Somewhere in the foothills of South Central Vermont, above the White River
The moon hovers over the distant wooded hills, full behind dark clouds. It brightens the fields and faces of the land: a sun in its own right. Margot lays down between Em’s knees, running her hands over the fuzz of Em’s leg hair. The others are splayed out across the grassy hill, watching the moon. Em holds a cigarette in their left hand, occasionally handing it to Margot, who smokes with ease and affect at once. She holds it out in front of her, with two fingers, pretending she is Audrey Hepburn.
“Are you going to the river?” Margot pleads, “Please don’t. It’s so nice, right here. I want to stay like this all night.”
Em shakes their head. “I don’t know, maybe?”
The moon grows brighter, rising above the hills and clouds. They sit like this for some time, calm and soft.
Em pats Margot’s shoulder, “I need to lie down.”
Margot scooches down the hill, rolling in the cold grass, she giggles and sits up, hair tangled in back. To no one in particular, she raises her voice and announces, “ I think we should add cigarettes to the list of substances I shouldn’t have too much of.” She laughs loosely, and others join her. She lies back into the grass, and hears whispers, more giggles, above her.
Maggie makes her way over to Em, taking her place in their arms.
Em reaches their toes down and strokes Margot’s head. Margot scrunches her face up and laughs. Margot reaches up, boldened by Em’s cigarette and touch, and takes Maggie’s foot in her hand. She runs her fingers in circles around her hardened heel, losing self-awareness in the peace, the rhythm.
Is it enough for someone to see you and appreciate you?
Does their love have to be physical for you to feel it?
Can they want someone else and still find you desirable?
Do you have to act in order to call it real?
Or do you have to name it?
Can feelings exist, alone, in a void?
Margot’s shadow curves around the light from bouncing headlamps, reaching out over rocks and the dirt path. She and the others make their way down to the river bank, half-blind in the dark. She steps with caution, grimacing as the occasional rock jabs her bare feet.
At the sandy shore, Margot watches as those around her strip, and begin to enter the river, nude. She shrugs and removes her own clothes. She steps into the river, and walks out over slimy rocks, the water only coming to her shins. The night air is cooler than the water, and Margot shivers, covering her breasts, shrugging her shoulders into her chin. She stumbles through the shallow river, lit only by the stars as the moon disappears once more behind the dense clouds.
Further out, the water flows around her knees, and she looks up. Ten or so femme bodies wade through the river with her, and in the soft light, there is only beauty in their bodies, features fall to shapes, they are indistinguishable.
Laughter pierces the night as they make their way into the deeper water, passing under the bridge. As the river narrows and they come closer, Margot drops her arms to her side, not wanting to appear shy. She instead twists her body from side to side to stay warm.
Silhouettes dive into the black water and reemerge, to look up at the sky, or lie on their backs and watch cars zoom past on route 107. Margot relaxes, sinking further into the water, letting herself warm to it, she giggles.
“Just now?” Zoe calls back, laughing, “I’ve peed three times already.” They all laugh. Margot wades further out, towards the others, towards the rushing current and cliff. She sinks to her chin, mouth open. She lets out a slight gasp, her neck stinging in the cool, and pops back up into the air. The air is even colder against her wet skin, and she goes back down, tipping her head back, soaking her hair, flipping over, and paddling into the center of the river. The water glides past her, a dark silk.
Back on the shore, Margot dries her hair, dressed once more, she regrets bringing only the clothes on her back, as the others stand in sweaters and towels. They stand alone, taking the night in on their own. Everyone but Em and Maggie, who are crouched together in the sand.
Zoe sits at the edge of the water, lighting a candle and singing a prayer. Her voice spreads through the gaps between them, touches each of them, raises a different kind of goose bump. Margot looks up at the stars, watching the big dipper, the only constellation she knows, just barely visible between the branches of a tree above them. Minutes pass, crickets chirping, the current flowing, no longer interrupted.
Is flirtation enough to satisfy me?
Is satisfaction all I seek?
Margot sits, tapping her pen against a stack of small letterhead papers covered in her unruly penmanship. Nora sits beside her on the couch, curled into her tail. Rain starts to fall, loud on the tin roof, soaking through the gaps in the screened walls. Margot begins to look at photos on her phone.
Maggie appears and pulls open the door of the small shack, flannel shirt pulled up over her shoulders, covering her head. Margot looks up at Maggie and smiles as she enters.
“Wanna hear a crazy tinder bio I screenshotted a while ago?”
Maggie grins. “Yes I would.”
Margot begins. “Gage, 21. All of this is not capitalized by the way, accept for like one I.”
Maggie begins rooting around the studio for something as she sits on a small stool, opening and closing drawers, still listening.
“My name is gage. Yes I have “gauges” ” – Margot makes air quotes around this word- “but don’t call them that because they’re plugs you fucking incel. I make beats and play guitar and work a lot – period- that’s about it- period- I only smoke leaves so don’t come through with them sticks.”
Maggie and Margot both laugh.
“Are sticks cigarettes?” Maggie asks.
Margot looks out the window, at the rain falling heavy over the garden. “I had assumed he meant the stick part of the mare-a-ja-wana plant but maybe.” She looks back at Maggie who says;
“I once saw a 32 year old hassidic man on Tinder. It was very odd. He said ‘ I’m just a normal hassidic man, looking for some fun.”
Margot laughs, leaning over to pet Nora.
Maggie pulls an empty shell of a boxcutter out of a drawer and turns it over, shaking it.
“Have you seen any xacto knives in here?” She asks.
“No, have you checked the kern shack? I’ve seen some in there before.”
Maggie frowns, still searching around the space. “I was just in there and there are none.”
“What about el stoomp hut?”
“Ze stoomp.” Maggie smiles and mumbles something to herself in French.
Margot lies down next to Nora on the stained and lumpy couch. “I’m trying to write something about Jackie’s last night, but I don’t remevber much besides the tortilla chips being erotic.” Margot says, changing the subject, and leans over to kiss Nora’s belly.
“Jackie’s last night here.” Maggie repeats, playing with the words. “I remember the moon and the clouds were incroyable.”
Margot places an old teddy bear, the same color as the amiable dog, between Nora’s legs, then circles up behind the both of them.
“What a sight.” Maggie grins and then starts looking through the same drawers again.
Margot sits up to glare at a mosquito, “Bastard.”
Maggie looks up, “Is it red with your blood?”
Margot nods as it lands on the screen wall, pulsing red. She smashes her palm against the screen, killing it, then relaxes back into the couch.
“Where did all of them go?” Maggie asks in reference to the xacto knives. Margot shrugs slightly as Maggie waltzes up to Nora, who is still embracing the plush bear. She kisses Nora’s face twice and says “I love you.”
Then Maggie brings her lips to the bear, and kisses its head twice too.
She dances over to Margot and plants a single, gentle kiss on her head as well, before spinning, and pulling her shirt back over her head.
Margot’s eyes widen slightly, as Maggie flits away, back into the afternoon rain.
In Call Me By Your Name, Timothee Chalamet tells Armie Hammer the story his mother read out loud, about the knight and the princess. “Is it better to speak or to die?”
I wasn’t sure I understood the question, but I did.
I often asked it of myself.
I often died.
Margot places her book, Babyji, down on the grass beside her, standing to walk around the garden. The day is bright and sunny, but evening is coming, and the heat has passed. As Margot wanders through the flower beds beside her, she starts to leave the world of the book and re-enter her own. The two are sometimes hard for her to seperate.
Margot sits back down, grounded again, and smiles as Nora runs in circles around her. Maggie walks past, carrying a large bowl and a pair of scissors.
“You’re going to get rhubarb?” Margot asks, more observational than curious.
Maggie tells her yes, and impulsively Margot leans forward, adding “Can I come?”
Maggie smiles, authentic. “Yeah, I’m not actually sure what rhubarb looks like. You know right?”
Margot stands, perked up.
Nora follows the two down the driveway and up the dirt road, and quickly bounds ahead of them, ears flapping in the breeze of her own design.
“I know what the rhubarb looks like, but I’m not too sure where to find it.” Margot grins at Maggie, gently kicking a few stones off the road.
Maggie smiles back at Margot, and Nora stops at the top of the hill to check on her companions.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Maggie asks with a youthful nervousness.
Margot nods, excited. A world of possibilities. A rush of blood. Her world is suddenly as rich as the characters in her novel; boundless love in a world of unbearable heat.
Maggie inhales “Em and I…” She lets out, slowly, on exhale, “Are… flirting!” Maggie squeals, giddy. In one fluid motion, Margot resigns herself to reality and flaps her arms, clapping in support. She laughs with the girl who’s a friend, nothing else.
Maggie fills her friend in on the details. How Maggie wrote Em a note about her feelings for them, and gave it to Em when they were brushing their teeth this morning. How Em wrote a response to Maggie’s confession of attraction.
“You said that in such a silly way,” Margot observes as they enter an overgrown field on the side of the road. “Flirting. I’d say it’s a little more than just that.” Thorns and long blades of grass brush past their calfs. Nora is far ahead, completely hidden in the thick grass. They make their way to a few beds raised above the mess.
“Can we walk on these?” Margot asks, not expecting a response. Maggie nods and steps on one with confidence. Surprised, Margot falls behind her.
Maggie pauses, and leans down. “Want a strawberry?” She plucks a small red fruit from a plant low to the ground, and offers it to Margot. Margot crouches down and examines the plant. She carefully flips it up and grabs a brighter red berry.
“Have it. This one is even better.” Margot takes a small bite and red juice spills onto her hand. “MMMmmm. I love fresh strawberries. I can’t even eat the one in grocery stores, it’s like a whole different fruit.”
“I know!” Maggie agrees with excitement.
“I’m glad someone gets it!” Margot says, smiling, then shaking the thought from her head. Plenty probably understand. She moves on, to the bed with rhubarb. Margot beckons Maggie to the plants, the red stains on her hand juicy and real.
Margot looks down, and laughs softly. “It’s like blood.”
Maggie begins to cut the rhubarb, nodding distractedly.
She waves a stalk around “But it’s not like anything will happen. I don’t know if Em even wants anything from me…”
Margot shrugs, and stares up at Nora, rolling around on her back in a nearby empty bed of dirt.
It took some time,
but I began to see Magic in the land,
in the way it twists.
In the fog cascading down through the fields.
In the moss growing a city on the rotten log.
In the hemlock,
old and falling in the woods.
In the spider weaving its web, riding its silk like a zipline.
In the fire screaming in the clay dragon oven-
stretching and spreading and falling to ash.
They play a game for a short amount of time past eleven. It is played under the hot sun, and under the wooden poles and twists of the structure they call the studio. A little bit of time into the game, a car shows up. A women, older, and a dog, smaller, and a man, wiser, get out of the car. They know Jess and Otto, the tall ones. The leaders. The man runs to Otto, and the women to Jess. The two of them shift.
The game is a part of Jackie’s workshop. The workshop is called This Workshop Is Called and the game is called This Game is Called. Jackie, short and bubbling, has written these facts down on a large scroll of paper, that is tacked up on two of the wooden polls, and rolls out past the middle of the studio. They write down the rules to the game and it begins. It is complete lawlessness. Jovial chaos like elementary school recess. Only it doesn’t feel entirely the same as recess once did. Margot plays the game, but she watches herself. She watches everyone. Others watch themselves too.
Still they play. Claire, blonde and spritelike, but dangerous, is dressed as an egg. Margot holds slips of papers in her hand, and stands on one leg. Zoe puts on a whimsical hat. Berto and Em roll on the ground.
Em asks, “What is first position?”
“It’s this.” Margot says, putting her feet in third position.
Maggie corrects her. Margot asks Berto what 27th position is. Berto places their hands on the ground and begins to haphazardly twerk. All the game players go into 27th position. Margot can’t really twerk.
On the side, Ava talks to the man- she knows him too. Otto speaks to the woman. Michelle watches the chaos, not giving in.
Margot asks for a piggy back ride and Maggie, thin and stunning, obliges. Margot walks up to her and jumps on her back.
“Can you handle me?” Margot says, laughing. Maggie carries her around the studio, Margot’s hair hanging low over Maggie’s shoulder. Her knees pressing into two hips. The sun moves along the grass as Maggie runs in no particular direction. Margot is taken for a moment by the aesthetics and the intimacy. It is just like the scene in the movie Fish Tank when the lens flares and it feels as if Michael Fassbender is carrying you on his back too.
Maggie sets Margot down on a picnic table. The group helps Maggie up onto a tree, lifting her into the air. They carry her up the grassy hill. Margot asks Em to tattoo her. Em, short and warm, obliges. They use a black marker, and draw a sad face and a heart with their name inside on Margot’s arm.
They look out at Claire, the egg, in a tree.
“The egg is in 30th position!” A voice calls out. All the twenty somethings look out to Claire with awe. The awe is at once playful and truer than they might care to admit.
“The game was a coming of age story,” Zoe says.
Berto disagrees, “it was a hero’s journey.”
Margot agrees with Zoe, and distracted, she gently wraps her neck in gold tulle.
“Do you have your paper airplane?” Em asks
Margot fiddles with the necklace she’s fastened for herself, finally lost in the game.
“Show it to Margot when you’re done reading it,” Em continues. Margot looks up at the mention of her name, and sees Maggie holding a folded up piece of paper. A bit of hope dances across Margot’s face. Her wonder reaches around the land. Is she truly a part of this flirtation, this love? Her role not simply imagined?
Maggie beckons Maggie over, unfolding the note. She reveals a doodle of a foot with smiley faces on each toe. The foot wears a poorly drawn flip flop. Margot laughs, loudly enough to cover her disappointment.
The game ends as Margot wanders away. She gets water from a mason jar, half full on the side of the studio. She clambers up the hill, and sits down to write inside a small hut with an aging green couch; Eugene Studio. As she scrawls out words, she hears distant laughter. It is loud, and sounds like a chorus of many. Margot stands and heads towards the kitchen, the largest of 4 odd buildings on the land. She spots Maggie and Em walking away, towards the road, together, with a basket, and a blanket. Her face sinks and she looks around. People are separated into little groups, not the one communal image of laughter she saw in her head. She sighs, and turns back around, to return to her writing.
Claire told me I had the strength to get out of my own way when it comes to love,
when she was reading my tarot cards.
People always told me to stop standing in my own way,
but never that it took strength.
She was the only person who acknowledged that,
The only person to tell me I had that strength.
The bright blue of a computer screen illuminates a tear rolling down Margot’s cheek. She scratches Nora, who lies below her head. She watches as the credits roll on the computer, over Timothee Chalamet’s crying, turtle necked body. She cries harder, and looks over at Em and Maggie watching the movie to her right. Margot grins at them, snuggled up on a sleeping bag, as they see her wipe tears away.
“It gets me everytime.” She tries to explain, laughing a little. Em nods, but Maggie remains unconvinced.
“What don’t you like?” Margot asks.
“I just think it’s the age thing. Or it’s Timothee Chalamet, and that he went to that highschool near Juilliard. Those kids were so annoying, I just associate him with them. With highschoolers. Maybe it’s unfair.”
“No, I understand.” Margot laughs.
Em pets Maggie, who stands. “I think I’m going to go to bed now.” She looks at Em, they nod, “I am sleepy, too Margeenni.” Margot nods and shakes the tear off her face. Em follows Maggie out the stump hut, and Nora looks up as Margot stands. Em turns to shut the door, but Margot stops it.
“I’ve got to get ready for bed too.” Em nods, and Maggie walks ahead, towards her and Em’s tent on the other side of the field. Margot and Em walk to the kitchen, and head inside it. Margot grabs her water cup, and searches through her bag. Em wanders around, greeting Sophie Rose and Berto, who remain, hunched over candles, chatting at the other end of the table.
Margot pulls up a bottle of antidepressants, and another of benadryl. She swallows one of each, chasing them with water. She looks over at Em, and wanders outside. She looks up at the sky. The moon wanes and shines down above her, illuminating the grass. Em comes outside.
“Margeen!” Em calls out.
“Look at the moon!” Margot responds. Em looks up and gasps. They hug Margot and rock on their feet. Margot joins Em in the sway.
“Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine!” Em laughs. Margot giggles.
“Margot, Margot!” She says, warming to the embrace, and grabbing at Em, imagining the two of them are in a movie. In Italy. In some idyllic summer. Maybe they are.
“Em! Em! Oh, Em!” Em laughs, and the two guffaw. Em wanders off. “Margot!” Margot calls out after them, and laughs, twirling in circles. The moon watches as Em walks off, spinning and laughing as well.
I can disappear into a belief, so entirely.
It feels natural.
I forget the damage it can do,
thinking I’m right.
Maggie sits on the couch, still. Her chin is pointed up. Her flannel draped around her shoulders like a silk shawl. One of her hands rests on Nora; sleeping beside Maggie on the couch. Maggie looks beautiful and distant. Margot sits on a small stool, facing the couch. She holds a paintbrush and a large sketchbook in her lap.
Margot groans as she attempts to sketch Maggie using watercolors. The image is juvenile and poorly conceived, but Margot works through it, attempting to correct her mistakes. She finishes the sketch as best she can and rips the page away. Maggie switches her position, removing the flannel, revealing a colorful floral handkerchief tied in a bow around her neck.
Margot begins again, dipping her brush in a coffee mug filled with water. She quickly becomes frustrated with her work, cursing at the page, and covering her failed attempts with angry strokes of black paint. The rest of the piece goes alright, and Margot works swiftly, yawning. She shows the work to Maggie, hand over the blacked out face.
Margot stands and sits on the couch, sandwiching Nora. Maggie rests her head on the dog, sinking into the green cushions. She mumbles something the words “worried” and “bad boyfriend” barely audible.
Margot takes a moment, running her fingers through Nora’s fur. “What was that Mags?”
Maggie talks, louder, avoiding eye contact “I was just saying, it’s been such a short amount of time and I’m already worried I’m not doing enough. For Em.”
She pauses, then continues, soft; “I’m not too sure why I said boyfriend.”
Margot nods and slides deeper into the cushion, thinking.
“I mean I don’t think you need to worry like Em’s pretty chill about these kinds of things. I know it’s easier to say don’t worry than to actually not worry, but yeah, like seriously I’m pretty sure Em’s.. yeah…”
Margot looks down at Maggie, thinking more. She sees her as Maggie now, not as a model, or a woodland sprite, or a New York City dancer. But a worried girl. Beautiful, but different now. She dips the pen back in the ink. The drawing starts to take shape.
This is Margot Chisholm’s first publication. She has spent some time writing at a 2-month long artist residency called the Sable Project, located in rural Vermont. She comes from Providence, Rhode Island, but has gone to school in Vermont for some time now. In addition to writing, she loves to bake bread, be with animals, and lose herself in her vivid dreamscape.