• Cigarette smoke lingers on her fingertips and he sucks on them for the taste. Northern lights pass over their dark sky that they claim as an escape in this dreadful place and they are too eager to leave. They laugh loudly and freely when the smoke moves; restrained for too many years, they break open like horrible, garish wounds and scatter in pieces across the ground. They don’t bother to go back to pick up themselves up.

    She finds it oddly surrealistic and liberating, freezing in the back of his small Datsun, the smell of sweat and warm beer in the blankets, on some back road on some day in October. It doesn’t mean she loves him; he’s just a way out.


    Let’s run away together.

    And where will we go?


    What will we do?

    Run away with me, Les. I need you to run away with me. now.

    He’s beautiful, she decides. But he doesn’t always understand when it’s time to sleep and leave the world alone.


    Someone had died before they left; a young boy with silvery bright hair and happy eyes. His funeral was on a Friday and that Wednesday everyone had forgotten. There was still the pieces of flesh on the road and blood stains on the curb where he was hit on his little blue bike the week before. Of course, the police weren’t finished trying to figure it all out, but it was mostly laziness and fear, Leslie decided, that made the town forget. People died every day - what made him so different?

    It’s not really important, not to her. To him, though... to Peter, it was. His little brother was gone and, sure, Peter was sad but he never showed it. It’s his reluctance to let trivial things like guilt and something so simple as grief take over him that makes him a wild man. No inhibitions or intentions of living, except destruction and breaking. The way he handles his grief is eloquent and barbaric and she would have it no other way.

    But she goads him, a ragged dagger in the gut when he least expects it and she laughs about it. Finds it amusing that, at these weak points, he does let this savageness, this human sadness, take over.

    “Do you miss your brother?” she asks between drinks. She crushes a dying cigarette in the ash tray. A tiny, sinister smile plays on her tongue. “Do you miss him?”

    Peter takes a bite out of his burger and a piece of lettuce gets caught on his lip. Leslie says nothing. “Shut up, Les.”

    She pulls out a cigarette and lights it in the diner. Peter looks away and the old waitress, all frizzled peppered hair and bony wrists attached to a sickly skeleton frame, frowns, paled eyes crinkling underneath the mass of sagging skin.

    “It’s just a question,” she says. “You can answer a simple question.”

    “Not now.” He’s licking his lips and rubbing his fingertips across the tabletop. “Not here.”

    Leslie shrugs and takes a drag on her cigarette. Outside, the world is a thousand miles away, lost in vivid, sensible colours that paint out daily schedules and intentions; varying degrees and varying shades of sympathy are built off our mechanisms and society. But in here, Leslie decides that the world doesn’t really give a s**t. It’s irrational and too emotional and she hates it.

    She shifts forward, arms crossed. annoyed. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” And she’s gone before he can answer.


    There’s a complete absence of light in the two-bed hotel room that they’re staying in. Hours after the curtains are closed and the alcohol leave circles on the dresser, Peter talks about the boy with wild eyes.

    “I woke up one morning and he was gone.”

    Leslie sits up in bed. She’s got the taste of vodka on her tongue, stale and warm. “What?”

    “I woke up, Les, and my brother was gone. He was dead.”

    “Oh. Yeah.” Leslie lays back down. She shifts in her bed so she faces the wall, away from him. “That sucks a bit.”

    “You can be a b***h, Les.” Leslie can hear Peterr sob.

    Leslie sighs. “Yeah, whatever.”


    She’s running through a field with dead trees and autumn leaves. Peter waits by the car, smoking and reading a newspaper. Leslie screams and rolls in the grass, pulling plants out by their roots. Her hair is tangled with branches and her pants stained from the wet dirt; rain the night before that left the world cold and angry.

    “Come back, Les,” Peter calls. “We have to go.”

    She lays in the back seat, her sneakers up against the window, her fingers tapping the beat to whatever song was on the radio - treble too high, creating an unbearable screeching voice, but maybe it was just the singer.

    “You hide. All the time, Leslie.” Peter looks in the rear view mirror. She can barely see his eyes.

    Leslie shrugs. “Yeah. I guess.”

    “Why?” He turns the radio off and there’s only the hum of tires on pavement left to listen to.

    “I don’t know,” Leslie whispers.

    “What?” Peter momentarily slows down, the car gliding to a crawl, and he turns to look back at her. Maybe he was hoping for a resolution, for an epiphany and for her to change, change just like the seasons and the weather and the sun; change like she can and like it’s not hard to lose it all.

    “I don’t hide all the time.” She likes her freedom. “You just don’t look.”


    There’s a picture of the small boy in Peter’s wallet. Leslie takes it so she can buy herself a burger from some s**t diner in whatever town they are passing through. It’s curled at the corners and held together in the middle by yellowing tape. The boy is younger in this picture, a moment captured from the days when this all seemed too far away.

    The boy behind the counter is slowly counting the pennies in the register, clink clink clink of metal against metal bouncing around the empty walls and Leslie’s head. She stands by the window, staring at the bare street, the take-out bag clenched in her left hand, the picture in her right. The boy seems to notice.

    “Need help with something?”

    “Yeah.” Leslie looks over her shoulder, back at the boy, who stares back at her with wide, vacant eyes. “Is there a lake or something around here?”


    “You stole my wallet.”

    Leslie crouched by the stream, skimming her fingers across the green-black water. “Yeah. How did you find me?”

    Peter kicks some pebbles into the water and Leslie flinches. “It’s a s**t town, Les. There’s only one place you can get food.”

    The crunching of gravel makes Leslie stand. Peter grabs her elbow and pulls her close. “What are you doing out here anyway?”

    “Letting go,” Leslie whispers, leaning back into Peter’s weight.

    There is a stretch of silence where Leslie feels a childish excitement rise in her. Peter’s breathing increases, quick and furious, and his fingers move slowly, picking their way through his wallet.

    “Did you see a picture in here?” Peter asks.

    “A picture?” Leslie can barely contain her eagerness. “Of what?”

    More silence and Leslie turns to face Peter, a wide grin stuck to her face. “Letting go, Peter. I was letting go.”

    “You took it.” Peter steps back. His hands fall to his sides. The wallet falls to the ground with a pathetic slap. “You took Mikey’s picture.”

    “Let it go, Peter.”

    But Peter looks so ******** pissed, so confused, and it amuses Leslie. His face is turning red and his eyes are narrowed. He’s stumbling along the bank, slipping on the wet pebbles, his hands caught in his hair, wrapped up in tangles and knots.

    “Where is it?”

    Leslie stiffens, purses her lips. “What’s the big deal, anyway?”

    “Where the ******** is it, Les?” Peter screams, but not at her. He screams it at the world. “Where the ******** has it all gone, huh? What the ******** happened that it came to this?” He falls to his knees. He goes limp again, shoulders sagging, a puppet on crooked strings. “Why did it all turn out like this?” he whispers. “What happened to me?”

    Leslie stares at Peter. He’s swaying and moaning and Leslie is disgusted, revolted by this pathetic savagery. Frustrated, she lights a cigarette and sucks it in, fast and breathless, trying to calm her nerves. “So I ripped up a picture and threw it away. What’s the big deal? It was old, anyway.”

    Peter’s empty in his skin - a hollow ghost with certain movements and intentions. He’s pale and glowing, a sickly thing in the afternoon light. He has his knuckles in the dirt, methodically moving his fingers, flexing and unflexing. Leslie can feel the grit under her fingernails and it makes her shiver.

    “Peter.” Leslie breathes through clenched teeth. “********, get up.”

    “I can’t go back home, Les.”

    Leslie tries to blow smoke rings but the breeze is too quick, too rash to let anything but a wisp escape from her mouth. She has to hold her hair back with her hand as she looks at Peter. “Stop being so melodramatic.”

    “It’s my fault!” He yells, turning to look at her and his face - his face, so contorted and ugly. Leslie steps back, a little disturbed by the hideous grief in Peter’s skin. “I was supposed to be babysitting Mickey and I got high instead. I let him go out onto the street. I should have been watching him!”

    “You got high with me.” Leslie takes another drag on her cigarette before flicking it into the stream. “So, in a sense, it’s my fault for asking you to get high with me. But - ” Leslie stops; thinks. Shrugs. “Whatever. It’s all in the past now.” She walks back up the steep incline to where the thick bush connects with the dirt road.

    “Who am I?” Peter mutters. His voice carries like loose cannons across the water and Leslie just wishes he would shut up. Outside him, the world is all animated and rude, obnoxious noise; simple lines and complex corners that he can’t get around. He claws and tears and bites his way through for something so ******** important, acts like a child to get his way. And he keeps clawing for that absolute truth, the one that will never come and he just doesn’t know when to slow down, when to sleep - when to leave it all alone.

    “Are you coming?” Leslie bends down to pick up the burgers. “The food is getting cold. I ******** hate soggy fries.”

    “Les.” He breathes, finally. “Who am I?”

    Leslie rolls her eyes. “Christ. You’re too ******** dramatic.” And she walks back to the road, leaving Peter by the stream, with the remainder of the little boy’s picture.


    She lives on tea from a styrofoam cup and flattened cigarettes. She hasn’t had real food in days and she doesn’t seem to mind, because it’s always about her, her, her. She ignores Peter when he looks at her from across the room and talks about sneaking into concerts and holding up liquor stores as a habit.

    Peter doesn’t believe her. Doesn’t buy into the light and Leslie’s fraud. Doesn’t believe in universal neutrality and the kind of ruthless bitterness that envelopes her about the world and people and love. He hates her for her passivity, her negligence, her hatred. But he knows something wrong. He can read it in the way she spends too long in the bathroom in the mornings, the way she looks in the window for her reflection but never find it, how she pushes him away when they lay in the dark.

    They sit down for coffee in any diner they can. She smokes by an open window and he watches her, waiting for her to speak first. She has something, something she hides and he wants to know, for her to open up to him and be comfortable around him. He thinks she never will.

    “People can see my secrets,” Leslie says one morning in a mom and pop diner along the Trans Canada highway. She’s watching a family of five pile into a van and he watches her. “Like they’re written on my skin.”

    He’s surprised. “They can’t.” The coffee is hot in his hands and it warms his fingers.

    “But,” she stresses, “I think they can. Always looking, thinking, wondering.” She chews on her bottom lip. “Judging. Always judging me.”

    “Are you sick, Les?”

    She laughs: cold, dry, hallow. “I feel fine.” She drinks her tea.

    “Leslie.” Peter learns forward. “Are you sick?”

    There’s a whisper, a hush that falls between them as the world goes blank and everything blurs, faces lost in crowds, voices lost in ringing silence and Peter waits. Leslie is thinking, watching leaves turn colours on the highway and the shift of grey sky against grey clouds, and Peter lets her.

    “What?” She says suddenly, like coming out of a deep sleep. “No... no. I’m just confused sometimes.”

    And he thinks that’s okay.


    A few days later, Peter’s gone and Leslie wakes up alone. She thought she would get out first. The hotel room is empty, wind howling through the open windows, boys outside the door, laughing.

    She has no clothes, no money, no way out. She’s haunted by ghosts and lost dreams that she could never fulfill and the shadows that follow her are better than misery for company.

    They ran away together, but he ran back. The silver haired boy is frozen in the ground and she can’t seem to understand how it works, that he runs back for the boy that died and leaves her here. She could go back and try to make it all right again, but she’s ready to move on. And despite her bitterness, she thinks that these towns hold too much, too small for her to breathe.

    So she leaves, runs in the opposite direction, away from him. But in the hush of the world, her shadows still exist.