We met at eleven like we said we would. She was there on time in the same outfit; pant legs muddied and still caked as if she hadn’t even attempted to wash them. Shoes filthy. I wondered if she was wearing the same socks.
“Did you hide your clothes?’
“Yeah, underneath my dresser.”
“What do you tell your mom when you’re leaving?”
Instinctively, we both began to walk towards the center of the ditch along the side nearest the church. There were only two places where we could easily traverse the ditch to get to the other side if we chose to take this path; a few rock paths to lead us over the water. If not, we had to walk in the water which I secretly enjoyed even though everyone said you could get ringworm or bacteria. The water was warm in summer and only ankle deep and I had never had ringworm so nothing scared me.We cut to the left to take the rock path.
“I just said I was going to church and rushed out before she could see my clothes.”
“You go to church?”
Adelmira stepped more carefully than I did and usually behind me. I took this path constantly. It felt like a video game: three quick steps, one bigger step, two quick ones and then a hop to the bank. Adelmira wasn’t rehearsed. I turned to see the bottom of her shoe dip a little into the water.
“Do you go to church?” she asked me
“I went to Mass on Easter once and Mass with my great grandmother once. She didn’t speak English well.”
I shrugged and ran to pick up a large leaf that had already been pulled. The perfect texture to twirl and length to use to play.
“I guess. My family is. They both went to Catholic school, raised that way.”
I began to twirl the leaf, watched it spin in my fingers.
“We have a picture of Jesus above our dining room table but we don’t say grace and we don’t go to Mass. I have my Nana’s rosary though. She’s dead.”
I glanced at her, still ahead, more curious if she was watching me interact with the plant than her reaction to anything I just said. She was nodding solemnly and looking at the ground.
“My cousins are dead.”
I didn’t care.
“How did they die?”
“In a fire. In an attic. They locked themselves in the attic and began lighting matches. The entire attic burned before anyone found them.”
My first instinct was to rebuke the children.
“I sometimes feel like they haunt me.”
We kept walking but with no direction or plan.
“Do you ever feel that way?” she asked.
“Like your cousins are haunting me?”
I tried to make light. Whenever someone died, I did this. Years later, I would crack jokes at my friends’ brothers funeral. It would be the second I attended in one week. Grief is a stranglehold.
“I don’t know, I guess, like being haunted or something. Like does your Nana ever come visit you or you feel like she is in the room?”
“My nana just died,” I said defensively.
I don’t know why. For some reason, it felt like it mattered to qualify that as if my Nana’s recent passing trumped her need to haunt me yet. Maybe later, she would visit my room and turn down the stereo when I am twelve; a maternal urge, a blessing of eardrums. Maybe later she would comfort me in bath with rosary and booty she knitted when I was unwell and never over how I lost the other booty. But now, unaffected, I had chosen to be and remain unaffected by these things.
“My aunt got run over by a car,” I added.
Adelmira didn’t say anything for awhile. We just kind of trudged. I would let the big leaf drop and graze the tops of blades of grass and then hop a little forgetting she was behind me. Lost in my own mind, I turned around at some point to make sure she was still there and she was, looking down.
“I’m sorry about your cousins,” I repeated, unsure.
“It’s not that, I just I don’t know.”
“What is it?”
We came to a full stop. First, she was being boring. Second, the leaf had lost it’s buoyancy and was falling flat and already browning so I would need to find something else and wanted to head towards the gas station to look for abandoned straws. I didn’t know how to tell her this or do this in front of her.
“Nothing,” she shrugged. “Let’s play a game.”
I began jumping up and down.
“Yes!” I clapped my hands. “I know a game. It’s called finding things. Like,” I dropped my leaf, “like finding magic wands.”
And I began to march towards the gas station to find the perfect straw, Adelmira, grown a tad brighter, right behind me.