Juniper

He went to Polynesia with the girl who should have been me.

He bought me a dress on our first date. And peeled naked out of a wetsuit on our second. He wanted me to meet his cool hippie friend who lived on the mountain by Bear Lake; its cerulean expanse glittered as we drove alongside. He ogled me at a friend’s wedding while I smoked cigarettes outside with professors, my father’s peers, and I begged them not to tell dad. When he smiled, I heard the ringing of far-off wind chimes.

He broke my heart in triplicate, peeling back each layer with thin, deft strokes: once saying I was too young, twice with the phone numbers I found scrawled on bar matchbooks next to his bed, and finally leaving just when I felt closest to him. Still, he appeared on my birthday, offering me a self-fashioned smiley face made out of mashed potatoes and rendered on a stolen cafeteria plate. I trembled all afternoon. 

When I worked in a local market, we kept herbs and spices in gleaming Kerr jars. There, tucked between Indian Spice and Kudzu, we kept a jar of dried juniper berries, which we sold for what I considered to be a hefty sum. The shriveled berries sold very slowly. Occasionally, I liked to walk by the juniper jar, unscrew its lid, and inhale the spicy perfume. After him, I left the jar alone.

Sometimes I envision him back in Logan Canyon, poised on all fours atop a patched, black innertube, his hair drizzling wet against his forehead. He bobs in the current, laughing. I hear that laugh even today and turn around suddenly, only to see the river and China Rock through juniper brambles: dark, pungent berries obscure him as he drifts downstream, yelling, “Come on!”

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