party mix

In her hand they rattled, Skittles or Smarties, in a similar variety of colours. Some tasteless when she gingerly licked them, others leaving a residue like sour lollies, forcing lips into a pucker, powdery and permeating.

When she held one of them up to the light, she could see through it; if she shook it right beside her ear, tiny things rattled inside. Like people jittering around a house, the walls protecting them from the outside world.

Janet did not know exactly where her home ended and the rest of the world began, and she didn’t care to find out.

She knew it was someplace between the rhododendrons and the footpath that was so cracked and forlorn, but every time she thought to test this boundary, it seemed to change – sometimes even as she emerged from the backdoor, creeping past the flower beds, someone from next door or across the street would smile at her, wave. The grins on their faces reminded her of sharks, or of that Johnny guy in The Shining, which her brother made her watch when she was younger. She had nightmares for weeks, axes and bodies and being frozen to death in the snow. It didn’t really snow where she lived, just sleeted a little on occasion; but she feared it all the same. When they went on a school trip to a hedge maze, just out from the city, she had a panic attack, hyperventilating into her sandwich bag, and she could smell ham and mustard for the rest of the trip, sitting at the picnic table with a classmate’s mother.

She could never eat ham and mustard sandwiches again.

when we talked

We bookended our conversations with awkward pauses, but what came in between made it all worthwhile. Neither of us knew how to be normal, not really, so when we were in the company of one another, all facades fell away, and we forgot how to smalltalk – a skill we’d both acquired, with varying degrees of success. But every time, something would fall into place between the haphazard attempts at conversation starters, and we would end up talking for ages about Kosovo, or High Renaissance Art, or Mac vs. PC. And then, the connected topics would fray, become less tangible, and we would return once more to our hemming and hawing and eventually, share a half-hearted hug or a stuttered goodbye, the moment lost, with no guarantee of revival.