Saturday, June 14, 2008

Of True Names and Dreaming

     “Beth is a normal name,” he said. “Don’t you like it? Would you rather be called ‘Elizabeth’ or ‘Lizzie’? I don’t know about ‘Lizzie’… it sounds like something green and scaly.”
     Beth sighed, then flopped over on her back. “I would love to be an ‘Elizabeth’ or ‘Lisa’… I’d even settle for a green, scaly ‘Lizzie’ but thats not what I was named for.”
     Jack thought for several moments, but couldn’t come up with any other amalgamations of names he’d ever heard that would yield up a shorter ‘Beth.’
     “You won’t think of any others,” she said. “I told you, it isn’t normal.”
      “Then why did you tell me to guess?”
     She sat up, and her green eyes held Jack for a very long moment. “If you’d gotten it on the first or second guess, then I’d know that you weren’t normal,” she finally said.
     “Great,” he muttered. “So I’m normal. What of it?”
     She smiled. “Normal is good. I don’t get nearly enough of it.”
     “You look normal to me,” Jack said. “Even if you do dress kind of funny.”
     “This is all we have unpacked right now. The rest of my stuff is all boxed up and buried.”
     They sat in silence, the girl staring at the sky, which was going from blue to deeper blue of late evening. The boy stared at the girl, the fine lines of her face starting to stand out in the deeper light of evening, the lashes drinking in the shadows, making her eyes seem wider, larger than they had in the afternoon.
     “So if I’m never going to guess it, are you going to tell me?” Jack said, still turning names over in his head. Lizbeth, maybe. That was strange.
       “They say that knowing something’s name gives you power over it,” she murmurred.
     “What kind of power?” Jack asked.
     “I don’t know. Power. Like…” her voice trailed off as she thought. “Like.. When you’re in trouble and your mom calls you by your full name.”
     Jack shuddered. “Yeah,” he said. “Thats power, all right.”
     When she didn’t say anything, he leaned forward, into some of the last of the fading orange light of the sun.
     “My name is John Henry Jacobs,” he said.
     She blinked. “But.. People call you ‘Jack.’”
     He shrugged. “I don’t know why they do it. Its like the whole ‘Rob-Bob, Richard-Dick’ thing. How the heck do you get ‘Jack’ from John?”
       “John Henry, huh? You don’t look very strong.”
     “Thats why I go by ‘Jack,’” he muttered, sitting back, sinking into the growing shadows of the night.
     “I’m sorry.. I didn’t mean to, it just —”
     “—Slipped, yeah. I think my parents wanted me to grow up to be strong. I guess I’m a bit of a disappointment.”
     “Your mom and dad are both very proud of you. You’re their only boy.”
     “Hooray for mismatched chromosomes,” he muttered.
     “And you don’t have to have big bulging muscles like those guys on the covers of those sports magazines to be strong,” Beth said. “I’d be afraid to look in a mirror if I looked like that. You can be strong in a lot of other ways.”
     “Like what?”
     “Well….” She drew it out as she stared again up at the first stars. “I’ve seen your drawings. You can be strong at that. Your imagination is real strong. Your brain can be strong. Like.. Like your curiosity.”
     “I give up,” he said. “I can’t think of anything weird thats short for ‘Beth.’”
     She kept staring up at the stars, her eyes flicking back and forth as more and more twinkled to life in the darkening sky above them.
     “Did you hear me? I said I—”
     “I heard you,” she said, not taking her eyes away from the sky. “Promise not to laugh?”
     “You didn’t laugh at mine, even though its easy to laugh at.”
     “But do you promise?”
     “If its really funny, I’m going to laugh,” he said. “I won’t know until you tell me.”
     When she didn’t say anything and the silence started to grow uncomfortable, he leaned forward once again, closer to her.
     “Hey. If empty promises make you feel better, then I’d promise. But I don’t usually make promises I don’t intend to keep,” he said.
     Again, the silence stretched, and he reached out, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you better not be crying. I hate when girls cry. Look, I promise I won’t laugh, okay? Not at you. With you, Beth, but never at you.”
     His fingers tingled. His breath hitched, and the nighttime noises were gone, the only sound the heavy throbbing of his own heartbeat in his ears. Pulsing, rushing, roaring. Through the white sparkles in his vision that had nothing to do with the stars up above, he saw her lips moving.
     The world snapped back into focus an instant later, and he found himself blinking, the sudden return of crickets as disorienting as the brief slip to.. Wherever it was he’d gone.
     “I asked if you thought it was weird?” she said.
     “If — what?”
     She pouted. “You don’t have to pretend.”
     “No I —”
     She stood up, brushing grass and leaves from her back and legs.
     Jack scrambled to his feet, reached out towards her arm, then hesitated. What if it happened again when he touched her?
     “I spaced out for a second there,” he said. “I— look it got weird for a second but I’m okay now.”
     She stared up at him, eyes narrowing, as though gauging the truth of his words from his looks.
     “Weird how?” she asked.
     He grasped for the words to fit to the sensations. When he finally fit them together and stammered out an explanation, her eyes had gone back to normal: open, wide in the darkness, picking up some of their own shine, but that may have just been a trick of the stars.
     “Maybe you’re not as normal as I thought,” she said after a moment’s further thought. “Well, too normal would be boring, too, I suppose.” Then she turned and started across the meadow, back to the line of the woods and the trail that would lead back to the road home.
       Jack followed a few steps behind, stumbling even though he’d walked along the same path they were taking countless times before they’d met.
     “Wait, does that mean you’re not going to tell me?” he asked.
      She glanced back over her shoulder. “Dream tonight, and tell me about it at school tomorrow.”

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