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Lifesaver - Short Story by Jacob DeCoursey

Once, when I was little, I tried to fix my stuffed animal’s scuffed eye with a Sharpie. I slipped and left a giant blot over its glass retina. My favorite toy. So I tried to add more black to cover it, more and more corrections, until it was completely blind. So I cried. And then I put it into a box which eventually became a mystery underneath my bed.

Tonight’s venue was a refurbished church which homeless-by-choice punksters had renovated into a sanctuary. The final band was packing up their gear when the lights came on while the floor of kids in studded-denim vests began moving like a swirl of bubbles in a murky sea, fragments of the whole breaking off and floating towards the exit. Those who came here, they dreamed of a freedom I couldn’t understand: of hopping trains and sleeping on park benches and sharing cigarettes with toothless creatures leathered by the sun. They were building their mythos night by night. You could see it behind their eyes, how much they wanted to believe in nothing so they could only hope to believe in something. Macy was one of them. I stood with her before the stage, leaning our elbows on a tall, sticker-covered PA monitor.

“Can we go?” She asked.

“I’m starving,” I shouted past my own ringing ears. I was tired and hungry after dancing for hours.

“Do you have money for the drive-thru?” she asked.

She was wearing a faded-black Texas Chainsaw Massacre tee, and her hair was short and slicked back with colored gel and sweat. She ran her fingers through it then wiped the moisture on her jeans (it left a dark streak that’d become a stain even after several washes later that week before packing it).

She didn’t like shows because the volume fucked with her anxiety, but would attend them anyway. With DIY spaces all over, there was always some band playing, so I told her it’d help her if we got out for a while. She said she’d rather go by herself because she felt uneasy if we went together this time. I asked her what the worst was that could happen. She asked if the worst already had.

“I think we both know the answer to that.”

“Shit,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, “sucks.”

Macy and I walked toward the door. Outside, the city air felt cold and clean: rainwashed; it was still pouring. The puddles everywhere shattered with reflected light from the streetlamps setting the dark alive with liquid sparks, like a cosmos beautiful and dangerous. The two of us stood under the venue’s awning a little while and smoked, played roshambo without talking to see who’d have to make a break across the street to retrieve the car.

I won, three out of five but stood and watched the rain.

“Whatever, I hate this scene,” she said. “We’re all drowning.”

“The fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“I dunno. Means we’re drowning. Take it however you like.”

“Even us?” I asked.

“Especially us, Heather. And worst part is, we wouldn't have it any other way.”

A small stream branched toward my shoe. I stepped back and let it pass.

Last week, Macy and I drank a bottle of Fireball in my dorm and she told me how, in high school, she used to think about ways to hurt herself so people wouldn't know. I wanted to climb over and reach into her body, pull out all the dark parts that hurt so much she kept them buried inside her flesh. I wanted her to tell me the story.

She wouldn’t.

Hey, I said to her.

Hey, she said back, eyes bleary.

I tried to reach under her skirt.

She cupped my hand and pushed it away, curling my fingers over hers.

She crushed out her cigarette against the wall. I started rubbing her neck and shoulders, buried my nose in her wet hair. My cigarette cherry almost brushed against her ear.

“You smell,” I said through half-open lips.

“Thanks,” she replied.

“Good,” I cooed, “like sweat and baby shampoo.”

“That’s... weird.”

Her voice was like something delicate and helpless. I closed my eyes and imagined her so small I could cup her between my palms.

I was sitting in the college cafeteria—I don’t know, a month ago I guess—and she was at a table in the corner and looked like she hadn't washed her hair or clothes all semester, and I called her over after a long time of us both looking at each other, and she sat down and picked through my food, eating some noodles with her fingers.

She told me how she’d been in Europe studying literature, but dropped out because she lost interest.

I told her that was cool.

She asked me what I was doing.

I told her I didn’t know what she meant.

I dunno, she said. With life, I guess. She slurped a noodle from her open hand. It whipped her nose on the way in and she licked her lips.

I told her I didn’t know, but that I wanted to help people.

That’s... weird, she said

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