Palo Alto Weekly 18th Annual Short Story Contest
Young Adult Third Place

To See The Way That Light Attaches To A Girl

by Kim Schisler

About Kim Schisler

Her father is an attorney and her mother an astrophysicist, so it may seem strange that Palo Alto High School junior Kim Schisler has developed such a profound interest in writing. But when you learn about her other hobbies -- including theater, photography and dance -- writing seems to fit her personality like a puzzle piece.

"I love all kinds of self expression," she said.
Schisler, who recently celebrated her 16th birthday, was awarded third place in the Young Adult category of this year's Palo Alto Weekly short story contest. Her tale, entitled "To See The Way That Light Attaches To A Girl," puts the reader in the shoes of a lovelorn young man using second-person narrative, a technique Schisler appreciates.

"I really like writing in the second person, so I knew I wanted to write (Light) in that way. I just let the story come out," she said.

On top of studying theater and dance, Schisler works as a lab assistant to Stanford University Geophysics Professor Rosemary Knight. Schisler finds that her parents, two older brothers, Knight and Paly English teacher Ms. Nielson are assets in developing her writing skills, not to mention her friends and classmates.

"I have a lot of really supportive people in my life. I feel like there's so much out there, I'm trying to soak it all up at once," she said.

Schisler is currently thinking about various universities to attend after she graduates from Paly next year. While several East Coast schools are a draw, she admits having friends attending schools in Oregon and Washington also make those areas possibilities. She tends to write poetry more often than prose, and said that author Francesca Lia Block and poet E.E. Cummings are among those scribes who have indirectly influenced her. In a possible effort to help influence others, Schisler is pushing for a slight change in Paly's curriculum.

"I'm trying to convince Ms. Nielson to teach a creative writing class," she said.

-- Tyler Hanley

You check the number on the dashboard and pay Adam, the taxi driver, thirty- seven fifty-two with a ten-dollar tip because it is four in the afternoon and his eyes are looking tired. He doesn't notice at first, but he will once you're out of the cab, and then maybe he'll light up his sign to let the world know that he is busy and he'll drive twice around the block alone, just because he can. Maybe Adam will take his chipped yellow taxi and motor it around San Francisco like a flying carpet.

You asked him to drop you off four blocks away so that you'd have a chance to catch your breath before it gets knocked out of you. You know exactly where you're headed even though you just flew in from Chicago an hour and a half ago, to Sara's studio.

Your toes are cold; you're only wearing Birkenstocks. You aren't sure why since it is cold where you live and it was cold on the plane and as soon as you saw that you had a layover in San Francisco you had to have known that you would miss your flight in order to go see her. And you knew it would be cold here too.

You are looking for the familiarity of her concrete walls, the warmth of the drafty, painted space. You haven't been there since February; it's October now. Nothing monumental happens in eight months. You catch your dazed reflection in a window and realize that you're hoping Sara will prove that last thought right.

As you side step over the sidewalk laced with Mica and dirt, you epitomize the Fall: striped scarf, green sweater, faded jeans, glasses. Messy hair and fists jammed into your pockets. You're clutching your keys even though you're miles away from home. You pass a diner that is identical to the one you work at in Chicago. You're a writer, of course, no one's actually a waiter, but now you are heading down to Los Angeles and an editor and things are starting to happen with that screenplay.

You try again to think of Adam. You liked him; he was a good taxi driver. He let you pick the radio station and his face matched his I.D., but you really emptied your pockets out for him in order to keep yourself from buying her flowers or a cup of coffee on the way. The longest four blocks in the bay area, as you pass another gray house with a red door.

Adam would like Sara, you bet. Her hair is long and wavy and she hennas it in the fall to match the leaves. She's always making something, cross-legged in brown corduroys, bent over a birdhouse or a pair of earrings. She is painting, or gluing empty CDs together, or cutting up bandanas to make a blanket for the homeless woman she has befriended on the corner of Powell and Market. Adam would smile at her and ask what kind of music she likes, because that's what you ask when you meet young people in San Francisco.

You're starting to sweat, just a little bit. This block is uphill. You should have brought your headphones; you shouldn't have shaved. If Adam were here he would probably ask you why you left at all, you're practically running to get to her place. Speed walking with the ferocity of writer's block.

You don't know what she's feeling and you don't know who she's painting. And you don't know what you are expecting to find, and more importantly, you aren't sure what you want to. But maybe you'll walk in and she'll turn around and smile, you just need to tell her how scared you were nine months ago, her inspiration had been all consuming. Every story had had her buried in it somewhere; every crevice of subtext was filled with her. All of these things you thought should be contenting, proof of your warm wad of relationship. You'd seen the movies, you knew the progression, and yet, all of the things that you thought shouldn't have bothered you did. Everyone only knew you as a part of her and the association was choking you.

So you left, writing words you weren't sure were even meant to be a benediction, with an indiscernible subtext implying either that you were in love with her or that you needed to get away, maybe both. The lines were only scattered further through the wind of distance.

You said that you were going to Chicago to write, that you had to leave for awhile, although then, neither of you thought that you were actually coming back. Now, here you are, pushing past her unlocked door.

There are piles of newspapers and canvases everywhere but the floor is clean, things are put away. She can't hear you because the CD player is playing Counting Crows at full blast, the melodic music loud enough to sound like noise. You can see her back; she's painting. Her hair is twisted up into a weird knot thing and you inhale as you try to discern what the painting is of.

A song you like starts coming out of the speakers, it's about winter and crowded rooms. You look at Sara. She is dipping her brush in a can of paint, brown. The canvas is smeared with greens and browns, colors warm like dirt and bark and earth. These are the colors that Sara uses when she's feeling fertile and eating enough. You look beyond her at the autumn leaves drying on the kitchen table, you look up at the sequined dresses on coat hangers hooked on to the hand rail so that they curve up with the staircase, twisting away from you.

At any minute she could spin around -- if she needs to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water or just feels a breeze, and she would see you standing there. You could shrug your presence off and tell her that you think of her when the seasons change and that her inspiration is strong and hollow now that you are far apart. That now you watch Tarantino movies with other boys, who don't like coffee. That maybe you miss her.

You could get a job here doing exactly what you do back home, you could keep writing. Staying with her could make for a good ending, could make for a really good beginning.

And you know that if you leave now you might not come back. Probably the movie won't get made and you'll find something else to do in Chicago, you don't want to move down to L.A. anyway. But if you walk out again you aren't getting another chance like this, you would have to come out all on your own. And if you leave now, you know, you're always going to wonder what she was painting, if she was dating anyone. If you leave you'll always wonder what would have happened if she had turned around at exactly the right moment, catching you before you lost your resolve. You'll always wonder if she had turned around just in time to see you leaving, again. You'll start to wonder if maybe she did hear you come in, that she was just waiting for you to rush at her or grab her or tap her on the shoulder.

You wonder what the right thing is, you wonder if you should have called first. Maybe, you think, you really should have gotten her flowers and some coffee. You could just rush at her right now; you could just say her name.

She's wearing overalls just like you thought she would be. She is painting furiously, her tenacity implying that the world around her doesn't meet her standards and she needs to create a new one before she loses her nerve.

With a slow exhale you lose yours. You realize how wrong this is, you should have called, you should have knocked, you should have. Stayed.

February floods back to you and you know that nothing's changed. You're still afraid. You head for the door with your fear of obligation and of cliches. You leave Sara, and because she can't see you, or hear you or feel you, this time there is no protest.