Outbound

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.