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art by Cheryl L Owen-Wilson

Have You Seen My Girl?

Brent lives in St. Louis. He spends his time developing software, writing, playing blues on his piano, and looking for other creative ways to push buttons. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and can be found online at fossilist.wordpress.com.

Have you seen her?
She's tall and slender and tilts her head to the side when she studies you. Her face is a mosaic of mismatched pieces: eyes too large, mouth too small. Her spiky copper hair brightens to red at the tips. Completely natural, or at least I've never seen it change. She's not pretty, but she has one of those faces that you notice. The kind you sneak another peek at when you think she's not looking. She fascinates.
The first time I met her, I was stopped at a light, drumming the wheel, in a hurry to get elsewhere. She stood, hunched in a downpour on the curb looking lost and bewildered. I rolled down the window and asked if she needed a lift. She shrugged and folded herself into the passenger seat. I asked where she needed to go and she shrugged again. "I'm just visiting here," she said.
Something about her intrigued me, even then, so I said, "You can stay at my place." She smiled as if the gesture was new to her.
I loaned her a t-shirt and pants that were only a little too long to replace her wet clothes. She emerged from the bathroom, exotic wrapped in plain. The t-shirt she wore inside out, and somehow that appealed to me. I said nothing.
I invited her to stay as long as she liked. She shrugged. "I'm only visiting," she said. But she stayed, and the rhythm of her presence settled in my space.
We climbed to the roof of my apartment one night, and lay on a blanket, looking at the stars. She pointed them out and gave them names I've never heard and wove stories about them.
"A garden world orbits that one. It has red flowers as big as your head that drift in the breeze."
"There is the home of a childlike race ruled by a near-immortal."
I listened to her made-up stories and ran my palm along her pale skin until her slender fingers entwined with mine.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"Far away." She pointed to another star and spun a tale of a restless traveler who once lived there.
She talked nonsense as she drifted into sleep next to me, the smell of her skin--like cinnamon turned sideways--comforting in the dark. "Simplicity suits me," she would mutter, or, "I wish I could stay." When I woke her up to ask what she meant, she would look at me with her near-violet eyes and shrug and close them once more, leaving me to watch her pulse dance a little too slowly in her throat.
Her quirks enamored me. The way she nibbled at her food as if each taste might surprise her. Or how she stopped to smell each item we passed in the store. Her insistence on finding Aldebaran each night, and how she grew despondent when clouds obscured it. I would pull her head to my shoulder and whisper old songs in her ear until she fell asleep.
I sensed mystery in her and asked questions, hoping to discover her secrets. She listed the elements that made up the food we ate, the air we breathed. I asked her how things worked and she told me: the television, weather patterns, the space shuttle. "Where is Canada?" I asked, or, "Who was the first man on the moon?" She shrugged and sang along with the radio, her voice adding notes between notes in a way that disturbed me even as it sent shivers through my skin.
The smallest things fascinated her, everyday happenings so common I'd forgotten to notice them. A lone dandelion. Sun against the universe of grass. Fog glowing with streetlight as it rolled up from the bay. Discordant cricket music in the last moment of daylight.
She never cried, or belly-laughed, but over time I learned to sense her excitement, or anger, or when she was tired. Only a week ago, her eyes turned dark and her mood, melancholy. "What's wrong?" I took her hand. "What can I do?"
She shrugged and smiled at me and traced a line down my cheek with a cold finger. "You've been everything I came here for," she whispered. She grabbed my hand and pulled me outside and we walked in the park where she gathered fallen leaves. "To remember," she said.
This morning I woke up alone. My t-shirt lay folded, inside out, in her space, and the not-quite smell of cinnamon lingered on her cold pillow. Coffee languished cold in the pot, ivoried with yesterday's cream.
I drive slowly now, scanning every face along the streets. None of them are her. None of them can ever be. I struggle to remember how I lived before her. She's strange in ways I've never known, but she fits me. No one has ever made me feel more human.
Have you seen her?
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author Comments

My girlfriend was the inspiration for this story. She sometimes says things to me in her sleep like, "Bananas are a mineral rainbow," or, "Four squirrels is too many." When I ask her what she means, she never responds.

- Brent C. Smith
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