Strawberry sky cradled the sinking orange on the horizon. Lazily, my makeshift canoe creaked as it rocked on the water’s surface, pushed gently from underneath. Thick pools of fog settled and replaced the dark indigo surface with a ghostly white. It wisped through clusters of algae-copper rocks peeking at the sun, which crept farther out of sight, weighted by its own cooling fatigue. As I brushed my fingers over a cold, white-streaked rock passing the side of the canoe, I thought about how I would give all of this up to be with you.
“Because I’m a frog,” I would explain in reference to my essay where I used finger-paint instead of words. But Mr. Slater, formally Jonathan, crouched down over his knees with the kind of incredulous look that had irritated authority knotted up in it. The bundled disgust in his face made uneven lines, like veins, fold across his forehead. What on earth possessed me to make up such a story, he asked. “Because I have webby fingers! Look!” I would say. Everyone has the same fingers, he said, rolling his eyes. “So maybe we’re all frogs!” Danielle…—and here he would gesture with his fingers to look him in the eye—we’re just not frogs and that’s that; the whole idea is poppycock and even in poor taste of imagination. “You just think that ‘cause you’re a frog and you don’t know any better.” So I know I’m a frog. And I’ll never believe anything he says otherwise. Besides, he’s the one who said I couldn’t start sentences with conjunctions.
That day, the day before the worst day, she’d bought me balloons. Against the warm, orange sun, dipping behind shadow-black mountains, they stained fragments of the sky above me deep green, peach, and maroon. The translucent rubber looked almost frosty, like church-windows tugging against my small, pudgy fingers. I remember asking for ice cream or something cold, maybe shaved-ice. With a sincere and practiced motherly smile, her face half-shadowed, she told me that we’d missed our chance and that it was too late now. But, she continued, it was okay because we’d had been out having more than our share of fun.
The sun slipped beyond the horizon as we’d gotten home and she tucked me into bed, my ballons huddled in the dark, floating together by my closet, all black. In the morning, between my father’s crying, the red waling of ambulances, the shuffling of feet and papers, and the feel of cheap, ribbed waiting chairs, I learned the word ‘apnea’ for the first time. And visiting her in her silent hospital room, I learned the meaning behind a word I’d thought, up until then, was obvious: ‘dead-weight.’
For days, every morning and evening I untied the balloons at their base and slowly let out the air. I pictured her at the park and listened to her exhale.