There’s a gold frame on the table in my childhood bedroom. It’s nothing special in terms of appearance: cheap metal with gold mica that’s barely holding it together. The picture it contains is simple enough: one little girl holding another little girl’s hand as they gaze at the skyline of the city. In the back, the sun shines garishly.
I remember Ana turning to me the day this photo was taken, and saying, “do you know why we don’t gift people sharp objects?”
Superstition was not something I particularly believed in, but I had known the answer. A gift of sharp objects is supposed to sever relationships. I lied and told her I didn’t know, and she recited a made-up fairytale about broken friendships between witches and wyverns.
Ever since then, we would create stories for each other. Nine-year-old girls telling legends about the first curse, about true love, about bloodthirsty elves and rainbow-colored clouds. The years after filled with colour. Our simple apartments in Darlington with redwood floors and overgrown Devil’s ivy morphed into complex worlds of poisoned lakes and bubbling cauldrons. The crack in my wall was a portal into another dimension created by a world-shattering earthquake, and the darts Ana gifted me were poisoned arrows with which we could shoot our enemies.
At sixteen, we sit on her balcony as sunlight streams through the balusters. It is the first day of spring, and it is tradition to people-watch and enjoy each other’s company in silence along with a tub of mango ice cream. I have a book in my hand, one that is horribly predictable, complete with stargazing, theme park dates and kisses in the rain.
“You know that moment in books, when a character does something, and another character realizes they’re in love?” I say to Ana. “Do you think that exists in real life?”
She furrows her brow and tilts her head. “No.” A pause. “I don’t know. I think it just happens over and over and over again until you realise you can’t do without someone.”
I look down at my book, then back at her, and realise that she’s right.
At seventeen, Ana asks me, “do you think we’ll be friends forever?”
It is ridiculous. Of course, we will. I do not care that she moved away a month ago, or that we don’t get to see each other every day like we used to. It doesn’t matter that she has made new friends, that she spends more time with them now than she does with me. It is an established fact: anyone who isn’t Ana simply isn’t enough, and vice versa.
Sometimes, I miss her calls and messages, but I’m… busy. I always call her back eventually. Most of those times, she doesn’t tell me what has been bothering her and insists that it isn’t important. I believe her, because we always tell each other the important stuff. And besides, she always picks up when I call. Our relationship is still going strong.
High school is over, and I seem to have nothing but time. I sit and stare at the television, absentmindedly drumming my fingers on the table. I was supposed to go to the movies today, but Ana cancels on me again, insisting that she has a “personal problem” she “absolutely cannot tell me about,” but “things are fine.”
I invite Eliza and Spencer over for a sleepover. They are quirky girls who have just moved into the building, and my mother is always encouraging me to be more social and make new friends. We make popcorn and watch This Means War. Spencer wants to bet on who’s the best at throwing darts, but that little competition comes to an end when Eliza tries to juggle the bolts and accidentally cuts herself.
“Why are these so sharp?” she complains.
I flash back to a particularly sunny day a few years ago.
Do you know why we don’t gift people sharp objects?
I shrug it off and go look for a bottle of dettol for Eliza.
I haven’t seen Ana since she couldn’t make it for the movie three weeks ago, but we’ve been texting semi-regularly. We video chatted, too. Once. Five days ago. I’m not too worried, I’ve been busy with my job at Forever New. Working in retail is exhausting.
Eliza and I walk into the frozen yoghurt store and are greeted by upperclassmen. The conversation is trivial. Sports, YouTubers, Kanye West.
“Hey.” One of them turns to me. “You’re friends with Ana, right? My sister told me they’re at the same internship. How is she doing?”
I didn’t know that. I didn’t even know she had applied for an internship. I swallow and look away. “She’s good.” I hope.
It is Spencer’s nineteenth birthday. I catch sight of Ana out of the corner of my eye. I don’t need to turn my head to know it is her; I would recognise her blindfolded. The gold embroidery on her blouse makes my insides pinch. I consider sauntering past her and pretending not to notice, but I do not have faith in my ability to pull it off. We haven’t talked in weeks, and my pride won’t let me beg. Yet.
I think about what I will say if I ever muster up the courage. Maybe, “hey, do you want to go for mango ice cream?” or, “are you still superstitious?” Perhaps it would be, “remember when you asked me if we would be friends forever?” But I will do none of those things. I will most likely spend the rest of the night looking over my shoulder in hopes of Ana rushing up to me and grinning.
It has been six months. Despite how fulfilling it is to devote every waking moment to SUDS, I haven’t stopped feeling like something is missing. Maybe I have been too dependent on Ana. I haven’t seen her since the party, but I know she is happy. Well, she looks happy in her pictures.
You didn’t call back. You didn’t ask why. You assumed too much. You took her for granted.
I look at my cracked wall and attempt to picture the world it would’ve led us to. Maybe it is one where our roles are reversed and I am the happy one.
I think of another reason to add to my list. You were selfish.
I am sitting by my window. It is the first day of winter, and the skies are dark. It is going to rain soon. I have collected little things from around my house that I do not need anymore: a picture frame, a dart board, books I will not read again, bracelets and rings whose gemstones have long since fallen off, clothes that do not belong to me. I put them in a box in the guest room’s closet.
Spring has come and gone, and it is time for me to look for things to fill my days with during the summer break. I think about visiting my aunt in Dublin, or taking an art class. I do not think of the cardboard box often. I have not gone through its contents in a while.