December 22, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Chloe Yelena Miller
She looks for him, even under seat cushions, pushing away the gum wrappers and pennies. The boy-in-two-places isn’t here. She hasn’t seen even his shoes in years, but the memories remain firm like his shoulder, where she rested on him as a teenager at the movies. He has stayed with her for years beyond their last visit.
But today she heard he died and the memories are dropping like hail. He’s not here and, according to the obituary, not there either.
The first step into the past is steep, like she is already in high school again: a girl in a too-short skirt balancing on heels with a too-heavy backpack. Everything was too much then.
The boy-in-two-places waits for her at the bottom of the stairs. His eyes shine, but not with tears. He slides his bare arm into the crook of hers. You look fabulous, he declares, like it might be true.
They lean against the lockers near the biggest window. They can’t see up the stairs, but the hallway is punctuated with open fire doors and other portals.
One day we’ll be like them, he says, chin pointing towards the other developing humans. They whisper about the cities they’ll see as grownups after flying out of there on fast planes. She knows they did see the cities because she comes from up those steep stairs. She tugs on her skirt hem, embarrassed, even if she has the body of a seventeen-year-old again. This was never who she was, even when she looked like it.
The boy-in-two-places pulls her down that hallway to the filled auditorium. He is both next to her and at the podium thanking the students for voting him student body president. His smile is wide, his arms outreached like a leader on a balcony high over a public square. He always wants to make it. He is showing her what is about to happen that year down the stairs. He wishes it. He doesn’t need to wish on candles extinguished on a cake, but has whatever it is – cologne, pheromones, song – that draws the powerful around a person.
We’ll make it, he promises.
He unhooks his arm, kisses the air close to each of her cheeks and walks out of the school. His seventeen-year old body is backlit, like he is already a silhouette of a life.
Deep, he’d say if he’d read this, since it is the early 90s down those steps and that’s how he talked when he was alive and they were each other’s.
But now the boy-in-two-places is in one place and it isn’t with her. Or maybe he’s nowhere.
She exits the auditorium. There are more hallways and doors. It seemed like a cliché to choose him. After all, so did everyone else. She doesn’t need him to be her fortune-teller but she does need her friend. The one who guides her to herself while he finds his own way.
The boy-in-two-places never said goodbye. She whispers it like an air-kiss.
She takes off her heels like she’s a character being chased in a movie. She feels her younger self coming for her, her un-pursued wishes.
The ground feels different, spongier somehow. She feels an ache; she’s re-inhabited her middle-age body without him re-inhabiting his. He is elsewhere. He would point her towards the steps. But he took the front door.
The memories of the boy-in-two-places have become a part of her. She picks up a penny from this world and holds it in her palm inside her pocket as she looks for the stairs into today.
Chloe Yelena Miller’s poetry collection, Viable, was published by Lily Poetry Review Books (2021) and her poetry chapbook, Unrest, was published by Finishing Line Press (2013). Miller is a recipient of a 2020 and 2022 DC Arts and Humanities Fellowship (Individuals) grant. She teaches writing at American University, University of Maryland Global Campus and Politics & Prose Bookstore, as well as privately. Contact her and read some of her work at chloeyelenamiller.com / twitter.com/ChloeYMiller