Dying is easy. I know because I saw Nigel die.
Nigel is my cat, but you don’t know him. You don’t know him because you and I haven’t seen each other lately, but Nigel is my cat, and he’s dead.
He’s dead, but for him, dying was easy.
I wanted to watch carefully, because I knew Nigel was dying, but instead I remembered a mole on your shoulder. How you said the mole on my chest was bigger, and this led to you and then me blobbing purple paint, thick, onto our nipples and putting our nipples to paper. To measure whose nipples were bigger, though we never could agree. Do you still think about it?
Because while Nigel was dying, I was remembering of the size of your nipple, the size of that purple glop on the paper from the roll, curling in your basement: your basement smells like cat pee and eleventh grade will not separate us because we don’t know it yet, and Nigel isn’t dying because I don’t know who he is.
But your nipple was bigger than mine. Side by side, purple near-circles proved it.
We used to try on your mom’s bras, and they smelled like lilies and vanilla, and we longed for breasts to fill her B-cups.
To be women.
I liked best her navy blue sateen with lace edges, and you liked the white one with the loud pink flowers. I imagined your father taking the bra from me, and I imagined you imagined this too.
I put Nigel into a wicker box and I put the box on my balcony. Yes, I have a balcony off the living room in my apartment. I bet you didn’t think of that, but I’ve come a long way.
He died in the middle of a blink, like he was waiting for sun. That’s how I know it was easy, even though your moles and nipples poked at me while I watched.
The box—and Nigel dead inside—cannot stay there forever, but now, while I’m thinking of you, I thought I’d let you know: I got Nigel because he looked just like Sassy, the cat you had growing up. Sassy, the matriarch cat on Dogwood Drive.
And another thing: you told me boys don’t like big nipples, but last night I met a boy in a bar, and the boy looked a little like your dad. He came home with me, and we stood on the balcony.
Later he says, Tell me to bite your fat nipple. And I say, Bite my fat nipple.
Of course, this was before Nigel died.
We reached the dustiest town I’d ever seen, and Jan stopped. The dust over the road was an inch thick, and I was glad for the rest.
We’d been going so long our bikes weren’t shiny anymore. And Don pushed a little farther. He was thirty yards ahead of us and panting, but still acting superior.
What’s wrong girls? he called back.
Jan didn’t answer, so I didn’t answer. The sun, impossibly, was still searing our necks. There were no mosquitoes or flies in this town—it was too dusty.
Do you think this is a ghost town? Jan asked. She had been looking for one since morning, when we decided to ride our bikes across the country. We were in our thirties, but we didn’t know how it had happened.
I think it’s a dust town, I said. Don was walking his bike back toward us now, and I climbed off mine and shoved it down into his path. My water bottle fell out of its holder and spilled into the road, and the dust swallowed each drop. Everything was dry again in an instant, and Don ambled out of the way.
Come on girls, let’s keep going, he said.
No, I said. We’re tired.
Yes, we’re tired. Let’s stay here a while, Jan said.
Don swiped a finger across his bike, which was blue. Dust came off with his finger and floated through the town, though there was no wind. We all stood in the middle of the road.
This ride was your idea. We didn’t want to come, I told Don. Even as I said it, I couldn’t remember if it were true.
No, Jan said. It was your idea Roberta.
Oh, yes, I said. But I thought at least one of you would be dead by now.
Don’t be so theatrical, Don said. He was holding his bike up with one hand, and now he drank with the other. His water looked like it was still cool.
Jan, I said, You should leave him.
We could leave him here, she said. And we’ll go home.
But of course we didn’t. We stayed on in that dusty town forever, just the three of us. And we never saw anyone else.
Jan and I were only married one summer, but that was the longest season. New freckles appeared on her face each day until her fairness was a memory and her skin was several shades darker than mine, and she was lovely. At the end of summer, she met Roberta, and the two of them chased me up a tree. We had been riding bikes, and they said, Climb up and look for water. I hadn’t climbed in years, and was unsteady. They kept screaming, Higher, higher. And when finally I looked down, I saw that they had taken all the branches, making it impossible for me to get back to the ground. So I kept climbing, but there was no water. And the branches got thinner until they broke beneath my feet.
Roberta said we’d ride across the country, and that early in the morning, it seemed possible. In the heat, we wore ponytails and felt girlish, though we were closer to thirty than twenty.
Roberta and I rode together, and Don went ahead of us. She told me about the town where she grew up, and about an old house there that was supposed to be haunted.
She said kids she knew threw rocks at the windows almost every night, but each morning, clean glass glittered in every pane. As she said this, her ponytail was slipping out, and the space above her mouth was shiny with sweat. I asked her if it was still going on, but she said she hadn’t been there in fifteen years.
We were coming into a town, so I suggested stopping soon, and Roberta agreed. Maybe Don won’t notice, and he’ll keep going, she said.
The aged summer made the dirt road thick with dust, and our tires struggled through. Roberta and I fought down the main street for a steady course, and finally Don called back to us, so we stopped. Roberta had forgotten to pack a lunch, and I shared mine. The peanut butter was thick as the dust, and no one enjoyed the sandwiches.
Don suggested moving on, but a hot breeze blew through the dried leaves over our heads, and Roberta clenched her jaw. She pressed her hands into the dust all around her, surrounding herself with handprints.
No, she said, so I took off my shoes and made footprints to join her hands in the dust. Later, we made arms, legs, torsos, heads, while Don threw branches at us.