The year Kelly’s mom died was the year she taught me Morse code. At night under the covers of the double bed we shared she instructed by touching my skin. She mouthed letters in the beginning to get me going. Her fingers tap tap tapped on my forearm, my thigh. Short short short short / short short. Hi. There was only room in my brain for the letter on the tip of her tongue. Pink perfection.
All tapping was code, and Kelly had plenty to say about her mom’s death, the absence of cute boys and her inevitable move to Fort Meade at the end of summer to live with her dad. Until then she was all mine. We slept in the same bed and woke up with our limbs tangled together like ragdolls. Brushed each other’s hair and messed around with makeup. They were molasses days full of bike rides around town, VHS tapes from Blockbuster, and popsicles under the umbrella of the willow tree followed by Morse code practice with the leftover sticks.
Whenever my parents entered our room, which was any room we were in, we switched to code. Kelly was grieving so they didn’t push her to talk, and that made her even more mine. I was the one she could talk to. I was the other half of the Double Pop. Without her I had a jagged edge running down my side. My mom reminded me that Kelly had to leave soon. She bought us friendship lamps that were linked so when I touched my lamp, hers would glow, too.
The day Kelly left, I pressed the gift into her hands and tapped to say, “So you’ll know when I’m thinking about you.” Her dad yelled for her to hurry up, and the pretzel twist on her face made me think she couldn’t listen and hear at the same time. She told me she’d call me. I could barely eat anything other than popsicles during the first week. Chewing took too much energy, and my stomach roiled with all the sugar. I stayed curled up in the bed we shared, huffing her pillow, convinced the green apple shampoo lingered, and trying to remember what it was like when I was her shadow. I glanced over at the friendship lamp on my bedside table. We hadn’t used the lamps since she first plugged hers in. But that afternoon hope overpowered the fear of loss, and my hands tapped out “I love you” in Morse code. She would finally know. The lamp only glowed once. She could see I was thinking about her but had no idea what that meant.
Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, MD, with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears in Monkeybicycle, The Molotov Cocktail, matchbook, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and others. Her story “Postcard Town” was selected for Best Microfiction 2021. Breaking Points, her debut chapbook, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (fall 2021). Read more at chelseastickle.com/stories and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.