11: April 2016 #13 - Beatrice's List of Unanswered Questions
Authored by Elizabeth Sackett
Beatrice's List of Unanswered Questions
There are no flowers but there should be. Beatrice walks to class and arches her neck, frowning at the ground like an academic giraffe. Last year had been horrifyingly picturesque, full of holding Mark’s hand and cutting class, sitting on the green, tugging stems and practicing calligraphy, the long slope of inky letters, the blue and purple buds everywhere. She slips into astronomy and wonders where they could have gone. Mark is in this class, actually. He sits slumped in the front row. She glares at his brown curls and takes a seat in the back next to her roommate, who she hasn’t seen for two days. The room feels like coffee but softer, reluctantly bright and buzzing with quiet conversation. The professor unpacks his briefcase, taking small sips of Diet Coke. “Where have you been?” Beatrice asks Alicia, her roommate. “Around.” “No, really.” More people are crowding in; someone is talking too loudly for eight in the morning. “By the green, last night,” a guy says. “Boom! Aliens.” Alicia meets her eyes, the picture of serious boredom. “Boom,” she echoes softly, “aliens.” It’s all Beatrice can do not to laugh. When she starts laughing she never stops. Still, she slips a smile through and wonders where Alicia has been the last few nights. Alicia is someone Beatrice doesn’t want to like but does, undoubtedly. She’s beautiful: symmetrical body, green eyes. Asexual, but all the boys want her. Because, she complained to Beatrice during a middle-of-the-night-cram-session, sipping cold coffee, they can’t have her. Beatrice should be so lucky. She glares at the back of Mark’s head again. She wonders if sending a spitball in his direction would be childish. In her room, later, Beatrice takes out her astronomy notebook. A memory tugs at her brain: her mother telling her that thoughts can be crumpled up like paper, especially if you drain them from your mind. Use the hand like a vein; use a pencil like blood. She’d phrased it less dramatically, child-Beatrice sitting there stabbing at Cheerios with a spoon, but that was the upshot. Beatrice looks down at the paper, college ruled, faintly blue. She takes her mother’s advice: Unanswered Questions: - Where was Alicia last night? - And the night before? - Why no flowers this spring? - Was that guy telling the truth about aliens? She chews at the metal end of the pencil and adds: - Why break up with someone in the fall? It is, she believes, the worst time to break up with someone. The door slams and Beatrice looks up to see a damp Alicia wearing a robe, white with a green hair-stain on the collar. “What’s wrong?” Beatrice says in greeting. Alicia shrugs her robe off and throws a nightshirt on, a fluid motion, a brief flash of nudity. “Did you do the moon-watching assignment tonight?” Alicia says instead of answering. Beatrice adds: - Why is Alicia grouchy? - Why does she never answer questions? “Oh,” Beatrice says, question absorbed. “I forgot about that.” “Oh,” Alicia mocks, but not in a mean way. In a right? I forgot about it, too kind of way. She plops down on her own bed and leans against the wall. “Well,” Beatrice says, “let’s go, right? Look at the moon?” The assignment is to draw the moon nightly and chart the surrounding stars. “But I just showered,” her roommate whines. “So? Put on some pants. It’ll be quick.” “But it’s cold out,” Alicia counters, which isn’t untrue. Winter is reluctant to leave, and so it shares space with spring. Like two people sitting half on the same chair. “Wear a hat.” “But my hair,” she continues. It’s freshly green; while wet, it will stain any fabric it can reach. Wordlessly, Beatrice stands up and grabs her coat. “Then stay here,” she says, tugging on her boots. She is halfway down the stairs when Alicia catches up with her. Beatrice remembers coming down to the green in the middle of the night with Mark. She tries not to, but she does, and the memory is indigestible in her stomach. She leans against a tree, the bark cutting into the place where her shoulder juts more than it should, and Alicia leans forward a couple feet away. The slight question mark curve of her roommate’s spine makes her almost pixie-like. “You know what bugs me?” Beatrice asks through the Friday night noise. The cries of wild youth fill the air; in a few hours, there will be a migration of tired, beer-scented students. They will hobble home, they will be content with their mild hangovers, they will move on. “What?” Alicia asks absentmindedly, “What bugs you?” Beatrice traces the curve of the moon on her paper. It doesn’t look honest; it’s hanging on her paper sky like a clip-on earring. “The flowers,” she says, “the ones that were here last spring? They haven’t bloomed yet.” “Huh,” Alicia says, then looks around. “There were flowers?” “Yes, there were flowers.” “Don’t remember,” her roommate says, “but I guess you hung out outside more than I did.” It’s true. She and Mark never went anywhere together but the green, the woods, the stream. They stayed on the ground. They sat in trees and made out in the itchy grass. It was a lot less romantic than it sounded, but suddenly she misses the flowers intensely, and Mark as well. The two are intertwined in her head. He was, she thinks somewhat melodramatically, the flowers of her life. “Yeah, I did,” Beatrice says. There is silence, the scratching of pencil on paper, the sounds of the bars near campus. She opens her mouth to ask if her moon looks insincere, but— “This way.” It’s a familiar voice, too loud, then two boys fly across their vision, close and then far away, seemingly not seeing the girls as they pass by. Beatrice notices them; Alicia’s head is down. “Hey,” Beatrice says, nudging her with the tip of her boot, “I think it’s alien guy.” “Alien guy?” “You know,” Beatrice says impatiently. “The guy who was talking about aliens this morning. In astronomy?” “You remember the weirdest things,” Alicia says, but she looks up. “Huh. You’re right.” He and the other boy have stopped in the middle of the green, looking at something on Alien Guy’s cell phone. Their faces, small from a distance, are awash in white light. The other guy is Mark. They watch the two boys talk, voices low this time, inaudible. Then they disappear towards the far end of campus, where the forest is. Barely thinking, Beatrice throws her notebook into her bag and scrambles up. “Let’s follow them,” she says. She feels pulled toward the forest by something in her stomach. “I have to finish my moon,” Alicia says, bewildered. For someone who moves around a lot, she likes to stay in one place once she’s settled. “The thing is, the moon will also be in the forest,” Beatrice says. “Come on. He was talking about aliens. Don’t you want to see aliens?” Alicia looks up at her with her I sense bullshit face. It has little to nothing to do with aliens, Beatrice admits to herself, and she sees it reflected on her roommate’s face. She lets Beatrice help her up, though, and that’s something. Some of the forest’s trees are patchy, the leaves thick in places and new and small in other places. Beatrice looks up and wonders what it’s like to be outside the closed container of Earth and silently adds this to her list. Alicia taps her on the shoulder. “I heard twigs snap, I think,” she whispers, and points with a lazy finger. “Thattaway.” Beatrice considers this. “Could be bears or something.” “Don’t be an idiot,” Alicia says. “There are no bears in Illinois.” “I heard about a bear attack freshman year.” “Bullshit. Shh.” Alicia grabs her arm and the two duck behind a bush. The two boys come running from the direction Alicia had indicated earlier; they are panting but determined, zooming straight into the trees ahead and disappearing. Beatrice wonders what could make Mark run that fast. Other than a relationship, of course. “So the aliens,” Alicia says softly, “are that way.” She points in the direction from whence they came. Beatrice is still following the ghost of Mark’s movement with her eyes. “Or we could follow your ex,” her roommate sighs. “Your move. But keep in mind that you could always talk to him during astronomy.” “No I can’t,” Beatrice says. She tried to talk to him during astronomy once, but her throat got dry and she started thinking about sex. Later in the day she saw him ahead of her on the sidewalk and tried to catch up but he walked too fast; she struggled along behind, steps slightly uneven, unable to match his pace. “I can’t,” she says again, and pulls up moss with her fingers. Alicia stands up and holds out her hand. “You dragged me into this forest for aliens,” she reminds her. “So we’re gonna get us some aliens.” They wander around for another ten minutes before Beatrice almost trips on an indentation in the grass and Alicia lets out a stifled half-scream. “Shit,” she says, and right ahead of them, in the middle of the indentation, is a Thing. It’s alive, but that’s all that can be said about it. It’s maybe the size of a stuffed animal and emitting a low noise, a cracked squeak. And it is, Beatrice notices, purple. And has a beak. “Wait,” she says. She recognizes it. Alicia walks up to it a nudges it with her foot. The low noise stops and starts again. It is speaking. “Hee hee hee,” it croaks out. “Hee hee hee. Doo.” “It’s a fucking Furby!” Alicia cries and kicks it again. “Fuck! I was about to pee myself!” A smile creeps onto Beatrice’s lips. The smile turns into a laugh and then it erupts into laughter, the kind that swells in her belly, the kind she can choke on. “It’s…” She sits down, wraps her knees in her arms. Her back aches, her eyes water. “They were running away from…” Alicia sits down next to her and leans her head on Beatrice’s shoulder. “Idiots,” she says, almost fondly. Beatrice can’t stop laughing. It goes on for a few minutes and then she’s gasping for breath, and then she’s back. “Gosh,” she says, certain her face is red. But she is smiling still, and the Furby’s plastic eyes reflect the moon. “You good now?” “Yeah,” she says. “I think so.” She sighs and leans against Alicia in turn. “But that’s a little disappointing. I was hoping it was real aliens.” “I wasn’t. I hate that shit.” The other girl is looking up, the night gleaming through branches. “I like to know what I’m getting myself into.” “Then why’d you come?” “Because you’re insatiably curious,” Alicia says, all quick, as though no thought went into the response. “I like to humor you sometimes.” “But not enough to tell me where you’re always running off to.” “Nope,” she says. There are shadows falling across her nose. “I don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes,” and she looks at her now, “people don’t want to talk about it.” Beatrice thinks of the breakup, the kiss goodbye. His words: “I’ll always care about you. Deeply.” As though adding deeply meant anything. As if caring deeply could bring any answers, or bring the flowers back. “I wonder if it can be fixed,” Beatrice says instead of responding. She picks up the Furby. Wires stick out of its back, looking like veins or glowworms in the careful wash of moonlight. This image pulls at her and she wishes she could trace this damaged toy instead of completing her assignment. She wishes she could keep it forever in her notebook. The beak moves wordlessly.