The Great Eventually
That night she dreamt, a side effect of the deep sleep her body wasn’t used to. In the dream Griffin was glowing, fluorescent. She watched him walk in stop-start motion to the river in Tennessee. He tested its surface with a naked foot.
Upon the contact, the water began surging violently, swelling angrily onto the reedy shores. The transformation was thunderous, and she shouted mutely at him to get back. He turned and looked at her, apologies written across his face in bold. He stepped in. As his russet skin met the water, his body morphed into what she instinctively felt was his natural state – all wings and fur and lion claws.
He’d become an actual griffin.
The creature beat its wings uncertainly, hovering above the feral river. Creature and girl faced each other and the seconds felt like years, unsure of whom they were in the cobalt night. She considered its wings, wide as a golden eagles’. She studied the powerful hind legs, made for hunting the most elusive prey. Wildness rolled off it like mist, and it was indeed Griffin, but more. Suddenly it thrust its body high into the thin air, melting without warning into the black firs. She sent a hoarse cry after its retreating wings. She couldn’t hear herself over the river. It was still churning, roaring, crashing against rocks and shore. It was louder than God. So loud it felt like she’d-
She woke up heaving. Sitting up in her sleeping bag, she squinted blearily across the tracks. The freight train. It was just about to leave. What she’d been hearing had been the train, not the river. She gnawed on her tongue and told her skidding heart to still. She lay back down. It wasn’t quite time to start moving again, and Griffin was still comatose anyway. She closed her heavy lids. Screwed up dream. The train gave a lonely howl into the premature dawn. She could feel herself drifting, but something was pressing down on her chest and the light behind her lids seemed artificial and frenetic. She couldn’t quite…
Griffin. She whipped onto her side to face him. She groped in the inky dark for his body, his charcoal curls. Her hand met only the cold clay of the earth. She brought it to her face. Her fingernails were black crescent moons.
No, she thought blankly. No. No.
Tearing out of her sleeping bag, she stumbled like a drunk into the train yard. She could feel something protesting in her stomach, like captive fireflies in a mason jar.
She maneuvered deftly between abandoned train cars. Panic was turning itself into agility. Maybe he went to hunt down a bathroom? Or see Xavier one more time? It was plausible. They wouldn’t be seeing each other for at least a few years. Yet something was clawing the back of her mind, tugging at her instincts like an impatient child. She shoved the feeling aside, blindly trusting his light like she always had. She could hear the freight train groaning with departure. She hurdled around another car, knowing that she would miss it regardless due to the sound of its speed. But she had to make sure…
She rounded the last car, infant rays of sun inducing temporary blindness. She shielded her eyes, inspecting the snaking cars, which were slow enough to pass without being blurry but fast enough to know there was no chance of her taking one. They were mottled with bright blotches of graffiti. The one directly in front of her read “T+K forever” in deep indigo. The one beside it, “DOPE” in bubbly green font. She began jogging parallel to the train, searching the cars further down the track. Panic returned, swelling like a tide. She knotted her fists; held her breath as her gait quickened.
He was clinging off the side of a car a few yards away, staring her down as unwaveringly as he ever had. His backpack was slung across a broad shoulder, and an unlit Marlboro dangled loosely from his fingers. Colonel the Sixth stood beside him, barking.
Her vision blurred and she sank to the ground carefully, recoiling into a crouch. She should’ve known. She found herself gulping deeply at the air as she leaned farther, resting a cheek on the Californian dirt. Fish out of water, she thought vaguely. But then again. Maybe there was reason for surprise. For all Griffin’s instability, his gypsy soul, the way he scorched the ground with his fervor for life – his leaving was the last thing she’d seen coming. Especially after yesterday. Her fingers still felt like they were on fire. She replayed his words said only the day before. Only you would manage to save me metaphorically and physically in one shot. She fought the rising acid in her throat and forced herself to look up at him. For the first time in the two years she’d known him, he looked almost sorry. He brushed a shock of hair from his seaweed eyes. She blinked, thought briefly of dimming lights in an empty theatre. This was it then.
The shock didn’t feel real, and for a moment she wondered if this was an extended dream. But she knew better. Everything was too loud, the light too bright. She felt like she was hanging in a strange limbo between now and then. Then being yesterday, pulling him from what seemed to be all the literal and metaphorical flames in the world, believing that anything that happened to her was worth it if he was saved.
Because anything worthwhile she’d ever done in this life was because of him. He was every wild horse she’d ever seen in Nevada. Every feeling that had ever bloomed like a lily in her chest. Every vision, risk, bright dream under a moonless sky. She looked up at him. His face was frantic as he tried to make her understand with a mouthed speech. She didn’t try to make it out. Just watched his lips flutter like monarch butterflies, branding his skin and make onto her memory. He knew she couldn’t lip read if she tried. But she knew he was too brimming, too much not to try to let her know why. She didn’t really want to know.
“Here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why,” she quoted softly into the dewy air, losing him and herself with every heave of the train. “There is no why.”
Finally his face grew indistinct and he turned, slowly, to face the sun. As he grew smaller and the world began turning to gold, she understood all she needed to. He was always going to go, no matter what story was penned between then and now. Eventually.
She told herself to stand up, and somehow was able to. She watched his body fade with a hammering heart until he finally became one with the glaring dawn. And she felt like she was molting out of her own body, like she was suspended in the glittering Sonoma air.