The story so far:
Maggie. Mags. Magnolia. Margaret.
Now everything has happened.
Maggie, with what burst from her all that keeps this room from being empty. The gunsmoke the swinging bulb. Rage like displaced spirits floating hot and colliding. How I still see her all those years ago, so early in what is now revealed as the process of ending.
Maggie kept a bundle including books, notepads and folders pressed to her chest, behind folded, slight arms. She was just ahead of me on the railroad tracks, her chin down and her smoky orange hair in the sun. We were between a clinic on one side of town and our squat, stentorian school building on the other. We were working our way through shortcuts and urban scars that only adolescents knew, oblivious to the smell of worn rubber, burned jewelry and boarded mills.
Maggie and I had met in the advanced art class at Turnecket Junior High School. Prior, we had shared a program that provided instruction to the community’s artistically gifted grade school students. It was then that we had not met, having not learned to distinguish each other’s faces from the other unfamiliar faces we would see once per month during the school year. Once we all graduated to the junior high school, we met daily. I got to know Maggie by intent and also by proximity; she sat just over my right shoulder. We had bonded over concert shirts and oil sticks and had quickly become arches in a circle of friends. We complemented each other: I was gregarious and kinetic while Maggie was reserved and gentle.
What if I’m pregnant, I had imagined her saying; And: I’m so scared. I wished there was a secret language in which to answer secret questions or questions that had not been asked; or that something material could pass from one person to another in a lingering glance, a reassuring smile or simply sturdy company. Even the lingering glance, however, was directed at my shoes.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do” she said as we stepped off of the tracks. I looked back at the gulf behind us. I had been afraid to cross the bridge, narrow and rusty, with only thin catwalks on each side and below us the black river. No trains came through here any longer and this route was familiar to Maggie so I had followed. We both knew places that the other didn’t know. We passed enough bars to fill a neighborhood and we passed a church for each one. I walked a pace or two behind Maggie, her hair reaching down to where the pockets would have been on her Jordache jeans. An unlikely corner jutted in back of the city and a number of rickety stores and businesses loitered there. The clinic stood near them and we crossed the street.
“Do you want me to go in with you?” I said.
“You’d better wait for me out here.”
She assured me it wouldn’t be too long and I assured her that it couldn’t possibly be. I gave her warm wishes well and she disappeared through a door of black glass. I crossed the street again and sat on a forgotten length of stone retaining wall near a bed of gravel in a vacant lot that filled much of the sixty yards or so back to the railroad tracks. The city felt forgotten, cold and grey: a museum of tattered flags and handwritten signs, taped windows, rosaries. No space was empty and no space was filled. Once a busy mill town, a cradle of hope for immigrants from Canada and elsewhere, it had since stumbled badly. It was no longer the swarming downtown where laborers could earn a wage and build a family and then move on to a tidy suburb or a quieter community just over the line. Some days the light was good. One could say that the better neighborhoods were a good place to find inexpensive real estate, but that was for people who were able to make the commute to the better jobs in the bigger cities all less than an hour away. Those jobs and places were out of the reach of most natives. The city divided most of the young people I knew: there were the cynics, with all their bad habits, and then there were others, who had the bad habit of hope.
In class, I sat to the right of Jason and Jason sat directly in front of Maggie. To my right sat Zephyr. To Maggie's left sat Keira. Keira was lovely, a blossom, soft and vivacious. Warm, clever and compassionate, she couldn’t have been unaware of my affection, my clumsy flirtations. Awkward, insecure, overweight and poor, I was the object of little attention. Jason was admirably gifted, breezily confident and beautiful; his skin was soft and cream-colored, his dark eyes jubilant and aware. He wore his large dark curls long. He was the object of a great deal of attention; for their own clumsy flirtations, Keira and Maggie chose Jason.
Maggie emerged over an hour later. There was a light in her eyes that I tried not to trust but I knew her news was good. She met me quickly at the edge of the parking area and threw a free arm around me. She was warm and smelled of lilacs, the softest part of her chest pressed against me like all the wealth in the world. We walked back the circus path of fences and crumbling brick walls to the point where our routes would lead us away from each other. On the way we gossiped about classmates and teachers. We talked about rock bands and MTV. We talked about movies and television shows and schoolwork. On the way we were fourteen. The last time I held Maggie that day we were two blocks from the middle school and I spread my fingers on her back when I cradled her. Based on what they knew of the world at one time, they believed the world was flat. Based on what I knew of love, I loved Maggie.