by Abby Manzella
LILY AND JUNIPER have known each other since Mrs. Brownling’s first-grade class when they swapped Frog and Toad books during beach day at the local lake. From the books and each other, they learned about friendship—each taking the lead when needed, but mostly they grew side by side in agreement. Except, of course, when they weren’t.
The years piled up like sand patted into a castle, and now, they feel graduation upon them. Both are uprooting themselves: Lily is off to college as a psychology major, while Juniper is driving to California to maybe become a singer. Lily doesn’t understand.
On this final school day, the two friends eat at the outside tables reserved for well-behaved seniors. They don’t think of themselves as behaved.
‘You want to go to Jason’s party?’ Juniper asks.
‘What about movie marathon night?’
‘Was that tonight?’ She looks across the field. ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ They had long been relaxed together.
But then Juniper flings her arms through her long hair; her head swinging wildly.
Lily watches in amazement. ‘You ok?’
Juniper riffles through the curls of her hair, exposing the shaved portion beneath that Lily razored off at Juniper’s request, one boring rainy weekend. Lily had wrapped one discarded lock in a pillow case and placed it in her keepsake box. She’d been getting nostalgic of late, but her friend’s frenzy in this moment continues.
‘Bug, bug, bug, buzzing in my hair.’ It’s like a chant. The tumult ends, though, as quickly as it started. Juniper drops her arms. ‘It’s gone.’ She listens, her whole body taut, as a double-checking. ‘Yep, gone.’
‘Jesus,’ Lily says. She lets her friend settle. ‘Let’s go cool you off.’
The two giggle as they scan the area for any encroaching adults. Grabbing each other’s hands, they sprint to the edge of the school’s property before crossing the road meant as a barrier. Lowering themselves around its stony side, dirt collecting under their nails and knees as they go, they soon stand beneath the cool of the bridge’s shadow.
Juniper kicks off her shoes and steps into the stream that feeds the local lake. There is a familiar muskiness in the shaded air as the water flows by her ankles. Though the current is low, it rushes by with a fervor but without a thought to the girls.
‘Say a wish you want to echo forever,’ Lily says.
Juniper splashes her feet as she thinks. Then she plants herself atop the largest rock to announce, ‘Let Austin love me.’ She projects her voice with ease, always the performer. Her words reverberate in a way both public and scarily intimate. As the sounds fade, Juniper turns to her friend, ‘Now you.’
Lily stares at the concrete overhead where the water’s light reflects. It moves eerily above her like a ghost in a mirror, a replication of something already immaterial. She knows what she wants to say during their newly concocted ritual, but such a formal pronouncement makes her feel shy. She keeps her body turned from Juniper as she readies herself.
‘Let us always stay friends.’ It is a statement; it is a hope; it is an attempt at a solemn vow.
Even as she speaks, though, Lily feels the words, along with the moment, decaying around them. Her words disintegrate, and when she turns to Juniper, Juniper disintegrates. Then, too, she crumbles. Lily watches, as though from afar, until they are both fully gone, blown off like a nuisance of flies, like shorn hair, or like sand in a breeze.
Abby Manzella is the author of Migrating Fictions: Gender, Race, and Citizenship in U.S. Internal Displacements, which was awarded the Honorable Mention of the MLA Book Prize for Independent Scholars. Her work has been named to the Wigleaf Top 50 Longlist and has been published by places such as Literary Hub, Catapult, The Rumpus, Colorado Review, and the Boston Globe. Find her on Twitter @AbbyManzella.