Volando – A Short Story

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     “Ala,” her boyfriend said with his head turned away. “We need to go.”
She was named after God. Or wings, according to her Spanish parents.
“Uh… just another minute, Sam. Just…”  Her hands were still drying, one resting on each leg. She curled them up like potato bugs. A leaf fell into the water in front of her. Its smooth edges sliced her reflection.
“Look at the shadows. I want to hike out while we can still see,” he said.
He dug the toe of each boot into the soft dirt and exhaled. His green eyes searched the branches.
Ala’s bare feet skimmed the face of the lake. She swallowed the air, clean and full, and pulled an apple from her backpack. When she bit into it, Sam jumped. He stared at her with both cheeks sucked in.
“Okay. Finish that. Then we’re leaving.” Sam crouched beside her. He wiped his finger under his nose and licked his lips.
“You usually wear your hair up when we go for a hike,” he said.
He took a lock of her hair within his rough fingertips. She raised her black eyebrows.
“I didn’t feel like it today. How else could I let the wind comb it through?”
The last time she came to the lake, she had worn it in a bun so tight her forehead throbbed. Halfway through the day she finally just ripped it out. As soon as she did, a breeze came along. It crept over her shoulders, warm as the sun around the strings of her bathing suit. She still remembered how it smelled, like the inner neck of a dandelion.
“It’s all puffy. You can tell you’ve been swimming in the lake,” Sam laughed through his nostrils. “Damn, aren’t you ever going to finish that apple?”
“Look.”
A cloud of chickadees made black silhouettes above the lake. She pointed for Sam. He never noticed those things.
“Do you not think these things sacred?” she whispered.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sam grunted. “There’s some little birds shitting all over the place. You can see that at home. Hurry up. You want me to leave without you? You want to stay here all night by yourself?”
“You don’t love this. You don’t love any of this.” She had written those same words in her journal. Every day he did something to make her angry. She wasn’t even sure she loved him anymore.
“You want little mosquitoes and gnats crawling in your ears? Huh? You want to sleep curled up in the mud?” he asked, turning in circles.
“No. I want the stars, Sam.”
There was a panic in his eye that she didn’t understand. What was so terrifying about a night in the open air, away from concrete hills and car fumes? She remembered spending summer nights in the open fields behind her childhood home. Bats swept from one edge of the trees to the other, swirling like pieces of fabric lost in the wind. She fell asleep as frogs chimed and chirped around her and the stars emerged overhead. The field was her bed nearly every night in the summer. How could Sam fear what she had grown up with?
He paused a moment, then lunged toward his backpack.
Sam. You wouldn’t leave without me. What kind of man would you be?”
She realized that he wanted many things; the convertible their neighbor was selling, an apartment downtown, a plate of ribs for dinner. Their hikes were wasted days in his mind. They were small prices to pay to satiate her and win the prize. He wanted her to be rational, wear a ring, and settle down.
They had been together for two years. What would she have without him? Who would she be?
Her lips curled into a somber smile. The answer was all around her, breathing and flowing in the wind. Maybe he didn’t love Alder trees, or Ruby-crowned kinglets, or the pale moon in the sunlit sky, but she did.
“Do whatever you want,” she said. “I’m staying here tonight.”

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