“What We’ve Lost, Sometimes” by Karen Bovenmyer
She floats above us; I can feel her eyes on me. I’m late for work again, but she doesn’t care. As long as I show up and keep doing my job, day in, day out, forever.
I don’t drive a car or take the bus; I walk or bike everywhere I need to go. I don’t need coffee or cigarettes or sex or chocolate, but I like those things. I don’t get them. She’s watching and she does not like it when I waste.
Except that’s my job.
My target is young. I hate it when they’re young. Or animals. I remember the freezer last week, the zipper sound that fur makes when you pull apart dead cats.
I don’t like remembering that, so I stop.
It’s a little boy. He’s on the swings. His mother isn’t there—he’s alone. Where is she? Who would let an eight-year-old go by himself to the park? Wouldn’t you be afraid of predators? I would be, if I were a mother.
I sit next to him on the other swing.
“Hi,” I say.
His eyes are brown, which are less angelic than blue. But his hair is blonde, so that’s something. Brown and blonde and cream together make him look like a latte. He makes me want to go get one. It’s hard to give up what we’ve lost, sometimes.
“Having fun?” I smile. Easy. Friendly. Harmless.
“Not really.” But he smiles.
He trusts me because I’m small, feminine.
“Let’s swing.” I’m impatient for this to be over. I pump my legs. I’m going faster. Higher.
He sits for a minute but then joins me. Faster. Higher.
It makes me sad.
“How about now?” I’m breathless. My expression is just right—I know because he laughs.
“Yeah.” He grins at me. He’s missing a front tooth. That missing tooth makes me hurt somewhere in my chest. I hate it when they’re cute.
“My name is Cara.” I’m still swinging.
He nods but does not answer. He does not trust me yet. I also hate it when they’re smart.
“I like to swing,” I say. I swing high and then jump off. I don’t do a flip, or float down, because that’s not natural. It’s best if everything seems natural.
He laughs at my daring. He is too smart to jump, so he slows down instead, watching me with curiosity. I head for the monkey bars.
“Can you do these?” I worry for a minute, but he joins me. Good. I don’t like it when I have to coax them too much. He’s smart, but not too smart to resist an appeal to his young pride. I finish crossing and jump down. He climbs and shows me he can do it, making it look easier than it probably is. Trying to impress me, like he would as a man, if he had a chance to grow into one.
He jumps down. He’s grinning, he likes the challenge.
“Wow, you’re good,” I say. He looks very proud of himself. “How fast can you run?”
“Pretty fast,” he says. There’s a slight whistle at the end of the word because of his missing tooth. My shoulders are tight.
“Okay, race you to that tree.” I point. It’s just outside the park, across the railroad tracks, through the break in the fence the city hasn’t repaired yet.
He looks at the tree, judging the distance, the short climb up the hill, the difficult footing over the track, the brush we can just barely see on the other side.
I wait. The trains are supposed to blow their horns when they pass through town limits, but I know the train today won’t.
“Okay. On three.”
We run. He’s concentrating hard to keep up with me. I can feel her watching us. My footfalls even out. I know exactly how fast I need to run to get us there, just right.
Our timing is perfect. We crest the hill just as the train is coming. He slips on the gravel and falls. The train can see him, the horn is blowing, but I know it will never stop in time. It takes miles for a train to stop.
I wrap myself around him as the train hits us. I can feel it pass through my body, taking his with it.
Darkness. Rumble. Then we are standing on the quiet tracks.
His brown eyes are wide as he watches the sparks fly from the train’s wheels. The conductor is trying to stop, even though he knows it’s too late.
“What?” he asks. He does not really want me to answer. He’ll start to fade in a few minutes.
“Goodbye,” I say. I don’t know his name. I rarely know their names.
“How did…” he starts, but then he notices he can see the ground through his feet, his hands.
He looks at me, betrayed. I said he was smart.
“Why?” he asks.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “She’ll take care of you now.” I could explain, but I know it won’t make a difference. He’ll have to meet her himself.
He stops watching his fading arms and he watches me instead.
“It didn’t hurt.”
“I’m glad it didn’t.” I want to talk to him more, but I don’t know what else to say. He’s such a smart one, the smart ones linger awhile. Maybe…
I can feel her smile wherever she is, somewhere high, high above us. Yes. I’m right.
“I’ll see you soon.” This time my smile is a real one. My eyes crinkle. One of us.
“Okay.” Then he’s gone, to see her, and she will give him assignments—probably kids. It’s easier when we can relate to the target. Perhaps we’ll work together. He’ll be good company. I walk down the hill. Maybe today I’ll sneak just a little coffee. A latte.
About the Author
Karen Bovenmyer earned her MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program in Summer of 2013. She trains future faculty at Iowa State University, where she works primarily with inspiring Ph.D. students who give her fantastic science fiction material to write about. Find her at http://karenbovenmyer.com.