Get NiftyLit news & updates delivered directly to your inbox. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Skip to main content
Original artwork by Katie M. Zeigler

Recalibration of Compass

David Osgood

She asks me what makes me happy, and I tell her the end of a conversation. She tries to kiss me. I pretend to throw up a little bit in my mouth, hoping she will write me off forever. But she won’t. She will come pick me up when my scooter breaks down, she will keep working on changing my outlook on the world, and I will claw and scrape and mangle my way toward something else entirely.

These days the world tastes like dehydrated food. I walk the park, picking up acorns and pulling off their hats, tossing them in the air like broken Frisbees. A bone-thin man in a red and black flannel coat sits at an easel, a couple posing in front of him. I notice the emptiness in the boyfriend’s eyes and the promise in hers. The artist erases the man’s brow line twice to soften it. The hyperbole in charcoal resembles a mix between a chubby child’s features and a parade float losing its air. A three-seat baby stroller goes by carrying red-headed triplets. A dog looks at me sideways like it knows emptiness, too.  

By the river, I take off my shoes and crack the fragile ice shell on the surface of the water with my heels. How easy it would be to undress, step in, and fade away. I skip a rock across the ice that makes it all the way to the other side, ricochets off a trash can, and hits a bundled-up jogger in the leg. It reminds me of when I used to go to marathons and flick cigarettes at the runners. 

She calls me even though I told her I threw my phone away. I answer because, well, I’m bored. She tells me I’m heartless and cold and I can’t hear you I’m going through a tunnel. Okay, you’re back. Hello. Are you even answering me? Why do I try. I’m not sure, I tell her. Where are you, she asks and soon she is calling me over to her powder blue economy vehicle that looks like a rejected cloud. 

“Maybe you should get some help,” Anika says. “I know a therapist; he sees my friend with the lisp…”

“So, he’s a speech therapist?”

“Why must you be such an asshole?” 

“I don’t expect you to understand my mood swings, my depression, my assholiness. It’s like trying to explain constellations to a prisoner.”


“Exactly,” I say, putting my earbuds in, pretending to nod my head to music that isn’t there. She turns her head toward the window and starts in on a mumbling, internal diatribe.

All I do is love you, forgive you, and you treat me like shit. What you will never understand is that you can’t say or do anything that would make me stop loving you. I knew you when you were you. You’re pushing me away in the attempt that I will run so you can be miserable alone, but what you don’t know is the more you do it, the more I see the cry for help and the greater the need for me to not give up on you, you fucking prick. I love you and you’re so fucking blind sometimes.

“Wait, hold up, you love me?”  

“You were listening?” Her neck gets red as it always does when she’s embarrassed. It’s marginally cute. “Well, yeah,” she continues, “friends say I love you, it’s just a saying.”

“No, no, Annie, it’s not just a saying. How long have we been friends?”

“Like, birth, maybe. A little bit before.”

“And how long have you like, liked, or loved, or…”

“Don’t ask me that,” she replies.

“Look, when we fooled around a couple times, it was friends being drunk and silly and experimenting to see if it could screw up our friendship. We discussed it afterward like it wasn’t even us, like we were talking about friends we would make fun of. Did you have feelings for me this whole time?”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be in this conversation anymore. Just forget it. You’re all about yourself, how would I expect you to even…”

“Annie, if there was anyone I would love, it’d be you. But I’m not sure I even want to live, let alone love.”

We go to the top of Canyon Road where we have sex like it might mean something, but all I can think about is the slender opossum who dies after mating. I play dead and she cuddles with my lifeless body. I am beginning to realize she has loved me since, well, birth or a little bit before. It’s like that scene in the movie where all of the flirty looks and the arm punches and the wrestling moves over the years get scrunched into a montage and the protagonist finally realizes she’s been the one all along. But I feel nothing. Her ear on my chest searches for a heartbeat and her hands on my neck for a pulse. I stretch my leg out over the console to toy with the idea of kicking the steering column into drive and barreling down the canyon to see if we can find a better backyard. 

“What if we tried, just for a while, to be a thing?” Anika asks, lifting her head from my chest.

“Annie, this isn’t the 50’s. There’s no things, no going steady. We are friends and we are fucking that up.”  

“Not for me.”

“I almost walked into a river of ice and drowned today just to feel something. What makes you think I can be capable of loving you?”

“Because you already do, in your way.”

She turns up the radio on the drive back to the city, tapping the steering wheel and flipping her hair like a failed conductor. I notice a small freckle behind her ear, and I stare at it for a while. She looks at me and smiles, flips me off and calls me a creeper. She puts her hand on my upper thigh as if she could resurrect the dead.  

I take my normal amount of sleeping pills, so I guess that’s a start. I wake up in the middle of the night, make a stiff drink, and put my helmet on. I drive the scooter to her house and fall asleep on her porch swing. I wake up to her–the real her–the one I haven’t seen before, the one with the freckle behind her ear. She drools on my shirt and snores like a kitten with a deviated septum. I wave to her neighbor pulling weeds and she waves back. Gotta pull ‘em at the root so they don’t grow back, I think she says. I run my fingers through her hair like we used to do as kids. Perhaps I have loved her all this time, in my way.   

Suggested Reading