Unfinished (Chapter 10)

by Dash Owens

First time reader? You can find the previous chapters here.

Maeve at one time had a professor of education ask the class: what do we owe one another? What do we owe to ourselves? Maeve had a complicated answer to these questions because she owed others quite a bit. She owed one bank around sixty-thousand dollars for her undergraduate education, and another forty thousand to the federal government for her graduate studies. She owed her credit card providers a changing amount, though it was always four digits long. She owed her mother seventy-dollars once a month for her cell phone. 

But what did she owe herself? When she was alive, Maeve thought she was owed a chance to read every book listed as “Great” and “Canonical;” she was born into a world already indebted to her, where she should be able to realize every dream and take every risk; she earned by being alive and having a mind the right to be at every table and to share every thought. The grade-school teachers who sent her to the corner and the office, the grant approval committees who were uninterested in a philosophical review of foundational numeracy curriculum, boyfriends who wanted to stay in for her to edit their essays, principals who rejected her project proposals and well-meaning feedback; they were all denying her soul what was owed to her: freedom. Complete, absolute, bottomless freedom. 

Maeve continued to improve her movement. When she concentrated, she could move across a room almost instantaneously. When she practiced with Edward, he cued her to move by pretending to tap his right breast and whispering, “Energize.” Maeve didn’t practice as often as she thought she should. Somehow, weeks passed by Maeve with little notice. She and the others entered an apartment building and often did not leave until every television and computer screen was off. They never paid much attention to any of the people, except when the people proved too distracting. Some had a show playing while they talked, and others played loud music and muted their screens. Once, Maeve saw a young man nail his own hand to a bookcase. On purpose. He screamed and cried and rocked on the floor after yanking out the nail wedged between two knuckles. This Old House was playing the whole time. 

They always ended up back at the Court street theater, usually after Edward left them to go to the library. On occasion, Maeve reconsidered her decision to reject the clerks. She wondered if Edward and Cassandra might read an N.K. Jemisen trilogy she failed to finish before dying. Then Maeve remembered how little compassion the clerks offered her, how rude and patronizing their questions and procedures were, and she discovered in her expanding reservoir of feelings no desire to enter the second floor room at the Brooklyn Public Library again. 

But she did become aware of a different yearning: a growing sense of Mary’s absence, and an impulse to fill that void. While Junie, Belinda, and Edward mourned the ending of the most recent Last Castle season with a The Other Side with Edgar Stewart marathon at Antonio’s house, Maeve used her newfound speed to travel down Atlantic to Malcolm X. To her surprise, Mary was there, right outside her building made of the new sleek black material popular with recent Brooklyn construction, and she was unlocking her bike. 

Mary, as blonde and tan as ever, wore tight black leggings and a white Nets t-shirt knotted in the corner of her hip. Maeve scanned the world around her and saw the final throes of summer in the fading green of the leaves and beads of sweat dripping down the foreheads of passing pedestrians. Mary nudged up the kickstand and climbed atop her bike. As she rode down the streets towards Prospect Park, Maeve flew alongside. For Maeve, time and speed were irrelevant, and she observed the ways Mary’s breath shortened and her back bent at a forty-five degree angle. She phased through parked cars like quick blinks, and Mary’s legs still pumped with effort. Maeve recalled the way the heat from the roads steamed underfoot and the moist air clung to the skin; she used to tell everyone there was nothing more disgusting than a New York City summer. 

Mary turned on to the Eastern Parkway promenade and maneuvered around groups walking with their iced coffees and bagels in the bike lane. The air thrummed with the noon bells of St. Teresa’s on Classon and Maeve wondered what day it was. She glanced over to see Mary’s shirt back was limpid with sweat and she made out the green mesh of a sports bra. She thought how uncomfortable Mary must be, but she found it difficult to conjure the exact way it felt for the mixture of sun and sweat to burn skin; how the incessant pedaling weighed on the quadriceps and strained angled calves. 

Mary reached the traffic circle at Grand Army plaza. Maeve considered peeling off and looking for Edward or Cassandra at the library, but she was not yet ready to leave Mary. They entered the park and turned right to begin the circuit for bikers. They descended the West side of the park, and Maeve noticed the way some hair stuck to the dew on Mary’s neck while the wind blew back the rest of her blonde ponytail; Mary’s lip widened into a smile with the magical exhilaration of racing a bike downhill. They flew around the southern shore of the lake and followed the circuit past smokey barbeques and children squirting water guns. Maeve looked out into the water and wondered what would happen if she went in. Could ghosts swim?

Maeve at first didn’t notice when Mary slowed on the eastern hill of the park, and she sped far ahead of her. Maeve started to turn back towards Mary when she was stilled by the sight of two men. They were on the faded white line separating the pedestrian lane from the bike lane. One man, the shorter, wrapped his arms around the longer-limbed man, who bent his head so that it was fitted into the nook of the shorter man’s neck. They were both crying. Light twinkled between the shadows of the black locust and sycamore trees, and these speckles covered the men in a shimmering blanket. Maeve saw in it the tenderness of a nativity scene, and she put her hand to where her chest used to be. She imagined for a moment an almost pressure, a sense of her insides being squeezed. 

Mary approached Maeve, pushing her bike up the hill. Her skin reddened with exertion. She marched forward without noticing the men, which Maeve pitied. Maeve looked back at the couple and wished them a kind of infinity where they could remain in one another’s arms. 

“I’m so hot,” the taller man broke the silence, pulling up his shirt to wipe the tears and sweat from his face. 

“Let’s go over to the shade,” the shorter man said. 

Maeve’s attention turned back to Mary, and she followed Mary back to her apartment. 

It had been hours, and Maeve began to wonder what the others were doing. What were they watching? She decided to stay with Mary until it was dark, and then she planned to return to Court street. 

Mary collapsed on the couch and pulled out her phone. Maeve laid next to her as she scrolled through instagram photos. She wondered how it must smell — a collection of body odor and vanilla scented plug-ins. Maeve’s fingers wishfully curled in and out of Mary’s left wrist, which she once heard Mary compare to the width and material of an elephant tusk. Perhaps Maeve didn’t need to go back to Court street. 

Mary’s head collapsed to the side and eyed a stack of mail on the coffee table. She grabbed the pile and flipped through the items. 

“Junk….junk…junk…junk…” She paused at a white envelope addressed by hand to Mary. Maeve recognized the return address. 

“Fuck” was all Mary said. She ripped open the envelope and took out a thick, champagne colored card with a pastel pink heart and scripted “Thank You.” Inside the card read:

Dear Mary, 

We are writing to thank you for traveling to Michigan to speak at Maeve’s wake. It meant so much to her family and friends to hear from someone who knew her so well. Please know you will always have a place to visit and stay if you are ever again in the area. 

With love, 

Jill and Mark 

A door slammed and Jenn, Mary’s roommate, entered the living room from her bedroom.

“Who sent you a card?” Jenn asked offhand, opening the fridge door. “Now what should I eat?”

“Maeve’s parents. They sent me a thank you card for speaking at the funeral.” 

Mary threw the card back on the coffee table. 

“Oh, wow. How are you feeling?” Jenn pulled out a bag of grapes and leaned against the closed fridge door. 

“Honestly…” Mary sat up, and Maeve did with her. “This is so fucked up…Can I say something fucked up?”

“Always,” Jenn nodded, the shape of unchewed grapes bubbled under the skin of her cheeks. 

“I mean,” Mary took a quick breath, a signal Maeve recognized, and something like fear vibrated through her. “I almost fucking hate her. Her parents…they were the nicest people, the absolute nicest people. And all Maeve ever said about them…” Maeve wondered how Mary would react if she knew how close they were at this very moment. “She acted like they were complete idiots, but who really was the idiot in the end? She died in such a shitty, stupid way. And the worst part, the part that makes me mad at her and, really, mad at myself…She died right before my birthday. Like, now every time it’s my birthday, I think about Maeve, and then I think…she died like an idiot.” 

Maeve became quite small. She started to sink into the crevice separating the two large couch cushions, while she continued to stare up at Mary — Mary who loomed large when Maeve was alive, Mary who right now seemed to destroy everything.

“You know, I don’t even miss her. And I feel like a terrible person for saying it out loud. Like everyone will just think I’m an asshole. But Maeve was so fucking condescending. She always had to know more, to have the last word, to have the funniest reference. She had to feel like you knew she was smarter than you, even if it wasn’t true. And then she died like an idiot.”

Maeve heard enough and left. 

Later, during the most recent iteration of a horror series, Maeve turned to Edward and said: “You know, I felt another feeling today.”

“Congratulations! Which one?”

“I can still feel sad. Congratu-fucking-lations to me.”

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