Valerie died before we reached the end of second grade. She lived at the end of a dead end road; a slope crowned with oak trees behind the house fell off on the other side into a sandy quarry, giving us the feeling we had the whole world to ourselves. On Valentine’s Day of that year a heavy packing snow fell, and we built an igloo around the trunk of a locust tree in her backyard. In the course of our excavations in the snow we came upon the leathery bodies of fallen locust pods. As if wresting them by hand from the icy Arctic Ocean, we pounced on them with our wet mittens and they clung there, biting. We alternated coming to each other’s rescue and being saved until the monsters were defeated and then pressed, Simon Rodia- esque, into the walls of our domed hut.
Our boots never thoroughly dried overnight or during the day in our school lockers. By the end of the week, Valerie came down with a kind of croup. I wasn’t allowed to visit her but her mother let her talk on the phone. Valerie said she was tired of Eeyore-ing as she called it, that heaving donkey-like breathing that can oddly enough be a source of pride, a privileged hallmark of sickness to an otherwise happy child.
Her voice was weak, and I asked What? What? and she started to cry. After our last conversation, her mother got on the line. “Valerie is too sick to talk,” she said. I heard Valerie in the background coughing and crying, and her father saying, “when you feel better.”
That night I dreamed Valerie, thin and always cold, stepped through her bedroom wall, floated mid-air outside the window, and at last drifted over the road barricade at the end of the dead end street, leaving the house and its surroundings–curled silver maple leaves blown against the front door, daffodils beginning to flower around the trunk of the locust tree–as though her existence there had been something not to be believed in, after all.
Morgan Harlow’s poems and other writing have appeared in Washington Square, Seneca Review, The Tusculum Review, The Moth, and elsewhere. A debut poetry collection, Midwest Ritual Burning (2012), is published in the UK by Eyewear Publishing.