It’s cold and my lungs are burning. At least, this is what I remember burning feels like. There isn’t much to remember.
“Look alive out there. Look alive out there, dammit!”
There’s cheering. It’s the happy sort of noise you remember people like. I smile, I know I should.
Coach paces back and forth. It’d be easier to say he was holding a clipboard and his strong hands with one perfectly gold wedding band threw the board onto the field. But he’s not, so he doesn’t throw it. His palms are open. Waiting.
There’s blood my throat. I swallow it down. I run.
The tree branches near the field whistle. I can hear everything now. The tiniest pitches. Low growls. Music from a car, in the lot behind the school. I want to be a dog but they call me Rabbit instead.
I put the mouth guard back in.
Fall is coming soon. The air smells delicious like sweat and racing thoughts. I want to dig up all of the dirt. Throw aside this lacrosse stick. I want to kiss the girl on the other team. The one with the short blonde hair to her ears. I want to push her bangs out of her eyes.
I want to scratch her. I hate the girl on the other team. I miss the goal.
I shake my head, adjust the mouth guard. Coach is behind me now. I got too close to the side. I lost my sight. I get so distracted these days.
“Rabbit, look alive out there. They’ll take you to the clinic.”
The clinic is where people go once they have the virus. Most don’t come back. It’s easier to keep the town clean that way.
I have to fake it. People complain about teens with the virus – say it gives the kids an unfair advantage. You know, the whole not remembering what pain feels like business. Better for varsity sports and competitions. It even helps those shitheads on the debate team.
I might have the virus. I’m not really saying. Sometimes I only sleep for an hour at night. I get up and stare at the moon. And stare. And stare. And stare.
I do that with fire too. I’ll breeze through all of the matchbooks in the kitchen. Mom gets mad, but she can’t do anything about it. My brothers are already in the clinic. They don’t talk anymore. Mom stopped visiting.
Suddenly, the sky is up. There will be grass stains on the backs of my legs. My jersey will have a tiny rip in it. I feel like my spine is fusing with the dirt. I close my eyes. I want to feel the wind on my face and maybe, I’ll turn into soil. Instead, my mouth opens.
I want to rip muscles and tendons apart. I want to bite the air. I need something, but I don’t know what. It doesn’t end most nights. I can promise you this: I don’t go hunting for animals or pets. They’re innocent.
My lungs are burning. That’s what my memory tells me.
I’d rather not be this way. My mouth guard slips. My jaw wants to lock.
“Rabbit, there’s four minutes left…look alive out there.”
Coach’s eyes are a deep blue. I want to remember that.
I’m breathing heavy and my skin is white all over. I’m hot like the flu. This happens all of the time. In my mind’s eye, I just see a mercury thermometer breaking.
I run on the field. Running feels good. Legs stretching. I hear the air come in from far away.
I swipe at something with my stick. I think I hear cheering. Or screaming. They sound the same these days.
I smile at the girl with the short blonde hair. The girl with the short blonde hair has long muscles. Her name is probably Ashley. She has big teeth, but they make her face look pretty. It seems like her life is easy. Girls like this girl with the short blonde hair don’t have to worry about the clinic. They never lose their tongues.
I want to kiss the girl with the short blonde hair. I want to find her house in the middle of the night and throw rocks at the window, like some misunderstood 80s teen jock character. I want to climb through the window and push my thighs against her.
Would she like me? I’m just the skinny lacrosse player with brownish hair and nothing remarkable. I am the one who can’t sleep at night. I am the one who once ate a man. I am the one who can’t tell anyone.
I hate her. What if her neck snapped? What if I kissed her so hard that her lips bled? I love the thought. I hate the thought. I shake my head. I keep running.
Look alive. Look alive. Look alive. Come on, Rabbit.
My legs are cramping. I don’t know if this is good or bad. My hands stay in one place. White knuckles around a lacrosse stick. The blood in my throat says hello.
I run across the field. I don’t want to go to the clinic.
“Rabbit. Rabbit. Look alive out there.”
Coach’s words shake me. I smile at the pretty blonde girl with my blood-teeth. I want to kiss her. I want to smell her neck. It’s so pretty and long. It smells like vanilla body spray. I’d like the girl with the short blonde hair more if I knew she stole the body spray from CVS instead of buying it.
I want to bite the girl with the short blonde hair. She’ll only get a little sick.
Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, NY. She has published Hotel Ghost (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and waiting for the end of the world (Bottlecap Press, 2017) and has work included in Susan, TL;DR, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Sometimes, she feels human. http://stephanievalente.com