"Trajectory" by Thomas Mixon



It’s April and it’s not yet sunrise and there’s a sudden screaming on the pond that makes me fall right off the bed (I don’t know why, but I always curl towards the edge, away from the wall). On the floor I am frozen in something I wouldn’t call fear since I quickly realize it’s just the loons, returned from their winter away. But I’m frozen, regardless. My body is heavy and I’m cold despite the hiss of the radiator. I pull open the curtains but it’s pitch dark, the moon has already set or it’s too cloudy or something else. This time of year is ridiculous. Everything has melted but then the mud freezes. Then it unfreezes and there’s a little green, which gets frozen again and trampled on by the returning wildlife.

I can’t see the loons, but they keep calling to each other, crying their crazy car alarm warning, already there’s territorial dispute, already conflict. And for god’s sake why am I so cold?

I’m about to close the curtains, when something bright green catches my eye, on the dock a couple houses down. It’s completely dark, but there is a persistent fluorescence atop the old boards. A flashlight? The summer renters aren’t here yet so it’s weird to see anyone else near the recently thawed pond. Especially in the middle of the night.

Opening the window is real stupid, because of course the glow points my way at the creaking sound, and I can’t see a thing again. I’m not scared, not due to any bravery on my part, but because I feel like (and I know how arrogant this sounds) I’ve seen so much in my short time alive, what can be a surprise anymore? We’re now in the second pandemic in under a decade. I’m thirteen, I was four during COVID in 2020, and now the new mutation has shut down everything again. What’s the point in being afraid of a flashlight?

Eventually the light moves out of my face, and straight under the chin of someone I’ve never seen before. They don’t say anything, but I can see the neon color isn’t coming from the LED they are holding. It’s their hair. It’s pointy and so beautifully wrong up here in the sticks it is actually the most right thing I’ve seen in a while. It disappears when they turn out the light and of course I’m not going back to sleep.

I log in and finish my async assignments for the day, just as the sun is coming up. My parents wake up and can’t stop talking about how wonderful it is, that the loons are back. When they see me getting dressed, unusually early/ever for me, they don’t even ask, they assume I care about the birds the way they do (/pretend to?) and ask me to take a picture if I get close enough. They don’t see that I’m not bothering to take my phone, that I beeline straight for our dock without dragging the kayak out, that I am waiting there until I see that someone again, and asking them why on earth they are here this time of year. And to please say they aren’t just here for a long weekend.

##

Before they tell me to call them Crayon, they’re eying the birds atop the water.

“There’s something wrong with your ducks.”

“Not mine.”

“No? They’re definitely not real.”

“They’re loons. Wait, how are they fake?”

“They exist, I mean we are definitely seeing them.”

“I agree.”

“But they are not natural. Look at how that one swims.”

Crayon stands up from the dock two houses down, swings an arm back to toss a pair of binoculars. I drop my thermos and coffee spills between the planks. There’s no way they can throw that far.

They smile and of course, they were never going to throw. I take everything too literally. Luckily the smile is kind, a smirk and shake of the head you give to a dog that falls for it every time, which is odd because we’ve just met, but it feels like they will get me every time, and that I won’t mind, and that they won’t be mean about it.

They tell me to call them Crayon, and go to shake my hand. I hesitate for a second, then do it.

“You’re not scared?”

“I used to dye my hair.”

“I mean the plague.”

Damn. I’m not even wearing my mask.

“It’s OK, we got tested before we came.”

Phew.

“Who’s we?”