Purple sugar dribbles down my finger. I suck it off before a drop can hit the ants on the pavement. It’s a hot day, but I don’t know, maybe you would have called it warm. Even when I was sweating, you said it was warm — just right.
I throw away the stick in the bin and go upstairs to my room. My face is too hot. I need a sun hat. All I want is a sun hat, but as soon as I swing the doors open, colors catch my eye. Blouses and skirts and tiny flower prints. I freeze and listen but of course, dad’s not around. I swallow. Does he even know that half my mom’s clothes are in my room? I’d snuck them in, one by one. She loved blue and white. I think I like blue and white, too. I don’t know if I look good in them, though. I just like to smell the cornflowers along her sleeves. It reminds me of her hair.
You told me to try something different. Like that one in the corner right there… I turn my head away and reach inside, determined not to look. As soon as my fingers close around the hat, I jerk my hand out of the closet and slam it shut before running downstairs.
I go back outside. I think about going to Nick’s. Or Mia’s. But then I don’t feel like it and head for the old playground instead.
You rode those swings so high, I used to think you might end up looping yourself over the rail. Too much air above and below is scary. Is it because we can’t fly? But I never wanted to be a bird. That’s what you wanted.
But I think I want to be a bird too, now.
The plastic seat is already warm under my butt, like you’d just sat on it for hours. I draw back — way back — and let go with a swing. Kick and swing, kick and swing. I’m climbing, climbing, too high, but promise, I won’t stop—
I terrify myself for a few seconds and come back down lightheaded. There, wasn’t that good enough?
I hold onto the chains, trying to catch my breath until a sting to the back of my neck makes me jump up again. Swatting away a mosquito, I start looking for shade. I could sit under a tree, crawl up a slide, or get something nice across the street. I lick my lips and cross the street.
As soon as I’m in the cafe, a man brushes past me and pays for something cold and sweet. It’s an easy pick for him, like it always was for you—hot chocolate in the middle of summer and cold smoothies in winter. I feel for change in my pockets and get in line. When it’s my turn, the lady at the counter recognizes me.
“Hey, how are you doing?” She asks softly.
“Good, thanks,” I say automatically, avoiding her eyes. To my relief, she doesn’t ask any more questions. I pick the hot chocolate. I down the warm liquid as soon as it’s in my hands and immediately regret it. I can’t even finish half the cup, not even under the AC. How could you drink this stuff in the sun?
How could you? I don’t get you.
I don’t get what I’m doing here.
Should I go back home? Wanna come over?
The thing in the closet comes back to me and I realize you’ve already invited yourself in. Are you still there?
I run all the way back home.
As soon as I’m in my room, I close the door behind me. Taking a deep breath, I reach below the clothes and into the very back of the closet. I pull out a pink dress, so light and soft I’m scared it might turn into a bird and fly away.
It was your favorite, and the last thing you ever said to me. I know I said it looked pretty, but I meant it looked pretty on you.
It might look pretty on you, too.
Did you mean that? Did you really mean that? You wore it every Monday — just last Monday. I never did. Did that make you sad?
We used to look for cicada cocoons on trees after school, remember?
I unfold your dress and I smell soap I can’t smell anywhere else, not in the bathroom or even the laundry basket where we used to hide playing hide-and-seek. The tiny zipper at the back takes forever to slide down. The metal teeth are too loud. The thin cotton settles tight around my shoulders, the short sleeves even shorter on my arms.
See? It’s yours, not mine. So come and get it.
I’m curled up on my side on the bed when a loud knock on the door breaks me.
Dad opens the door.
“Tom?” He sounds confused. “Tom, what are you doing?”
I let out a whimper, something about how I didn’t have enough hot chocolate on the sweatiest of summer afternoons.
Yoon Chung is a writer based in South Korea. She has a new story forthcoming on Strange Horizons, and her works have appeared on Hobart, Fairlight Shorts, and more. She studies intimacy at her desk and literature in college.