18 and Zoe

by Julia Eppes

            Zoe wrote stories. She wrote stories as a child, crayons splayed in wonderful waves over the dilapidated table right in front of the television. Her mother brought her ream upon ream of used office paper from work, and she colored over watermarks, emails, old correspondences. She wrote sagas, stacks of stapled stories that collected everywhere. In her stories there was always a character who hid in a corner, a boy, who was gentle and silent, but somehow lethal; something ominous crawled between his brows.

            Once, as she was coloring rampantly, Zoe coughed. An unexpected mass lurched onto her unfinished page. It was oddly coagulate and collected, like a small, haphazard placenta. She looked up from her work at the unwelcome visitor. Zoe silently arose, gathered a ball of tissue, collected the strange interruption, and threw it away. She kept coloring as the wet spot on her paper dried. It was almost as if it hadn't happened.

                                                                        ***

            As Zoe got older, she lost her fervor with her crayons. But she never really stopped writing stories. Actually, everything was stories. While characters on pages danced, people in classes fell flat. She fell in love, but at a distance. She loved peripheral things like his tender ankles, the pale white skin. Her love was an ideal, and she engaged with him only in dreams. But soon the dreams seeped into everything. Her devotion was unwavering to the paper man leaning against her inner walls. Outside, people asked her for things, which she gave them, from homework assignments to favors; it didn't matter to her. She lived somewhere else.

                                                                        ***

            Once, as they sat together, he took the skin of her upper thigh between his fingers and locked his eyes with hers, pinching hard.

            “Does it hurt?” he said quietly.

            She nodded yes, it did, but sat still.

            “You fuckin' mime.”

            They both didn't like the same thing about her.

            “Do you have any self respect?” her friend asked her.

                                                                        ***

            When Zoe was eighteen, she had to write a story for class. She felt strangely fallow, and asked a friend for advice.

            “Write about two people having a conversation, but have the twist at the end, like it turns out they're on the moon,” her friend suggested.

            A story didn't have to take place on the moon to be interesting. But where else would it take place, then?

                                                                        ***

            Once there was a girl named Zoe who could feel nothing toward her fellow men, and instead took a liking to trains. She drew these feverishly in her notebooks until the ink odor eroded her nasal passages and got her the closest to high she would ever get, until one day she stood before the tracks and, in a moment of pure release, threw herself into the path of an oncoming train. When they met, it was the purest cataclysm and the purest catharsis- an ultimate, orgiastic repentance.

                                                                        ***

            As a child in Sunday school, Zoe learned about Jesus when he was a baby, and when he was an adult. She had asked, “but what about when Jesus was a teenager?” and had gotten no reply- at least not one substantial enough to remember.

            So, when Jesus was eighteen, he fell into kind of a rut. He didn't know what to believe anymore. His Father had always been a bit strict, and quite remote. He didn't know what caused it, until he realized that nothing at all could have caused it. He lived with his mother, but she was strange, and kept waking him up in the middle of the night to show him her online dating profile and wearing fishnets to the grocery store. He grew up in the college town, so he simply moved down the street to the dormitory.
             Across the hall was a girl named Zoe.

                                                                        ***

            Zoe too was from the college town. She wasn't from anywhere, actually, or at least that's what she said. Once she dreamt of a fifth grade reunion, and cartoon characters showed up. She had a strict diet of saltines and cigarettes, which was the only thing she did with fervor. His eyes were deep and blue, but stricken with something, a strange and familiar sear that she tumbled into gratefully. His hairline crept high in striking V- a widow's peak or premature balding- and his forehead was pecked with a slew of faint scars.

            There was a meek man on the street corner holding a sign that knew his Father better than he did.

            “God didn't go to an Ivy League college!” the man shrieked to the collegiate masses. Sometimes Zoe sat and listened to the man, and wrote down what he said.

                                                                        ***

            In adolescence, Zoe's stories had been about teenagers who crawled into bed together, illicitly. It wasn't even the sex that was illicit- it was the intimacy itself. She wanted them to be able to hold one another. Her characters were wandering people of many different names and faces who somehow coalesced in alternative solidarity, amidst strange circumstances; she posited wooden crates for coffee tables, moonlit rooms that hummed like satiated snakes. The stories were repetitive, the names changed, but no matter who he was, he was always out there. Her friends would always warn her. But there was always something in her, something subtle and creeping and latent, and this dark restless within sought him. In clumsy paragraphs they'd find fleeting connection. But just writing them wasn't enough. She wanted them to be able to hold one another. There she had composed his startling blue eyes, and the little scars on his head.

                                                                        ***

            “There has to be a Truth,” Jesus said.

            She didn't think so.

            “You're such a fucking nihilist,” he said.

            She didn't think so.

            He pulled up to the drive-thru window and received his milkshake and sandwiches. Sometimes he made her feed him as he drove. Neither of the sandwiches were for her; all she ate was crackers. He told her he knew for a fact that the milkshake had twelve hundred calories, and that he found himself sticking his finger down his throat sometimes, because he didn't want to get fat like his father.

                                                                        ***

            One evening he sauntered into her room looking ill. His pupils shook regretfully in their sockets, the darkness under his eyes casting the whites into almost hysterical relief. In the moment she got up to greet him, in an unintended gag of reality, he vomited on her foot.

            “I go on the computer too much,” he said, taking off his clothes.

                                                                        ***

            He liked thought exercises, and sometimes told her that he wasn't sure she existed outside of his mind. She drew a picture of him, once. The ink swelled from his drawn nostrils into hers. When she showed him, he screeched in recoil and threw it across the room. He said it looked too much like him. But he forgave her, and somehow she fell asleep.

            She dreamt she was on a train beside him. A figure materialized at the window. He was holding a cup out her, as he hovered outside of the window of the speeding train. Zoe extended her hands and took the cup, but fumbled with it. A warm liquid clot collapsed into her lap. She gasped in horror. He only muttered something incomprehensible, and winked at her. She quickly looked down at the mess in her lap and up again at the apparition, but he had already dissipated into the air.

            She looked over to the sunken eyes of her partner. “What is this?”

            “It's him!” her friend, sitting across the aisle, screeched.

            Unfazed, he fixed his eyes on hers.

            “He has precious little life left,” he murmured, “so he's giving the rest to the messiah.”

             He began reaching for the cup.

            Prepare to release, a chorus pounded through her skull. Prepare to release...

            When she woke up, she found him lying beside her.

            “Do you sleep when I sleep?” he asked quietly.

            It was then, in a dizzying swell, that she realized that the cup had been given to her.

                                                                        ***

            Zoe urged him to go on walks with her, but he rarely wanted to leave the room. He was most comfortable soaked in moonlight, sequestered in the corner of her bedroom. But she couldn't quite tolerate watching the eves elapse, and so found herself wandering just to walk. She approached the man on the corner, and his sign. The religious man looked at Zoe. He spoke.

            “He was there when you were a child, and there to watch you grow. He has known your joys, and He has known your sorrows. He wants you to know Him as He knows you.”

                                                                        ***

            As they stood at the train tracks holding hands, the sirens blared their warning. He slowly lifted his arms, and, hands still laced with hers, plunged his fingers into his ears. Zoe gazed up at him, his eyes fixed placidly at the oncoming terror. Then she gazed up at the indifferent moon, where they certainly were not. Her hands tied, she was enveloped in the unfettered scream of the train.

About the Author

Julia Eppes enjoys walking around, thinking, and writing. She studied Anthropology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies in college, and now studies more infinitely interesting aspects of reality in her work as a gardener.