By Luna Valkenburg
I shared a drink with a stranger one April.
It took me three seconds to find out that her name was Jet Roscoe. Another three to realize that she’s exactly the type of person my parents warned me about.
If she’s got earrings hanging on all the wrong places, it means she’s into… things, Carrie. My mother used to tell me. Don’t go around befriending the wrong kinds. You’re much better off being friends with… who’s her name again? That old friend of yours? Oh yes, Maddy.
But Madeline Harper sold me to a bully for half of a Hershey bar when we were three; still drooling, reeking of baby wipes and barely a proper human being. I did not want to be sold once more. By the age of seven I had decided I’d rather be alone than priced, and I was alone when Jet came to me.
It was the day my neighbor Eric Stanley got dumped by his college girlfriend. The day my mother cooked (tried to cook) Roast Duck with Wine Sauce and almost burnt our kitchen into ashes. The day my science lab experiment rat, Jude, bid me farewell after I forgot to feed him over the weekend.
It was three in the afternoon. School was over, and I was hanging on a street whose name I could never remember, sitting on a bench situated between a nameless, fishy-looking costume shop and a small Italian restaurant (which was also nameless, but not quite as fishy-looking). I was slurping a pineapple-and-lime smoothie. The straw was pink. The cup was grey. And I was pale and pasty, as usual.
I had no idea that Jet would come to me then. But she did.
Hello. My name is Jet Roscoe. She said as she grabbed the paper cup, her thin and bony hand like a bird’s claw.
I looked up to her, my hand gripping the edge of the bench. She was holding my paper cup in both hands, her blond hair framing her face like dirty old curtains.
In her eyes, I saw the ocean. My stomach melted and my lungs bawled because there wasn’t enough air. There was never enough air when Jet was around. It felt almost like falling in love, even though I didn’t believe in love and later I discovered that she didn’t believe in sexual orientations.
Then I gulped, because I wasn’t used to seeing something or someone so foreign. I myself looked as common as a rubber duck. Not beautiful. None of us Fridays were beautiful, except my cousin Dora. She ran a barbershop and had an affair with a clean-looking, suit-wearing, handkerchief-carrying businessman from God-knows-where.
But enough about my family. We’re talking about Jet and we’re going to do that properly because that is what she deserves.
Why are you drinking my smoothie? I asked her, trying to sound casual and at the same time stubborn, like those girls with tilted heads, heavy-lidded eyes, and permanent frowns you see in movies that take all the awards at indie film festivals. Of course, I failed miserably.
I’m really thirsty. Sorry. Thirst makes all of us reckless.
That doesn’t make it right.
Well, if it helps, at least it’s not a crime.
Stealing? But it is.
No, it is not. Because I’m giving it back to you now. Here you go.
And she handed me back my cup, the striped straw embroidered with teeth marks and half the content gone.
So, are we good now?
I suppose, but-
-good. Then, I guess I can sit with you now?
Sit with me?
The only truth that I told her then was the one I didn’t even believe in.
You look like someone I’m not supposed to talk to. My mom won’t be happy if she sees you with me.
Oh. She sat down, and droplets of sweat on her forehead gleamed like her many earrings. Then she laughed
When summer started, Jet and I turned into sad creatures that roamed our town in petty disguises that we didn’t even need. We didn’t sleep. We did things for no particular reason. The way things were back then, I was supposed to be scared. We were supposed to be scared. But we had no dread.
Jet and I got along well. In fact, we got along so well that it almost worried me.
One morning we went trekking in the woods on the south part of the town. There wasn’t any particular destination on our minds, but we kept walking anyway. We did that for three or four hours, before we found a large patch of soil between the aging trees.
Jet staggered and threw herself onto the soft, slightly damp soil. It had rained the night before. I remember wishing that rain were made of glitter or at least confetti, because that way the soil would’ve been glittery instead of watery. Jet wasn’t thinking. She was breathing really hard through her mouth and clutching her ears until they turned pink.
Are you okay? I crouched beside her. Why are you holding your ears like that?
She scrunched her eyebrows. I can hear it pounding. My heart. I can feel it on the back of my ears. It’s timed. I’m timed.
I’m okay. I’m fine. This is cool. I’m feeling like Bartolomeu Dias right now. Is that even possible?
I said nothing because honestly, I felt as though I understood nothing about her, let alone Bartolomeu Dias. But I stayed close to her. In time, her breathing returned to its normal pace. She wasn’t holding her ears anymore. Instead, she let her hands fall to the ground, the rough and almost rugged palms facing the sky. The sky was white instead of blue that day. The sunlight made it that way.
Are you okay? I repeated. She didn’t answer. I started to feel like I was drowning.
But then she chuckled and I started to smile. And we began talking about light things like games, books, candles, colors and stupid films.
After that, we retraced our tracks and walked back to the center of town. The sky had turned bluer by then, and we sat on the roadside in front of a minimart. Jet bought us a jar of Nutella and we dipped our fingers in it, eating while listening to the sounds of the street that my Dad calls “the sounds of the people.”
Where next? She always asked me after our trips. Where next where next where next where next? It was a mantra. A longing for glory. A longing for thrills, adrenaline and a quick escape. But most of all, I think, it was a longing for something even Jet herself couldn’t comprehend.
The night after the trekking trip, I wrote her a poem in my physics notebook:
jet my love my
sonic boom. Don’t
stray away. You are
I am Sound,
to be left
Jet, sorry I’m a bad poet.
In the beginning, Jet and I never visited each other She knew that my parents wouldn’t approve, so we always met at places where none of my school friends or my parents’ friends go to. I knew nothing about her parents either , but she always came up with a smart excuse when I asked about them. It made me feel oddly special. Like she didn’t want to share me with anyone.
One day in July, she finally let me visit her at home. She had sprained her knee when we went skating the day before, so all upcoming plans were on hold . Her parents weren’t home. Out working, probably.
She was in her room when I arrived, lounging on her beat up couch and watching a movie about cops and cop cars. Her plastered leg filled half of the empty space on the couch.
I managed to catch the last few seconds of the movie. After the credit began to roll, she turned to me and said, I used to do commercials.
I used to sing for ads. Like, you remember that cornflakes commercial they used to air on Sunday mornings on the Kids Channel?
Of course I did. When I was a kid, my abundant free time was mostly devoted to watching the television. My cousin Kiki and I used to obsess over Power Rangers, hence the monopolization of the living room TV every Sunday. Kiki wanted to be the yellow ranger. I wanted to be the giant robot.
Well, I sang the theme song to that one. Jet said.
Too bad, I didn’t remember the jingle, even though the image of the commercial was crystal clear in my head. I could recall everything about it. Everything but the jingle.
It’s okay if you don’t remember it. No need to. Let’s just watch another movie.
Jet told me to pick a DVD so I did. It was the sequel to that cop movie. When I inserted the disc, it wouldn’t play.
We ended up making out on the couch instead. It was our first time, but I felt as if our mouths had collided thousands of times before. Kissing Jet was easy, like kissing a lover I had lost in a long-forgotten past life.
I don’t remember when things started to go downhill. Initially, we faught because of her lies. It wasn’t that I hated them. Jet told me lies all the time, and I enjoyed them. I lived for them. She always said that she was part-French, part-Romanian, and part-Japanese, while in reality Austin, Vienna, and a small piece Havana ran through her veins.
Do you hate my lies that much, Carrie? She said to me one day.
No. I said. I love your lies, but it’s not how a person should live. This is a malfunction .
Oh, Carrie. We are all malfunctions. Look at the world. Humans are all malfunctions. just don’t want to go to bed and wake up the next morning realizing that you’re not the person that I’ve known this whole time.
But I’ll lie to you forever. Next lifetime, we’ll reborn and I’ll kidnap you and lie to you again. I promise.
I sigh. My smile was bland. Don’t promise me anything you can’t do, Jet.
And then it happened.
We were having dinner, my parents and I. This was the way the routine went at the Friday household: Mom served the food. I nicked some with my fork. Dad scolded me weakly for eating before saying grace. Dad said grace. I nicked more food from the dish. My mom tsk tsk-ed. Then we went Cling and Clang and Tick and Tuck with our forks, fulfilling one of our most basic human needs.
When the doorbell rang, I thought it was a neighbor.
When my mom opened it and Jet started talking, I hoped I had heard wrong.
When my mom let her in, I wanted to drop dead.
Um. Carrie, this um friend of yours? She’s joining us for dinner. Um. You didn’t tell us she’d be coming.
I didn’t freeze. My fork didn’t pause midway like in the movies. I just stopped eating and scanned her.
She was wearing a nice dress: a white one with a small pearl where the collars meet. Above her left breast, she donned a hand-painted bellflower brooch carved out of a material I didn’t recognize.
Jet, what are you doing here?
Mom tsk-ed again. Gosh, Carrie. Don’t be rude… It’s okay, take a seat. There’s more than enough food for us all.
Jet took the seat next to me and deliberately avoided my eyes. Jet… I began, not caring that mom was glaring at me disapprovingly.
For awhile, we sat in silence. I was waiting. Dad had stopped eating. With an awkward motion, mom got up to get an empty plate from the cabinet and scooped some lasagna for Jet.
Thank you, Mrs. Friday. She said.
Well, the lasagna’s good, Meg. Dad muttered, trying in vain to make us all feel better.
Of course it was good. But when Jet was here, the taste of the lasagna seemed like a miniscule matter. The kitchen was a miniscule matter. My dad’s lousy attempt to break the ice was a miniscule matter. The clock ticking steadily and noisily on the living room wall was a miniscule matter. My fork, my plate, my body, my feelings, my words, my space were all miniscule matters compared to Jet’s sudden arrival at our dinner table.
So, Jet… can I help you with something? I said.
That was when she stood up and kissed me, her lips bland and her tongue tasting of mint and ashes.
I took her wrist and clamped it so hard my fingers turned white and numb, but she freed herself in one easy flick of her hand. We all stood there, mesmerized as if the sky had split in two,, as Jet ran until she was out of our house. I stared at the door.
Carrie, who is she?
My love, of course. My sonic boom and my speed. Mine, I hope. But I didn’t dare to say it.
Dad made the sign of the cross and took a bite of his lasagna.
After the silent dinner, my parents walked straight to their bedroom, leaving me to stand, dumbfounded, in our kitchen room. I counted time by seconds, not minutes. Three hundred and forty two seconds passed before they walked out.
My father looked me in the eye and muttered whoever she is, you’re not seeing her anymore. His tone wasn’t angry, just tired and dumbfounded. . Meanwhile, mom just stared at me with a pitying look. I could almost hear her voice saying, I told you. You should’ve settled for Madeline.
I nodded and looked away, because I just couldn’t stand being pitied like that. It felt almost like degradation.
That night, I waited and waited for Jet to call me and explain everything. She didn’t. The next day, the same thing happened. On Thursday evening, my phone finally rung when I was lounging on the couch, pretending to watch cartoon while waiting for her call.
Hello? Is that you, Carrie? Listen, I’m sorry about Sunday, alright? Now listen, meet me at my house, alright? Pack your bag and meet me here at six. Six, you hear me?
What are you doing? I said over the phone, stunned once more.
No time for questions. Just get packing, alright? We’re going.
To a place where I can keep my promise to lie to you forever and where we’ll never have to run the rest of our whole life.
You’re not making any sense.
I don’t have to. Just trust me, Carrie. Meet me at six and we’ll go.
Why did you kiss me, Jet?
Because of everything, Carrie. Everything and everything.
The phone clicked before I had the chance to say what I should’ve said when we first met: I can’t do this. That very second, our fate was decided. We were meant for parting.
The walk to Jet’s house was a hazy blur. One minute I was walking really slowly, and the next I was running. One minute I was calm, composed and observant. The next I wasn’t even fully aware where I was.
Next thing I knew, I was there.
I could hear the angry, one-man screams from twenty feet away. It was coming from the house. Her house.
The front door was unlocked. Like a thief, I slipped in unnoticed, acting against the beliefs and manners I had been taught for the last seventeen years of my life. The screams never subsided, and I tried to make out the words while looking for its source.
It turned out to be easy. Too easy.
Jet’s mother was bawling her eyes out in the living room. Mr. Roscoe, pale and blond (almost an exact copy of his daughter) was holding her to the sofa, as if afraid that she would run and never come back if he let go. At first, I was unnoticed. But then they turned around and my eyes met theirs. I imagined that they thought they were seeing a ghost.
Das mädchen… She said. The words were as foreign as secret codes to me. When I looked it up later, I found out that it means the girl. Such simple words carefully veiled by such a complicated phrase.
She started to bawl and scream even louder and her husband was holding her even tighter. But her words were lost to me because I was staring at the white rivers on the floor. The first thing that came to my mind was that they were horse manes. But I quickly realized that horse manes didn’t have the capability to make Jet’s mother cry like that. And snap, I immediately recognized what they were.
Strands of Jet’s hair.
As if on queue, Jet walked into the room. No scissors in sight, but her hair spoke for itself. It was all chopped off, like a boy’s.
Like a man’s.
Jethro… Her father said. My little girl. I should’ve known that the name will bring bad luck to you. Darn your grandfather. Look at you now. A boy. You’ve lived up to your name.
Doesn’t matter, Dad. I’m doing this for Carrie. Carrie doesn’t need a girl. She needs a boy.
She knows you are still a girl. She will always know, Jethro.
I am now a boy to her.
Mr. Roscoe started cursing God and his father in whispers and the next thing I knew, Jet was grabbing me by the hand. She tugged me inside her room, which was flooded with articles of clothing and old DVDs. After locking the door, she threw me onto her bed and resumed packing while staring at me.
I’m a boy now, Carrie. We’re not a malfunction anymore. Now let’s go. Let’s leave this place.
Carrie? She repeated.
Are you listening to me?
I shook my head. I wanted to tell her to shut up and get a grip, but it came out wrong: We’re not going to do this.
I’m not going.
Why? Give me one good reason.
That very second, I uttered the sentence that she dreaded the most: I don’t need you.
I was destroying myself. I ran home without once looking back.
That night, I had a dream. In my dream, Jet and I were back in her room. But this time her hair was long and she was smiling at me. We were lying on her bed, my eyes on hers.
Good morning, Carrie. She said.
I smiled back. Then I turned around, buried my face between her sheets and distracted myself with the scent. They smelled like lemons, soap and something akin to the subtle odor of summer air. I couldn’t think of anything else but that scent. When I finally looked up after a long while, the bedroom was on fire.
I tried to jump out of the bed, but Jet held me in place. When I turned around, I saw that her eyes were changing. The pupils turned into ashes, flowing down her cheeks like waterfalls.
I read your poem, Carrie. She whispered to me.
I looked down and realized that I was disintegrating, too.
When I awoke, it was three in the morning and the house was a quiet, movie-like place. I assured myself that Jet would call me. Maybe we would see each other again.
We never did.
Luna Valkenburg is a Chinese-Indonesian writer who is also a proud member of the Nerdfighteria and Young Poets Network UK. She is still trying to compose the perfect bio for her writings. In the meantime, she hopes this is sufficient.