'An Unfondness' by Abbie Stoner
I saw her in the dark.
At first she was barely a flicker in the moonlight. I would learn later that to see her at all meant that someday, I would see her entirely.
I didn’t think anything of it—of her—at first. I was mostly drunk and I had most definitely missed curfew almost an hour ago. I was doing my damnedest to keep a hold on my sanity and hoped that the late November air nipping at my face would sober me up. My parents were fond of very few things, but breaking the rules was at the top of their unfond list.
As I hurried down the sidewalk, hoping that I was doing more ambling than stumbling, I saw something move across the street in the dark sliver of space between streetlights. But when I faltered and took a second glance, there was nothing there. The part of me that was still drunk said vampire, murderer, rapist. The part of me that was beginning to sober up said you’re still drunk, dumb ass.
I made it home only 1.5 hours after curfew and with only 1.5 weeks of grounding.
I forgot about her. Seeing things when I was drunk wasn’t that out of the ordinary. The dusky figure hadn’t seemed like anything remarkable—though apparently I was. She didn’t forget me, and the next time I saw her she made sure we both knew that I did.
I wasn’t even breaking curfew this time, nor was I drunk, but I was bent on getting home. It was after nine on a Saturday when the moon was a crescent in the sky and I’d just broken up with my boyfriend for calling my best friend a skank. Again. I wasn’t crying anymore and I could feel my phone, tucked inside the pocket of my jeans, vibrating against my thigh. If it was my ex-boyfriend, I didn’t want to see what he had to say. If it was my best friend, who I texted as I was leaving his house, I would see what she had to say when I was out of the darkness.
There was a moment when, the wind curling into the space between my hair and my neck and sending a chill down my back, my fingers strayed toward my pocket as I considered responding to whoever it was. I’d heard that if you had your phone out it would stave off any potential attackers, and since my parents wouldn’t give me a car until I was off to college in two years, it was the best option I could think of to quiet my nerves. The hair on my neck hadn’t yet settled back down, despite the breeze having tucked itself back between the leaves. I felt like I was being watched. Followed.
I swallowed hard. I was pretty sure having your phone out only worked if you were on a call with someone, not texting, and I had a strict policy against calling anyone besides my parents—and maybe the cops. I dropped my hand back to my side and looked up, ready to—
Someone ran across the sidewalk right in front of me, making me scream so loud it echoed off the white vinyl siding of the house I was passing.
“Oh my god.” I put my hand to my chest, feeling my pulse slamming behind it, and turned to whomever I had nearly barreled into. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see y—”
I spun all around, my words caught in my throat. No one was there.
I was not a runner by any means, but I was only a block away from my house and I ran all the way home. I knew I couldn’t outrun fear, but as I shut my front door behind me and relished in the warmth of the foyer light washing over me, I was convinced I could outrun the dark.
As it turns out, you can’t outrun the dark and so I couldn’t outrun her.
The next time she found me was that very next weekend and I was hopped up on adrenaline from facing off with my ex who had shown up uninvited to my best friend’s party. I wasn’t drunk, but I was buzzed and I hadn’t missed curfew yet because I was supposed to be at her house until the next day. Still, after my definitely-drunk ex crashed the party—accusing me and my best friend of being lesbians, accusing me of cheating on him with her, accusing my best friend of having a “poisonous pussy” and being a “slutty cunt”—I couldn’t very well just let him be escorted politely from the premises.
We had already heard her parents’ rustling about upstairs and since I knew they’d come down anyway to find him, I punched him. I punched him right in the face and told him, “Never talk to me again, never even look at my best friend again, and never treat my sexuality like a weapon again. Besides, if you’re going to go with ‘poisonous pussy’ at least keep the alliteration going with, like, ‘contemptible cunt,’ you despicable douchebag!”
That was, of course, when her parents came busting down the basement stairs and kicked me out of their house along with him. Cursing topped their unfond list.
I didn’t care though, because he topped my unfond list and I was indescribably happy for having stood up to him, even if it did mean I was walking home alone in the dark at eleven p.m. My blood was pumping fast with adrenaline and the effort of carrying around the heavy bottles of alcohol in my backpack kept me warm enough. I was so warm and so distracted by just how unfond of that boy I had become, that I didn’t notice her until she was right in front of me.
“Holy crap.” I stumbled back a step but immediately became captivated.
She stood in the space between the glow of the street lamps, no more than a foot of sidewalk where only the light of the stars touched. Not even the moon was out that night.
She was every inch made of darkness. Her skin seemed woven from the shadow of the moon and her hair was a storm cloud angrier than any I’d ever seen. The slip of a dress clinging to her body and pooling at her feet seemed more a shadow than any type of cloth, and her deep-set eyes, shadowed beneath her brow bone, were wide and curious as she gazed at me.
“Sorry,” I managed to say, unable to take my eyes off her. “I didn’t see you.”
“But you can.” Her voice was the whisper of cicadas from my windows in the summer. She reached her hand up in front of her in a slow sweeping motion. “You can see me.”
I furrowed my brow and glanced for a moment at her hand where it hovered in front of my face, her fingers moving as if weaving through the air or casting a spell on me. “Of course I can see you.” Why wouldn’t I be able to?
Her hand dropped back to her side just as slowly as it had risen. Her body swayed gently from side to side as if she couldn’t stand to be completely still.
She shook her head just slightly. “That’s impossible.”
I wanted to shut my eyes and fall into the sound of her voice like falling into a childhood memory when lying in bed, hoping it would make itself into a dream. Instead, I said, “Uhm, okay.” Maybe she was crazy. Maybe I was.
She leaned her head to one side, her eyes drawing themselves over my entire body. We stood like that: her swaying and staring, wide-eyed, and me in front of her, motionless. But I was only motionless on the outside; the longer we stood like that, the more something restless began to stir itself up inside of me. My bones felt like they were vibrating.
When her eyes were trained on my feet, I noticed that her eyelids were glimmering, like stars of her very own were embedded in the delicate skin there, creating a galaxy. That was impossible.
In an instant, her eyes snapped up to my face and she spoke again: “How can you see me?”
“Because I can see?” My bones felt like they were on fire, like they were moving so fast they created friction between them.
She leaned forward, seeming to fade ever so slightly as she inched closer to the pool of light I stood in. “But can you touch me?”
I furrowed my brow again, deeper this time, and wondered what this girl was on. But when she began to lift her hand toward me and it became translucent, I wondered if maybe I was drunk after all.
My fingers had only twitched, spurred forward by my humming bones, when she snapped her hand back in the quickest motion she’d made that whole time.
“Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“Are you okay?” I took a small step forward and she stepped back with one foot, though something like a smile seemed to shine from her eyes.
“You’re a girl,” she said. “You shouldn’t be able to see me.”
“I don’t—” The time it took me to blink was all the time it took for her to disappear, like a light shone onto a shadow. In her absence, I felt too solid. Like the tinman in need of oiling, it took all of my effort to move my cold, stiff limbs.
I tried to forget about her like I had the first times I’d seen her, but her voice was in my head and her midnight face was etched inside my eyelids. I found myself taking nightly walks, paying extra attention to the spaces between street lights and around the corners of houses where the light didn’t quite reach. But it was 1.5 weeks before I saw her again.
Of course she saw me first.
I had all but given up on seeing her again after a week of nothing, but I’d become quite fond of my nightly walks, so I still went on them. My parents didn’t know—I’m sure their teenage daughter wandering around the neighborhood at all hours would make it onto their unfond list. So when the hair on my neck rose and didn’t fall back down and something chilled the blood in my chest, I stopped dead and turned all around, looking for any signs of movement, any attackers lurking in the dark. My phone was clutched tightly in one hand and I began to surreptitiously twist my house key around in the other so that it was sticking out from between my fingers like a claw.
When I had made a full three-sixty on the sidewalk, I nearly jumped out of my skin. There she was only a few feet in front of me, swaying in the darkness, carefully avoiding any beams of light.
She blinked slowly, her eyes eclipsing the glimmer coming off of the lids, and raised her arms toward me, her fingers weaving through the night air.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
Wary, I glanced at her arms stretched lazily toward me before not answering. “Do you, uhm, live around here?”
Her eyebrows creased together and she drew her arms back until they were wrapped around herself. “I asked you first. If you can see me, then I’d like to know you.”
“Why wouldn’t I be able to see you?”
Her grip on herself tightened. “I asked you first!”
I took as quick of a survey of her as I could, noting her elfin appearance. “Sorry, but, it’s late, you know?” I tore my gaze away from her and checked for any other possible sources for the hair standing up on my neck. “I should really go.”
Even though home was past her, I started to back away. I was intrigued by her, yes, and there was a strange off-kilter beauty in her face that matched the constant flowing movements of her body; but I had been trained too well not to expect anything nice in the dark.
The speed at which her hand darted through the air, however, was unexpected. It moved so fast I didn’t know she’d reached out for me until her hand was already clasped around my wrist as gently as if she was made of clouds, but as warm as the morning sun. Suddenly she didn’t seem so suited to the darkness, despite how well she blended into it and despite the constellations on her eyelids.
I didn’t realize how her hand had faded into that of an apparition where it entered the beam of the streetlight in order to stop me. I couldn’t look away from her face and the fearful determination that rested there.
“Please,” she whispered, her lips as full as the waxing moon and nearly as motionless. “No one but my sisters has seen me in years. But you do. You do see me—you have to save me.”
Her grip on my wrist became taut, as if she was trying to pull me closer to her, but she wasn’t nearly strong enough. Something like stardust was spilling from her eyes and I stepped closer to her, just a little.
“What do you mean that no one else can see you?” The warmth disappeared from my wrist and she swayed backward instead of side to side.
“No one can except the one who will save us. It’s always a boy. Always.”
I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to warm my wrist which felt so bare now. “Why do boys have to save you?”
“They can see us. So they love us. And then everyone can see us and we love them.”
“You love everyone?”
She shook her head, her body pausing in its swaying. “We love the boys who save us.”
She looked at me like she’d never thought to ask. “They love us enough to see us—why wouldn’t we love them?”
I dropped my arms, no part of me feeling cold any more. I was fueled by something hot and angry, by the fear of being alone at night and of this girl loving a boy just because he can see her. “Because you can see yourself,” I said. “And you said your sisters can see you, too. Why do you need a boy to see you?”
“So that we can be seen in the light!” She threw her hands in the air and then let them float slowly down to her sides again.
“So that we are not stuck inside shadows. It’s so cold here. My sisters can see me, but what good is being seen by the shadows?”
I didn’t love this girl. But I could see her, which she claimed only a boy who would love her could. I couldn’t find a single untruthful lilt in her voice or tilt of her head. I couldn’t help but believe her.
“I don’t love you,” I told her. “But you deserve to be seen.”
“Then find the boy who will love me.” It was the closest to anger I could imagine her voice getting and it pushed on the bones in front of my chest. I didn’t love this girl, but somehow I knew that I would, if only to break her reliance on a boy deigning to gaze at her. That very notion was quite an unfondness.
“Do you love yourself?” I asked, edging close enough that the billow of her skirts brushed my fingers.
“Of course I do.” She held her hands up, fingers twirling, and looked at one and then the other. “I can already see me.”
“Then that is why I can see you. Not because I will love you, but because you already do.” I held my hand out to her and she jerked backward just slightly, not enough to leave the sliver of darkness she was standing in. “Step into the light.”
“You can. You’re not a shadow. You’re a light so bright that no one will look at you.” I stepped back into the light from the lamp towering over me, but kept my hand outstretched to her.
“My name is Lilith.”
She pressed her lips together and her entire body went still. Only when she put her hand in my mine did I exhale the tension from between my ribs. As she stepped under the streetlight, she said, “I am Eve.” The light washed over her and I began to love her.
I see her in the light.
Abbie Stoner writes about queer girls, magic, and magical queer girls. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Crack the Spine, Slink Chunk Press, Dirty Words, and Stonehenge II. When she’s not writing or talking about intersectional feminism, she can be found doing tarot readings and avoiding cilantro at all costs.