I saw Sibyl with my own two eyes, and when I said to her, “Sibyl, what do you want?” she replied, “I want to forget.”
I want everything that makes me different from the half-remembered snapshots in the attic stripped from my bones. I want to be born old and die a baby, as I forget, day by day, my entire life. I want the coroner to hold my hand. I want to ask a question and be amazed by the answer. That is what she meant.
The rat with the old man’s face took its first trembling steps out of a pile of junk. Its pointed nose and the sleek line of its body steadied my breathing. That’s how I looked when I was younger. I wished I looked like that still.
I have my old skin wrapped around me, but it doesn’t disguise me and it doesn’t protect me. It just keeps me warm.
I remember standing in the attic, angry at the photographs and my back towards Sibyl. She said, “Do you hear that noise?” and then everything splinters apart. I say no and the roof caves in and crushes our spines. I say yes and we run, only stopping a block away to look back at the rubble. But instead I had turned my head to the side and said, “It’s coming from the basement.”
So we found it in the basement, and it locked the door behind us, and I don’t bother apologizing to Sibyl because she was the Wonder Girl and she knows everything.
The rat picks its way through the dust, too weary or lazy to stop its tail from dragging on the floor. When I lived in the water, I was protected. I had two skins, in addition to two eyes and two ears. It was better that way. That is the way we are meant to live.
Sibyl tore off my skin with flicks of a Swiss Army Knife, lips pursed. She took me back to the circus, and I waited outside her trailer, huddled in my old skin like I am now, until I heard the tin door slamming back. Sibyl was dragging two suitcases down the stairs. She handed one to me, and I followed her.
Sibyl once showed me a newspaper article she had folded in her wallet. It was her debut as the Wonder Girl. A man had stumbled out of the crowd, reeling drunk, and tried to set her hair on fire.
The headline was “OFF TO A BLAZING START.”
The snapshot showed Sibyl on the beach, wrapped in seal skin. She is smiling at whoever it was that took it. It was a beautiful summer, followed by a beautiful fall. We lived in a car and saved our money. We went to the beach every day and threw sea glass at the gulls. We didn’t read the newspaper.
That skin is mine. I never let anyone touch it because they might steal it. I wear my skin in the lonesome hours of the night, when I go down to the river to stand up to my ankles in water and think about going back.
Sibyl knew that I wouldn’t have wanted her to wear my skin. She knows everything. She is the Wonder Girl.
Then days were cold in a cheerful way, like the uncle who always threw you into the deep end of the pool when you were younger. The weather delighted in shocking us, for we had become too complacent after that Indian summer. We had walked too leisurely, stayed out too long. Now we were hurried along, now we shouted with surprise when we walked out the door and saw our breath in the air.
As the weather changed, so did we. Its the promise of snow, bringing us back to all the sledding adventures of years before. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs, promising ourselves that we would be better in anticipation of New Years.
So Sibyl showed me the photograph and I turned my back to her, and then she asked, “Do you hear that noise?”
”It’s coming from the basement,” I said.
The weather had shocked us out of our regular routine, and as we did in response to that uncle, so here too we kicked ourselves to the surface.
A drunken man had attacked me too. He seized my arm with both hands and snapped it. I listened to the glass-like sound fade away while he ran. I had a bag of groceries, and I let them fall. I wonder if he was the same man.
The rat steps over Sibyl with pink hands. Her body doesn’t move, but she raises her eyes to meet mine, like she wants to speak but can’t. Sibyl is pale, like she lives in the shadow of a rock. She had already shed her skin, but she doesn’t keep it like I do. You should remember vacations, you should forget everything else. That is what she meant.
“I’m sorry,” I say at last, hoping it’s something she doesn’t already know.