The White Things
The sun was loud white and the grass was morning wet and Isabel wanted to go out to The Field. It was first recess and my clothes like usual hung on me at some places and clung to me at others and I wanted to feel cold air on my cheeks so I wouldn't have to think about the dull pinch and sag of my skirt and sweater. Plus, Isabel was my friend, and I was a little bit scared of her -- her skin was blue-white and her hair was the thinnest straightest blackest down to her waist like a haunted mermaid -- so I followed.
We called it The Field but it wasn't actually such a field. It was just the expanse of the shabby balding grass past the tubby plastic play equipment and the basketball courts of our little Jewish schoolyard playground. It wasn't actually far but it felt like forever when we walked out there, like away from the orange warmth of sun and voices, someplace the grass curls dark and blue and strange.
We were playing detective and Isabel led. I followed at least a shadow behind like usual, letting the wind catch the slow of my skirt around my legs, letting the sun dazzle me and make me sleepy again. My skin's moments of cold as the voices of the other kids got more and more muffled. Always this feeling we might get lost. Some part of me turned awake, the part of my skin that thrilled for secrets.
Isabel's and my games were skimpy on rules. When we played mad scientist in the crack between the school buildings, I led. I always knew exactly which pebbles were beakers and which pebbles were precious gems. When we played detective, Isabel led. She never had clear rules, but our unspoken agreement was to follow the leader. So when Isabel started running out further than usual, I ran, too. I felt thick and slow behind the stern thin whip of her hair but I pushed my blunt legs hard. I could feel my running in my teeth and like shock to my knees. I felt scared then, and stupid for feeling scared, and that's when I saw them: the white things.
That's what the inside of my head called them, anyway: the white things. They were plants, like something between a flower and a fungus. They were tall and they had girth, maybe more than a plant should. They shone a little, sweaty and alien. Sick. Where had they come from? A sudden fat blanket of white in the middle of all the green. Wasn't this a school playground? Was this an invasive species? Was I about to die?
Isabel! I screamed. I was always screaming too dramatically, louder than the other kids, and so Isabel was unfazed as she ambled back toward the rest of kids. Look, I screamed. Nothing. Was Isabel gone? I panicked from someplace loud and stuck at the front of my throat. Isabel was gone and detective was over and I was alone in The Field. I stared at the white things, trying to make them make sense. I moved closer. The sky felt lower and my nerves blurred. Something this starkly new: a surprise, a metallic lull through the all of me.
I moved closer.
I moved closer.
It hurt so close.
And then I was there. I mean right there. I felt a little proud of my sweaty self. I was standing at the edge of the patch, just inside where the plants were congregated. I teased in a little further. They were thick in the air now, the smells of wet petals and grass and pungent dirt. Something too alive. I felt a little nauseous. A saccharine sweet tickle to my gut as my foot fell between the plants, a dare to myself. I was alone. I was there. This was the playground, right? Recess? Why did nothing make sense? Why was my body this wracked?
Something else happened to me then. A mystery of feathery wet bushes plumed in my chest. A fishnet around my organs, pulled tight, pulled back, pulled together. A tightness in my everywhere. A feeling from the gray sky from the wet ground from the round wind to my deepest core. A pleasure shiver that snaked through my thighs, the opposite of lava, an electric cold direct to the crack of me. A voice that didn't feel like mine caught in my throat and lived there. The most sensitive parts of me -- the lace behind my eyes, the marrow of my wrists, the skin at both ends of my back -- prickled relentlessly.
And just like that I couldn't move. Actually. Couldn't. Move. Didn’t want to, either, even though I was scared. There was so much prickling. The heat. I could recognize the shape of me in beats. I looked past my skirt at my sneakers, wondering whether looking would help. It didn't. The grass grew teeth around my ankles as I stood there alone, unable to move or speak. I felt awed and terrible and trapped and freed in the presence of these weird plants. I felt the air around me grow sound and then grow fur. The air purred. My skin purred. My feet ached and my face beat hot red. My vision slurry and forgetful, I let the heady air hold me tight and spill me there for I don’t know how long.
Somehow, I heard the bell, far away but still effectively alarming. I heard Mrs. Guttman's muted shrilling, a call to arms, the lazy sun sliced quick.
My eyelids drooped and my knees gave to melt. I had to go, had to extract myself from this place. I sort of wanted to run but I sort of wanted to stay, here where my bones had grown spikes and my temples squeezed sudden color to my beating lips. Here was the dizzy smell of honeysuckles and wet wolf hair and unseen danger forest. Here was the sacred terror of things never meant to be seen or touched or felt. I swooned in my damp denim skirt, my eyes crossing hard and squinting to uncross, the cotton of my underwear sweaty with questions. I walked with a sharpness through layers of skirt and grass back to the sun and the other kids. The sky screeched. My head sang. Tremors of something unspeakable.
Temim Fruchter is an obsessive adjective collector and story-teller who just moved to Washington, DC and lives in a house full of windows and surrounded by trees. She believes in magic despite years of trying not to. Her heart spans the distance from the DC to her recent and longtime beloved home, Brooklyn, NY. She loves noodles, peanuts, letters, chocolate, pickles and adventures. She hates it when her socks get wet.