It was summer of 1994, Kurt Cobain had died two months ago, and Ritchie was still going on about it at the dinner table. In some twisted way, Ritchie had his entire suicide note memorized. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know? He quoted it until Mom told him to shut up. He got me wondering where Pisces fitted into all of these adjectives.
Ritchie told me I was Aquarius and he was Aries, and we came so close to the unstable dangerland that was Pisces. Kurt Cobain was one of them, and as good a musician as he was, he killed himself. Albert Einstein was a Pisces, but Jesus, Lauren, won’t you look at his crazy hair?
I had yet to meet a confirmed Pisces, but I was stupid enough to believe Ritchie’s claim that all of them are danger.
Summer of 1994, I was an airheaded ten-year-old who spent too much time by herself.
Summer of 1994 was also when I met a girl down by the pond. It was the solstice and she was fishing, and it turned out to be a failure because the house-sized pond was too shallow to support anything but minnows.
“I don’t want to actually catch a fish anyway,” she told me with a shrug, standing up from the blue overturned Lowes bucket that she had been sitting on. The first thing I noticed about her was the unplaceable smell of her hair -- artificial strawberry shampoo or perfume stolen from her mother?
“I’m Pisces,” she told me, a smile missing two canines flickering on and off. She was a good half foot shorter than me. “Actually killing a fish would be akin to murder.”
Right then and there, I resolved to do a thoroughly scientific study of the notoriously unbalanced, mystery-shrouded creature known as Pisces. How demented was she under her pimply skin and unbelievably frizzy brown hair? How much insanity lurked behind her light amber eyes?
I lured Miss Pisces into my house, like the breadcrumb witch I was.
“Welcome!” Said Mom with too big of a grin. “I’m so glad that Lauren finally made friends.”
Pisces smiled tentatively at her. Ritchie leaned against the staircase, a smug explosion of teenage boredom on his face. I shuddered and wished that I didn’t have to become a teen.
I showed her to my landslide of a room. Sunlight came in through the window and made her eyes electric gold. I envied her -- my own eyes were a plain, dark auburn.
She managed to find enough space on the floor to sit down, and she told me that she lightened her eyes with honey.
Definitely an off sign. I needed to confirm my brother’s tale of Pisces oddities.
But the honey trick was intriguing. We snuck into the kitchen, giggling, avoiding Dad’s suspicious eyes.
I put too much honey in the mixture, and tears crowded into my eyes. Pisces blinked twice and seemed perfectly fine.
“You can’t see the results immediately,” she said. “You have to keep doing this for a few months.”
“Yeah. If you put in more water it won’t be that painful.”
I thought that a few months of this was worth her kind of eyes.
I made the decision to keep the investigation a secret from Ritchie, because I wanted the glory of getting firsthand experience of dangerland.
“See you later, Pisces,” I said from the front porch as she gathered her Lowes bucket and left.
“Pisces?” She turned around and scowled at me. “My name’s Katie.”
For all of Ritchie’s morbid enthusiasm concerning Kurt Cobain’s suicide letter, he was reluctant to explain to me who Cobain was. Katie was the one who introduced me to his music.
He was crazy for sure, a prototypical Pisces. He screamed on the CDs. And Katie liked it.
She also played a wailing song on repeat, one where the singer said, your skin makes me cry.
We hung out together anyway, Katie and I, because we had no one else that summer. Ritchie was a sixteen-year-old surviving on tacos and Snickers and rage, and Katie’s brother shunned everyone. So Katie and I stared obsessively into mirrors, praying that our eyes would lighten faster, that we’d grow longer legs and hair and look like these cool teenage girls at the mall. My eyes were used to honey by then. Mom marveled about the rapid disappearance of honey from the kitchen cabinet.
We cherished our last days on the playground. After summer, we’d be going to fifth grade, and the cool fifth graders laughed at the playground kids.
Katie and I sat on the monkey bars, facing each other. I was amazed at how close we had become in a week’s time. I knew her favorite color (some kind of blue), favorite letter (F), favorite band (Tool, said in italics with pretentiousness), her brother’s personality (evil and annoying and ugly and pimply and always ignores her). More importantly, I knew about her self-proclaimed love for a sixth-grade boy.
Katie was watching him from our monkey bar on top of the world. He walked his dog by the pond. The dog strained on its leash to get to the edge of the playground. I got to witness the microsecond when Katie’s honeyed amber eyes connected with his gray ones, before Katie turned away so quickly that she almost fell off the bars.
It rained in August of 1994, dampening the unbearable heat. I loved rain -- it made me fall asleep faster. Katie folded boats from razor-thin origami paper and blew them across driveway puddles. My hands could never coax the paper into an intelligible form.
August was when my brother left town to join the army. He left on the last week of summer, leaving me a hug and a dozen oversized, useless hats.
We sat on my driveway under a chestnut tree, watching my brother leave in a dented taxi cab. He waved, jokingly saluted us, and I wondered if it was possible to feel grief for someone who was still very much alive.
Water turned our hair limp. We just sat there, long after the cab passed out of sight.
“Want hot chocolate?” My mother asked, standing awkwardly in the doorway.
“No thanks,” I said.
We huddled under the tree.
“What if he doesn’t come back?” I asked.
“He will,” Katie said, forcing conviction that neither of us believed in into her voice.
“Lauren,” said Katie seriously, turning around and looking me dead in the eye. Last time I checked the mirror, they looked a bit lighter than they originally had been, and I hoped it wasn’t just my imagination. Her eyes were the same golden amber as always. “I’m so glad I got to know you. You’re my best friends in the whole world. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Thank you,” I said as rain turned everything reflective. Just the automatic words of a ten-year-old who had watched too much TV.
The rest of summer was washed away by the rain. When fifth grade came, we had different teachers.
“Hi,” said Katie.
“Hi,” I said. We stared at each other, shifted, and barely found our words again when the bell cut us off.
We didn’t talk much after that, and I was alone again. I sat on the monkey bars of the school playground.
It rained even more in September. At night, rain made car headlights bleed long streaks into the ground. Ritchie wrote to me from Fort Jackson. I told him that I met a Pisces, and they aren’t all crazy like he thought.
Sometimes I saw Katie smile at me in the hallways, this time her teeth veiled by shyness that had not been there before. She was never seen on the monkey bars. We never visited the top of the world together again.
One day, I passed by her one-story house with its faded blue walls. On the porch with its ivy wreaths stood a seventeen-year-old boy and a woman who had the same eyes as Katie.
“I enlisted, Mom,” said the boy. He was Katie’s brother, and he wasn’t nearly as pimply as Katie had described.