This story is the first place winner of the March 2022 Short Story Contest.
I knew a girl.
I’d only met her three times, but should it be by time that knowledge is truly judged? I would insist that it should not. To know somebody is to embrace every linked star in their soul, not to count every linear minute.
The very first time I saw her was so long ago that bringing forth the memory has a semblance to staring into a muddy puddle. I was at an art camp, she was too. The two camps had merged for one day as an event to go to the National Arts Museum. That day, she was not human. No, I could only behold the truth of her presence as it blinded everyone from her physical form. I would not have been able to describe to you her face. All I could say was that she was a splash of watercolour on a canvas meant for acrylics, a shadow that glowed in the dark, a paradoxical inelegant beauty. She was the kind of person that made it feel like the rest of the world were the ones behind bars when they locked her in a cage. Not that she was a bird meant to fly, she was just herself. And she ascended. Until I knew her name, I called her the Paragon of Life.
The second time was not so astonishing, but it was equally as enthralling. It was my freshman year of highschool, we were in Geography together. She had lost her glow, a mere shadow. She was still anything but a person. This time it was dark, like a black hole sucking everything and everyone inside to feel nothingness with her. It took me a while to realize she wasn’t sucking in anyone at all. Just me. People glanced over her, as if she really was a shadow on the wall. I wished the seats weren’t assigned so I could sit next to her, but then every star in the entire universe aligned. Lady Luck, in the embodiment of my Geography teacher, put us together for that day’s mini project. I honestly can’t remember what it was. Anything else is replaced by the image of her, sauntering over to me, dragging her chair with the confidence of a meteorite. Blackened by oppressive burnout and determined to choose her own failures. The first word she said to me, holding out her hand, was my name. As if it was hers. Ever since, it is. I am.
We got along really well.
Halfway through the project, she laughed to herself in a jingling way that shook my insides and leaned in towards me. She whispered in my ear as it was turning red, “you are kind of like reaching the end of the rainbow.”
“A pot of gold?” I had asked.
She laughed again, and my heart leaped onto my sleeve. “No, no. The rainbow. You’re like touching a rainbow,” she poke-pushed at my arm as if that made it make sense, and I felt like one of the Salem Witches. My entire body was in flames. Even now, I don’t know if it was because she touched me or because she somehow knew my secret that I hadn’t even told myself.
She left school that day and never came back.
The last time we met was in college. I was 18, at a party, and she was there. Third time’s the charm, as they say. I was totally taken by surprise, even more so when she recognised me. Most of all by how bright she was.
“I’VE NEVER BEEN TO A PARTY THIS EXCITING!” She yelled, trying to make sure that I could hear her over the ridiculously loud music. It was booming so hard that I could feel the shake of the building, electricity in my veins, heartbeat in my ears. Lights were flashing everywhere in my peripheral vision and faces blurred by me in wild movements. Despite it all, I could only pay attention to her. Her eyes were alight, her hips swaying like a flame in the wind. I felt as if it could get blown out any second, and she would disappear like a dream. She didn’t, as if she controlled reality. She controlled the room, spinning and hopping and grinning and dancing, dancing, dancing. Her sequin dress sparkled in the coloured lighting, but you could hardly notice as it was outshined by her soul. When she finally, finally, stepped out and took a moment to catch her breath, I could have sworn the room lost its electricity. I could have sworn the crowd was quieter as we stumbled out the door, her contagious laughter making me delirious. It was as if everything slowed down, as if the world wouldn’t spin, as if time nearly stopped for the look on her face. Never have I seen such elation in the glow of someone’s cheeks or the bends of their hair. Never have I met a woman like her. Like lightning itself. And she struck right into my heart.
If I meet her again, I’ll tell her I get it now. I’ll tell her every way that she is the Paragon of Life to me. I’ll ask her if she still thinks I’m like reaching the end of a rainbow, if she’d be at the other end. If the stars align once more, and she’ll let me trace connections through the ones in our souls, I’ll let her strike me dead. Like lightning itself.
So I knew. I knew her. She was the one to make me realize. To know myself, that I’m just a girl. To realize that I liked her, that I liked girls. To know what it really meant to know somebody.