Cheryl Goes to the Stars
“Duuuuuuck!” she yelled, sounding a bit more guttural and masculine than she would have liked. “Duck,” quiet, but in a higher register.
It was too late anyway. The poorly packed snowball arced, spun, lost pieces of itself, and had exploded against the back of his head just as she thought to warn him with her manly yell.
“Dammit,” he muttered as he brushed the grainy snow out of his hair.
“Sorry,” she yelped as she rushed up behind him and tried to help by swatting at the air around him. He shook his head. She closed her eyes against the bits and pieces of snowball flying out of his long hair like sparks jumping out of a fire burning in a trash can. She clawed the air and shook her own head. “Oo,” she gasped as a plop of water somehow found its way through her defenses and slapped against her eyelid. This also caused her to flail a bit more violently.
“What’re you doing, Cheryl?”
She slowly opened her eyes, the world a little more purple as she adjusted to the light. And there he was, his head seemed so big, his hair framing his round face like a dark atmosphere. His eyes so, so blue. She pulled her cheek down with her palm as she wiped the water plop that was now running down her face like a tear.
“I-I’m not crying.” She looked down. Fumbled in her purse for a tissue. Looked back up at him. His eyebrows were furrowed, his mouth just slightly open.
“Um, okay,” he said and turned to continue walking home from school.
“I was just...” and a snowball shattered against the side of her face. “Arhg! I’m going to kill you, you little shit.” Had she actually said arhg? She had. She was a Peanuts character. Her face turned red with anger, embarrassment and the icy slap of the snowball.
“Don’t swear!” a muffled yell from behind a snowbank across the street. She almost yelled arhg again, but caught herself at arrrrrr. “Wonderful. Peanuts to pirate, “ she thought.
“Arrrrr,” floated up from behind the snowbank. She ignored the kids across the street and watched him walk away, a good block ahead of her now. “Arrrrrrrrrrrrr...”
“Oh, shut up, “ she growled.
“She’s boring. Let’s bail.”The two snowball assailants got up from behind the snowbank and walked away in the same direction that he had, their snow pants whistling gently with every step.
She realized she hadn’t moved since she had been hit. She wiped away the snow that was slowly melting in her hair and soaking into her collar. She adjusted her backpack full of text books, turned and trudged down the sidewalk, toward her house. “Arrr,” she said.
Back at home in her room, Cheryl lay on her stomach on her bed, one hand propping her head, the other scribbling formulas into her math notebook. She looked at her work and knew her teacher, Mr. O’Hennesey, would be impressed. He would explain to the class why her solution to the problem was so good, so complete, further ostracizing her from her classmates, further ostracizing her from Jarred Samuels. That was his name. After this afternoon, thinking about him made her a glum panda. And now, after putting her mood into the vernacular of her generation, it made her feel worse. Made her feel like she was trying too hard to be someone else, someone who said things like glum panda.
She got up off her bed to look at herself in the full-length mirror on the back of her shut bedroom door. The mirror was ringed with stickers. Clouds puking rainbows, unicorns prancing about in butterfly-filled meadows, tiaras and twinkling wands. She wished she could return to the time when she loved those things, the innocence of loving and believing in fairies and gnomes who lived in polka-dotted mushrooms in enchanted glades of fairy-tail forests.
In the middle of the pink ring of stickers she stood, slouching slightly. Her long dirty-blond hair frizzy with snow melt, her eyebrows knitting together as she scrutinized herself.
Her eyes were big, green and freckled with flecks of gold. She liked her eyes. Her cheeks were rosy with the heat her mother kept high during the winter months. She was slim but kept her body buried under layers of clothes, t-shirts, button-downs, sweaters, scarves, usually another light jacket for roaming between classes at school, a heavier coat for walking to and from home.
During the summer, and sometimes during the winter months, she would take long bike rides up out of town to the surrounding horse-farms and fields, the quarry that gaped at the end of an unmarked dirt road off Highway 9. All that riding made her thighs strong and dense as shortbread. She liked her legs. She liked herself, but sometimes didn’t. Like this afternoon.
“Honey... dinner,” her mother yelled from the bottom of the stairs.
It was Friday. It was unseasonably warm and Cheryl kept hearing whiffs of conversation about a party from her classmates. After being stuck inside as a result of a breath-freezingly cold winter everyone was ready to get out from under the well-heated, over-scrutinized roofs of their parents.
“Brian Covert said something about a quarry party tonight,” she overheard Joan Stava saying as she slid her math book from her nearby locker before first period.
“A quarry party? Tonight? It’s still winter,” Brittani Conley was saying to Amy Mcanlis as she stuffed her blueandgoldpompomsintoherbackpackafterthelunch-timepeprally. “ButIknowexactlywhatI’m going to wear!”
“Are you going tonight?” Kevin Hobson was asking Jarred before Math class began. Cheryl surreptitiously cupped her ear so she could hear his response. Jarred spoke quietly. She felt that some of his words were absorbed by his hair. She had fantasies of finding beautiful words as she ran her fingers through his thick hair. Ethereal, cellar door, savor, pocket, melancholia...
“What?” Jarred asked. He turned and put his elbow on Kevin’s desk. “There’s a quarry party tonight. Can I grab a ride from you?” “Oh... sure. Yeah... There’s a quarry party tonight?”
“Yeah, that’s what I just said.” Kevin was looking at him suspiciously.
“Yeah, okay. Just...” Jarred scratched his head. Superfluous, yellow, cerulean, falling like dander. “Seems like that’s something we do in summer.”
“True. Not sure who’s idea it was, but I’m ready to get out of the house! Tom Murphy’s grabbing the keg.” “Alright. Cool, cool.”
God, she loved him so much.
By the time Cheryl reached the quarry she was huffing clouds out of her mouth. It had gotten colder after sunset, but the temperature was still well above freezing. She laid her bike down just before the entrance to the site, in the bushes at the side of the dirt road. She smoothed her hair that had gone wild with the wind of riding and the humidity of snow melt. She had ridden though bank after bank of fairly dense fog on her way along Highway 9.
Once she regained her breath and rewrapped her scarf, she walked toward the gaping hole of the quarry. Her footsteps crunched loudly over the gravel and infrequent mounds of dirty, granular snow and echoed against the far wall of rock. Here the fog had cleared away, but there was no moon and it was pitch black. Her eyes had adjusted on the ride down the dirt road. She left her bike light off so no one would see that she had ridden to the party, by herself.
In her rush to get to the quarry, to hide her bike, to calm and smooth herself, she hadn’t realized that she should have at least heard, if not seen the party by now. During the summer her classmates would build a bonfire at the edge of the quarry, set the keg in the bed of Tom Murphy’s pickup, and have music playing from someone’s Jambox. Cheryl saw the remnants of the parties when she rode up after her morning baby- siting gig. The charred circle, a few red Solo cups. She once found a condom behind a large piece of granite on the other side of the quarry. She hoped it wasn’t Jarred’s, but that thought also thrilled her a little and she went into a whole fantasy of she and Jarred lying on a blanket together under the stars.
Cheryl was standing at the edge of the ledge, looking to the opposite shore of the quarry, at the chunk of granite, thinking that the party must have been cancelled or moved, maybe it got too cold for everyone, when she heard a car sliding down the dirt road, Bohemian Rhapsody blasting out the open windows. She turned to see plumes of dust rooster-tailing from the front wheels of Jarred’s grey Nissan Sentra. She was frozen.
There was nowhere to hide as the headlights crossed her body. She felt like a prisoner caught on the outside of the fence. The car slid and bounced sideways to a stop. Dust engulfed it as if a magician was about to make it disappear. Crazy laughter poured out the open windows, and singing, “Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango. Thunderbolt and lightning - very very frightening. Gallileoooooo,” and then Jarred killed the engine. He, and what had to be Kevin, were still laughing. After a second they fell out of the car, but then kind of stopped when they looked toward the quarry, right at Cheryl.
“Is someone there,” Kevin called in her direction. They stood on either side of the car, the dust sliding away in the slight breeze. “Dude, I think someone is standing there,” Kevin whispered.
“Who’s that?” Jarred asked, his voice cloudy and far away.
“Umm, hi. Yeah... it’s Cheryl.”
“Cheryl?” Jarred asked. She didn’t quite catch what they mumbled to one another. “What’re you doing out here?” Kevin asked. “Are you by yourself ?”
She didn’t see a way to explain this away. “Yeah, I’m by myself,” she said. “I...I thought there was a party out here. So, yeah. I came to check it out.” She had no idea how to sound cool.
“Oh, yeah,” Kevin said. “There was going to be a party. It got moved to Anita Stubenrauch’s. Her parents are gone for the weekend. How did you get out here?”They started walking toward her. She felt very exposed and vulnerable in the charred circle at the edge of the quarry.
“Oh, I umm, rode my bike.” She pulled at the hem of her jacket then decided to put her hands in her pockets.
“You rode from your house?” She wasn’t sure if they could see her nod. “That is a crazy long ride.”
“It’s not that bad,” she said quietly. They had reached where she was standing. “I make that ride all the time,” she explained as she pulled her hands out of her pockets and put them at her sides again. She tried to stand up a little straighter, but slowly so they wouldn’t notice her making the adjustment.
“So what have you been doing out here... by yourself ?” Kevin asked as Jarred walked over to the edge and looked down into the still water.
“The stars are bright tonight,” Jarred said. Cheryl and Kevin glanced over at him. Then when Cheryl looked back at Kevin he was staring at her, waiting for an answer.
“Oh, nothing really,” she said looking back toward the road and scratching her cheek. “I really just got here.”
“Oh yeah, that’s not too creepy or anything,” Kevin said. Jarred laughed a little at that.
“Ha ha, yeah. I suppose.” She felt like she was melting inside, like she was simply going to turn to liquid and drool off the cliff into the black water of the quarry. In fact, she wished that would happen right now. Or she could just evaporate into mist and float away. “Wh-what’re you guys up to?”
“Eh, that party was lame,” Kevin said as he walked over to where Jarred was standing. He picked up a chunk of burnt log and flicked it out into the air. A few seconds later a faint splash echoed off the walls. “Jarred wanted to drive a bit and we decided to stop up here.”
“Oh, cool. Yeah.” Just dissipate and float up into the stratosphere.
“Anyway, we should leave you to... well, whatever it is you’re doing up here, in the dark, alone, on your
bike,” Kevin said. Jarred had started giggling when Kevin had gotten to “in the dark” and was still laughing.
“Ha ha, yeah. Thanks. I DO need to get back to it.” Her feet were puddles in her shoes. She wanted Kevin to not be there. She wanted to tell Jarred things that he would get if it was just the two of them. But here and now, with both of them trying to keep cool and to not look stupid and to stay in the characters that they had made for themselves at school... Here she couldn’t say anything.
“Ha, okay, Cheryl,” Kevin said. “Let’s hit it, Jair.”
“Yeah, okay. Peace Cheryl.” And they shuffled back to the car. Kevin said something and Jarred laughed. Kevin glanced back and waved. She raised her arm. The car doors slammed. The engine revved. “Galileoooooo...” And then Jarred stomped on the gas pedal. Dust poured out from under the front tires as he spun the steering wheel in an attempt to point the car toward the dirt road. They slid back and forth until the tires found a bit of grip and pulled them onto the road, narrowly missing her bike in the bushes.
Cheryl turned back toward the quarry. She sat down, legs dangling over the edge. “He doesn’t like me,” she thought. “He probably never will.” She lay on her back. The diaphanous Milky Way stretched like a purple bruise across the sky. Tendrils of nebula, suns, rock and ice spinning and expanding, always expanding. It was too much to pull into her head. “Why do I like him? His hair, his eyes?”
She sat up and looked down into the quarry. There was the Milky Way again, slight ripples in this version. She rotated her legs behind her and laid on her stomach. There was something easier about seeing the reflection of the galaxy as opposed to seeing the real thing. Maybe it was like looking at an eclipse through welder’s glass. Maybe it’s just better holding onto an image. The pink pony stickers of her childhood are easier than the reality of a snowball in the face.
She didn’t like how bad she felt when Kevin and Jarred were laughing at her. She got angry at them. Why did she like him? Was she looking at him? Was she looking at a reflection of him? Was it really his hair? His eyes? What was wrong with her?
She flipped over and looked back up at the sky to take in the real thing. Tendrils of nebula, suns, rock, ice spinning and expanding. Tendrils, suns, ice spinning and expanding, spinning and expanding. Her heart felt full. Her lungs felt too big for her chest. Spinning and expanding, but she was seeing things different. She was looking. She was seeing. She was seeing and it was beautiful.