Only those who worship the same god may see each other’s eyes. Unbelievers may see whatever they wish, except the truth. Nineteen gods later, Yachiko’s eyes have remained marigolds to me, beautiful and unwilting.
I’ve draped my altar in garlands of cigarettes, paper cranes, and recipes, but even after I was blessed, her eyes remained in bloom. I’ve sacrificed nails and teeth and skin, and been met with no more than a flutter of her petals. Others have claimed to know the color of her eyes, trading cheap rumors during the breaks as if they knew anything more than the rest of us. And they all paid for that transgression in the end, their desks emptying suddenly from one day to the next, leaving nothing but their lies behind. They deserved it; claiming to be above our desperate masses when they hid their own stained altars in their lockers the same as the rest of the class.
I went looking once, when my neighbor turned into one that had lied. Grief and disgust was all I found, that and a warning against parkour on rooftops.
If death was what she wanted, I would convert. The next night was one of skinned toads and pierced flies, but despite Thanatos’ blessing, Yachiko’s eyes stayed marigolden, perfect in their splendor. She loves me, she loves me not; would plucking those petals reveal what lay behind them? Would they be a neverending shield, would I be plucking into eternity hoping to reach the last one, or would it hurt, each one a piece of her ripped away. Would I keep going if I saw a hint of her eyes, despite her screams?
I’m lucky enough to sit in front of her; knowing I am in the view of those marigolds for so much of the day is sometimes all that keeps me trying. That, and the times she finds it within her reason to speak to me.
“Did you bring an umbrella today?” she asks, leaning over her desk so close that I can smell the marigolds, musky and sour. I’ve heard from others that they lost interest once they’d come close enough to smell the same, driven away like gnats and grubs sullying her with their presence. It’s a scent that I’ve grown to love, that I long to inhale deeper into my lungs while I still can.
“I have two.” My answer is too fast, too ready, too prepared after hearing her ask day after rainy day for one, from her friends, from her lunch partners, wheedling them with leftovers and snacks from the vending machine.
“Two?” Her surprise sends shivers down my spine. I want to say an excuse, come up with a story, entertain her and hold her attention in the hope that she won’t think beyond it, but she continues, “Perfect, that means we don’t have to share!”
I should’ve lied, I should’ve thought this through better, I was blinded by the chance to wring two interactions from one opportunity. “I think one of them is brok—”
“My shoulder gets wet whenever I have to share because everyone’s shorter than me; I’ll skip straight to asking you next time.”
“Anytime!” I don’t know if my enthusiasm is too much, her smile remains but perhaps her eyes would have betrayed something more. So much of the world doesn’t believe and so receives no veil to keep their thoughts hidden, but her devotion has granted her one. Perhaps it is lonely.
I give her the umbrella, watching the trees bend and break outside and I know that it wouldn’t have been romantic to share one after all. There’s no escaping the rain sleeting to the side or the wind-tossed trash, our words would’ve been stolen along with anything loose enough to be torn from our grasp. The umbrella left to me, with its grubby handle and taped spar, won’t last me the effort it’ll take to open it, it’ll be flipped inside out and chewed through with the force of the gale before it’s even been ripped out of my hands.
“Perfect for a confession.”
Her words are soft and delighted, an excitement I’d never heard infused in them. I expect her to be looking at the umbrella, patterned with music notes and the tag ripped off in the few seconds I’d had while she retrieved her own things, but the marigolds face the storm, umbrella forgotten at her side.
“Confession?” I don’t sound nonchalant, I know that my voice betrayed me in one word, but she turns to me and smiles.
“Have you ever confessed to someone before? Told them your greatest sin?”
“No.” I’ve had others tell me their secrets, and I’ve wanted to do the same, but a paper is too delicate to hold my heavy feelings and the school is not enough of a stage.
Yachiko tucks the umbrella under her arm and starts out the door, marigolds battered by the immediate rain. “That’s too bad.”
It’s a quick walk to where our paths split, or would be, if not for the fight every step takes. The misery drenches into my clothes before we’re past the school gates. Why did I not say more, that was the perfect moment to tell her, even with her marigolds still growing between us. Perhaps she would’ve given me an answer, the secret to her eyes, and my altar would’ve filled with promises.
The road broadens, becomes busier, the splash of cars washing another layer of water across our legs, into our shoes. I hug the wall, the verge narrowing as construction takes up more and more of the sidewalk, eating into the path. A motorbike passes, the wind swells, and I sway on the curb as I try to keep my footing.
A hand on my back, a gentle pressure.
Just enough to tip my balance in favor of falling onto the road.
Blinded by headlights and the pain from scraping across the pavement, a coming car with wipers working frantically is all I know. My bag dragging me down, wet and unwieldy; the umbrella’s handle spearing into my stomach as I struggle to my feet; the crack in the road that catches at my shoe; all feel as if they have joined forces to carry out Yachiko’s will.
My mind departs, all that remains a twitching mass of flesh that scrabbles for purchase and hauls itself out of the way.
I swallow water, rain meant for the sewer, as it sprays me in the face. The tires whirr past where my fingers were before; I can imagine their crunch, like dry stems. I try to stand despite the tremble running through me, a buzzing fills my ears as the moment replays. Over and over, the dizzying chaos of instinct and reflex on a loop, until my fear is mixed with awe.
Yachiko crouches beside me, the toes of her shoes perfectly in line with the edge. “Your body saved your life. Not everyone’s does. What do you think?”
Death came so close my heart doesn’t feel like it’s caught up, hasn’t returned to its duty yet. I look away from my bloody palms, throbbing with each return of my pulse. “Thank Eros.”
She pauses, her eyes wide, before she smiles.