Short Story by: Ava Reiss
Erma’s Greek mythology book sat open to a page about the goddess Iris. It’d been unread for the last hour or so, despite an upcoming exam. Instead, she clutched her phone, sitting in the tollbooth she operated. There had been a lot on her mind the last couple of months. Finally, during that quiet night with little distractions, she couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“The Text” was sent. Erma had just come out to her best friend. There was no going back. Even if Erma recalled the message, it’d show. Shirise would undoubtedly ask about it later. More importantly, if Erma didn’t say those words, she’d implode.
She counted the minutes passing. Shirise should be wrapping up a study session. They kept tabs on each other, both being freshman at college. They went as far back as middle school.
Erma read “The Text” for the hundredth time. “Shirise. There’s a secret about me I’ve wanted to share with just you. I was born with male and female parts. My parents wanted me to have a normal life, and they opted for the safest surgery. However, recently I’ve been wondering if they’d make a mistake. Or maybe I am the way I’m supposed to be, but I… I think I’m in love with you.”
They’d talked about boys before, and skirted around girls. Shirise gave indications she might be fluid. Erma never worked up the nerve to ask.
A horn honked and Erma jumped. She quickly took the driver’s ticket and money. She counted change and raised the barrier. “Have a good night,” she spoke in a trembling voice. The woman ignored her and drove away.
Too wrapped up in nerves, Erma didn’t mind the rudeness. She turned back to her phone and her heart skipped a beat. Ellipsis showed Shirise typing.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” she muttered under her breath. Cold fingers lifted her mug. Erma sipped lukewarm coffee.
The phone sounded and Erma splashed coffee onto her sleeve in a rush to read the response. “I feel so honored you’d share this with me! Erma, you know I love you, but I’ve never thought of you that way. If you wanna talk more, I’m here.”
A pit formed in Erma’s stomach. She felt humiliated. Shirise didn’t feel the same.
Another car came through the toll. Glum, Erma did her job. It was her turn to ignore the driver as they wished her a good night. As taillights disappeared, tightness in her gut eased. Tears threatening receded, as Erma reread the message. “At least Shirise understands,” she grinned. It was better than nothing.
“Thank you,” Erma replied.
Shirise winked with an emoji.
Though disappointed, Erma started to type a longer note of appreciation. She didn’t want to lose Shirise, even if her hopes were dashed.
As the ellipsis reappeared, she paused. Erma grew sick, “Did she change her mind? Does she never want to see me again?”
Shirise’s next words made Erma dizzy. “I don’t think my earlier text came across correctly. I’ve never thought of you romantically before, but I think I might be okay with exploring new emotions with you. Can we talk more?”
Erma quickly deleted her previous composition. “Yes!”
The rest of the night dragged on. Erma couldn’t wait for her shift to end. Shirise didn’t text back anymore, but she was a night owl. Erma knew she’d be up studying for many more hours. They lived down the hall from one another and visited often.
Erma smiled to herself, wondering if she should pick up a pineapple pizza, Shirise’s favorite. “She’ll be hungry.” Erma always picked the fruit off her half and gave it to her friend.
She called ahead and ordered for pick up.
Finally, quitting time came around. Barry, her replacement, ran a few minutes late. Erma brushed off his apology and hurried to her car.
“What if mom and dad had waited to make a decision? What if I’m a guy now?” she wondered aloud. “Would I even have been friends with Shirise? Would it be easier for her to like me that way?”
Erma’s hands quivered as she picked up the pizza. She parked in the distant student lot and trekked her way back to campus.
A dance of blue and red lights sat on the street running beside their dorm. Erma normally didn’t pay any mind to police cars. There was a speed trap on the road.
That night, there were more lights than usual. Erma frowned. There was an ambulance too. Not wishing for an unfortunate circumstance to spoil her mood, she took the long way around.
Sitting on their stoop, a sobbing girl sputtered to an officer. Erma recognized Hari, a girl from their floor. Erma started to turn, heading to another door. She was still in high spirits. Whatever happened, she could deal with it tomorrow.
From the corner of her eye, a familiar key chain caught her attention. Hari had two book bags. One covered in blood.
The pizza hit the concrete. “Th- that’s Shirise’s backpack,” Erma stumbled forward.
“Erma!” Hari stood and the two locked arms. Hari’s nails dug into Erma’s skin. “I was holding the door open for her! The car didn’t have its lights on!”
“Where’s Shirise?” Erma’s throat tightened. Hari peered past her, towards the ambulance. Gulping, Erma spun on her heel. Vertigo threatened. “They’re taking her to the hospital, right?”
The cop was speaking. Erma felt her knees give out. She sank into the grass. “… She didn’t make it,” was all she heard.
“If I didn’t stop for pizza… I could’ve been here,” Erma muttered.
Hari whined incoherently to the officer. Erma’s ears rang as she clutched her head. “No, no…”
Erma sighed, annoyed. Her thumbs twiddled, unsure what to do without her phone. Weeks had passed and she’d taken leave from school. She hadn’t been sleeping. After an emotional bout where windows were broken, her parents admitted her to a sleep-study program. One that included therapy.
“As if taking away my phone’ll make me sleep,” she muttered, tossing from one side to another. Erma kicked her sheets to the foot of the bed. Taking a deep breath, she released it slowly. The soft tick of the clock was the only sound. Sometimes, it felt as if it were in her head. She sat up, debating whether to complain about the noise.
Erma froze, staring at the far wall. There was a strange shimmer. She swung her legs to the ground. Then, cautiously stepped to the abnormal sight. The walls of her room were supposed to be pale blue, not that she could tell in the dark. More importantly, Erma had never noticed anything glittery about it before. The only glow came from a strip under her door. There were fluorescent lights in the hall. Not enough brightness for a mirage.
Hesitantly, she lifted fingers to touch the wall. Erma gasped. Her hand passed through the wall! Something warm brushed her palm on the other side. Airy fingers, barely there, laced through Erma’s. She recognized the grasp.
“Shirise!” she exclaimed. The familiar hand tugged, and Erma allowed it to lead her through the wall.
Bright light pierced her eyes. Erma shielded her face, taking a moment to adjust. Soft petals brushed her bare legs, toes digging into velvety earth. When Erma finally opened her eyes, an illustrious rainbow greeted.
Beneath it, with sadness dripping, Shirise waited.
Tears brimmed as a giggle burst forth. Erma raced to embrace Shirise, speechless with joy. To her horror, her arms grasped air. Shirise’s image was just that.
“I’m sorry, Hermes,” Shirise spoke, her voice vibrating the air around them. “Zeus called me back.” She lifted a pitcher of dark water, shimmering like the night sky.
“Is… is that from Styx?” Erma instinctively recognized the fluid. She wondered why Shirise called her “Hermes.”
“Yes. I’m the only one who can retrieve its waters. It’s why I left the mortal realm the way I did.”
“Shirise, where are we? Why can’t I hold you?” tears cascaded down Erma’s cheeks.
A melancholy smile painted Shirise’s lips. “We’re in the messengers’ realm, Hermes. Only you and I can access it. However, in your present state, you cannot step further. Your work as a mortal is not yet complete.”
“I don’t understand. Will I ever see you again?”
“Of course. When your work is done.” Her eyes glistened, “But unfortunately, our time together as Erma and Shirise has passed. It can never be again.” She stepped forward and placed a hand to Erma’s cheek. Erma felt gentle air in its place.
“It’s not fair! Our story hasn’t started!” Erma wept.
“My dear Hermes,” Shirise whispered in her ear, “our story began before the dawn of man, and shall continue long after…” Shirise placed her lips to Erma’s. Warm breath brushed her in an ethereal kiss. “I just came to say farewell.”
Erma shared her dream during the next therapy session. The doctor said it was “subconscious closure.” Erma shrugged.
They were outdoors. A breeze stirred plants around them, and the scent of irises filled the air. Erma grew alert. They were the same flowers that had brushed her legs beneath the rainbow. The large petals dipped and swirled, as if Shirise reached through from another realm in greeting.
Erma’s chest ached, but thin ray of hope emerged. “See ya later, Iris.”
To read more from this anthology, Ava’s Short Short’s can be purchased on Amazon: here