DAISY CHAINS by BLUE COUTELL an episodic novelette
episode six: the place where god doesn’t listen
“Babe, you’ve had your nose in that book all day,” Ivy complains. Astrid doesn’t even register that she’s heard her words. Her lips purse as she places a hand on Astrid’s shoulder. Astrid tears her eyes from the pages of the book. She looks surprised to see Ivy, though they had agreed to meet just yesterday. She has the politeness to look sheepish as she gets to her feet. Quickly forgiven, Ivy gives her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m surprised you haven’t finished that book yet,” Ivy says while Astrid tucks the book into her worn linen bag. “I have finished it. Twice, actually. This is the third go.” Ivy gives out an impressed laugh. “We just went a couple days ago. You must really like it.” Ivy grins “There are a lot of layers. I want to make sure I reach each layer. It’ll tell you something new. It’ll show you things you’ve never seen. Books are like people that way. “All we know are the first read-throughs, or maybe we pass the person after we don’t like the cover. But to get to know someone like that? That’s special.” Ivy loves to hear Astrid talk. Ivy, herself, leaves little room in her mind for academia, preferring to slide by enough for a passing grade. She doesn’t want to go to college. She wants to get cowboy boots and a van and just travel the country like they do in On the Road by Jack Kerouac. That’s what she and Naomi were going to do. Now that Naomi was gone, she didn’t know anymore. To Ivy, Astrid did not seem like a cowboy-boots-on-the-asphalt kind of girl. “Well, if the book is that special, maybe I can read it when you’re done,” Ivy prompts. “I was hoping you’d say that,” Astrid says with a bright smile. “I just need a little longer with it and it’s all yours.” Ivy gets lost in the beauty of Astrid’s smile. With Astrid they are hard to come by. Ivy is not immune to hardship, but she doesn’t wear it so openly. Astrid can’t be aware of what goes on beneath Ivy’s skin. Naomi has been gone for thirty-four days. Ivy saturates the pillow at night with tears held in all day. She thinks about doing what other girls in school do: mutilate themselves. However, she chickens out every time. But really, she just needs a reminder that it’s okay to be here when Naomi isn’t. Astrid is her reminder. “Wow, you’re quiet,” Astrid says and tugs on Ivy’s jacket. They’re standing extremely close, and Ivy wants to kiss Astrid. She thinks Astrid wants to be kissed, but she doesn’t want to scare her away. Her lips move in the most distracting way. “I was just thinking you look very nice today,” she says after a soft throat clear. “You said you wanted to take me somewhere?” “I wanted to show you my happy place. It’s a bit of a hike though.” “Astrid, are you taking me to the woods to kill me?” Ivy laughs. “I’d sooner bore you to literal death with my endless pontification on the merits and flaws of the works of Jane Austen and why they don’t belong in the canon of literature approved by intellectuals far more intellectual than I.” “Yeah that would literally kill me,” Ivy agrees. Astrid grabs her hand and they begin the walk. “Did you start yours yet?” “My what?” “The book you got last week, at the bookstore.” Ivy’s cheeks burn. She hasn’t picked it up since she purchased the thing. The block of pages sits beside the alarm clock, it’s only function to remind her that she can see Astrid. “I looked at the first few pages,” Ivy lies. By the way Astrid side-eyes her, she knows she’s caught. “It’s fine. You don’t have to pretend to like books, Ivy. I like you anyway.” Ivy thinks about telling her about On the Road.
After a good forty-five minutes on foot, Ivy’s feet throb, but Astrid leads her up a fairly steep, grassy hill. It had not been mowed in recent memory, so it reached her knees, staining the bottom of her dress a brilliant green. Sweating heavily, Ivy’s hands press on her knees as she tries to catch her breath at the top of the hill. When she looks up, Astrid is smiling at her exhaustion. Beyond her is a field rife with wildflowers. An array of colors sprinkled among a literal sea of daisies. Astrid’s smile is so wide, Ivy wishes she could make it permanent. Naomi never smiled either. “Isn’t it great?” Astrid says a bit breathlessly. “It’s beautiful,” Ivy agrees. “Come on.” Astrid waves Ivy along the field. Some of the flowers are tall enough to touch Ivy’s fingertips as she walks past. Astrid leads her to a spot a quarter of a mile off that seems relatively barren of flowers and sits inside of the circle. Ivy sits with her. “Now what?” Ivy asks. “Now we just be who we are,” Astrid says, sucking a deep breath in through her nose. “Nobody here can tell us we’re wrong. Or that we’re imperfect. We exist in this circle, surrounded by feral flowers and the sun hung in the sky above us.” Astrid takes another deep breath. “This is the place we can talk where God won’t listen in.” “Does that mean I can speak my mind?” “Of course.” “Astrid, I … Well, I’d like to kiss you.” Ivy’s wildly beating heart becomes still, like she’s close to death. Astrid is dead quiet. But she doesn’t say no. Ivy leans in and gently brings her lips to Astrid’s. “That train station brought us together. Maybe it’s so we can speak without God listening in. Without you, I’d be dead. But this right here? This brings me back to life. I like you a lot, Astrid.” Astrid is eerily silent, for a stretch of time that feels minutes long, before she reaches in and touches her lips with Ivy’s again. “I like you too, Ivy.”