I was driving, maybe to the grocery store or the pharmacy. I must have been thinking about Jenna and all the times she tried to drag me out to the desert. About how funny it would be if we ran into each other out there. She’d be complaining about her sweaty bra. I’d be on the verge of hot, angry tears, thinking about all the sand that would end up on my kitchen floor. No, I didn’t actually think I would see her out there. I mean, I didn’t think seeing her would change anything either. It’s not like there was anything worth saying anymore. It had been a couple years, and we both kind of messed each other up anyway. Mutually assured destruction, or whatever.
I must have been thinking about Jenna. There’s no other reason I would’ve driven out to the desert. I had run through all my usual imaginary conversations with her before I finally stopped and got out of the car. I don’t think I could find that place again if I tried. Except for a few big rocks and some scruffy plants, there was nothing around but the gentle curve of the earth and the sandy mountains on the horizon. The sun had just started to scrape its bottom against the mountain peaks. I didn’t know what else to do, so I sat down between a big tumbleweed and a cluster of prickly pears. Jenna always talked about coming out here to watch the sunset, but I had always made up some excuse not to go.
I was thinking about getting up when I heard the grit-crunch of footsteps. She came out from behind a big rock shaped like the back half of an elephant. I thought for a minute that she hadn’t seen me, but how could she miss my big rusty Subaru. All at once, I felt like an intruder. She was dark, barefoot. Her dress, light green with flowers all over it, didn’t stick to her like my shirt did to me. She looked like she had more of a right to be there than I did.
“All this desert,” she said, her face erupting into a smile.
I apologized and stood up, trying to brush the sand from my jeans.
“No, you don’t have to leave,” she said, still grinning. “Aren’t you watching the sunset?” She kicked the tumbleweed out of the way and sat down in its place.
I thought about leaving for a few more seconds before sitting back down next to her. It had been awhile since I had been alone with a girl.
“You’re not meeting anyone, right?” she asked.
I shook my head.
She just grinned again and looked out at the sun, which had just slipped its belly button past the horizon line. She had wild hair. It whipped around her face in fat, fuzzy black spirals.
“I’m Lana,” she said without looking over at me.
“Hi Freddy. It’s really nice to meet you.” She laughed and looked at me like I was supposed to laugh, too.
We sat all quiet for a while. I didn’t know if I was supposed to ask her questions or not. The sun dipped itself further and further into the mountains, and we both kept our eyes locked on it. When it was just about to disappear, I felt her turn to look at me.
“Hey, Freddy,” she said, turning her whole self to face me.
I shifted to look back at her. “Yeah?”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
I nodded, tried to smile.
“When I was little,” she began, pausing theatrically to steal one last peek at the sun. “When I was maybe eight or nine, I came out here alone and got lost for a while. A couple days, maybe. But, I thought I was stuck out here forever, like I was going to have to live out here like a coyote or something.”
The sun had slipped behind the mountains, but the moon had spun up into its place, brighter than I had ever seen before. I looked over at Lana. “That’s crazy,” I said.
The moon was so close and bright, we cast shadows on the sand behind us. The stars had given up trying to be seen that night, and the moon radiated with their hidden energy. All around us, night bugs rattled and whirred. I stared down at our shadows, one Freddy-shaped dark patch and one Lana-shaped dark patch.
When I peeked back up at her, she was sitting, her face bright, reflecting the moon reflecting the sun.
She said my name again. “Freddy?”
“Can I show you something?” She stretched her right arm out, palm up. Her veins were so vivid against her dark skin.
She reached over with her left hand and grabbed at her skin where her elbow bent. Slowly, she peeled the skin of her forearms off like she was taking off gloves. Inside, there weren’t any bones. She was held up instead by a series of circles, like an old hoop skirt. Her fingers looked like stacks of rings.
She pulled off her torso like an old t-shirt and tossed the skin of her legs off behind the tumbleweed. Her dress sprawled out over her empty skin like foam-green lichens. Wearing only her face now, she stood in front of me like a skeleton of hoops and rings. She reached out a slinky hand out to me. I could feel the spaces between the circles on her fingers when she laced her them through mine. She slipped her little circle toes into the sand and pulled me out towards the moon.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Around,” she laughed.
We ran across the sand, still warm from the sun, closer and closer to moon. Before long, it was hovering right above us. Lana reached her arms around to engulf me. She pulled me against her tummy circles, and I hugged her back. It felt like she was all ribs.
Standing so close to the moon, we were bathed in cool blue light. She pulled back from me, and I looked down. One Freddy-shaped patch and a thousand circle-shaped patches. When I peered back up at her, she was tugging at the skin around her eyes.
“Lana, what are you doing?”
“I’m spinning,” she said as the last of her chin slipped away from her face circles. I was expecting something terrifying, but her empty face seemed to still be smiling softly at me. She pulled me back in against her, and as I closed my eyes, she started to twirl us.
When I opened my eyes, we were thirty feet off the ground. I wasn’t sure if I was spinning around her or if she was spinning around me, but we were both spinning around the moon. Around the moon around the Earth around the sun. We stayed like that for hours. We spun, and her face circles still caught some of the moonlight, and I smiled at her until I thought my face would split in half and my brain would float off into space.
“I wish we could stay here forever,” I yelled over the wind in my ears.
“I said I wish I could stay here forever.”
She pulled me against her a little tighter, but we were already drifting back towards the sand beneath us. It wasn’t until my feet touched the ground that I realized how dizzy I was.
“I have to sit down,” I said, tumbling before I could find my way gracefully.
Lana still spun around me, her circles swiveling about her like a thousand swirling satellites. The moon was starting its own descent.
When the world stopped pulsating beneath me, I pulled myself up to my feet and snuck my fingers back between hers. She led me back to our tumbleweed. This time she didn’t tug ahead of me. She slinked along next to me, resting her circle cheek on my shoulder.
We walked for only a few minutes before my Subaru came back into view. I sat down next to the prickly pear again while she gathered up all of her skin. She stood in front of me, facing the mountains, and put her face back on. It was strange then, to see her smile with her mouth in place.
She took her time slipping the rest of her skin on. She pulled her legs up like pantyhose, making sure that each circle toe fit into the right slot. She smoothed her thighs out, pausing to adjust a freckle or a scar. She tugged on her torso, her light dress still hanging over the empty skin.
She sat next to me now, holding the skin of her hands draped elegantly across her dainty circle palms.
“Freddy?” she asked softly.
“Can I give you something?”
I glanced over at her and nodded.
Gingerly, she slipped a finger circle off of her right hand and reached it out.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
She nodded. She stuffed her hands back into their skin and leaned her cheek onto my shoulder for a moment, hopped up, and walked off towards the sunrise.
I looked at the fragile ring in my palm before glancing up to see where she had gone. I should’ve asked if she needed a ride back into town, but she was already gone. I slipped Lana’s finger ring onto my pinkie and climbed back into my dusty hatchback. As I drove off, I left nothing behind but my powdery tire tracks in the light of the rising sun.
Meghan Clemens is currently finishing her undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Between trips to the dog park with her mutt Toast, she enjoys knitting and studying Black Feminist Theory.