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275. once upon a time

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“Do you remember when we did this before,” Helena says, looking out the window of the car as the landscape speeds by.

“When I took you to the diner,” Sarah says.

“No,” Helena says, “when I was an angel.”

Sarah doesn’t say anything. Helena frowns – it’s hard to remember, sometimes, but she thinks she’s got it. “Or when I was a space alien,” she tries. “Maybe?” She shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t know. Do you remember?”

“Jesus Christ, you’re a nutter,” Sarah mutters to herself. “No, Helena, I don’t remember when you were a bloody alien.”

“Oh,” Helena says.

“It was nice,” she whispers, and breathes out on the glass. In the window she draws two stick figures, holding hands – it’s a simple drawing, so they could be anything. Police officers or bank robbers, angels or demons, sisters or strangers. But they’re together. That’s what matters.

--

Helena doesn’t remember the time before this time very well, but she gets it in flashes. She’ll be eating and suddenly think: I was a witch once, and it will feel true, and it will be true, and she will keep eating because – what else do you do, when you suddenly know how to tell the future from a pack of trading cards and a packet of sugar? You can’t let these things change your life. Helena is herself, now, convent-raised, Sarah-loved. In another lifetime she was none of these things; in a different lifetime she was one or the other or both. But this is now, and she is her, and sometimes it’s just easier to forget.

--

“Can I tell you a story,” Helena says.

“Fine,” Sarah says.

Helena blinks at her. She wasn’t expecting her to answer with fine.

“Well?” Sarah says, raising her eyebrows. “Better be a good one.”

“It is,” Helena says. “It’s about us.”

--

When Sarah is gone, or when Helena is gone, she has a lot of dreams where they die. Sometimes one of them dies. Sometimes they both die, and sometimes they die together. There are a lot of places Helena has bled from; she lifts her shirt in the morning to check for scars, but of course there aren’t any – at least, not where there shouldn’t be. No wings on her back, either. Her teeth just as sharp as they always have been. She could call Sarah. I had a dream about you, she’d say. This time you had a knife. Are you sorry?

It was just a dream, Sarah would say, because she doesn’t get it. Of course it’s just a dream. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

--

“Can I tell you a story,” Helena says.

“Is it about us?” Sarah says.

“Yes,” Helena says. “All the best stories are.”

--

Helena remembers how to walk a tightrope, but when she tries to stand on the top of a wall she falls down.

Helena remembers the sound of the high school bell ringing, but she spent her teenage years killing girls with her face.

Helena cooked, but she can’t cook. Helena sang, but she can’t sing. Helena danced, but her body moves like a sack of bricks tied shut with rope. All of these things are sad. All of these things are true. Sarah said I love you too, only she didn’t. Only she hasn’t. Only she won’t. Helena remembers it, but she remembers all sorts of things that Sarah says aren’t real.

Helena leaves Felix’s apartment and climbs the stairs to the top of the building. She stands on the edge. With her arms held wide, she closes her eyes and remembers flying.

--

At the Hendrixes’ house Helena gets paper and crayons and writes them all down – every story she can remember. When she can’t remember a story quite right she makes up what she thinks the ending should have been, and she’s certain no one will be able to tell. She runs out of one color of crayon, she switches to another: Spring Green (they went for a picnic), Aquamarine (she lived under the water and she was hungry), Royal Purple (Sarah in a crown), Red. Red of course just red. Red always the same red.

When she’s written enough of them down, she picks them up and reads them. They seem sillier on paper – butterflies pinned, shivering and anxious and unreal.

So she crumples them up and puts them in the garbage, underneath all the eggshells from the eggs she eats whole.

“I’m sorry,” she tells the trash can. She doesn’t know who she’s apologizing to.

--

“Can I tell you a story,” Helena says. She waits for the day that Sarah tells her no.