By Jaymie Wei
Art by Sophie Williams
I follow my best friend through the six-foot-tall flowers
both of us grazing their stalks with open palms
like we’re kids playing hide-and-seek
in the clothing racks of some department store.
The flowers are red and yellow and not for sale
which only makes them prettier and
the sky is blue and white and never-ending
which makes it the same sky I see over Boston.
I took the subway and a bus and a train to get here
which is behind the pumpkin patch at a family farm
which is somewhere in northern Massachusetts
which is to say I still don’t know why
my best friend didn’t follow me into the city
at summer’s end when the year stood before us
like some indeterminable Rubik’s Cube.
Instead she stayed in her childhood bedroom and
I brought my suitcases to a four-story walk-up and
we Facetime each other like we’ve been doing
since the end of our freshman spring,
the last time we lived in the same place.
Now, in the flower field,
that took me two hours and twelve dollars to get to,
she takes off her mask saying she can’t breathe and
that it’s sad I have to wear it all the time and
when I say I don’t even notice it anymore
she says that’s even sadder.
The flowers stretch forever for her here
but I can see beyond them:
to the kids yelling on the tractor ride
to the moms debating which pumpkin is rounder
to the dads closing the trunks of their SUVs
over and over in the burning afternoon light.
She tells me she’s suffocating at home and
she wishes she could go out and talk and
live and be a person in the world
but does she not know that
that’s what the mask allows me to do:
to enter stores and
speak with strangers and
brush past people on sidewalks and
do I tell her that breathing is not so bad
when you practice it every day?
Do I remind her that I know
what it’s like to be from here
which is also nowhere
that I was there for 6 months
and 18 years before that
and when I could, I left
and she could have too?
Instead we eat apple crisp in the grass next to the parking lot
watching the sun sink on this Saturday afternoon
and she drives me back to the train station
on roads that wind exactly like my hometown’s
and when we stop at a Starbucks I swear
I’ll look across the plaza and see the Marshalls where I worked last fall
folding clothes and pushing carts and scanning goods and clocking out
each day, holding my breath for the last one.