The bell rang and I rushed for the door. I would rather numb my brain in math class than pretend to be a part of this friendly conversation. I hated being the outsider. Being alone by choice was fine, but exclusion made me feel like I had been hit in the stomach. But on my way, someone called out my name. It was Connie, running up to me as she zipped up her backpack. She asked me where I was going, and I told her. She said she was heading the same way, and she fell into step beside me without another word. A few silent steps later she started talking about something, but my mind was too foggy to pick it up. The people in the halls turned inanimate as we went. I noticed the anatomy of a leg, and the creases of a laugh. The couple kissing against the lockers turned to clay, melting together. Or maybe wood, with the grain warping where the two touched.
Connie said they were gross.
About three-fourths of the way to my class Connie went into a classroom without saying goodbye. I started to yell goodbye after her, but cut myself off. She didn’t say it to me. Was I being weird? The anxiety was muted, stifled under the fog in my mind. I was surrounded by sculptures, too many for me to carve. I would just have to settle for the best ones.
The rest of the day passed by in a blink. I’m not entirely sure what my lessons were even covering. I was mindlessly copying notes the entire time, sketching in the margins of my notes when I could. I thought back to the couple from earlier. I think the girl was on her toes and cupped the boy’s face, but what I was focusing on was the way that his fingertips pressed softly against her back. I missed a few sections of the lesson sketching that touch over and over, in countless ways. The hand slowly changed shape. First it was flesh, then a claw, then sinister tendrils. I had an idea of plant life, but was interrupted by the bell. Everyone had apparently packed up before then, and rushed out almost immediately. I took a moment to gather my things and politely responded to my teacher’s feeble attempts at small talk. Teachers always tried to talk to the loners. I left.
On my way out, someone called my name again. It wasn’t Connie. I wasn’t sure who else at this school even knew my name. As I peered through the crowd over my shoulder, I saw a flash of familiar glasses weaving through the pack of students. All of a sudden Lily was in front of me with a satisfied smile scrunching her eyes nearly shut. She immediately launched into a recounting of her day as she followed the stream of the crowd, and I followed. She kept mentioning names that I didn’t know, but she didn’t seem to think anything of it. Over time, Lily and Connie came to stand opposite each other in my eyes. For Connie, all I ever was was the new kid who hung onto the fringes of the group, a blank slate with no history. For Lily, I was just another pair of ears. Connie would carefully explain complex stories to me, but Lily would just say names as if I had known the people they belonged to for years. Eventually, I felt like I did. I learned more from her bubbly rambling than Connie ever taught me.
But that first time, I was a little overwhelmed. I had never made any connections with anyone as outgoing as Lily. Her energy kept my attention for more time than I thought it would. I was invested. But inexorably, the muse in my mind possessed me. I heard Lily’s words, but the images in my head turned to wet clay slipping between my fingers. I sculpted in my mind as she spoke, unable to form any concrete thoughts of my own. The arguments she recounted turned to beasts, and bulky bodies and spindly arms clambered for space in my skull. As we got to the door, Lily said something and looked at me. After a blank moment, my mind was my own again and I could form words. I asked her what she had said. Apparently her mother was waiting by the other side of the school. We said goodbye, and I headed to my car. Moving late meant I was last in line for a parking spot, so it was a long trek to the beat-up old car that my grandpa had handed down to me. It was scraped from mistakes made while getting used to parking in a garage, and the paint was chipped in a few places. There was a large dent in the front that had shown up one day in a parking lot while I was inside buying bread. My parents blamed me. There were no cameras in the lot.
Bass thumped in cars around me as the kids inside began blaring their music. It slowly built into a chorus of tribal drum beats. I turned on my own radio, volume low, and slowly began making my way out of the crowded parking lot.
My eyes found Jace walking between cars as the man on the radio talked about his abnormal ears. I waved, but he didn’t see. I couldn’t tell which car he got into, but I wondered what his looked like. Maybe it was damaged, like mine. I doubted it, though. He seemed like the type to drive a worn, old car, but one that was cared for. I thought of his hands on a steering wheel and wondered how it would feel to shape them out of earth. To run my knuckles along theirs. Along his.
I turned into my neighborhood.
My dog was glad to see me. My parents were happier when they got him. I was the only one with enough love to spare for him now. I got him some water and gave some to my plants on the back porch as well. They would die soon. Fall was here. I went back inside and returned to my current sculpture.
I was inspired by the autumn. I had already carved rough hilllsides into a decent-sized oak block. Now I was turning the curves into a giant quilt draped over a landscape. That was what the crisp, cold air falling over the town felt like. I looked at it for a moment, then grabbed my sketchbook. I was going to give the people I had met today patches along the smallest hill.
My pencil hovered above the page. I didn’t know enough about them to make anything meaningful. And just their faces would be boring and poorly done. I made a small chart with a few bulleted ideas, but nothing came of it. I gave up and started carving out one of my completed designs. The quilt had seemed like a profound image at first, but it was tedious. It wasn’t too bad to make. The fog hanging between my neurons that kept me from focusing on the people around me did the opposite when I created. I felt like the essence of someone else flooded into my bones and took over my fingers. I had a goal, I went into a daze, and I resurfaced with a sculpture. My hands knew what they were doing. I trusted them.
I didn’t know if I could say the same for Connie and her friends.
I bit the sawdust out from under my nails. The taste spread dry across my tongue. I went up to bed.