. Like radio waves. Someone else’s murky dreams broadcast over a dead channel.
I tell her that in the orange summer twilight, bats would fly down and chase tennis balls. We threw them as high and as straight as we could, and I tell her all these things as if they’re all the same summer memory, and I narrate myself into malt shops and baseball fields. But the stories I want to tell always end the same, in bloodshed, in tears, in silence. So I trail off before they’re finished and I fall asleep first, before she has a chance. What I won’t tell her is what we both know, that I should leave and leave for good, but I won’t, not yet. The world has grown small.
Instead, I try to think of stories to tell, but keep the best to myself. Like the time I said watch this, and rose into the twilight air—half past magic hour—and burst into a million fireflies eaten by a thousand bats, then woke to the sound of lawnmower races. All because the world was so open, so ready and waiting that I could no longer contain it.