A to Z

Illustration by Ryan Miller.


He left his shoelace in Arizona.

It curled around two cigarette butts and specks of glass, baking in the southwestern sun, the only offerings to the birds circling the craggy red rocks bearing witness to the deserted desert.

Three minutes past 11 could have been three years past adolescence, he thought.

How silly. What use is a shoestring? Only a moment at 19 should hold such meaning. Yet at 22, it seemed appropriate. A week together and he thought he knew the world. He knew her, and she was the world.

That common article held a tangible connection to his travels. It was the same shoestring that had taken him backpacking across Europe, been tide-soaked on the sandy shore during his first surfing lesson in Fiji, been washed and sunned and worn so that the color drained from black to gray.

“If I hate steps, does that make me lazy?”

“Only if you ride the elevator to the second floor.”

“I like bleachers, not steps.”

Chatter from his roommates faded as the road changed texture. New Mexico.

He and she agreed not to ruin their time with the cumbersome obligations of communication, social or otherwise. No Facebook. No Twitter. Don’t email. Don’t call.

He might find her again. She might bump into him down the road.

But not the same road. Atop a weatherworn, burnt-brown heap of solidified dust, they’d agreed. Paths in life must come to a confluence of their own accord. The unstoppable force of time could not be allowed to meet the immovable object of a paltry two-decade knowledge of love or its merits and pitfalls.

Fallen is what she’d nearly done, off their ray-drenched perch. Throw in a few gusts of trouble and some gravelly problems underfoot. Then real difficulties could begin. No, they’d agreed: naturally or never.

It was such an odd stance in a world of instant community. The idea was organic. It might have grown up from the crevice they’d used as a climbing handhold. Maybe there wasn’t enough oxygen up on that rock, closer to the sun. His shoes too snug or his jeans too loose. Her wrist too constricted, her hair too unconfined, cascading, tumbling down the slopes of her mind.

Was it her idea or his? Theirs was a compact scheme, juvenile, of summer-camp sort. Her finger grazed the glaze on her lips. She had tendered specks away. Flakes were in a car headed in the opposite direction. He might have even rubbed them off prior to leaving.

“I have to go back.”

“Duh. Let’s do it again this summer.”

“Because that will work.”

“Work. Hello? Summer jobs.”

She pressed her head against the window. Hum from the tires translated to her cheekbone and displaced the future plans swirling in the car with a blacktop, concrete memory from an already-distant morning.

Mental math. Twenty-four hours in a day – although we did sleep a few hours, she thought – multiplied by seven days. Call it three days in when they met, she reasoned.

She knew less than 100 hours of him. No matter. The time stretched to forge soul-searing bonds. They thrived on mixed drinks, lemon wedges, stars, chlorine and an entire tray of cheesy fries. She and he grasped two bonfires, a moped and a stolen book. Plus, there was the adventure of one parking lot that no longer held an airplane-view resemblance to scattered combs.

100 hours. Less.

She had proposed or they had agreed, simultaneously, unquestionably, to bury those emotional filaments or at least leave them to the sun and the sweeping winds. “We shall hold for ransom the potential substitution of fiber optics for feelings. We shall suppress digital ones and zeroes with well wishes and farewell kisses.” Tops of rocks are invaluable for shouting pacts and ideals.

With a registered transfer, the road changed. California. The shift conjured images of broken glass strewn among eons-old desolate chunks of earth, tiny fragments of an aging planet sprinkled in the midst of a modern consumer product. Those beads had held her hand here and there and were now laced under a desert sun that pulsed against their snowflake sparkle, pawns in the foolishness of a girl with a mind too young.

That string of shine was a gift to herself, but it was really freedom bought at an age when allowance is treasure and teatime guests are felt, not seen. Its lost fragments reflected the snaking form of a sneaker bow tie.

She left her bracelet in Arizona.

Dustin Renwick has visited Door County every summer since birth. He recently graduated with his master’s from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. His most recent work will be published in Verse Wisconsin’s online fall issue. A good, long run at dusk suits him best.