Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables.
They are chewing on sweet, grainy pears under the weeping willow. Juice is running down Thea's chin, though she doesn't notice; Anna crunches the pips in her teeth while Martha spits them out onto the blanket of grass. Early mosquitoes dance in the warm air, occasionally nipping at the girls' skin, leaving behind itchy pink welts. Cumulus clouds coagulate in the farthest corners of the sky.
Wendla wonders aloud "Where do dreams go when they die?"
Thea giggled furtively at her philosophizing; she does sound so like Melchior when she says this. A gentle draught rattles the leaves on the tree, shuffling them like cards in a deck.
"Dreams don't die," observes Martha. "They fade."
"Fantasies die," murmurs Anna. She absentmindedly swallows her pear's crushed seeds and nibble on the stem. Thea swats at a tiny black speck of mosquito. Her forehead is sweaty and warm, her cheeks flushed.
"Well, a dream isn't a fantasy," says Thea definitively. "Sometimes dreams come true, and fantasies never do."
"That isn't true at all," argues Anna. "Fantasies can come true. If you read the bible in church instead of gazing at Melchior Gabor you might-"
"I don't gaze at him anymore than the rest of you do, and if I do, it's with good reason!" Thea exclaims with a smile. Martha titters and Wendla pulls her ragged, too-small skirt down so it covers her rosy knees self-consciously.
Anna says, "Oh Thea, you're a dreamer, always a dreamer. If it isn't Melchior Gabor, it's Georg, and heaven knows you never stop. Yesterday you forgot your lunch pail at the end of class and I had to bring home to you. Now, who will it be today?"
Martha sucks on the core of her pear, savouring the fruity sweetness, the granular texture. The clouds drift nearer, casting a shadow over the girls' tree.
Dreamily, Wendla says "There isn't anything wrong with thinking nice thoughts. I confess I do it to…though none of my dreams are likely to come true, unless the stars I wish upon really do grant wishes."
"I wish upon stars," replies Martha. "If only stars could truly entail happiness." The wind ruffles Wendla's loose black hair and sweeps Martha's taught braids behind her shoulders.
"I'm happy," Anna whispers, "if only some of the time." The shadows grow longer, and the air cools slightly. The beads of sweat adorning Thea's face dry. She flicks at a mosquito on her thigh and it flies off hurriedly.
"Mama says we must be happy," Wendla pronounces. "We have food and a home and plenty of food and storybooks and-"
"And," contradicts Anna, "haven't you ever felt sadness? For no reason at all, don't you ever sob, Wendla? Do you never feel the burn of tears?"
"Yes." Wendla offers no other reply; she cannot explain this phenomenon and so she won't. The accumulating clouds turn the sky heavy and tense; the humid air is rich with anticipation. Finally, the sky breaks open and spits small, curt raindrops on the girls.
"We must go in," announces Thea loudly, or else my dress will be wet and I'll have nothing dry to wear for all of today."
She tugs Anna's arm and Anna rises, albeit slowly. Martha pushes herself off the ground with strong, tanned arms. Wendla lets her hot, damp tresses fly in the misty wind. Martha helps her up off the ground and she dusts detached blades of grass and reams of dirt off her behind. Anna straightens her skirt and the girls throw the nibbled pear stems away. They run off down the road, rain-speckled dresses and lacy petticoats whooshing in the wind like colourful sails in a sea breeze.
They're studying together on their stomachs, black-auburn braids touching, feet kicked up in the air. Thea's stockings are snow white and patterned with faint rosebuds; Wendla's are thick black wool. The pages of her geometry textbook are soft and velvety with age, the grain of the paper almost undetectable. Wendla quizzes Thea on the vertices of the dodecagon but Thea erupts in private giggles too much. Wendla, who is older and supposedly more mature, tries not to laugh along, but fails.
"We'll never finish this," she whispers to Thea, who smiles that crooked toothed smile of hers.
"No." A fraying ribbon tumbles off of one of Wendla's plaits, lying haphazardly on Wendla's bedspread like a grey cat splayed across its barnyard home. Half of Wendla's dark tresses swoosh apart, the braid never having been tight enough. There is the smell of melting wax; the gentle wash of evening light from the windows reflecting bluely against Thea's waxy hair.
Softly, she says to Wendla "I'll braid your hair. Turn around now…" Thea strokes a lock that has fallen by Wendla's cheekbone. She observes the side of her face—the delicate curlicues and folds of her ear, the wetness of her eyes, the tiny, dried-out tangles of hair at the nape of her neck. Wendla adjusts her position, letting Thea run her fingers through her hair fully.
"You brush well," Thea intones.
"Yes," laughs Wendla. "My mama says 'one hundred strokes makes the girl.' I wonder if that's true."
Thea says, "It is," quite faintly. She makes loose braids, weaving ropes of dark chocolate in and out of each other. Her fingers are warm and oily against Wendla's neck, where she touches the skinny baby hairs that cluster together. Thea's heart is pounding with fragile fervour.
"What would happen…"
"I thought you would tie them more tightly—go on."
Saying nothing, Thea touches the shoulder of Wendla's papery cotton dress and presses her lips against Wendla's neck. Through the slate-paned windows, the blue-crimson sunset fades inconspicuously. Daytime birds cheep mutedly and then scurry off to their respective nests. A solitary nightingale crawls up a branch with scratchy feet. There is no night song. Not yet.
The girls are silent and motionless, save for the heavy breathing of Wendla, and the unprovoked squeal of a rusty mattress spring. And then Thea kisses her. Without fanfare, a spindly string of new moon rises in the purple sky.