“I left when I was younger. And I don’t want you to make the same mistake.”
Miss Hobbs stares at the ground after her confession. With the eyes that are as dry and purple as dried lavender, the eyes of everyone from around here. It scrapes the insides of our eyelids but at least you can tell who belongs and who doesn’t.
“Well, I just…” I stutter and pick at the biscuit crumbs on my plate. “I need to see new things, and I’ll come back, I swear I’ll come back.” It’s hard to curl my tongue around that lie of returning.
“You don’t understand. You don’t understand what it’s like.”
Miss Hobb’s oldest son doesn’t have the eyes. She came back and 7 months later had a kid who didn’t have our eyes.
“It’s not even far. And I’m just going to university. I’ll come back and be a doctor and help.”
Miss Hobbs wrings her hands like they’re wet dish towels and I almost expect soapy water to come pouring out from her palms.
“Do you still want lemon for your tea?” She won’t look at me.
“Yes please, thank you.”
While she’s off in the kitchen, I make a pile of the crumbs on my plate. I’m leaving this place and never looking back. Except maybe a shoebox of memories, something to keep with me, something a main character in a movie would look at while sad music plays.
“Here you go,” She whispers as she hands me a lemon wedge. I squeeze it into the glass and the juice runs through the lines of my palm.
“Thank you.” Everyone here drinks sweet tea in the afternoons, everyone here has the purple eyes, and everyone here has a ghost.
“It’s a strange place, I know, but when you’re out there you’ll realize how good it is.”
“Is it really so good? What’s so good about this place?”
Miss Hobbs inhales sharply at my outburst.
“There’s a community. Everyone knows each other.”
“I’m not stupid, I know I won’t know anybody when I leave. I’m prepared for that.” I swallow tea quickly, just to have something to do.
“That’s what I thought too.” Her voice is softer than a rabbit's foot. Like the one my uncle brought home one time for a hunting trip.
“I’ve already decided to go.”
She butters another biscuit and her hands shake.
“Is that the only reason you brought me here? To tell me not to go?”
The knife clinks against the butter crock. The oily residue on it reflects the parlor light.
“You don’t know what you’re doing. I just wanted to put my two cents in, that’s all. I’ve been in the same situation, I thought maybe you would listen to me”
“We’re not the same. I won’t get knocked up and come crawling back to the town for help.” My words are twisted and coiled and they slash. It’s too far.
Miss Hobbs leaves, mumbling something about marmalade under her breath.
I press my napkin to my mouth, forcing myself to breathe and I can feel the papery cloth move with every exhale. I watch the deck through the window. We used to sit there and suck on popsicles and get splinters and put bandaids on cuts. Me and the boy with the wrong eyes. Ethan.
I push my chair back and hurry into the kitchen to find Miss Hobbs crying into her own napkin.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, you and Ethan were the best things to happen to me and I’m so sorry.”
I can’t hug her. I stand there hiccup-crying with one hand pressed against my mouth. Dried lavender comes out like tears from both of us, falling down cheekbones like an autumn leaf off a tree.
“I won’t leave, ok? I don’t want to leave you.” Or Ethan, but that doesn’t much matter when he didn’t even come back as a ghost. I thought for sure he would have come back as a ghost. Everyone here does.
Maybe it was the eyes.
Miss Hobbs nods, and doesn’t stop, up and down like a bobblehead, as she whispers “thank you.”
I leave the sweet tea and biscuit half-gone and I cry all the way home. The wind blows the dried leaves off my face.
I pack my bag and leave that night. But I promise myself I’ll come back to this place, and Miss Hobbs, even if it’s only as a ghost.