by Lucy Zhang
My first love taught me how to fold a pinwheel. You need a square sheet of paper, he told me. But I had no square paper on hand, so we snuck a stack of white 8.5 by 11 printer paper from the classroom supplies closet. You can use this as a bookmark, he said as he folded a corner over and tore off the remaining 2.5-inch strip. He then held a triangular ruler down as I traced diagonal lines from center to corner with my stub of a pencil, shortened from sketches shaded with such force that, with a brush of a finger, shadows rubbed off as graphite dust. I cut following the lines, unsure when to stop,
“about three-quarters of an inch from the center,” he said.
But he still placed his hand over mine just before I cut too far. I carried the corners to the center where they overlapped, careful not to fold them else lose the curves of the wheel. He claimed that’s how pinwheels breathe, needing only air to fill their hollow pockets and carry their blades round and round. He placed a pin in the center and two beads to create some distance between the pinwheel and dowel.
I blew into the paper and watched it spin while he began folding another. When the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch break and beginning of class, he had used up all of the paper we stole and I was still watching the blades like petals not even the wind could crush. There must be some kind of strength in emptiness, I thought. We liked crafts and their quiet nature: the occasional rustling or slice of paper, words of confirmation about a sharp-enough crease, the silent satisfaction of a finished product that only we, the creators, believed held value.
After school, we’d sit on the ground, our backs against the walls of the auditorium halls, and we’d fold origami cranes, bracelets from starburst wrappers, ninja stars from discarded sticky notes hidden between the pages of our assigned reading books. He broke up with me when we were seventeen. He claimed there wasn’t enough romance, quite a shock to me as I had never pegged him as a horse-drawn carriage kind of guy.
I said as much. People change–was his response. I concurred; I had certainly changed: I had grown a bit taller, the sharp and flatness of hips and chest sanded down to curves.
“Ok, let’s break up then,” I said.
His face made the most curious expression–like a child just caught his parents wrapping Santa’s present and placing it under the Christmas tree at one am.
“See, this is exactly why,” he muttered.
Why what? Why we could no longer meet up after school, slip our lunch change into the vending machine for a pack of starbursts, flatten the red wrappers of the cherry starbursts that we always ate first, and count how many more packs we’d need to eat to make the second companion wreath to hang on both of our lockers?
An invitation to his wedding arrives in my mailbox on Wednesday evening. Starburst red, floral embroidery decorate the opposing corners of a light tan sheet of card stock and the letters of my name curve in flamboyant cursive. It has been twelve years since I last saw him so I cannot deny my curiosity for how the effects of time have manifested in him. I pull open my laptop and navigate to my pinned Messenger tab. I feel relief when his profile auto-fills, evidence that he has not deleted his Facebook account as my many other anti-social-media-ascetic-monk-like friends had. I sit for a minute before typing.
“Hi, I got your wedding invitation. Didn’t know you were getting married.”
I watch his offline status circle turn green and the ellipsis appears at the bottom of our message thread.
“Long time no chat! Yeah, I’m getting married. It’ll be a bunch of our high school friends there.”
I begin to type. Then I delete my words and begin to wonder. Why didn’t we work out again? It wouldn’t hurt much to ask–with years of buffer between those tender times and now.
“Do you think we would’ve ever worked out?” I send instead. More ellipsis.
“Haha nah, definitely not. I bet the day after our breakup, you threw out all of the pinwheels to make room in your locker for your textbooks that you claimed were too heavy to lug around everywhere.”
I stand up from my chair and walk over to my closet, scouring the unopened cardboard boxes for the lightest one–full of air and paper. I lift the flaps open and see the white pinwheels, flowers preserved in time, petals unbent by the roughness of moving trucks.
“I think I still have them.” I hit enter.
“No way, send a picture.”
I pull my phone out of my jean pocket to snap a photo. I am about to send the image before I pause, my thumb hovering above the send button. I feel like I am confessing to a crime–the guilty lover who murdered her spouse over a festering suspicion of an affair only to come out clean twelve years later.
“Never mind, I think I must’ve recycled them.”
“Yeah, see, we would’ve never worked out :P”
I pull out a dowel and blow on the blades it holds together. The pinwheel spins to life with the meager force of my breath and I wonder if it can truly hold up against the wind. I carry the box, comically large against my frame and blocking half my view as I descend the stairs until I arrive outside in the frigid, December air. I watch the skin beneath my nails turn blue as I place the box down and push the dowels into the partially frozen earth, waiting for the next morning to see how many the wind decides to spare.
Lucy Zhang is a software engineer and holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science. She watches anime, writes poetry and fiction (when patient enough), and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being.
Artist: Yoshiki Takeda