“Alice get up!… Fine, all to myself then.”
It’s bright outside my weak eyelids and I can’t force them open. Without looking, I know that she’s sitting in the front seat, knee on dashboard and blanket across her shoulders. Her perfect teeth are destroying the innocent muffin I bought for myself yesterday afternoon.
“And she’s up!”
I pretend that shaking my arms will rid me of the morning breath as I look outside the windows. Seeing the height of the cliff our car is parked on made my stomach sink to the bottom of it and I’m getting lightheaded visualising my hypothetical and completely overthought downfall.
“Did the cold take away your voice or something?”
Her words are muffled between her mouthfuls and I’m still struggling to regain whatever clarity’s left considering my current level of sleep deprivation. She made me sit awake on sleep-watch, as if thieves roam on mountains 400 metres above ground. ‘High class thieves’, she called them. Her excessively high-pitched voice feels like nails scratching a blackboard and I’m finally awake, disgusted by her lack of consideration for my semi-consciousness and overcome with poignant deja-vu.
“Nah just trying to figure out how much we have left.”
“How much what?”
“Kilometres. I want to get to the top of this damn mountain so I can submit a photo to Rachel’s photo gallery. By the look of it we have-”
“What? I don’t like math but I’m okay with calculating-”
“I know what you’re doing. I know where we are, it’s cool.”
The valley I see out the back is suffocatingly narrow, and I’m drawn to a small flock of sheep that are standing still enough to be statues in a ridiculously large museum. I stare at them for a little while until the sound of Eva’s clicking brings me back to the claustrophobic reality of our little red parked car, distant from the sounds of the stream or the sheep.
“Can you shut up for a few minutes? It’s too early for this.”
“You know she was here and you know what happened when she was. Why won’t you talk about it?”
“Because maybe I don’t want to- is that so hard to understand? That I don’t feel like talking?”
“But she was your-”
“I know she was my best friend and I know this was the last place she… Why are you forcing me to talk about it?”
“Because that’s how people get over things. Talking about it.”
“Yeah well call me cynical but I’d rather take in the same air she did before she died than just talk about it. See that tree over there? On the left of the sheep flock?”
“We built a swing on the left branch. Used her car’s spare tyre and a rope I’d saved in case we got stranded and needed emergency supplies.”
“So you used your emergency supplies to build a swing?”
“You two were weird.”
When people ask me about Julia I tell them she’s in a better place now and I’ve made peace with that. But coming to the place she died in a year ago today silenced the excuses I’d made to avoid thinking about it, and her absence was screaming at me at a volume I couldn’t really turn down. I never understood why the people that run alongside us eventually change directions; I suppose in some strange way people do roam here, unrestricted by a beating heart or sensitive skin. And perhaps I resented the fact that she didn’t get to choose to turn onto the road I’ll eventually turn onto someday.
So I was pushing her back and forth on the swing we made out of our emergency supplies and the sun was reflecting off her chain bracelet. Her blonde wig was caught between her red fingers as she held both sides of the rope like they were a lifeline. She laughed so hard I heard her giggles getting caught in her throat, having to catch her breath because things had never been that simple; the air so clean, the sounds of traffic jams and school crossings so far away. The wind infiltrates the sound of her laughter and I hear it only upon her return to me- I grasp only seconds of it before she swings forward again and my body prepares to catch her when gravity sways her back.
“Julia hold on!”
I wait for the swing to go forward and take ten steps back. She’s laughing- I’m preparing to plunge my back foot forward.
“3, 2, 1-”
My feet are running towards a clueless Julia and an even more clueless swing- I’ve never been good at making decisions- and I launch my body on top of hers, trying not to hit my head on her shoulder on my way in. Our bloodless hands are holding the ropes on each side and my feet are dangling off the side of the spare tyre, tangled in Julia’s, swaying with the direction of the swing. She’s laughing like she’s two years old again and I’m singing ‘We Are The Champions’ like we’d just won a marathon. Fifteen seconds later we’re not holding the ropes anymore and the swing’s stopped moving but we’re singing anyway, indifferent to the heart inside her that, in that moment, decided that the tumour was too big to compete against.
Julia, who loved without reason and gave without obligation, died in her own spare tyre to the poorly-reenacted sounds of an 80’s movie she never got to watch. And I suppose today I could be angry at how things turned out, furious at the fact that my defender could no longer defend herself. But it’s because of Julia that I was able to escape from my stubborn tendency to think I’m mundane. And it’s because of Julia that I, here from my little red parked car, can finally look at her death-place and take in the sounds that make it feel like home.
Written by Carla Igic