Phoebe’s little adventure

as a little girl she always looked like a little boy so she knew some things.

her name was Phoebe, but she called herself Philip. after a while she gave up altogether trying to make people understand that she was a girl. socially she became a boy.

she cut her hair short and wore jeans and jerseys. she liked baseball caps a lot. learning about sports was fun. her only real problem was her voice.

Phoebe sounded like a girl.

this was a problem for her because all the other boys called her a faggot and made fun of her a little bit. but most of the times she got along with them just fine. once she even kissed a shy little girl on the lips who had a crush on her just to prove she wasn’t gay. it was one of the most disgusting things she’d ever done, but people thought about her differently after that.

&

one day Phoebe comes to school a little later than usual. she’s missed her bus and her mother gives her a ride. as she’s heading towards class she meets a boy in the hallway.

aren’t you Philip, he asks her?

uh-huh, she says. why?

I don’t know. I’ve seen you around is all.

yeah?

yeah.

what’s your name, she asks him.

Leslie, he says.

Leslie? isn’t that a girl’s name?

some people say so, but my mother says that it’s both a boy and girl name and they don’t know what they’re talking about.

he blinks at her in such an innocent way she thinks he’s very attractive. he’s much different than all the boys she hangs out with.

the hallway is narrow and gray. everything’s made out of dirty old metal. it’s a nice day and she’d rather talk with him outside.

aren’t you late for class? she asks.

I’m going to skip my class.

her face goes soft and curious. skip class? do you do that a lot?

I’ve never skipped class before, he says. that’s why I’m going to try it out.

why today?

well, last night I read this story where this kid skipped class and had the most wonderful day of his life because of it.

really?

yeah. and my dad says that, and here his voice goes deep and stately, literature is the very germ of all human truths.

Phoebe laughs and covers her mouth. why does he say that?

he says that whenever he doesn’t want me to watch tv. he says to go read a book and then I ask him why.

do you read much?

Phoebe looks at him and squints. I think life is a story already, she says. and it’s better than dusty old books.

well, that’s what I’m going to find out today, he says.

can I come with you?

it’s dangerous you know. we could get caught.

what happens if we get caught?

Leslie shrugs. the boy in the story got in a whole lot of trouble. but it was worth it, he said.

really?

his whole life changed.

well then I think we should skip class too.

well come along then and follow me.

they sneak around the corner and back out the front door. Phoebe feels really happy to be outside.

say, I like you Leslie, she says.

yeah?

yeah.

I’ve heard rumors that you were gay, says Leslie. he looks at her sideways.

that’s a lie, says Phoebe. it’s just because of my voice is all.

do you believe me?

I believe you.

there’s something romantic about the schoolyard today. a large oil stained parking lot sits shining beneath dozens of colorful cars in the morning sun.

is it too dangerous to go to the playground? she asks.

I think so. we have to stay away from windows too. that’s what the boy in the story did.

where should we go?

let’s hide between the cars.

the pavement is awful hot to touch and warm to sit on, but Phoebe doesn’t mind.

do you watch baseball, Leslie?

baseball?

yeah, like on tv.

my dad doesn’t like me to watch too much television.

but I don’t mind so much, because I don’t know if I’d watch baseball anyway.

Phoebe looks at Leslie’s flat face and wide ears. she smiles.

what would you watch?

I don’t know. something with a story, I guess.

you like stories a lot then?

a little I guess. just because I’m always reading them when I can’t watch tv.

you’re a strange boy, Leslie.

am I?

I think so.

I guess I am a little bit strange. but I’m not all that different from other kids.

I guess not.

I think maybe someday I’d like to write stories, he says.

really?

yeah. Leslie kicks out his legs like he’s uncomfortable with his skin.

Phoebe decides he looks adorable. what would you write stories about?

I don’t know. people I guess.

just people? doing what?

having adventures. he looks at her and smiles. just like we are now.

what about big adventures?

like with pirates and soldiers and knights and things?

yeah. like tv and the movies.

I don’t know.

I like those types of stories, she says.

Leslie frowns. well, that’s the problem. I mean, so do I. everybody does.

so why not write them?

well, I’ve tried.

you’ve written whole adventure stories?

some.

I’ve never known anyone who wrote a whole story before.

just because I wanted to try.

well, what’s wrong with big adventures?

maybe it’s just because I’ve never had one.

what do you mean?

well, just that I like to read and write about people like me. like the boy who skipped class.

yeah?

yeah. and then you can go try it out for yourself and learn something from it.

Phoebe’s hand rests on the hot pavement next to Leslie’s. when she shifts her pinky touches his very lightly.

you sure are strange, Leslie.

maybe. why do you keep saying that?

I don’t know.

the sun feels like a warm poem on Phoebe’s face.

I like poetry a lot too, Leslie says after a while.

so do I. I mean-. Phoebe looks up at the blue layer of clouds squinting. I mean I’m not sure I’m supposed to like poems though.

why not?

being a boy and all. aren’t they for girls?

Leslie shrugs. are they? I don’t know.

that’s what my friends say.

they don’t say anything for a few minutes. Phoebe’s watching the cars as they pass by the school.

I like stories that are poems, Leslie decides.

stories that are poems?

like Shakespeare.

Phoebe frowns. Shakespeare doesn’t make any sense.

but it sounds nice.

does it?

yeah. and I like reading the short lines of verse.

why?

the rhythm of it I guess.

but how can a short story be a poem too? it’s not like a play, you know.

Leslie folds up. I know.

for the first time in a long time Phoebe wishes she weren’t a boy.

but here’s the thing, Leslie says. I know I can write a story poem if I think about it enough.

yeah?

well, maybe. I hope so.

I don’t know. I don’t read all that much, but maybe I’ll start.

if I ever did figure it out, I’d write a whole book of them. nothing but.

she smiles at him. me too.

my dad says that literature and love are the same thing.

why does he say that?

because I told him about my idea and how it might be impossible.

and that’s what he said?

yeah.

what do you suppose it means?

I don’t know. maybe when I get older I’ll find out and then I’ll be able to write a story poem.

Phoebe screws up her face. why do you suppose we learn more as we get older?

Leslie shrugs.

do you think it’s school?

Leslie looks at her smiling. but we’re skipping school to learn, so it can’t be school.

you think it’s adventures?

that’s what I think.

I bet it would take a big adventure to find out what your dad means.

like pirates and soldiers and knights?

soldiers at least.

I don’t know.

has your dad had a lot of adventures?

he was in a war I think.

I bet that’s where he learned it.

may be.

the sunshine is quiet and warm and minutes pass.

Phoebe balls up her fingers and squints. she can feel her heart in her throat. I want to tell you something, she says.

sure, go ahead.

I mean, but it’s a secret, she says.

a secret?

I don’t know. you’re not like other boys. I like you and trust you for some reason.

well, I won’t tell anyone.

you promise?

Leslie unfolds again like he’s uncomfortable with his skin. he’s grinding his palm into the hot pavement.

listen, he says. I’ll tell you a secret first and that way we can both feel safe.

okay.

alright.

they don’t say anything for a while.

well, it’s just that, says Leslie. you remember how I said people said you were gay?

uh-huh.

well, he squints. have you ever been curious?

but I told you I’m not.

well a year ago, says Leslie, I read a lot of Walt Whitman and I heard he was gay.

who’s he?

he’s a poet. and he’s a real good one.

really?

yeah, but, he pauses and looks at Phoebe. I mean you have to swear not to tell anyone.

I swear.

Leslie looks at the ground. it’s just that I’ve been curious about kissing another boy ever since I read that Whitman.

have you done it?

no, he says.

they don’t say anything.

Phoebe smiles nervous through the sun and the shining metal colors of cars.

I’d give it a try, she suggests softly.

really?

just this once and all, I mean.

they turn face to face and pause in the awkward moment.

Phoebe doesn’t know who moves first. she feels his lips against hers.

afterwards they don’t say anything for about a minute.

what did you think? he asks.

I don’t know. what did you think?

I don’t know.

Phoebe feels even sicker than she did when she kissed the shy little girl. she’s dizzy and the sun and the pavement are very hot now.

she wants to die for dread of his next question.

(Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)

The Sailboat Story

when he’s six years old Andrew’s father buys him a toy sailboat. all that summer he sits by the pond downhill and watches the boat go from inbetween the tall grass out into the small water where he could still see the clouds. after a while it would wander downstream a little towards where the hill dipped, and he’d have to go splashing after it. if he was feeling daring he’d let the boat roll over the hill and splash the reckless journey down. one time at the bottom of the hill he meets a girl. the sun is going down and the pond is orange and black.

are you the boy with the boat? she asks him. her name is Delta.

Andrew just looks at her.

the boy with the boat, Delta says. everyone knows about the boy with the boat.

who’s the boy with the boat? he asks.

follow me, she says.

they walk down the hill and out into the long fields where his mother and his father told him not to play. his boat is in the water and they’re keeping pace with it.

have you ever heard the story? she asks him.

the story? what story?

the story about the boy with the boat.

but if I am the boy with the boat, then I must know the story because it’s about me.

Delta stops, kneels down and gives the little sailboat a flick with her finger.

cut that out, Andrew tells her and she laughs.

do you know how I know you’re the boy with the boat? she asks him.

how?

well they say that the boy with the boat is the only one who doesn’t know that he’s the boy with the boat; that’s how you can tell him apart from all the other boys who go and play with their sailboats by the pond.

and that means I’m him?

Delta nods.

well then why did you ask me if I’m the boy with the boat if you already knew I was and knew I didn’t know because I was already him?

cuz I didn’t know you were him until I asked you if you were him and you said you didn’t know.

what if I’d said I was him?

then I’d know you weren’t him.

you’d think I was lying?

I’d know you were lying.

does everyone else think I’m him?

that’s what they say.

Delta smiles at him in a way that makes him blush.

but who is the boy with the boat? he asks her. what’s the story about him?

it’s about you, you know, Delta tells him. are you sure you want to hear it?

why? is it mean? do people make things up about me?

you see, you must be him, Delta says.

I still don’t know what you’re talking about.

well, it goes like this: once, a hundred years ago there used to be this boy who’d come down to the pond and play with a toy boat.

a hundred years ago?

yeah. maybe even more.

but I’m not a hundred years old.

well, I know, she says. see the boy with the boat set it out adrift one day and it went down the hill and out past the fields.

where we are now.

right, but farther even. and the boy followed his boat into the pond and out into the river.

into the river?

yeah. and it kept going and he kept following it. he vanished out in the ocean somewhere and no one’s ever heard from him since.

did he drown?

nobody knows what happened. but the story has it that one summer he’s going to come back.

and you think that’s me?

I think so.

but why me? and why would I come back now?

they say that the summer he comes back will be a sign.

a sign?

yeah. that the waters around the island will turn to dust.

all the water’s going to turn to dust?

and mainlanders will overrun what was once our island.

mainlanders?

and he just wants to come back to enjoy his boat one last time. while the water’s still here.

I don’t know if I’m him.

they say that you are.

I don’t want to be him.

but you are. pause. she says, do you remember the bottom of the ocean?

Andrew stops to think. Delta kneels down to flick his boat.

I think I do remember it, Andrew says.

really? what was it like?

it was warm and like a dream because I felt like I was sleeping.

all you did was sleep?

but I wasn’t asleep. I was awake, it was just like I was asleep.

and I could talk to all the fish.

what did they say?

I don’t remember anymore. I think one of them mentioned you.

Delta laughs. don’t be silly, you’re making this up.

I’m the boy with the boat aren’t I? Andrew looks at her. are you scared? he asks.

she looks up at the clouds. yes. pause. are you?

Andrew shrugs. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be.

yeah. neither do I.

have you ever seen mainlanders? he asks her.

I’ve only heard about them.

me neither.

you didn’t see any when you went out in the ocean?

only some who were already drowned.

her voice goes low. what did they look like?

fallen angels, he says.

a breeze picks up and pulls the sailboat sailing beside them a little ahead.

I’m not supposed to go out this far, Andrew says.

but you’re the boy with the boat.

I don’t see how that changes anything.

that changes everything, she says. she pouts. why did you have to come back just now?

I didn’t even know.

you weren’t out here last summer, she says.

I didn’t have a sailboat then.

how long were you out there in the ocean?

I don’t remember anymore. it feels like only a second.

I wish you’d waited until after I grew up, she says.

I didn’t know about you.

I thought you said the fish talked about me. which she says in a way that makes him blush again.

that’s true. they did. I think I timed it badly.

coming back?

yes, he says, or maybe I just got my sailboat too soon.

the sun tucks away orange behind the clouds and the sky turns a rich and darker blue. Andrew and Delta keep pace with the sailboat.

it’s getting late, Andrew says.

in a lot of different ways, Delta says and looks at the sailboat.

will I still be here when the mainlanders come, he asks her. or do I go away again?

I don’t know. maybe you’ll go back into the ocean before it turns into dust.

but that wouldn’t make any sense. I’d still be around after it turned to dust wouldn’t I?

I guess so. she kneels down and flicks the sailboat. maybe there’s an ocean somewhere you’ll go to that won’t.

I think I’d like to find one.

I don’t want to meet the mainlanders, Delta decides. I’m going along with you.

I don’t even know if I’m going to go yet.

but if you do. and you should go anyway.

will you be able to breathe under the water?

was it difficult?

it was at first, says Andrew. but it got easier as the years went by.

did it take long?

not too long. the fish showed me how.

were all the fish nice?

even the sharks and jellyfish are nice if you know their language.

how did you learn it?

I listened for a long time and soon enough I could speak it.

say something to me in fish, she says.

just like that? what do you want me to say?

I don’t know, anything.

the moon starts to pull out from behind the twilight sky. the field and the pond settle dark and wide where the sailboat glides. Andrew and Delta walk beneath the small blinking stars.

I think I could breathe underwater after a little while, Delta says.

we could go to a tropical ocean, Andrew says.

that would be better anyway, agrees Delta.

for a while they’re perfectly quiet.

how would I have found out that I was the boy with the boat if you hadn’t told me?

you wouldn’t have.

then how would I know to return to the ocean?

you wouldn’t know.

would the ocean still turn to dust?

I don’t know. I think so. pause. but I’m part of the story too, you know.

you didn’t tell me that.

well, a girl tells the boy with the boat who he is.

and what happens after that?

Delta kneels down and flicks the boat. I don’t know.

no?

well, no. except that the ocean turns to dust and the mainlanders come.

the story goes on, I think. there’s a whole saga about it. but I only know the story about the boy with the boat.

why don’t you know the rest?

because I always knew in my heart that the girl in the story was me. and so that’s the story I cared about the most.

how did you know that?

Delta shrugs. I don’t know. I just knew somehow.

did you ever feel like you were somehow special? she asks him.

I never even knew about the boy with the boat before.

not even that, she says. just different somehow.

I guess. but all I ever do’s sail my boat. I don’t play with the other kids.

neither do I, she says. because I always knew I was the girl in the story.

will we be famous?

we already are, she says. and nobody knows it yet but us.

she kneels down and flicks the sailboat.

hey cut it out, says Andrew.

the sailboat spins in a little circle and heads out across the pond.

it’s going away, she says. should we go after it? she takes a step towards the dark pond.

Andrew walks up to where she’s standing. I’m going after it.

give me your hand, she says.

they take small steps out to where the pond runs up past their ankles. the sailboat is running far out, guided by the moon white on the water.

do we keep going? Delta asks quietly, laughing.

it won’t be easy out there.

she turns and smiles at him. she squeezes his hand. say something to me in fish, she says.

what do you want me to say?

he turns and catches her eye. the sailboat passes out of view. fish don’t speak, silly, he says.

the look she gives him is like a shy and innocent kiss.

(Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)