A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY CLAIRE SEYMOUR
My best friend Emma lives in Washington D.C., approximately 230 miles away from my home in Brooklyn. We don’t keep in touch during the year, because at eleven years old, our access to the phone and internet is limited. In the summer though, when we both spend three months at our beach houses in Martha’s Vineyard, we are completely inseparable. We spend our days hunting for crabs in the creek with green fishing nets, reading Seventeen on the beach and highlighting style tips, and singing pop songs in the back of her uncle’s blue convertible as he reluctantly drives us through the quiet, butter-soft towns of Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, Chilmark.
“Emma is a dreamer,” my mother likes to say fondly whenever she comes over, trotting down our gravel driveway, an orange bucket bouncing on her hip for blueberry picking. Emma has long marigold hair that gets tangled together like Christmas lights and zebra-striped glasses that make her pale eyes look like swollen blue balloons. My dad once told Emma that she looked wise beyond her years, and sometimes I wonder if my family likes her more than me.
“If she’s a dreamer, what does that make me?”
My mother gives me a careful once over. “Realistic.”
Fairy houses, are, of course, Emma’s invention. Step One, take a plastic cup, red or blue depending on your preference. Two, cut a little door through one side, and carve round windows around the cup. Then, decorate to your heart’s desire, taping flowers on the top or drawing wings on the sides. Emma tells me that if we leave them out at night the fairies will have a place to sleep and will give us quarters in return.
That’s how we spend the summer of age twelve, sprawled across my front lawn poking scissors into cups while my grandma makes us tuna fish sandwiches, my little sisters running over every five minutes to see what we’re doing.
“Can we play?” Grace whines. She likes to push her lip out and speak the language of jump rope and maple syrup even though she’s only two years younger. Caroline, who is seven, just stands behind her apprehensively.
“Claire!” Emma shrieks. “Of course they can play! You guys just have to get your own cups.”
Grace smiles at me smugly. “I wish Emma was my sister instead of you.”
I sit out after that, watch the three of them pluck bright petals from my grandma’s rose garden, shredding strands of grass to make soft carpets inside the fairy houses. They whisper like wind chimes, filling up the empty space I left with dreamy stories about magic and rabbit holes, driving to the end of the world. Emma has my sister’s blonde hair, and I think they all look just right together, an advertisement for a lawn mower, or a sweet Christmas card, “Happy Holidays!” jumping across the photograph in red print.
That evening, I’m washing dishes with my mother after dinner, dark yellow light streaming through the window, casting deep pools across the light wooden floors. Her jewelry is in a delicate pile near the sink as she scrubs a ceramic blue bowl, and I study her movements carefully, the fragile bend of her wrist, the slow waltz of her walk, and I try to imitate her swan-like neck and lily-white voice.
“Mom,” I say suddenly, placing a coffee mug on a drying rack. “Fairies definitely aren’t real, right?”
“Of course not, darling,” she says tiredly. “Aren’t you a little too old to be thinking like that?”
Thirteen years old is when I start to feel like an adult, and I come to Martha’s Vineyard spinning my grown-up stories into the air like powerful silk. Emma still wears her zebra-striped glasses and just looks at me incredulously when I tell her about my first kiss, sunny pavement and strawberry ice cream outside my apartment.
“What was it like?” she asks me matter-of-factly. We’re sitting on her family’s dock down by the creek, our feet dangling in the murky water, sucking on ice cubes and waving to the people that kayak past.
“It was amazing.” I say defiantly. “He even used a little bit of tongue.”
Emma laughs like bubblegum. “That’s disgusting.”
“You should kiss somebody soon.” I tell her, voice fake-casual, the delicate arch of a bridge. “I mean, we’re already thirteen. What if you’re, like, eighteen and you’ve never even made out?”
I’m being mean. It’s the first time I’ve ever had something before Emma.
“Whatever,” Emma says easily, lying back on the dock. “I have you to tell me all about it.”
We’re quiet for a moment, the late afternoon honey-gold, everything bare and simple; just the water and the grass and Martha’s Vineyard and Emma. The sky darkens, curtains closing, and small white lights begin sprouting up across the riverbed like bright oyster pearls. Emma hums quietly, painting shapes in the air with her voice.
“Do you want to make fairy houses?” I ask suddenly.
Emma sits up. Her smile is convertible-blue planets, sweet peppermint sticks, finding the perfect boy at the end of the world. Then she shrugs. “Yeah, okay.”
Emma and I become obsessed with our looks at the exact same time, go to the West Tisbury Library one day in June with her purple backpack and check out every single copy of In Style. We read them on the front porch of Alley’s General Store, sipping Coca Cola from the old fashioned glass bottles and braiding colorful string into rainbow bracelets.
In June, Martha’s Vineyard is still in a dream-like state, pick-up trucks sleepily rolling down quiet roads, their beds laden with fresh tomatoes and corn from the local farm stands, all the bright clapboard houses empty like ghost town shacks, seals popping their heads out from beneath the dark waves of Lucy Vincent beach.
We walk in the middle of the street with only t-shirts over our bathing suits, salted hair swung damp over our shoulders, and carve our initials onto the dusty playground swing set using Emma’s pocket knife. We melt brown sugar into syrup, slather it across our thin, sun-streaked legs for smooth shaving. Soft thighs, bunny rabbit eyes, we braid our long hair into swinging anchors, toss the blue fish we catch into never-ending buckets spilling over with lake water. We wait for imaginary boys on her front porch, on cool windowsills with morning light, honeysuckle and lemongrass in our hands. We strike soft matches on Emma’s lawn deep into the night, the flames round and golden like spinning compasses, silver smoke like moth wings. I tell Emma about how hungry January was, splintered, relentless cold, buying my first lace bra with exact change. Emma tosses a raggedy tennis ball to her dog Hendrix, says sometimes she thinks her stomach is as big as the ocean, as big as rain. We suck on cherry popsicles, lips the same color as our throats, like something bloody caught between coyote teeth. Price tags swinging around our hips, we try on silver bikinis at the sea-side Menemsha gift shop, admire our silk sheet skin, twirling like ballerinas in front of the full-length mirrors.
We are in awe of our new hips and long necks and this fresh new power. Together, we are old enough to drown ourselves in sunshine and sweet jasmine perfume, young enough to walk barefoot into the general store and buy the twenty-cent comics, to hunt for beached starfish on cloudy days.
The summer after ninth grade, things have become more clear. Emma is all smudged blue eyeliner, dancing on tables, starry nights in Montana. She is yellow-light fantasy, thin fingers, beach towels drying on willow tree branches. I am more local pool chlorine-fresh, filching cinnamon gum from the corner store, sweet kisses like stray balloons floating away to Pluto. Our stories become more similar and more competitive, boys touching our shoulders in hollow-sounding basements, vodka shots in snowstorms, hailing speeding cabs at two in the morning. It is ridiculous, this game we play, while shopping in Edgartown or cliff-jumping in Aquinnah with red clay smeared across our cheeks: who can make the worst decisions.
Emma comes over for dinner one night and my mother cooks fresh crab and ripe tomatoes just for her. My sisters fling eager questions at her and my mother’s voice is light and sweet like vanilla frosting.
“You have to come over more often, Emma dear,” my mother says, leaning back in her chair. “I don’t know where you’ve been hiding but we have to catch up.”
“Emma’s been really busy,” I say sharply, and everyone turns to me in surprise. “I just mean… it’s not like she can come over every single day.”
Emma swings her marigold hair over one shoulder and winks at Caroline. “Claire just wants me all to herself but I’ll be back soon, I promise!”
Grace looks at me pleadingly. “Emma is our friend too!”
“No she isn’t,” I say flatly and Emma rolls her eyes playfully at my sisters. When they laugh, I swear it sounds like a chorus of rifle shots.
After Emma leaves, I help my sisters and mother clear the dining room table. They’re chatting animatedly about the rated G stories Emma told them at dinner; making the varsity lacrosse team as a freshman, painting in her grandmother’s studio, getting a small part in the musical.
Emma is your friend. I remind myself and I collect a pile of silverware to put in the washing machine. You should be happy for your friend. There is no reason to be jealous. There is no reason to be upset.
“And she’s gotten quite pretty, hasn’t she?” my mother says thoughtfully. I let the forks and knives I’m carrying fall to the floor with a huge crash.
A few nights later, I sleep over at Emma’s house and things feel so close to normal that I’m ripe with nostalgia, playing our favorite radio station, our mouths swollen with song lyrics that we swear are about us. We sprawl lazily across her bed, feet tangled in her red quilt, Emma braiding my hair with quick fingers as I paint my nails with bright yellow polish like Brooklyn city lights.
I’m wearing spandex and a loose pajama shirt that ruffles along my hip bones as I patter down to Emma’s kitchen, hunting for ice cream for the two of us. Emma’s twenty-year-old brother Nick is already there, humming softly as he searches through the fridge in almost-darkness. Nick is cute, in a non-committal kind of way, lemonade hair and gangly arms and legs. Suddenly, the image of my mother laughing bright blue at Emma’s joke burns my mouth sharply and my whole body goes electric with resolve.
“Hey Nick,” I say, voice sweet and pale, sunrise in a drowsy fishing town. “I feel like I never see you anymore.”
Nick turns from the fridge and grins. “I know! What have you been up to?”
I hoist myself onto the island counter so that my legs are tangled together, dangling in front of him, ankles glass-thin, the color of dry wasps. The air conditioning gurgles like summer rain, flooding streets.
“Oh you know. The usual Martha’s Vineyard’s stuff. Wild parties in the general store, pulling all nighters at my grandma’s house.”
Nick laughs in a surprised sort of way, crossing his arms over his chest. “Sick of your family yet?”
“Since day one.”
“At least you have Emma. You know, a friend up here.”
“I guess.” I clear my throat. My mouth is dry, my tongue too big around my teeth. “Any luck finding ice cream? I was sent down here to get strawberry.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Nick says, and then triumphantly pulls a pint of Ben and Jerry’s from the freezer. “Wow! Look what we have here! You’re in luck, Seymour.”
I take the pint and a silver spoon and begin eating it directly from the carton. It tastes sweet and milky, as cold as Northern lights. “My hero.”
I catch his eye for one long moment. The darkness of the kitchen presses down on my skin, my new lavender shampoo hangs in the air, there is strawberry ice cream on Nick’s mouth, pink as choke berries and through the window thick clouds are falling through the air and it is suddenly too much, dark, lavender, sweets, clouds, and all I want is to be sexy.
I swing my ankles around his waist in one fluid motion and lean into him, lips like curled fish hooks, ready to catch anything he throws my way. For one startled moment he kisses me back, but all too soon it’s over, and he’s backing away, gasping a little and the whole room blurs.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa… Claire, whoa–” He’s looking at me with these round eyes like globes, running his fingers frantically through his hair, making it stand on end.
“What?” I whine. “I want you.”
He gapes at me, his back against the fridge. “Claire, oh my god, you’re my little sister’s best friend… it’s not like we could ever…”
“You want me too.” I insist. Heat is beginning to drive into my cheeks and I suddenly feel ridiculous, legs freshly-shaved and covered in coconut oil, displayed for him like some sort of cheap whore, only missing the red lipstick and fishnets. “Look, Nick–”
He seems to have calmed down, and he looks at me with this flannel soft look that is so much worse than anger or irritation or anything. “Claire, okay, look, you’re a great girl. You’re cute and sweet–”
“Oh god,” I groan, running a hand over my face. “Please don’t.”
“Hold up,” Nick says, putting up a hand so he can finish. “You’re cute and sweet and charming, and maybe when you’re eighteen we can talk, okay? But you’re not eighteen, you’re fifteen. You’re just a little girl.”
Everything swims for a second. Nick pats me awkwardly on the back, muttering kind things as he retreats out of the kitchen. Just a little girl. I have been across the country by myself, called an ambulance for my friend, lived off mac and cheese and fried tomatoes when I was home alone for a week. I am too young for Nick, but too old for my mother, who refuses to talk about boys or curfew, but one step ahead of Emma, who wanted to make fairy houses after seventh grade, but too young to be sexual, but not too young to kiss boys and how does that even remotely make sense?
And at that moment, someone clears their throat and I look up and Emma is standing on the staircase, her hair nearly white with moonlight, body dripping shadows, her mouth a thin line.
“Well I see you got the ice cream,” she says, voice cold and lashing like a whip. “That was real cute, by the way, watching you try to fuck my brother.”
But she’s already ascending the stairs, letting the dark swallow her whole and I am alone in the kitchen. I close my eyes, remember being eight, spreading the dandelions and wildflowers we plucked from her garden across the tiled floor in this exact kitchen, snipping smooth yellow ribbon to make bouquets for her mother’s birthday. Once, spread a blanket across her backyard, tried to name every single star. When she was seven, Emma cried when her dad boiled live lobsters. She had a mini-funeral for them, sang the Star Spangled Banner, talked about their bright purple claws and soft underbellies. We spent July nights searching her basement for secret passageways, creating ghosts out of creaking pipes and buzzing flies. When we were twelve, there was that stifling heat wave, where we did nothing but press chilled wash cloths to our cheeks, praying for August breezes as we impatiently bit into lemon popsicles. We used to bike down dirt roads to the beach, and she would try no hands, each day, every time. I was always afraid to blink.
I wait in this kitchen until my vision begins to blur with exhaustion and my feet begin to hurt and I go upstairs where Emma is fast asleep, face hidden in her pillow.
By the time next year rolls around, things have slowed down significantly. Emma and I reunite on Quansoo Beach, appraising each other with careful eyes. Emma has changed subtly, wearing her yellow hair in a swinging ponytail, her voice dandelion soft. We walk to Crab Creek, where we push her dad’s blue kayak off the sandbank and lazily paddle through slow, dark water and river reeds until we reach Blackpoint pond. It’s completely empty, our voices echoing like church bells. We stop paddling, letting the kayak move in drowsy circles while we lift our faces to the sun, legs hanging in the water, toes grazing the sand littered with crabs and shells.
Emma tells me about her middle brother Duncan, who is a freshman at Carnegie Mellon. She braids her hair like a rope keeping her ashore and describes the severe panic attacks he’s been getting, how a few months ago he appeared like a dream on their doorstep at two in the morning, sobbing on the welcome mat. Once one of her friends asked why the hell a nineteen-year-old was still living at home, and Emma tells me that she felt like her heart had been dipped in acid, it tasted bright red on her tongue.
I tell her about my sister, a beautiful ballerina, who dances like she’s on a music box, the batteries set to burn out. I talk about how sometimes I catch her folding into her stomach, tugging on her hair until silver bobby-pins rain down on her shoulders. And I tell her about how I wish my bed sheets were still printed with pink flowers, how my friend Laila likes to scream, “Let’s find God tonight, ladies!” before we do shots.
And I also tell her about the good things. My dad, who spun a tangle of white lights around the oak tree outside my bedroom window; “So you can see the stars when you go to sleep,” he told me. My boyfriend’s hand on my waist, and how he once kissed my eyelashes and made me homemade lemonade while I sat on his kitchen counter and played him my favorite Taylor Swift song. A blue coffee mug, familiar steps home, flashes of gold and cracks in the sidewalk, the sweetness of Brooklyn.
Eventually, we paddle the kayak to the thin shore of the pond and sprawl across the sand. We’re both soft with sunshine, our mouths sweet plums, and we move onto boys half-heartedly.
“I mean, I’m hooking up with this one guy right now,” Emma says. “I think it might actually go somewhere, you know? Like I might actually want to date him. I don’t know.”
“That’s disgusting.” I say flatly. She looks at me for one long moment and then we laugh until our stomachs hurt, dark evening light tangled in our hair.
“No, but really,” I say, hitting her leg gently with my foot. “Tell me all about him.”
She does. Before this, we hadn’t talked for a full year, not even a text message asking about school. There are still open wounds with us – jealousy and competition, anger and tension. But I know that after this we’ll take her family motorboat back to her dock, where we’ll steal her brother’s beer and drink by the water, shining flashlights into the night. We’ll paint our nails white, try to catch tadpoles with our hands. I will never feel younger, never feel more grown up. Maybe she’ll ask about my friends, or ask me why the hell I tried to hook up with Nick, and if we have time, maybe we’ll get around to discussing what exactly went wrong in the first place.
Claire Seymour is a junior in high school in Brooklyn, New York. She attends the Packer Collegiate Institute. Her writing has appeared in Thistle Magazine and Hypertext Magazine, and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.