written and performed by Evan Nicholls | illustrated by DefinitelyJenny
I was laying on the grass by the bubble stream listening to Tribe play out of the speaker cone of my rock. Watching the bubble bubbling. Pink nettle cactus and tall frond trees all around. Not much else.
“Whatcha listenin’ to?”
I roll over. A girl. Been a long time since I’ve seen a girl.
“Whatcha listenin’ to?”
“I like it.”
So do I. She likes Can I Kick It? She’s got a good ear. She lays herself next to me and gazes over the bubbling without a word. I peek into one of her ears. Curving dark skin. Clean canal. She’s got a good ear. The water imitates Tribe’s fat bass.
She says, “This is a pretty stream.”
She has dark hair too. Like mine.
I say, “ I know. I just lay here all day and listen.”
“I mean with nobody else. Alone.”
“Yeah. I guess Alone.”
She sits up, leans herself back casually against the boulder and drapes there. The speaker cone plays above her head.
“That’s sad,” she says.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been sad here. Or Alone. I have my Tribe. Plays all day.”
“Well. Now I’m here too.”
I guess she is. Bubbles bubble.
I didn’t know what Alone was until I was Together with her.
She doesn’t know a million things, so I teach her some. Like she doesn’t know how to dance. I teach her how to cut the rug of grass below our dark feet. I say it to her like this:
“Do you dance?”
“I don’t know how to.”
“Well. Did you know that 70% of the human body is made up of water.”
“Like the stream?”
“I didn’t know.”
“Well, that’s what I mean. We both have flow because we have water in us. Anybody can dance. So let’s.”
And that’s how I start teaching her how to dance. I take her delicate, dark fingers in mine and move her arms up and down and show her how to move her feet and the entirety of her botany until the quality of light changes over us and the little bubbling and the speaker cone and the cactuses from yellow to night to yellow again. We dance the whole time. She’s 70% water and easy to dance with.
She teaches me things too.
She teaches me The Shimmy: How to shimmy trees. Wrapping arms around the bark, she shimmies up, then down.
“Do like I did,” she says when she’s at the bottom again.
I shimmy for the first time a tree so tall that she’s invisible when I look down. Scary. And when I look out from where the high, opened-up frond flowers are, I capture the whole entire ball of sun before me. Beautiful. And scary. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the whole entire sun.
The shimmy down is scary too.
When I get to the bottom, I see we are so freaking naked.
“You taught me the sun, and for that I would dance with you as long as bubbling.”
“I know you would — ”
“But we have to cover ourselves, girl.”
In the night, while her eyes and ears slept, I had plucked from the cactus some needles and stripped a tree of some black-striped bark, sewing for us clothes.
“Why? I don’t want to freaking wear that.”
I was coming at her with the clothes and my needles, and she stood in her dark nakedness with everything hanging out.
“Because what if we get hurt. What if we fall from a tree. What if we could never dance again. What if, bubbling forbid, you go invisible like when I shimmied. What will protect us?”
She is without words. Then she says:
“Fat bass can’t protect us.”
“But, I don’t want to wear that roughness. That ruins all of it.”
“You need to.”
“It ruins. It freaking ruins.”
“We need to,” I say.
She tears up. That day, she tries it on for me. Then we sleep.
I wake up.
I roll over and see her clothes laid in a heap. She has left me and bubbling.
I’ve never been this Alone.
I’m so sad, I kick a cactus and it explodes with frothy water. Some needles stick into my bark shoe and I don’t feel them. The whole day, I play my Tribe through the speaker cone and cry. I empty out all of my water. Even with my Tribe I feel so Alone.
I don’t dance once.
Evan Nicholls attends James Madison University (’20) and is from Fauquier County, Virginia. He serves on the Prose and Poetry Committees for JMU’s literary magazine, Gardy Loo, and has pieces appearing in the Hoot Review and CHEAP POP.
DefinitelyJenny: Illustrator//Book Lover//Cat Video Addict
Currently based in High Wycombe, I am an illustrator with a strong interest in graphic design, particularly in layout and publishing.