by Catherine Sinow
Adara was allowed to ride a bike beyond our street, maybe because her age was in the double digits. Sometimes she stayed behind and talked to me, though. It broke the monotony of my endless circles around the block.
“I can read palms,” she told me one day. We stopped our bikes and she grabbed my hand. “See this line? It goes up. This means you will die of old age.”
“What if it goes somewhere else?” I asked.
“If it goes straight, then you will die in an accident. And if it goes down, you will die from a disease.” She browsed my wrists. “You will have more than one husband.”
“At the same time?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’ll get divorced.”
“I don’t want to get divorced.” I felt adulthood prematurely dumped upon me as I realized I was no more immune to a bad marriage than anyone else.
“This isn’t in my control,” Adara said. “Anyway, you will have three children: a girl, another girl, and a boy. Oh, look—your middle child will suffer severe heartbreak.”
“What is ‘severe heartbreak’?” I asked.
“It could be a lot of things. Maybe she’ll get pregnant and the man will leave her.”
Adara brought me inside her room. She always kept the shades closed, and she had her own computer. She sat down at her desk and pulled up a professional-looking illustration of a golden dragon.
“I did this with Photoshop. It took so long.”
We sneaked into her brother’s bedroom; we tore the sheets off his bed and threw his baseball trophies on the braided rug. I went home and tried to find Photoshop on my computer; I found Microsoft Paint, which I thought was the same thing. I scribbled around with the blue paintbrush and gave up.
The next time we rode together, Adara told me about Catacomb, a video game she was making. She said if you knew code, you could design an entire game in Microsoft Word.
“There’s one part of the game where you come across this little boy in your journey, a little blonde kid with no abilities or anything. Most players wouldn’t even think to let him join their team, since he’d just be dead weight. But if they did let him join, farther down the line, they’d find out that when you’re in battle, he turns into this massive monster with a spiked shell and huge teeth, and tons of skill points.”
“Wow,” I said. “When can I play it?”
“Maybe this winter.”
We made a few more loops around the block; three out of the hundreds piled up over the course of all our time together. “Did I ever tell you I have two special friends?” she asked.
“Who are they?”
“One’s name is Appear, and she can only appear. The other is Disappear, and she can only disappear. Together they make me disappear from here, and appear in a land called Dream.”
“What’s in Dream?”
Adara swung her head upward at nothing in particular. I looked up, too, my dad’s scratched-up bike helmet falling down to my neck. “The sky in Dream isn’t blue; it’s pink. It’s a place where all your dreams are there for exploring. I can create anything I want in Dream—if I think of cotton candy, it appears in my hand. And Dream has all the answers. I ask the faeries there to tell me who I should talk to at school, the chosen people who can give me guidance. I learn how I can charm my parents into giving me money, and I find the answers to the things my parents don’t want me to find out. My parents never taught me the facts of life. My family in Dream is responsible for everything I know.”
I couldn’t breathe. I had spent the ninth year of my life praying for beings like Appear and Disappear to take me by the wrist, but they never came.
“How did you get Appear and Disappear to talk to you?” I whispered.
“Appear appeared in my room one morning and told me I was chosen.”
“You’re so lucky! How can I get them to talk to me?”
“With training, you can just go visit Dream on your own. You can teach yourself eventually if you know the right clues to look for in everyday life.”
“What are the clues?” I asked.
She smiled. “Follow me.” She led me to the sandpapery brick wall at the end of the cul-de-sac. The bricks weren’t red like the ones at school. They were beige, like all the other brick walls in our neighborhood. Adara stopped her bike and put her feet on the ground. She stroked her quilted rubber handlebars.
“I can vanish to Dream right now,” she said.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Go around the block. By the time you ride back around, I’ll be gone. Disappeared off to Dream.”
“I still don’t believe you,” I said. “This is weird.”
“Just try it. Then when you need me back, go around the block again.”
I rode up the street, a long and patient twenty-four houses. I turned around and pedaled back, and she and her bike were nowhere to be seen.
“Adara?” I cried. “I know you’re trying to trick me!” I shouted at the brick wall for twenty seconds, Adara’s total absence starting to convince me she was right. I rode to the end of the street and back again; she was there by the brick wall, sitting on her bike, with one foot on the ground.
“You hid,” I said.
“I went to Dream.”
“Can you tell me how to do it?”
“You might not want to know just yet.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Let me tell you what my favorite quote is,” she said.
She launched off on her bike, leaving me to trail after her.
“‘Ignorance is bliss, what you don’t know will hurt you, and the world is not a safe place. Enjoy what you have, and do not look for what is beyond, because there are forces out there that will steal your innocence. Innocence is the most precious thing you have.’” She turned around and looked at me. “Do you know who said that?”
“I did,” she said, standing up on her bike.
I pedaled up to her. “Can you tell me how to go to Dream?”
“Maybe,” she said. She stopped in her driveway and put one foot on the ground. “It’s getting kind of late; I should be going inside for dinner now.”
“It’s not getting late,” I said, panicking. “It’s three o’clock.”
“No, I can see the sky is kind of starting to look that evening blue way.” She went inside.
Adara and I agreed to meet at 11:45 AM by the community mailbox on Easter, but she didn’t show. I looked through my blinds every afternoon thereafter, but I never saw her riding her bike. Meanwhile, I spent huge amounts of free time searching for Dream clues: I skimmed every book in the classroom bookshelf, I scoured the back of my mom’s closet, and I spent ages with a flashlight, trying to peer inside the sound hole of my dad’s guitar. I started lying awake at night for hours, staring at my door, which was visible only by an outline of light from the hallway. If I looked at the dim trace of it long enough, the door moved farther and farther away.
School let out for summer. The next time I saw Adara was on Independence Day. I looked out my window and saw her roll past my driveway, so I hurried to my garage. I grabbed my bike and rode out with a blank look on my face, trying to make it appear like I was riding of my own accord.
“Danielle!” she said, cruising beside me.
“Oh hi, Adara.”
“There are more things I have to tell you,” she said. The wind blew her thick blonde curls everywhere, obscuring her face.
“Okay,” I said.
“Remember when I told you about Appear and Disappear?”
“If Appear can only appear, where did she come from? And if Disappear can only disappear, how does she reappear?”
“I…I don’t know,” I admitted.
“They’re the same person.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Everything is the same thing,” she said. “You and I are the same thing. This house and that house,” she pointed, “are the same.”
“Then how are you are over there and I am here?”
“It’s imaginary. We humans need something to hang onto, so we separate, separate, separate.”
“I don’t think I could see the world how it really is, even if I tried,” I said. We stopped; I looked at the houses and envisioned them melting together. It worked a little if I blurred my eyes, but upon de-blurring, the houses returned to their original positions. “I can’t do it,” I said.
“They’ve trained us against knowing how,” said Adara.
Adara and I pedaled up driveways and off curbs, feeling our shock absorbers tame the pavement. “Some people, about one percent, are actually nine-tailed foxes in disguise,” she told me. “They’re called Yokos, and they will hurt you. That’s why you always have to watch who you tell your secrets to. Trees have ears, and so do walls. Be careful.”
“I will be,” I said.
“You know a lot now, Danielle. You are now one of the Elites.” I didn’t ask what that word meant.
“It’s good to know all these facts,” I said. I decided this was the right time to impress her with one of my home-brewed philosophies. “I think about this stuff on my own sometimes. One of my theories is that as time goes on, I’ll be immune to all my senses, and life will be meaningless,” I said.
“That can happen,” she said. “I’m older than you, so I have it worse. Playing video games is much less fun than, say, even six months ago.”
“What about your video game that you made?”
“Oh, I’ve got a safety net against that. Catacomb is very stimulating. It uses parts of your brain that normally aren’t used.”
“Is it going to be rated M?”
“I don’t think it could have a rating, or even be released like normal. It’s not violent, or too sexual. Just too complicated for most people’s heads.” At this point, we were starting to veer off the street. “Maybe it should be only for the Elites.”
We made circles on the big road that connected to our cul-de-sac, dodging minivans. My circles were tentative; I kept edging back toward our street.
“Sometimes I see everything being the same,” Adara said. “Disappear comes and makes me disappear, usually in the morning when I’m lying on my bed. There, I have no body, and I see only blue. And who knows? One day, the blue might surround me, and then…another world.”
“Will that happen to me?” I asked.
“Probably not. I haven’t told you everything yet. I know it all, or at least a lot more than you do. And it’s a lot to handle.”
“I bet it is,” I said. I wanted to ask for more secrets, but I remembered what Adara said about how the truth could hurt me.
“I have to go,” she said, suddenly. “The Fourth of July party will be starting soon.”
“Is it at the Lothrops’ house?” I said, hoping it was the same party as the one my family was going to.
“Nope!” she said, yet again failing to register how much I wanted to hang out with her. “Mine is at the Abelmans’. They have a bonfire, and a cupcake buffet.”
My eyes lit up. “That sounds awesome. I want to go to that party,” I said.
“Maybe one day,” she said, and got on her bike. The good things in life, like bonfires and her company, were always out of reach. Now, according to her, it would only get worse from here.
“Well, I’d best be off now,” said Adara, and she pedaled away.
I tailed her into our street and stopped at my driveway, since my house came first. Fourth house on the left; hers was the ninth. Her bike continued to roll, and I watched her shrink until she was no bigger than a doll.
“Bye!” she yelled, turning around, stretching her arm out and waving.
“Bye,” I tried to say, but I couldn’t yell.
I walked my bike into the garage, threw it on my brother’s BMX bike, and sprinted for my room. Thirty minutes later, my mom parted my beaded curtain; she peeled the comforter off me and begged to know why I was crying. I used the excuse that had spared me a quarter of the fourth grade: I had a headache. But the truth was, I knew the dark truths of life that she could never comprehend. She brought me Advil with a coral plastic cup of water, but no matter how I pleaded, she wouldn’t let me stay home. So I went to my closet and dragged my hoodie over my head. “The Pacific Pine School” was stitched onto the front, so I detested it. I hated going to a private school. But it was the warmest sweatshirt I owned.
The Lothrops’ house had a panoramic view of the local canyon; thousands of illuminated house windows and streetlights sprinkled the opposite ridge. Darkness covered the backyard except where tiki lamps blazed, revealing huddling adults and gangs of kids running across the grass. A bean-shaped pool, filled with paddling bodies and pool floaties, dominated the the center of the yard. On that lawn I ate barbecue-flavored chips, made small talk with my classmates’ moms, and tried not to cry.
The fireworks began. Across the sky, some giant hand drew vibrant red and white squiggles. They exploded above the fairgrounds, obscuring the ocean. A second set rose from Rancho Santa Fe, where the billionaires lived behind gated driveways, and a third shot up from Poway, a hilly neighborhood known for its DMV. Alone in the darkness, with the blasts masking the ecstatic shrieks of toddlers, I began to sob again. I knew that the fireworks were made to please the normal people, and I was never going to be one of them. The fireworks meant nothing to me, never would. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Catherine Sinow tried a variety of sports as a child, but was not good at any of them. She is a graduate of Colorado College.