To Trace a Landscape

Nonfiction by Aleigha Kely


In San Diego I spill over the beach like syrup. There’s a tendency to dance, to move quickly across the lush surface. I smile big into the camera and watch fit people run three miles. I swim in the ocean and feel each speck of salt as it merges with my skin. I open my eyes. Catch a jellyfish in the act. Eat the best French toast I’ve ever had.

Passing through Virginia I drink the blackest coffee. I can see trees, speckled soft like broccoli. This part of the drive is refreshing, like jumping into cold river water. I wonder where all the people live. “Somewhere in those trees,” Bell says without looking up. I smile and think about exposed wood houses. I scan the tree line before we hit the tunnels—those stark gold and black entrances I can never quite brace for. When we hit them I feel drunk, dizzy, sheltered.

Reaching Pennsylvania, I brace for rain. I sleep in the car and leave my tent outside to get monsooned. In Pennsylvania the tolls are absurdly expensive, and the entire festival is a mudslide. Abby and I gear up to head outside. When we get there, I can’t take my eyes off Michael. I smoke and watch his light shows one after another. I swear to god the colors get brighter. Purple and orange is by far the best combination. I make a mental note to tell him.

As I’m crossing the street in Illinois, a lit-up fire truck nearly hits me. On the other side of the street, I take my headphones out, and Alex is calling me. I tell him I feel remote, that I nearly died of distraction, that all the worms have dried up on the sidewalk. He says he’s not in town. He’s headed home to see his brother. Later, I go on a drive towards Champagne, chain-smoking and blasting the heat. I like the way smoke unfurls if you let it. I guess I’ve kept waiting for something to happen, for him to say what he’s thinking—maybe I love you, maybe let’s go to IHOP. But we just keep going to that coffee spot, to Donnie’s, to sleep. One night at the piano, I mention leaving. His face says not now, but he tells me that he saw it coming, that I’ve been unhappy for a while. He takes the Solo cup from my hand and places it on the kitchen sink.

In Chicago, I drink vodka quickly in a hotel bathroom. Outside, the snow sweeps like a blindness through the city. I escape into Gucci, to the highest floor of the building where Blackstar is playing through the ceiling. The song is its own environment, a grim death, like sandstone or some biblical desert. On the day of execution, he wouldn’t even smile. All those beautiful clothes remind me that affections are material; that they can be easily tailored.

In Detroit, I adjust my clingy shirt in the summer breeze. Michael and I walk around the city. All I can hear is jazz, but there are never enough horns. We stop at a bar before heading back into the heat. I take all the little pills and yell something down the overflowing street. A man walks right out into the road and I laugh. By the end of the night, I am saturated in blue. The parking garage smells like cigarettes, and the drive out of the city is a gray-washed bleak. I promise myself to never go anywhere ever again.

Back home, I stretch out over Lake Michigan. I imagine the world twisting and swallowing. The brisk air reads healthy in my lungs, and the whitecaps return softly to the water. At the edge of the pier, I say let me go asI turn towards the white and swim out past the buoys, into the pitch of it. I swim down into the coldest parts, open my eyes wide, and propel myself down, further and further.


About the Author:

Aleigha Kely is a junior at Grand Valley State University. She likes horror movies best, and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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