H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
There’s a girl in my residence hall who lives at the edge of sight. She’s like an eye floater. The more you try to pin her down, the farther she drifts.
The boy hosting the party that first weekend tells me her hair is blonde, spiky, short. His roommate insists that he glimpsed her in the chemistry library, dark braids dangling over the pages of a book. The softball player with the fake ID has seen no hair at all, but retains the image of a freckled nose, slightly upturned, the glimmer of a silver stud. Buzzed on lukewarm beer, others chime in: a dimpled chin, a braceleted wrist, thick arms, thin waist, elbows, forehead, breasts. None of this really matters, of course. What attracts is her elusiveness. That tantalizing quality of almost-there.
By the third week of classes, the boys on the floor have made a pact not to pursue her, bound by the understanding that the victor would ignite in the losers a jealousy so profound as to be nearly deadly. We girls have made no such promise. It’s every woman for herself, and I have a secret advantage. I discovered it one morning at 3 A.M when I was pacing the worn dirty rugs in the hall and saw that familiar blur in the corner of my eye: She and I are insomniacs. The ghostly hours between two and five belong only to us.
I try to get a feel for her routine. Every insomniac has one. I know that she begins in the lounge at the end of the hall; that she will proceed downstairs to the laundry room and drift between silent white machines; that she returns to her room, typically, around quarter to five, at which point a faint squealing noise, followed by a rattling clang, sounds from behind the closed door. Her thoughts elude me, but it’s easy enough to give her my own. She wonders about her parents, the resentment laid bare between them now that the last child has left the house. She thinks about the campus’s swarm of students, its interchangeable red brick buildings, her longing to find a private nook untouched by any other.
What I can’t seem to get right is her voice. As I lie in bed fighting the buzz of exhaustion behind either eye, I imagine its sound. How it might be lilting or sharp, high-pitched or low. How it might ripple with laughter, or run flat as a road. Night after night we pass each other on our sleepless rounds, and I think I see her pause, hovering, just at the edge of view. She’s on the verge of speaking. She’s standing, a bright shine on the threshold to her room, ready to tell me her name.
But she never gives me words. Instead she offers the door to her room standing slightly ajar one morning, the door that gives and swings at the slightest push, admitting me into a room whose walls march into shadow. There are objects in here that might fill in her story—somewhere a family photo, a brush packed thick with hair. But I’m drawn to the window, the screen plucked and discarded on the floor. Her room fronts a segment of roof. I can feel the rough tiles beneath my socked feet, and I tread slowly, face sticky with sleeplessness, up and up the incline until the surface levels out to accommodate the metal bulk of three thrumming air conditioner units, and the haziest impression of a person leaning up against them.
It is the insomniac’s greatest privilege and her greatest defeat, to be witness to the sunrise. I think about her up here all those mornings, solemnly facing the taunt of daylight, and how that door had opened for me like an outstretched hand. I sit down beside her. If I keep my eyes straight ahead, pinned to the science block across the road, I can just make out the curve of a face in profile, a colorless sweep of hair.
Dawn foams up around us, a glaring sea. Light glances off the metal roofing of the science block and leaves a bright stain in my vision. The temptation to turn toward her is strong, but for as long as she’s silent I’ll resist. I won’t look. I’ll stare straight ahead at the sun rising and rising above the tree line, holding her there in my peripherals, a dark shade, until my eyes stream and my retinas burn and I think I will go blind, not looking.
Tessa Yang is an MFA candidate at Indiana University where she serves as the Associate Editor of Indiana Review. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Clockhouse, The Writing Disorder, and Lunch Ticket. Her short story “Runners” was a finalist for The Cossack Review’s October Prize.
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