By: Lizzie Reezay
Kaya smiled at me, her face framed with her huge pearl earrings, eyelashes batting my confidence away. She’d braided the top of her hair to accent its straight, black perfection. She filled up her favorite turquoise bikini, and popped out her chest as we walked to the lake.
We sat at the end of the dock, dangling our feet in the warm water. It was swirling around us as the sun faded. She stared at my wild, tiny curls as they flew in every direction, eyebrows scrutinizing why I refused to relax my hair. I closed my eyes, soaking in the last of the sun’s warmth. I hoped she would look away.
“Are you okay, with Mom and Dad?” she asked.
I stared into the grey waters of the lake.
“I thought we came here to forget about that,” I answered.
She twisted a strand of her hair around her finger, staring out into the water.
“Yeah,” she said in a higher tone, “Yeah, we did. But I was just, I just— don’t want you to blame yourself for their problems.”
In the distance, a black boat drifted by.
“I do, I mean, I understand that it’s not my fault, but that doesn’t fix anything….at all,” I said.
Her oval eyes got bigger, “Kiana, we’re not broken,” she whispered, “You and I can never get divorced, or separated; we’re connected by something… metaphysical.”
“What did you take last semester?” I interrupted, laughing.
She paused in contemplation and then started laughing with me, “Intro to Philosophy,” she said, smiling.
“But Kiana, sisters for life, okay?” she squeezed my hand.
A black boat purred along in the distance, becoming smaller and smaller.
* * *
I woke up the next morning to the sound of running water. The hotel’s white sheet-blanket had been pulled over to Kaya’s side of the bed. Walking to the bathroom, I heard someone knocking on the door. I unlocked the deadbolt and opened it. No one was there. I stepped out into the hallway, propping the door open with my foot, and looked up and down the hallway— nothing.
Stepping back into the room, I walked into the bathroom. Steam was seeping out of the shower, fogging up the mirror. I breathed in the humidity.
“Kaya, I’m awake,” I called.
I rubbed away the steam on the mirror with my finger, then began writing out my name over and over in cursive.
“Ka-ya” I yelled, staring at my reflection in the mirror.
Owww, I thought, staring at a bruise on my temple. Where did that come from?
“Ka-ya, I’m opening the shower curtain in five seconds, if you don’t answer me,” I yelled.
The only sound I heard came from the rushing water.
I walked over to the shower, pulling at the curtain, and was hit in the face by the steam. She wasn’t in the shower. I slammed down the faucet and turned around, walking toward the bed.
“Kaya,” I called.
I opened the closet, and a spare pillow fell to the ground. I bent down to pick it up and then chucked it onto our bed.
* * *
My first memory of Kaya was when I was fourteen. I was preparing my room for reading: dimming the lights, turning off my laptop, and tossing pillows onto my bed. An overstuffed comforter, the color of the summer sky, hugged the swollen mattress. The pillowcases that matched it had been tie-dyed at summer camp when I was six. The tie dye had faded to an indistinguishable color, but if you looked closely, a cursive-lettered Kiana was still legible in the bottom right corner.
Something started tapping on my window: a gentle, monotonous sound. I crept toward my blinds, expectant of something important. I pushed the blue crepe fabric aside and cupped my hands around my face: there was Kaya, standing outside the window. She smiled at me when she saw my face spotlighted by the light in my room. I smiled back, somehow knowing who she was. Kaya pointed toward the front of the house and I knew she wanted me to let her inside. I tiptoed down the carpeted stairs and opened up the front door. Cold, brisk air flew in, tousling my black mound of tiny curls.
“Kaya?” I whispered, folding my arms over my chest.
“I’m right here,” she laughed, speaking from directly behind me.
“How did you?” I started.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, hugging me.
The door was still open; our figures illuminated by the blue moonlight, shadows standing next to each other, holding hands.
* * *
I walked back toward the bed; my suitcase lay next to it, unopened. Unzipping the electric blue zipper, I plopped it onto the bed, and started shuffling through clothes. I grabbed a pair of white short shorts, my bikini top, and a loose cover up shirt. I picked up the shirt, shaking it out to undo the wrinkles. Out flew a white piece of plastic, which fell down, landing on my foot. My shirt still in hand, I squatted down to pick it up: It was a disposable pill container. The label had faded away, but I could make out: Sorotooio I…
I tossed it toward the trash can and turned back to the bed to finish getting dressed.
Outside, the breeze was beautiful. The palm fronds waved back and forth, playing peek-a-boo with the sun. I stared up into the sky, the skin around my eyes wrinkling into submission. The sun was a white circle of beauty. I looked down into the water, seeing a reflection of myself. Tall, deep brown skin, black tousled hair, slouching as I walked toward the dock. Kaya wouldn’t be happy that I was killing my posture…Kaya…
* * *
The AC blew into my eyes, drying up my contacts. Rapidly blinking, I dried my tears with the harsh air. Mom drove the car achingly slow, barely accelerating after every stoplight. The news was blaring from the stereo; Mom pretended to listen. I stared out the front window, passing billboards and restaurants and street signs, but not seeing anything. Mom turned right into a run-down parking lot. We got out of the car, Mom opening the door for me, then manually locking the car door. Her eyes were glued to me. Inside the waiting room, Mom handed me a clipboard and a pen.
Kaya had laughed at me when I told her about the appointment, judging how I took it so seriously.
“Lie to him,” she said, flipping back her hair and lying onto her back, as we sat in the park, under the shade of a banyan tree.
I read the first question, Are you allergic to any medications? I checked the far right box for no. Have you ever been suicidal? I checked no. My eyes lifted up from the clipboard to the clock above, where a red sliver ticked around the black circle target. I checked the far right box on every other question, not even reading the words.
* * *
Walking down the dock, I noticed a ladder down into the ocean that I hadn’t seen the day before. I bent down and rubbed my fingers against it: rough metal dyed green-brown because of the salt. I heard a steady humming in the distance, and looked up: a black boat, drifted by through the water. I immediately stood up, eyes widening as the black boat opened up the nights’ events:
* * *
We were sitting by the water as the sun went down. Kaya was talking to me about our parents. Her words rang through my brain: You and I can never get divorced, or separated; we’re connected by something… metaphysical. Kaya pulled out the cell phone from my pocket, and maneuvered to the camera setting. She held it out in front of us, scooting toward me in a pose.
“Look happy,” she ordered, laughing, before snapping a picture of us.
Kaya set the phone down and then stood up on the dock. She brought her arms straight together over her head, and swan dived into the water. The water rippled apart from the spot she’d broken through the surface.
I squinted into the dark grey water, my vision encompassed by the darkness. A few seconds later, Kaya’s thin arms emerged out of the water. In three strokes, she swam back to the dock, her agile figure illuminated by the moon light. Her hair was slicked back away from her face, falling in glossy ribbons down her back. She splashed water at my face to coax me into the water. I looked away.
“Kiana, come on,” she begged, smiling up at me.
I kicked my foot into the water, splashing her away.
* * *
The sunlight streamed down into the water, momentarily blinding me. I walked down the dock, feeling as if at any moment Kaya would be strutting next to me down the lake’s catwalk. I sat down onto the wood, feeling a wave of dizziness come over me. It was starting again. Every time I took my medication, it created this. Kaya always hated when I took it. I did too. After my diagnosis, she laughed at me, when I told her how Mom had ordered me to take it.
* * *
Kaya entertained herself with a few exaggerated water flips, diving down into the water for long intervals of seconds. I grabbed the phone next to me, tapping to the camera app and clicked on recent photos. There was one of me sitting on the dock, then one of the sunset from the day before, and then photos from back home. I readily flipped through all of the photos, glancing up to make sure that Kaya wasn’t watching me. Then I went back to the first photo of me sitting on the dock, of just me, not me and Kaya— the one she’d just taken. I dropped the phone down on the dock next to me, hearing a quiet thump, as I stared out into the water. Kaya slowly swam back toward me, and lifted herself up onto the dock. She held out her hand for me, pulling me toward the darkened sky. I pulled her toward me, and hugged her as my eyes began filling with the inevitable tears.
“I have to leave you,” I whispered, pushing her away.
She stared at me in mock sadness, her hand on hip.
I turned away, and ran toward the hotel. Once in the room, I sat on the bed and pulled at the zipper of the suitcase.
“Thought it’d be that easy?” Kaya whispered in my ear.
“How did you—“ I screamed
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, blocking the zipper’s path with her hand.
I pushed her hand away, and flipped the suitcase open. Pushing through clothes and sunglasses and my phone charger and snacks, I maneuvered out a rubber-banded packet of antipsychotic pills. She grabbed at my hand, breathing inches from my face. She stood up, prying me off the bed, and pushed me against the wall. I felt the plaster smack into my forehead, sending me stumbling toward the metal door frame. My elbow cut into the edge of it, and I felt liquid oozing down my arm. I drew my hand to my elbow, dropping the pills. She knelt down to pick them up, and I stomped my foot over them, blocking her hand. I bent down to pull one out of the packet and set it on my tongue. Running toward the bathroom, I slammed the door shut with my foot as I turned on the faucet, sucking in the water that would flow Kaya out of my life.
* * *
I scooted toward the edge of the dock, until the sultry water swallowed my knees. I slid in all the way, splashing into the water. Pain jolted through my body, from my left arm. I rubbed against where the pain was centralizing, only making it worse. I swam toward the left side of the dock, where I’d just seen the ladder. It was gone. I swam around, turning. A single ribbon of red, bobbed up and down in the water around the dock, surrounding me. My eyes squinted against the light, as the blood slowly dissimilated into the salty water.
I pulled myself out of the lake, blood dripping down my arm, absorbing into my shirt. I stood up, and almost tripped over something on the dock. I looked down. It was my cell phone; pink liquid was now drizzling onto its’ cracked screen. I knelt down, and picked it up.
“You won’t be needing that,” Kaya whispered, breaking the surface of the water. Her face was mere inches from mine, as she supported herself against the dock’s edge. She held my eyes in hers as she reached out to grab the phone. Wiping off the blood stain from it, she tossed it behind her into the salty lake. I faintly heard it splash.
“Where were you?” I asked, not able to look away from her.
She didn’t answer. She just stared, faintly smiling.
“Kaya?” I said. “Kaya, are you okay?”
She faintly smiled at me, lifting up her arms toward my neck.
“Kaya, what are you doing?”
I pushed her arms away, feeling their loose grip, easily pushed away by my fingers.
Kaya slipped slowly into the gray water, arms over her head, like a diver.
“Kaya, no!” I screamed, hands reaching out and grabbing empty air.
The sun reflected white against the salty water that had been Kaya. A hint of pink splashed against the dock.
I stood up, running back into the hotel. What had been the glass door was a cracked stone frame. There was grass growing between what was left of the vinyl flooring. I looked behind me, watching the wind blow the palm fronds around and around, through the decaying doorway.
I ran up the beach, noticing the vast land that expanded all around this deserted hotel. I smoothed out my curls with my right hand, walking tall, with my shoulders back, like Kaya.