Sidney Muntean

Captured Moment by Nic Kawecki

The White Rabbit

Something about the narrow gravel path feels otherworldly, as though it was leading to a place saturated with magic, like a tattered Romanian castle or a secret garden. Not to a high school —  especially not this high school. Still, I greet the path like an old friend. I wonder if this road knows me as well as I know it. It might have a better sense of myself than I do.

I walk past the basketball court and over to the pool. The pool is a classic one, Olympic-sized with 12 lanes. It is covered by a mesh tarp, and I have to fight off the temptation to hop over the gate and run across the water at full speed. I imagine my younger self would be disappointed by my resistance; she was certain that she would someday break into the pool at least once, per the swim team’s tradition. Then again, I’ve always been one to deviate from tradition.

Instead, I peer through the holes in the gate and spot an apparition of a small child — no older than a first grader — who paces back and forth on the deck. She wears a dark red parka that goes down to her ankles. The sleeves hang far beyond her fingertips. She pulls back her chin-length, tousled curls and runs back to the bleachers where an elderly woman holds out a swim cap. The woman tenderly slings the cap onto the girl’s head in one sweeping motion. The girl squeals, tugs off the parka, and jumps into the pool.

I rub my eyes and go back to my snooping. I can only see one person in the pool, but this figure is taller, more elongated. The ghostly figure propels herself forward in the water. With each stroke, she seems to desperately reach farther, as if she is unsatisfied with the distance she covers. Fractures of sunlight cascade onto the pool surface, and she pauses for a moment to gaze at how the light dances upon her cupped hands before continuing. To a stranger, she may have just been carrying out her rounds, but I recognize the dreamy way she drags her fingertips along the water, and I know that her mind is in another dimension.

The ghostly figure propels herself forward.

I hear shouting and turn around to look up. The same girl is hooting from the school’s balcony, but now she’s much older, more familiar. Down below, the school grounds are bustling with students she once knew, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She just continues to giggle with her friend over some trivial secret that only they know. I have the sudden urge to find out what they are laughing about and run up the stairs. By the time I get to the top, they are gone. I sigh and look over the courtyard. It is suddenly pitch-black, but the light from a phone catches my eye.

In the distance, a girl sways her phone back and forth while twirling about like a madman, dancing to a song that only she can hear. I squint and step back, aghast. She is all too familiar. I sprint down the stairs as she sashays towards the parking lot.

Darting between the parked cars, I finally have her cornered. She grins unabashedly at me, teeth glinting like dewdrops in the morning. She tucks her curls behind her ears and reaches her hand out towards me. Instead of taking it, I flinch instinctively. Flight response. She skeptically raises an eyebrow and lifts her finger to her lips before taking a step into the darkness and disappearing.

Anger bubbles up inside of me. I briefly check for security cameras and, noting that the coast is clear, kick over an empty trash bin. I feel instant regret and rush over to put it back upright. The moonlight glints against the bin, and I can see her face beaming at me.

As I stare at my reflection, I realize that I always visit this silly school to search for her. I have this habit of scrounging for any hints of my previous selves, as if they are a thing of the past rather than one of the present. But really, I am the same person I was seven years ago and the person I will be three years from now all at once. Identity has no sense of time, just a sense of being.

Sometimes I just need to remind myself that, and if that means chasing down rabbit holes disguised as high schools I don’t even attend, then so be it.

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