As in silken twilight—when the sky turns nightgown soft. When spring leaves shadow to the shapes of dark things that fly in the night.
We could hear something in the air from our sleepy would-be suburb and as the moon rose, we rose from bed, entranced. The night called us onto the street.
Our duplex was the last-standing structure on our cul-de-sac, and we were the best of friends. We lived in the unincorporated part of town where the water from our faucets tasted like tin and other kids never came around, though at times we heard the rustlings of some of the older ones who snuck away together to the piles of abandoned mattresses and broken bottles in our backyard woods. Our town felt emptied of the living; we could hear the breezes circle above us, the wide expanse of it. When the night called us onto the street, we were alone.
Both of us neighbor girls wore our nightgowns, though we were growing too old for them. Static clinging fake silk skirts to the backs of our thighs, fake lace collars itching our necks, we left our lamp-lit living rooms and sat, cross-legged and facing each other, the sewer lid between us.
It was one of those nights that anything seemed possible. At first we thought since we were both having trouble sleeping, that we’d left our covers to feel the breeze, but after what happened we weren’t so sure we hadn’t both sleepwalked, synchronized even in our dreams.
She was Megan and so was I. I was Meg. She had thin hair and I had too much. She was homeschooled and I didn’t go to school at all. She had long slender fingers and her arms were goose-bumped in the chill of the night. My fingers weren’t slender or long and I didn’t get cold easily. Megan wore her mother’s church hat outside as we sat at the sewer lid. I never went to church but my mother did stash a bible underneath my nightstand. We were different people but we felt like one; I felt like we were one. And that night, we saw our futures together.
With stick tips, we stirred leaves and pebbles and dirt around the lid, repeating as we stirred in our dreaming:
what if this what if that
if thatwe could
what ifwhat if
wewhat if we
awayto the city?
But we weren’t dreaming; we were sitting by the sewer in our nightgowns, entranced. It was just a game.
In the game, we were witches. We stirred leaves with sticks and made believe we were other people. Other animals. When we still wore our nightgowns regularly, our stuffed animals came with us. Only it was usually in the light. Not the darkness. This time we felt an invisible pull. The trim of our gowns led us through the breeze, and the moon was our only streetlight. And it was under the moon, chanting, the skin of a cocoon fell from the sky, from the heavens, maybe, onto the lid of the sewer on which we stirred.
We stirred the cocoon with our sticks. We whispered. Our nightgowns turned to pure, raw silk. The dirt disappeared. On the lid shone a bright, glaring light. We stopped stirring, the light too bright to see through it and asked each other questions, but our voices were hard to tell apart, we were hard to tell apart from one another and the breeze; we were getting softer, though we tried to scream:
where are you are you
there andwhere are
you? I amover here
I am stillhere. was
that youif I yell loud
yell whereare you
now I amhere. still ,
here?here. is that still
you? I am
An invisible pull led us to the sewer and the same pull kept us sitting and waiting for the other one of us to appear. The light softened to gray. Down into the sewer, we saw the treetops. We could see one another again. We were looking down from above the earth, but we never left the same spot. After a few minutes, the sewer top turned to metal once again, and we were ourselves and we returned safe inside our home(s).
Our duplex had only mothers; we, a house of them. Megan’s mother was married to her other mother who was once her father but it turned out she had been a mother all along so she changed her name and her clothes, and my father died long before I was me.
Our mothers never knew we had left that night. Our mothers worked long hours and overnights at chain sandwich shops or pizza shops, a retirement center, maybe other places that we did not know about. After all, we only knew our mothers as mothers.
In the days somewhere between one winter and another spring, the night kept calling us to the sewer. We went out in our raw silk nightgowns, and found things to stir. Things from our mothers—a bobby pin, a pill, a tube of lipstick, a cigarette. Sometimes we saw the treetops again in that sewer but we also saw other things—our mothers as teenagers and our future selves as our mothers—getting dressed, going out, coming home, moving from apartment to the suburbs, the suburbs changing, sleeping in masks and weeping and sighing in the bath, giving birth to ourselves, birthday parties helping toddler Megans blow out the candles. We saw it all. What are daughters if not soon to become their mothers and who is to say exactly what it is we saw those nights. Who is to say exactly who we were to become. We had no idea.
Our mothers had things to tell us. Mine often told me, life isn’t fair. Megan said her mother always said, life is full of surprises. The mothers were not there, not on the street.
Once, with a receipt from a beauty parlor, we saw ourselves as teenagers, conversing under the hair dryers with magazines in our laps:
If life gives you the opposite of what you wish, then I will wish to fall in love, and then I will be rich and famous. Everyone loves you when you are rich and famous.
Then how do you know if you are ever really in love, truly loved for who you are inside.
Who were we? We were unsure. When ours mothers thought we couldn’t hear, they’d say to their own bedroom mirrors, Who are you? Who have you become? They’d say when they tucked us in at night, you are your mother’s daughter; don’t you forget it.
Evenings, we circled. Again and again and again. The trees swayed below us in the sewer. We saw so much, as if it was ours to know and feel.
And at night we slept facing each other, although we did not know this, even as we knew so much. There were walls between us. One night at the sewer when we were in the trees looking down, the lid changed and we saw ourselves. We were kissing. Our arms and our legs were all one together and it looked like we had many arms and many legs. Our body was the same body.
A swarm of caterpillars crept over the lid. And this was the last thing we remembered before falling.
I fell first and Megan came next. We were Meg and Megan, bodies over the sewer, crumpled in silk. Our bodies wriggled but the silk of our gowns got softer and softer, until it was dark all around us. The silk enclosed us together. Threads unraveled, squeezed us into darkness, but all we felt was the warmth of our smooth gowns, protecting us. How our gowns became one, we could never remember, but we were girls we had more questions than answers. Smoothness that should have suffocated us, our nightgowns beastly things wrapping around us, set us free.
Enveloped together in our gowns, I also felt her back against my back—two Megans beating. Her skin was warm, too. I felt her tongue in my legs, my tongue on her arms; we were deep somewhere together, felt like we’d fallen deep into the ground. It smelled of fresh earth and soured saliva. Our bodies didn’t break, though liquid encased us. The pull of our two bodies coming together, the pressure, was an entrancement of which we didn’t speak. We just did, or, our bodies did it to us. Slippery with goo we formed new eyes. Our wings were just getting ready to burst through our nightgown chrysalis. We felt the slick of each other’s bodies and knew each other inside out as the hours became weeks.
Emerging with one single set of wings, we flew into the night.
The moon was far from us, and it was the light we craved, round as the button of a dress. We knew we were both Megs and Megans, mothers and daughters, ourselves and each other. Our wings were painted with the red lipsticks we had stirred, the black dirt, the emerald leaves, and the pink silks. The colors splattered in shapes, as if we had stirred them onto our wings with our own hands, when we had hands.
We knew we were supposed to find mates, to have our kin. But we knew what we saw with our girl eyes. From the eyes of our mothers. Life would never be fair, and who could we ever be that would let us be seen—in the only house on the abandoned cul-de-sac, against the woods, around the sewer, feeling like the only girls left alive.
We had no daughters. We had each other. We had our self.
When we fly, we drop silk for the next girls. We don’t die in flight, and we see more than we ever could have imagined, repeating.
where areyou, are you
you? I amover here
let’s playa game. who
are you whocould you
one stickof dust, dirt
spin silkto cloth,
be silk be
The colors on our wings fade.
Our duplex is bulldozed to the ground.
The forest is split in half.
Men build a shopping plaza.
Our mothers have funerals; we see them buried from the sky.
Sometimes girls ride their bikes.
We land under the moon and watch.
Our wings, the smoothest silk.
We. One moth.
Circling our forgotten plaza and the girls we were.
This night and every one of them to come and to become—ours.