HOW I GOT HERE by Emily Behnke

I never snuck out because whenever I opened the window it sounded like I was breaking something. It scraped like a blade against rock, and I knew the grass below was bone dry and would snap beneath my bare feet. Out in the night, I would be a stone in a pond, an agitation, rippling and warbling like the sound bath my mother put me through when she thought she smelled smoke on my clothes. And she would hear it all, and I would ache from it. 

 

But when Aleya invites me to the last party, something snaps. I don’t care about breaking things anymore. I meet her in the space between our yards and we shove through the balmy dark, toe the yellow line of cracked roads, and prowl through yards overgrown with lashing branches until we’re in the center of a tangle of bodies in the neighborhood that has “the beach,” which is a strip of sand as big as two boats, a splash of lake fed by a rivulet running from a PVC pipe, and the pathetic lifeguard chair that’s always getting dragged to someone’s backyard. 

 

I’ve heard of it only in legend. It’s chipped, older than our parents are. One leg is shorter than the others, so it sits on a slant. I climb the chair and Aleya climbs right behind me so I don’t chicken out and go back down. Someone is at the top drinking something out of a plastic water bottle that’s gone velvety from so many hands. Up there, euphoria is brewing, and I decide it’s just for me. Tonight, I have defied expectation. And the chair has defied expectation, holding so many of us as we lean and twirl and hang off the edge. I take a sip from the bottle. Not water. We pass it until it’s gone, until someone has us all link hands and rock the chair until it groans beneath us, until it collapses. (The noise of it. We snap our bodies along with it.) 

We tumble like a pile of flesh yarn toward the lake. We’re baggy and dripping and smelling of putrid fish. We’re rolled up and caked with sand. Laughing. We’re held together by the night. We’re soaked in each other. We scramble back to the ruined chair. Rot sets in quick once a thing is broken. Flies are buzzing. Isn’t it so obvious, I say, that this was coming? The chair’s been here for so long. It was time. The collapse echoes through the night. I get a minute in the darkness with the wreckage before lights flicker on one by one. Then there are voices, people in their yards wondering what’s woken them up. They drift closer and I decide to go to them, to close the gap. To tell them: This was coming.


Emily Behnke is a graduate of The New School's MFA in Creative Writing program. Her work has been published in trampset, Tiny Molecules, Newfound, and other venues. She is currently at work on a novel.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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