“I remember when the news broke out,” Marlowe said, her words jabbing at the inside of her mask. “I was on a ski lift with my mom. I’ve never skied before and never planned to in that moment. I guess I was just going to take the lift back down.” She peeled bark off a nearby tree and swatted moths out of her tangle of curls. “We were sharing a bag of chips. My mom had heard about the virus and told me. We stopped eating chips.”
The air was stale and chilling. It was silent except for dog howls and the pulse of hearts under coats and the crunch of Gracen devouring her bowl of popcorn.
She paused mid-bite to say, “I heard there was barely any snow up in the mountains last year. Doesn’t your grandma have a house up there, Ana?”
“She sold it a few months ago,” Ana said, biting at the dry skin on her nails. “Just after she told us to call her Glamma. Glamorous grandma.”
Gracen chuckled behind the fabric and puffed out her cheeks. “I believe the term ‘grandma’ is now considered derogatory to the grandmas of the world. They say it makes them feel old.”
Marlowe leaned back in her chair and glanced up at the sky. “As if they aren’t old. But we can’t say anything because we’re young and beautiful.”
The sky was speckled with stars just as their desks might be speckled with post-its. They were seated on Marlowe’s roof in beach chairs at 10:32, tracing lightning bugs across the air and observing slugs eat stray kernels twice their size.
“I became an aunt,” Ana blurted. “Andrew had a stupid baby and God knows when I’ll ever get to meet it.” She folded her hands in her lap.
Gracen scooted her chair forward. “Auntie Ana,” she mocked. Ana pushed her chair back a few inches. It was still noticeable.
“Do you guys believe in God?” Marlowe asked. She’d begun to chew on the end of her popsicle stick, her mask sliding down her face. Her parents had given them chocolate popsicles in the dead of winter. It was funny the way their teeth chattered and how they couldn’t feel their hands.
Gracen did not consider it. “No.”
Ana looked away. “I don’t know. My parents want me to think there’s something up there.” Her breath beated shallowly against her mask and her hair frizzed over her forehead. “Something up there that’ll help us. Unless we’re sinful.”
Gracen bit her tongue because she hated the thought of religion and God. “If there is a God up there, he’s already fucked us up beyond repair.”
Marlowe nodded in agreement, “For example, being homosexual is apparently a sin—although not originally, it was added in 1946—but other things are sinful too. For example, wearing mixed fabrics. But people do that all the time.”
“So you’re basically saying we’re all walking sins,” Gracen pointed out. “Regardless of religion.” Marlowe half-laughed, like exhaling and choking on air.
Ana stayed quiet for a bit. The bare trees whistled breezes under their branches. “Yeah, I guess I’m still thinking about God and my religion.”
“If there is one,” Gracen added stubbornly.
The three girls admired the sky from the broken roof of a broken home. Maroon shingles click-clacked beneath their feet. They felt like they were above the world, commenting on its imperfections while children closed their eyes and the cow tripped awkwardly over a marshmallow moon.
“My brother doesn’t know the months of the year.” Gracen popped a handful of popcorn into her mouth, immediately covering her face with her mask after. “He’s already dumb as shit but now this. Honestly, he thought it was August.” Ana giggled behind her palm. Gracen rolled her eyes, “I mean, he thinks every month is August. Is he that desperate for summer?”
“I know I am,” Ana said. She brushed hair out of her eyes.
Marlowe shrugged, but it was kind of hard to see with her overly large sweatshirt on. “I don’t blame him, though, when every day feels like Groundhogs Day.”
“Exactly,” Ana agreed, slapping the arms of her chair.
“What a good movie,” Gracen remembered.
Marlowe sighed and it seeped through her mask. “I’ve never seen it. But what a good metaphor we just came up with!” She propped her legs up on the little outdoor coffee table.
Ana tapped her chin, “I think the groundhog’s name is Pootaney Piper or something—”
“Punxsutawney Phil.” Marlowe grinned but her friends couldn’t see it.
Gracen coughed into the crook of her elbow, but it was followed by a chuckle. “What a name,” she commented.
“What a world,” Ana nodded.
“It’s crazy to think, though,” Gracen knotted her hair in the back of her head, “that we’re living through history.”
Marlowe sipped the chamomile tea that rested near the legs of her chair. “We are, that’s true. Imagine how future generations will ask, ‘How was living through a pandemic?’” She stopped to think about how their lips would be of paper and their spines would be the squeaking of a wheelchair. “We’ll say, ‘Terrible.’”
Ana and Gracen laughed.
“Sometimes I wonder if our actions really matter,” Ana said, running her hand over the stars. It felt like drawing on a frosted window, cold and smooth.
Gracen licked her chapped lips. “Me too. I think that if I wear blue pants will it change the world? Probably not.”
“Our actions do matter,” Marlowe reminded them. “They always impact people in some way or another, even if that impact is small. Like a stone into a pond.”
“I guess,” Ana muttered, before checking her phone. “I’ve got to go.”
“Same here, it’s getting late.” Gracen tucked her empty bowl into her bag. “Thanks for letting us chat, Marlowe.”
Marlowe stood, stretching. “You’re welcome. Have a good night.”
Ana and Gracen hopped down the stairs and into the cold streets. The lights barely shone from the windows of houses so Ana spelled the shadows away with the flashlight on her phone.
“And to think I’ve always spelled ‘marshmallow’ with an ‘e,’” Gracen remembered. “See you later, Ana.”
The sky folded into itself. It swallowed their faces.
“See you, Gracen.”