three weeks ago, we had passed birmingham and even with the windows lowered,
the air blowing through was hot and dry, which turned into a pleasant coolness
somewhere along the way from inkster to napier
that could be seen as much as felt in the undersides of our stomachs and on the backs of our arms,
every puff from the exhaust pipe like a stopwatch. we leave trails,
little secrets of our existences left behind. dry-erase-markered initials on a fallen leaf,
a paper crane out of diner napkins, a smile and a wink to a stranger.
the clarinet player, who said my true personality would scare away all my admirers
but would not let me wallow in self-hatred, is sprawled across the back seat,
half-conjoined with the limbs of the second clarinet, the instrument case of the first
gently knocking into his elbow at every shift like a rocking chair at sea, the lull
of skin against rusting metal clasp an adequate lullaby. when i try to stretch my legs
across the armrest full of crumbs,
the cotton lawn of my dress scratches against my thigh
and the saxophone player, whose name became evanston when we sojourned there,
moves the fast food wrappers away from the space between us.
last week, he flipped off a group of boys who called me pretty.
said he left his identity back in chesapeake and now goes by evanston—
and chesapeake-cheltenham-aberdeen-evanston takes my wrist in his greasy hand.
calls me an angel.
the trailer rattles with the weight of the world
and the pencil of the professor just two years older than me in the front seat skids
across his edits for his artificial intelligence paper.
he looks back, smiles at us distantly and the second clarinet mumbles something in his sleep,
something about losing the birthday card his girlfriend gave him back home
but how he still had the socks.
our mismatched tempos in time—somewhere between andante and allegro—
causes the instrument cases to slide across the floor, my own pressed against my back
like a gentle reminder. the plastic bottles filled with golden water
roll to the lilt of the wheels in the overhead apartment,
each one wanting to be more than piss.
perhaps like pressed flowers,
melodies personified, preserved.

Kristine Ma is a high school junior hailing from Michigan. She received two national Gold Medals, six Gold Keys and several other regional recognitions from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, as well as the Best of Grade award. In the summer, she attended a creative writing master class at Northwestern University with poet Richie Hofmann. Her work is forthcoming from Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal. Kristine is the English section editor for her school’s academic journal and an editor for her school’s award-winning literary magazine, Spectrum. She is also on the creative writing team at The Incandescent Review. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing piano and oboe, hugging stuffed animals, watching anime, and dreaming.

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