I’m getting used to this: take my water bottle and backpack, climb to the third stone below the bridge, wait two minutes after the wind dies. No one bothers you.
I jump off the last rock, pull my bag down, and someone’s in my tunnel.
At least she keeps to herself. She lights a hand-rolled cigarette from her purse, exhales into the rocks. She’s kind of tall, long dirty-blonde hair, mustard bellbottoms. She finally sees me staring and her whole face softens. I don’t want your sympathy, lady. Just get out of my tunnel.
Have you been crying, sweetheart?
I look down. I feel words in my lungs, and I don’t know why. I don’t want to talk to this woman, or her cigarette. But I say:
You’re pretty good. Most people think I’m stoned.
And she says, With eyes that red I bet whatever it is would be easier if you were.
And damn it, now we’re talking.
Look, I say. I really came here because I want some quiet. That’s why most people come here.
She gestures up the track.
Except for that.
She takes a long drag and picks up her purse. This town always cracks me up. Pariah when you’re here, begged for when you’re gone, demonized when come back.
I chuckle. I look her her over. What’s your name?
Depends who’s asking, she winks. My friends call me Jenna.
I gawk. Oh, shit. Miss Miller? What are you doing smoking under the Linden Street bridge?
She looks into me for a few seconds.
I’m sorry, were you one of my students?
Oh, no. I think my brother had you, though.
Now she really looks me over.
I was in town for a faculty meeting.
But why here? It’s so… random.
I used to come here a lot as a girl. Just one of those places.
Wait, you grew up in Wellesley?
She nods. Your… brother didn’t tell you? You and I grew up in the same house.
Well, it’s not much of a house now.
She puts out her cigarette. Oh?
Great. Now I have to explain. I mean, it’s just, I think my family hates me.
I’m so sorry. She looks into the clouds. I know it’s cold comfort, but I promise, if you give them time, they do come around.
I doubt you’ve been through what I’m talking about.
She clears her throat. Probably not. Do you want to talk about it?
Not really. My best friend is in love with my brother, and…
And not me.
Miss Miller nods and frowns.
What do you think of that?
That sounds like one of the worst feelings in the world. Is your best friend gay?
No, I am. And because of that I lost my mom, too.
Oh, I’m so sorry. How… did she pass?
I mean she doesn’t love me anymore.
But she’s still alive? She exhales. You don’t have to believe me, but just… give her time. Parents always take too long, but they do come around. They have to.
Wait, hold on—you don’t think I’m gross, or unnatural?
Why would I? She pulls another cigarette from her bag and looks at it. Oh, yes. I lived in Seattle. I have lots of lesbian friends. She smiles.
I kick some gravel. Jeez. Why was I never in your class?
She stares down the tracks. Scheduling conflict.
I’m starting to feel better. I don’t like it. Could I bum a cigarette?
I’m thinking about starting.
No, then, sorry. I’m trying to quit, myself.
So, what, you came here, where no one can see you?
Aren’t you a sharp tack?
Hey, I’ve got a… a joint stashed by my—our house. Want to join me?
I haven’t for years. But I’ll walk over with you, if you like. Miss Miller pauses. You’re done with school, right?
Walked three weeks ago.
Call me Jenna.
The good one, yeah. Must be on a date or something.
She sighs. We sit on the top of the slide. I put the joint in my pocket.
The other one is…?
I hope he’s stuck in a well.
Jenna tilts her head and stares at the basement.
Some light you’ve got in there.
Your basement light’s practically burning a hole in the fence.