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by Tyler Anne Whichard

My grandmother raised me swaying by her side in perfectly aligned pews, but I always longed to dance. “Do you know pain?” my little sister asked on the car rides home. I said, “Doesn’t everyone?” and she heard yes. Don’t tell me I’m not tired. When I loved a girl, she told me she never knew what part of the sky to look at. She watched clouds build up on themselves, spilling high into the atmosphere like they had too much to give, and I really think they did. I want to know why I only kissed her in the dark.

“Do you know pain?” I asked my grandmother in the time right before she died. She didn’t answer me, didn’t look at me much those days. My little sister stayed with her friend most nights to avoid the chill of our home; having chopped off her waist-length curls, her neck was especially receptive to the cold in grandmother’s eyes, grandmother’s bones, grandmother’s hands when she tried to hug us until she didn’t try at all anymore. Understand that in the room I usually shared with my sister, a part of me was happy to be alone: a mother watching her daughter find some form of freedom in herself. My grandmother went to bed at five in the evening. I stopped asking her questions. I didn’t know we were in the time right before she died.

When I walked out of the department store by my apartment three days ago, I eavesdropped on an old couple behind me. “See, look,” the woman said, “you would have been sad had we not made the trip.” She smiled when I held the door, and it reminded me of my grandmother. Not the many lines in her face — something else. “The lady was very nice, wasn’t she?” she continued to the man. “You found exactly what you wanted, look!” The man said nothing, feet shuffling and shoulders hunched, but he had a Nike box tucked under his arm and a smile on his face. A softness welled in him that came with age and being kind. I held the shopping bag of men’s jeans for my little sister closer and wondered if this couple would smile at how handsome she looked in them. I wanted to ask my grandmother, When does wonder become hope and where does hope then end? The cooling breeze outside met the woman, and she held her arms wide, tilted her chin to the clouds; they were building up on themselves again, and I remembered loving Claire. She could kiss others under that sky, in that sun. The woman spun twice. The man smiled wider. I thought of going back to church or signing up for ballet lessons.

Tyler Anne Whichard is a writer studying at UNCW. She is the fiction editor for semicolon literary journal, a K-Pop stan on antidepressants, and an advocate for radical kindness. Her fiction has appeared previously in Atlantis: A Creative Magazine. Follow her on social media @tylerawhichard.