Written with my Thursday night group with the prompts: I hope I’m to in your way; I’m not dead, only you; frightened by my body; I sued to pretend it was fun; haunted by whispers; she played sax; didn’t want to go there; let’s hear it for cousin Karen; a gap between her two front teeth; I was lying; key story; once upon a time; what does it mean; laughter broke out; dream drifted away
Jessie often said the gap between her two front teeth made her sax playing more melodious. That was a good one, laughter would break out when she said that between the sets, and all the guys would offer to buy her drinks. It’s not that I envied her, no—I admired the way she could point out her own flaws like that, her crooked teeth, her big nose. Me—I was frightened by my body, wanting to be noticed and yet not wanting to be noticed. I guess that’s why I joined the band. I was good on the sax, better than Jessie even, but somehow she was the one who got noticed. She’s the one who could corral all the attention. A couple times she even gave me props: “Let’s hear it for my cousin Karen,” she cheered. But then everybody praised her generosity, her willingness to share the spotlight. All I could do was smile stupidly and pretend I was having fun.
Some mornings now I wake up before dawn in a dark room, haunted by whispers in dreams drifting away. It wasn’t my fault. “I hope I’m not in your way,” the man said sarcastically to me as he pushed me aside so he could flirt with Jessie. It was a typical evening at the bar, and I watched her step outside with this stranger with the honey brown eyes, a dimple in his right cheek. All the regulars said he was a charmer, but he was rude to me. He had sandy blonde hair and a strong jaw. It’s true I’d been watching him, crushing on him even, but he only had eyes for my cousin. When she didn’t come back from the break, I didn’t want to go out there, I didn’t want to be the one who interrupted their encounter. “Where’s Jessie?” The leader asked me, and I told him I didn’t know. I’m not sure if he knew I was lying.
I wake up often and have trouble getting back to sleep. Always there is something just beyond memory that calls to me. What does it mean? I tell myself there’s nothing to remember. Just Jessie, rising up off the stage, still 22, still pretty and strong and laughing.
Once upon a time, Jessie, you were the key. You enticed me to follow you on the road, you urged me to stretch beyond my comfort zone, you promoted my talent. Or was I just an awkward girl you dragged along in your wake so you could shine all the more in comparison? I’ll never know. I’ll never know.
But you were beautiful. I loved you and I hated you. I admired you and I envied you. But I survived it all. I’m not dead, Jessie. Only you.
Photo by Christian Chen on Unsplash