Chloe N. Clark
The train got in at midnight and I was half asleep on it, thinking about you. There was that one night, our first, and you’d slept with your arms around me—our bodies fitting like unmatched puzzle pieces—with your breath against my neck, and we’d both woken up to discover we were in one another’s dreams. I couldn’t remember the dream anymore, just you waking up and saying “I dreamed you were with me.”
The slow of the train shook me awake. Outside the window, I could see the town. I’d never seen it before, other than when you’d described it to me and your voice built it into my mind. A map to your memories that I didn’t quite have the legend for. At night, it looked like some place lovely, easy to forget all the things you’d said that were wrong with it.
The man who gave you your name said he’d meet me at an all-night diner. I plugged the destination into my phone and it wasn’t so far to walk. Its sign glowed in neon green, Peggy’s All Niter. I thought about how you’d have made a dirty joke about that name. Before you made a joke, you always got a look that let me see what you must have looked like as a child—a light slipping out from right under the color of your eyes.
He was sitting at one of the booths in the back and I recognized him the way I would have recognized you in twenty years. He wore a flannel shirt, red and black checked, over a yellow t-shirt, and the colors clashed enough to make me want to look away. I sat down across from him, reached my hand out to shake, and he paused a second before doing so.
“You don’t look like I thought you would,” he said.
“You do,” I responded. And I wasn’t sure which of us was insulting the other and which was telling the truth. He looked like you might have, had you not ever laughed. I flinched at the thought of your smile lines, the wrinkles on the bridge of your nose.
A waitress approached and set a plate in front of me. A slice of cherry pie. The red of the fruit spilled out from under the crust. “Anything else?” she asked me. I shook my head, confused.
“I ordered you pie. You had a long trip. You should eat,” he said.
I picked up a fork, stabbed a bit of pie. I expected it to taste of canned cherries, dry crust. But the cherries were tart and sweet and bright, the crust flaky on my tongue. I swallowed and it made me think of a story you used to tell about your mother—she always had you help her roll out the pie crust. You said she’d say, “press evenly, like you’re diving.” And you never knew what she meant.
He watched me eating, without saying anything. I wanted him to be the one who asked questions. But you’d always said he didn’t, that he just waited. You’d come home late at night, from a party you weren’t supposed to have gone to, and he’d just stare at you in silence until you confessed.
I took another bite, licked the fork, took a drink from my glass of water. I looked him in the eye and didn’t say a word.
“When did you see Luke last?” he asked.
“A week ago,” I replied. “You?”
He looked like he was almost about to laugh, but didn’t. “Ten years ago.” He glanced out the window, at the darkened parking lot. “I didn’t think he’d ever come back.”
“I don’t think he wanted to,” I said. “But he said the water was calling.”
He nodded, slow, just once, as if his head was getting accustomed to its own weight. “It always does. His mother, too. He told you that, I suppose.”
It was my turn to nod. And he continued, “They always say not to marry them. That they never really get used to being on land. But I loved her.”
“Did she love you?” I asked.
“I suppose she must have. For a while.” He tapped the table once, with the tips of his fingertips, and it made me choke on my breath for a second. I’d seen you do the same thing, so many times, when you were thinking something over, when you were trying to find the words to tell me something hard. “Luke still loved you, though. He wouldn’t have told you to come otherwise.”
“I don’t know why he told me to come,” I said.
“I do,” he said. “I wasn’t going to tell you until I saw you. Made sure it was right.”
I thought to ask him what he meant, but didn’t.
“I’ll show you,” he said.
The lake was unlit at night. Even the stars didn’t reflect in it. We stood at the edge of the bluff, looking down to the water, and he pointed to the middle of the lake. “Look there.”
I stared and stared until I saw it, the light that shimmered beneath the surface. Such iridescent bodies, swimming beneath the surface.
“I dreamed this once, I think,” I said. “I dreamed Luke’s body kept changing, and I tried to hold him in my arms, but he kept changing.”
“I never dreamed about his mother,” he said. “I think that’s why I couldn’t follow her.”
“Can I follow him?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Only one way to know.”
And so I put my hands in front of me, pressed down, as if I were diving.
Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Apex, Booth, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, has a chapbook out from Finishing Line Press, and can be found on Twitter: @PintsNCupcakes.