by Shelli Cornelison October 8, 2018
The first boy I slept with had green eyes that I could see in the dark even when my own were closed. He took me to see a phantom face on the side of an industrial chicken barn one night, the giant face of a grizzled farmer, his features gray and blurry like a fading charcoal sketch. Legend claimed no amount of paint could cover the face; its scowl resurfaced again and again.
“Who was he?” I asked.
We were trespassing, but we weren’t the first. The face was a pilgrimage. The stench of slaughter wafted on the vapors of a summer night, a full moon illuminating decaying structures. I stared at the gray eyes and tried to imagine them green, like colorizing a black-and-white film, but the only color that would stick to the barn was the rust bleeding from the seams of the metal walls.
Summer ended and the green-eyed boy signed an oath, went to boot camp, and then to war. I left, too, but my travels didn’t take me as far. I used to lie in my dorm room and imagine the exotic places he was seeing. I’d write him letters with a pink gel pen. He wrote back in black ink, until he didn’t.
The next boy I slept with had eyes that were perpetually bloodshot and glassy. He had a loveable slacker vibe that made it hard to stay angry at him, even after he flunked out of school and had to move home. His home was a city, with no chicken farms and no local lore about a ghostly watchman. He wrote to me, and I always meant to respond, but never got around to it. A year later, he wrote a song and claimed it was about me, but it’s hard to discern the truth from boys with red eyes.
My roommate and I visited his city once. We used fake IDs to get into the dive bar where his band was playing. That’s when I heard the song. He used my name when he introduced it, but he never saw me, smiling from a table in the back. The lights were on him and I was in the dark. I wasn’t supposed to be there and maybe if he’d known I was, he wouldn’t have claimed the song was about me at all. He always liked to keep some emotional distance, that boy with the eyes like taillights.
The boys who came after don’t stand out so distinctly. There were brown eyes and blue ones, but none were ever so green or so red.
I went through a purple contact lenses phase but I got over it before grad school. I got serious, bought the square-rimmed glasses to prove it.
The boys became men and somewhere along the way, I started to see myself as a woman. But always first, I still look at their eyes and search for the boys they once were. There are columns in my mind, one red and one green. I like to keep an even balance between them.
I see faces in the dark even when my eyes are closed.
And there is a song that never leaves me.
About the Author:
Shelli Cornelison lives in Austin, where she alternates between short stories and working on her latest novel. Her short fiction has recently appeared in Monkeybicycle and Defenestration.