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Not unless you die
Samantha Thompson

I can see her sitting there, in the house’s shade. Back straight, legs crooked. It’s like she’s sitting there for only me to see.

She lights her cigarette with quick, guilty jerks. She closes her eyes with that first drag and leans into the house. The house. Her house, decorated on one side with purple and white streamers, her high school colors, and on the other side with green and gold for the college she got into. The past and the future.

The day before kindergarten she sang, James, I want to come play in your sandbox.

So we did that for the hundredth time that summer. She digging rivers, me filling buckets with wettened sand and making castles.

That day like everyday her mother yelled her name. Mindy!! And that day Mindy stood and swiped at the sand on her thighs and then at her forehead.

Don’t ruin my kingdom, she said.

I stood and crushed one of her towers with a sure stamp of my foot into the surrounding river we had yet to fill with water. She gasped and said You killed me!

Mindy!! Came the awful beller again. And we laughed.

See you tomorrow, I said as she took off running across the street to her house but she stopped.

Tomorrow is kindergarten, James, she said.

I said, I know. I’ll see you tomorrow.

She smiled and said, Not unless you die. And ran off to her house. Heavy door, shiny floors, eight chairs around dining table that is never touched.

And I guess I did die because the next day she stood across the street in a navy jumper with a magenta backpack all alone. When I tried to cross the street to her corner my parents said to me, No, Jamie, that’s not your corner. My dad kissed my temple and my mother blubbered and said I knew the day would come.

We waved at each other the next couple of days from our corners. Her bus came first and took her to school. Some days she would bring home a friend, dressed in the same navy jumper. I made friends with the boys who moved in two doors away from me who wrestled on their parents’ bare lawn. They went to my school.

In the early evenings before dinner, I would toss tennis balls at my garage door or create towns in my sandbox. About the time she used to come over, she would run to the door of her mother’s gold sedan and then drive off to dance class, violin lessons or soccer.

Why does Mindy go to another school? I asked my mother.

She looked at me, her eyes glassy and soft. Because her parents want her to, honey.

Mindy stopped waving to me at the bus stop.

I still waved as if to say, I’ll see you tomorrow.

She just turned her head as if to say, Not unless you die.

She’s smoking that cigarette ferociously now and ticking her head to the backyard and its bursts of laughter. Her friends, her family have gathered to send her off. To celebrate her achievements. To celebrate the years she made choices that led her to this chance.

It is this moment that reminds me of two Januarys ago. Her high school creamed mine in a hockey game. She got home about the time I crossed my bedroom floor to switch off my T.V. A minivan screeched down the street and then idled for sometime. Someone inside the van screamed, Don’t forget this, Mindy! She lunged for the square bottle and slammed a fourth of it as the van peeled off with squeals of laughter and rubber.

Mindy laid down on her icy front stairs and fell asleep.

I made a somewhat anonymous phone call to the ambulance. Somewhat because Mindy smiled at me from the bus stop three days later, her on her corner and me on mine. Somewhat anonymous because her parents never thanked me.

I stayed with Mindy that night, scratching at the building-up frost on my window with my short fingernails. Watching from my perch her shortening, cold breaths.

I’ll see you tomorrow, I whispered when I heard the sirens.

And she’s breathing short now with every angry drag of her smoke. I was acting that way earlier when pacing my room for things to pack for boot camp. Two pairs of jeans, some button-downs and underclothes.

Her father’s voice interrupts her short vacation from her party just as my father’s beer-soaked temple kiss interrupts my packing. Mindy, you got company, her father shouts. My father says, I’m so proud of you, Bud. She flings her smoking butt to the lawn and raises her middle finger to the backyard. I place forty dollars and my car keys on my desk. The money for the license tabs, due before I’ll be back, the keys in case my folks have to move my car in that time.

To me she is the young girl who could only sing my name and the young lady who slammed doors and forgot to take me along to a life I’d die for.

I’ll see you tomorrow, I mouth to her. In just a few weeks or maybe days she’d be off to that school whose application didn’t find its way to my house or my school counselor’s desk.

She stops at the gate and runs back to her cigarette butt smoldering on the lawn. She stamps it surely with one foot and looks up at my house.

I’ll see you tomorrow, I mouth again through the close distance.

And maybe she understands me and that’s why she nods before running off, just as she did that day thirteen years ago. As if to say, Not unless you die.

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