From the short story collection, Pretend We Live Here (Future Tense Books)
When I visited the rainy city, I went to a small, light-filled studio and had my astrological birth chart read. The woman was a Leo with dark blue eyes and perfect posture. She had the haircut I wanted, and I found myself caring more about if she thought I was interesting than what she was saying about the way the sky looked the night I was born. I was born in the season of Cancer. Right after the solstice. The warmest time of the year. It’s the season to swim outside. It’s the season to sit in the sun and burn. The Leo looked into my eyes and told me I was special just like I hoped she would.
I was getting my birth chart read because I needed guidance, and I wanted to hear someone tell me things about myself. I wanted to know why I kept coming back to the rainy city to roam and wander and stick pins into my heart.
While I was in the rainy city, I met a possum. A record skipped in my chest. The possum was a song I didn’t want to stop playing.
The possum and I started talking about spirit guides, and it made me curious about the stars—if Saturn was returning and if that was why I was wandering the streets with my eyes pressed into dark corners and down alleys and into cleavage I shouldn’t be seeing.
I hoped the Leo astrologer would take my hand and divine my future from it. I hoped she would tell me she saw my future and the possum was in it. I thought maybe the possum would turn over the garbage can of my life and eat out all the trash. But the Leo did not see the possum in my stars. She did not see the possum at all.
The possum was a fire sign, and it showed in how she removed her clothes even on cold days and walked through the air conditioner sweating. Her hair had an orange tinge to it like a flame or like the sun. She was something I wanted to touch but couldn’t.
Ever since Halloween, when I had a very innocent, very casual dirty dancing session with the possum in our mutual friend’s living room, I’ve wanted the possum. The wanting was a shake that started in my toenails and moved up toward something that wasn’t my brain. The night ended two minutes before we would have been making out. Some might call that fate. Or a cosmic intervention.
I didn’t live in the rainy city when I met the possum. I was only visiting, but the possum made me wonder if moving back to the rainy city might be a great idea.
The possum told me, “If you lived here we would get into a lot of trouble.”
The way the possum said trouble made me want to have it. It made me want to eat drugs from the palm of her hand and follow her down the interstate on a motorcycle at 4 a.m. I wanted to turn a dollar into a straw and suck the possum up my nose.
The possum said, “You have the twinkle of mischief in your eye.”
The possum and I came up with many reasons to see each other and only canceled once in a while. I would find excuses to touch her possum skin. I would brush against her elbow to get her attention or sit so close that our knees had to kiss at the bone. I wanted to tuck the possum’s hair behind her ear while we talked, but I was afraid to do that, so I told the possum how I wanted a spirit guide and someone to pray to. The possum had been going to Hare Krishna meetings and used to rise at dawn to drink the wind of God. So, she understood my desire to see things that weren’t there.
I told the possum about my Puerto Rican great-grandmother who lived to be 115 and had special powers to heal people in her village. I told the possum that the Leo astrologer said I needed to obtain a talisman from my great-grandmother, an old object, something to take with me, carry in my pocket, stroke in the bright sun. The astrologer told me I should start praying to my grandmother, write her letters, ask her for something.
The possum said, “I thought so. I thought you should do that, too.”
The new moon was going to be in Gemini. We wrote out manifestations. For my last manifestation, I wrote: fuck a possum.
Then I crossed it out.
The possum went to a psychic, and the psychic told her some things but not other things. I wanted the psychic to tell the possum about me, to tell her that she should spend the evening in the park running her possum tongue across my shins. But that’s not what happened. The psychic told the possum things that were sensible and vague.
“Nothing is going on,” the possum told our friends when they asked.
I would sit next to the possum and get very wet. Just sitting next to the possum made my body burn. She could have slid right in, but she didn’t.
When my back was hurting, the possum let me lay my head in her lap, and she played with my hair as the sun melted into the rooftops around us. When we went on a walk she put her fingers in her pockets so I knew not to hold her hand. We were geocaching on a bridge near a homeless tent encampment, and the rainy city sign was glowing and blinking above us, and it was almost midnight and she stopped to take a picture of it. She got so excited when we found the tiny geocache object that I wanted to find another geocache just to see the possum smile like that again. The next time we were supposed to see each other the possum could not make it, and I knew why.
We decided that meditating would be an important part of our spiritual journeys. The possum said, “One of the reasons I like talking to you is that you get what I mean when I say I’m searching for something.”
The possum told me, “I want to tell you how I feel?”
I said, “About?”
The possum said, “About you.”
We had a date to meditate in a graveyard, but the possum never came.
I felt like this once for a Canadian who I met at a campground on Highway 101. Somewhere on the rugged coast, we hitched tents side by side and that was that. The Canadian made me feel insane. I wanted to buy her boxes of flowers that girls in skirts on bikes would deliver right to her door. I did extraordinary things to sit next to her at the dinner table. I crossed seas on ferry boats. I jumped into frigid lakes naked in November. I knew how to be the cool girlfriend, how to make my feelings so small she wouldn’t even notice they’re there.
I did that with the possum, too. The feeling thing. I was a neon sign of attention. Online for the possum at all times.
And I lied about something already.
The possum and I kissed once. On Halloween. It was the kind of kiss that feels like it never happened so maybe it never did. Maybe we were too drunk to remember. Maybe that’s the same thing. The possum walked right up to me while I was staring into my drink in a corner. She intimidated me, and that rarely happens, so of course I paid attention. The possum was exuberant, danced with a freedom that came from somewhere far away. I wanted to be far way with her. Everyone was kissing. Friends were kissing friends because there were ghosts and demons to exorcise and a haunted night to enjoy. Our kiss might have been nothing more than that: a celebration between two people who were just friends.
The possum said, “Thanks for dancing with me tonight.”
Across the room, I watched a lion twerk toward a scarecrow. I watched a zombie light the end of a bong.
The Leo astrologer told me, “Next month you should expect emotional turbulence. Transformation is not glamorous. It’s actually very painful and very hard.”
The next time I visit the rainy city, I stand with the possum in the middle of the street and it’s summer. Above us, the constellations fix the fate of people being born in places we can’t see, and we are just here. The possum has a look in her eye like she’s glimpsed the dark soul of the universe. She is holding my secrets, and they are kicking in her fist. I see them in her arm outstretched above her head, just out of reach. I think she has kept a piece of me, and I wonder if that means I will remember her or if she will remember me. I don’t know, because I’ve never loved a possum and I probably never will. But this came close. Oh, so close.
Genevieve Hudson is the author of A Little in Love with Everyone, a book on Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and the story collection Pretend We Live Here. Her writing has been published in Catapult, Hobart, Joyland, No Tokens, Bitch, The Rumpus and elsewhere. Her work has been supported by the Fulbright Program, Caldera Arts, the Tin House Summer Workshop and the Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Amsterdam.