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Give and Take

It isn’t like her to chase what’s unattainable.

This piece is part of the Love Letters notebook, which features art by Ali El-Chaer.

Georgia knocks on the door because the doorbell is broken. Water drips from the chipped portico. Behind her, traffic clatters past. She leans her umbrella against the doorframe and waits, feeling strangely nervous. The wind howls, and Georgia shudders, a mordant hope crackling through her. 

Anjali, who is reading in the living room, hears the knock. Reluctantly, she answers the door. She’s dressed in the same ratty sweatpants she’s been wearing all week, the rear and knees bagged out and a hole in the seam near the crotch. She lets Georgia in, along with a current of cold, damp air. Anjali’s bare arms pimple. She closes the door.  

In the hallway, Georgia pauses to take off her raincoat. She’s wearing a blue sweater with a skirt the color of toffee. The blue is the blue of meadow skies; it honeys Georgia’s skin. Anjali stops herself from reaching out to touch the cashmere. She imagines running her hand over the fabric, soft as butter mints melting on her tongue, glooping on her teeth.  

The two pass into the den and sit down on the sofa. Or rather, Anjali sits and Georgia perches. The brown leather is old and worn, threaded with pale lines where it has cracked. Anjali props her elbow on the armrest. The low thrum of bass sounds from the street, lodges in her belly, fades away.

Is your mother home?  

Georgia’s hair is frizzy from the rain. She smooths it down, tucks a loose strand behind her right ear, which is studded with a small diamond. She is luminous. Anjali looks down at the ketchup stain on the hem of her T-shirt and wonders what it’s like to be rich.  

She’s working the late shift, Anjali says. She’ll be gone until closing. 

Georgia feels a trill of regret. It rests in her left pinky toe. She wriggles her toe once, twice, takes comfort in what she keeps hidden there.  

Can I have some water? 

Anjali disappears into the hall, and Georgia relaxes. She shimmies her body to scoot back in the seat, the faux leather scrunching, lets herself slump. They are both twenty-one, and Georgia has never been more beautiful than this, and she knows it, too. Wants the world to know it. But good posture can be exhausting. 

Water stains pockmark the coffee table, and in the corner, the humidifier puffs a gray cloud into the air. Georgia picks invisible lint from her sweater. She feels desperate and is ashamed of that. It isn’t like her to chase what’s unattainable. It isn’t like her to chase at all. 

Anjali holds the glass to her cheek, feeling the coolness of it, the wetness. She hadn’t expected Georgia to come. Hadn’t expected her to be there. She would have dressed for the occasion.  

Rain slides like sludge down the kitchen window, soundless and shimmering. Anjali firms her mouth and takes the glass from her face. The ice clinks. She knows what Georgia wants, and she is not afraid.

Georgia slips the glass from Anjali’s outstretched hand. Brings the rim to her lips, drinks deep.

Anjali brushes past her. She smells like moss and dirt and roses. She sits at the other end of the couch, the cushions a gulf between them.

Georgia feels uncouth, monstrous in her desire, but for days, they have been circling the inevitable. She sets the glass on the table. An ambulance wails in the distance, and something sweeps through her.

Swallowing, Georgia moves toward Anjali. Brushes her fingers across Anjali’s flushed cheek, rests her thumb on her lips. Her other hand settles on Anjali’s thigh. It is not the same; Anjali is not the one she wants. But she is close. 

Dull light streams in from between the blinds, striping the wall. The room smells musky and sweet, like a fecund forest with leaves weeping rainwater, wetting the underbrush. Georgia lies still beside her, and Anjali wonders if she is asleep. Their fingers are laced together, the sheet a tangle at their feet. Wind and city noises rattle the window, and inside, the heat hums.  

Afterward, Georgia walks home the long way and stops by the greengrocer at the corner. She wanders the aisles and fills a basket with turnip greens and persimmons and field peas. At the checkout counter, rainwater drips from her raincoat’s slick surface, pooling at her feet.

In her room, Anjali gathers the sheets from the bed, the taste of Georgia still lingering on her tongue. Outside, the city heaves, mechanical and ceaseless.

The clouded sky dims as day recedes. Georgia waits at a crosswalk. A mail truck rumbles by, spraying rainwater in a muddy arc. She feels an emptiness burrowing into her bones, a hunger that will never be sated. The light changes, and she crosses the street. Something flaps overhead, black and dark and brooding.