It was just starting to get dark when I snuck out of the Pigeon Mafia concert to smoke in the parking lot. I’d been awake for thirty-six hours straight thanks to finals and I was recently off Prozac. The noise and heat were starting to make my skin vibrate. As I lit up, I kept glancing at the shadows of cars, expecting to see something awful.
Instead, I saw a girl about my age — nineteen or twenty or twenty-one. Asian, like myself. Small and skinny, with big, frightened-insomniac eyes and a cloud of frizzy hair. She was wearing leggings and a giant T-shirt that said IMAGINE SKY FEEL.
“Can I bum one?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said cautiously. I wasn’t sure if she was just drunk or if there was another substance involved. I handed her a cigarette, held out mine to light it.
“Thanks,” she said, nodding. “My name’s Grace, by the way.”
“I’m Lacey,” I lied. I didn’t like strangers knowing my name. At the Italian restaurant where I waitressed, I made up a different fake name for every night of the week.
“Why are you sad, Lacey?” asked Grace, taking a drag. She wasn’t a regular smoker — at least, not of cigarettes. She was breathing hard trying not to cough.
“I’m not sad.”
“Everyone’s sad,” said Grace. “I’m sad because my cat died.”
“I’m sorry about your cat.”
“His name was Mackerel,” said Grace, incipient tears glittering in her eyes.
“Rest in peace, Mackerel,” I said. “I’m sure he’s in a better place.” Grace looked dubious.
We smoked in silence for a moment.
“I like your shirt,” I said. This, at least, was true.
Grace looked down like she’d forgotten what shirt she was wearing. “Do you want it?”
“Uh,” I said, taken aback, “I’m good, thanks,” but she was already pulling it over her head.
“Come on, let’s trade shirts. It’ll be like a fun — a funny thing. A funny story.”
“Um,” I said.
“I seriously don’t care about this shirt,” she said. “Everyone thinks it’s like some hipster shit but actually I got it in China for like a dollar. It’s just shitty English.”
I couldn’t see an easy way out of the situation. And she was right, it would be a story.
“Really makes you think,” said Grace. My Ramones t-shirt was big on her. Her arms, sticking out of the sleeves, were thin as popsicle sticks. “What would the sky feel like?”
I had to laugh. “I don’t know.”
Grace paused. “Life’s sad,” she said, as if she’d just come to that conclusion right here in the parking lot of Larry’s Bar and Grill. “But there are moments of, like, transcendence. Like this.”
I looked at the parking lot, full of litter and puddles. I wasn’t sure this moment was particularly transcendent. I kept that thought to myself. “I should probably go find my friends,” I said. I dropped my cigarette and smothered it with my steel toe. Grace gave me an exaggerated wave as I walked away.
The t-shirt was soft on my skin, the softness that comes with years of wear. It smelled of pot smoke and lavender-scented laundry detergent.
When I got back inside I realized I should have asked her if she was all right, or offered to call someone. I went back out to the parking lot to look for her. It was empty, just asphalt and wet air. The town wasn’t big and most of the young people went to the college, so I imagined maybe I’d run into her again, at a coffee shop or an off-campus frat party, and maybe make a joke and introduce myself with my real name, but it never happened. She was gone.
Mica Sen is from the swamp, but currently lives in the desert. She likes stories, especially funny ones.