There have been ways of avoiding this. I write about other things. I condense my brainwaves into haiku form. I tell myself I should tell stories in a linear fashion, but there’s a void there, a void that needs filling. The old saying that nature abhors a vacuum and will fight with pointed teeth to fill it. I will skip ahead. I am sorry.
Justine and Anna are sitting on Anna’s bed, as close as two women in America during the 1930’s who are in a platonic relationship can sit. They are kind of vaguely holding hands. Anna’s nails are not painted; they are a sort of seashell pink color naturally, and Justine comments to this fact and feels self-concious about her chipping off red nail polish.
“Cherries in the Snow. I wanted something to show up and show off my hands. They get really pale in the winter here, you’ll see, yours will too. I mean, that’s if you’re staying through the winter?”
Anna picked at a hangnail, at her rough cuticles, at the dry skin around her abalone nails. “I don’t think so. I have to move on, I think. The children are really, really sweet and all but I don’t think I can bear a winter all the way up here. Especially if you’re leaving. Are you leaving? If you stay, I will.” Anna realized she sounded like a schoolgirl asking one of her little friends to walk with her for ice cream. But that’s how she felt around Justine. She also felt like her words were thick and malformed in her mouth, like nothing she could say would be witty or true enough. She usually just stared a lot at her hair.
Justine rubbed Anna’s thumb with her forefinger and looked out the window down to the Valley below, “Anna, if it were just you and me up here, no miners, no men, no Blake, no Adam, no gaggling women, I’d stay for a while. I’d stay longer than I’d probably like to. Your mother would miss you, though. She’s expecting you back?”
Before Anna can open her mouth to answer, to lie, to form some round sentence with a beginning, middle, and end, there’s a shout down below. It sounds canned, like radio applause.
“Justine? You in there? Come down, come down if you are! It’s Blake! There’s been an earthquake while the men were inside!”
Justine’s eyes grow cartoon-like and round. Her legs unhinge. Her brain immediately begins to slow down and calm down, which is her safety mechanism. She is aware of every step, every heart beat, every blink of an eyelash. “Anna, tell whoever is calling up to me that I will be right down. I don’t want to yell down, it’s too awkward and I’m afraid I’ll cry if I yell down. You do it, please.”
Anna grabs Justine’s hand just before Justine starts her long float down the three sets of stairs that will bring her to what will surely be bad news. She holds her hand in both of her own and says, “Justine I love you. Whatever they tell you I’m here and I love you.” Justine looks at Anna fixedly, her eyes glassy and vague and says before she flies,
“Well, thanks…I love you, too.”
Anna walks over to the window, and as she does she hears Justine’s boots clomping down the steps. Anna looks out and sees Adam looking up. So it was him doing the shouting. He was the one who brought the news. By this point of course Anna knows that Justine and Adam are sleeping together, and she knows she should be offended by Justine’s efforts to pair Adam to her own side. She doesn’t think it wrong or odd that Justine continues to sleep with Adam while she simultaneously plays matchmaker. She just thinks Justine is right, that they’re all so lonely while they’re living in the clouds – they might as well pair up. Anna thinks Adam is just fine.
“Adam! She’s coming down right now!” her voice almost cracks, quacks. It sounds odd at that volume. Her students don’t even hear her voice like that.
Adam squints up at her and nods, and then sadly forgets all about her and looks to the doorway that Justine will any second be running out of . Anna doesn’t want to watch. She loves them both, and that’s why she can’t watch them together. It’s as simple and sad as that. Instead she sits on her bed and feels the warm spot that Justine left behind. She cries. Both out of worry for Blake who she doesn’t really know that well and for Justine. For herself, too. She also cries for the young men who died in the building but she doesn’t know that they’re who she’s also crying for. They move to sit near her when they hear her sobs. They sit on the floor out of respect and they look at one another and sigh and shrug their shoulders. They hope their invisible presence doesn’t scare her, they just want to comfort this odd little woman who’s been sleeping so near them lately.