Whisper of the Waves by Sally Menaker
This story is one of the May Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
The stained and tattered carpet of my bedroom floor is woven with memory. I sit down, grounded by the familiar scratchy feeling on the back of my legs. A meticulously folded piece of printer paper floats precariously at the surface of the sea of papery fragments in front of me waiting to be sorted. The note pulls at my fingers with an invisible force. It’s soft against my finger pads and curled along the corners, like a mouth adorned with gentle smile lines. I lick my fingers, and a dull saltiness prickles my tongue as I unfold the sharp creases. The fuchsia print spreading across the page intensifies the salty tang. The nostalgic flavor of hot, greasy movie theater popcorn coats my mouth, plucking at the memory of the shiny, dirty-blonde corkscrews that belong to the note’s author. Her hopelessly contagious smile forces my chest to soften and tugs the corners of my mouth upwards. Uncontrollable laughter permeates out from the note in my hands and begins to ring out from every corner of my bedroom. An undeniable warmth flows up from the note in my hands and begins to circulate through my bloodstream. The remembrance of our friendship is so poignant, I swear I am no longer alone in my bedroom.
The beige scratchy carpet beneath us richens in color and texture, becoming hot orangey-yellow sand. Grains of sand wedge themselves underneath our fingernails as we search for hidden treasures of translucent sea glass. We sit on the shore of Lake Michigan for hours, oblivious to the mid afternoon sunshine searing our backs. Gossip tumbles off our tongues uncontrollably. We sip from our Camelbak water bottles as though they were fine china filled with expensive tea. Recounts of our eighth grade science class shenanigans fill our chests with pride, and the geometry puns that typically roll eyes leave us keeling over in laughter. As our tongues tire and our bellies begin to ache from copious giggles, we sit quietly, focusing our eyes on the crease between the dark turquoise water and clear blue sky. The silence sets our minds ablaze with questions of the future, and we listen for their answers in the gentle whisper of the waves lapping against the pebbly shore. The dark, ominous cloud of high school is nearing, yet we vow to weather the storm together. The warmth of the late afternoon sun fades. Turquoise water morphs into fuchsia lettering, and my eyes adjust back to my fluorescent bedroom light .
I gaze towards the end of the birthday note and am fully reeled back to reality. The warmth that moments ago pulsated through my body dissipates and leaves behind an aching hollowness. The penultimate line of careful print reads: “I will always fight for us and you will never stop being my best friend.” Something falls off a shelf deep inside me as I question the sentence’s validity two years later. Boiling droplets of water threaten to overflow from my eyelids. The laughter and indescribable understanding which once bound us together so tightly has morphed into forced conversation. Giggles and genuine smiles occasionally resurface in isolated moments of joy, and the ache of hidden scars left by betrayal and guilt blockade formerly unconstrained exchanges. The storm clouds of high school fulfilled their menacing promise and rained down profusely upon our friendship. Guilt flows through my veins heavy, green and thick. I could have fought harder for our friendship. We could have weathered the storm. An awareness of my naivety bubbles up. Storms are inevitable; the damage they cause unpreventable. Our friendship felt as though it was a natural law, strengthened by its effortless ebb and flow. It could never be restored by effortful fighting. I think back to our safe haven of soft sand and cool waves. A similar uncertainty perplexes me. My mind fails to uncover the answer to restoring our friendship, but perhaps it again lies in the faint whisper of the waves. I fold up the note and place it on my highest closet shelf, hoping someday the storm clouds will part and my best friend will again sit next to me on my stained, tattered carpet.