This piece is featured in Issue No. 9 Flirt

Flash Fiction

Dizzying Heights

The six of them sit at the back of the school bus, their bodies and backpacks together taking up the last four seats. They are all long hair and long limbs and lip gloss and laughing. They wear identical cut-offs, frayed at the thigh, and the air conditioning broke down somewhere around Whitby, so when they shift in their seats, I can still see the outline of where sweat-damp skin left an imprint in the vinyl. I watch them without turning my head, from the corner of my eye, from the corner of my seat, one sandaled foot poking out from my long skirt, dangling in the aisle, daring to be seen. 

A boy swings over my outstretched foot, eyes on the six. He is making a video for his YouTube channel. He kneels in the aisle between them, phone outstretched, and they all lean in and down and towards him. I wonder briefly what it might be like if he knelt next to me, gave me that grin, saw in me something worth sharing with his 5,000 followers. I could catch his eye as he saunters back to his seat, make a joke, make him laugh. But I look down instead, not ready to find out if I am someone he could notice. 

The bus pulls up in front of the CN Tower and the harried teachers herd us off in pairs, doing a headcount before we file into the entrance. Somehow, I feel less of an outsider here, in this crowd of tourists where everyone is speaking a different language and I am not the only one wearing a hijab, than I do at home. I look at the pictures surrounding us of the Toronto skyline from the top of the Tower. My stomach turns as we enter the elevator in small groups. I don’t like heights. 

The teachers release us onto the observation deck and the class scatters. Some press their noses to the windows; those more adventurous lie down on the glass floor. The air feels thin. My chest feels tight. I find sliding doors and suddenly, I am outside, on a concrete balcony, behind wire mesh. There’s hardly any view from here, but that suits me just fine. I find a bench and sit and I can almost pretend I am back on solid ground. 

“What are you doing out here?”

I turn at the voice and the heat that floods my skin is not from the end-of-June sun. She is one of the six, the second Emma among them. The first Emma has a louder voice, a wider smile. Second Emma seems softer around the edges. “Nothing,” I reply. 

“You can’t see anything from here.”

“I know. I sort of, you know, don’t really like heights.”

She sits down beside me and her bare leg touches mine, through my skirt. I shift to the left by a fraction of an inch in case this is accidental, but her leg moves with mine, the contact so casual, but also, I realize, intentional. “Yeah, I don’t get what the big deal is about this place either.” She tosses her hair over a freckled shoulder and when I look without looking, I see the pulse at the base of her neck, collarbone, cleavage. She pulls out a tube of lip gloss and applies it, then offers it to me. “Want some?”

I take it, put on too much, hand it back, hope my hand isn’t shaking. “Thanks.”

She studies my mirrorless handiwork and smiles. “We never hang out,” she says. She reaches out and runs the pad of her thumb along the edge of my bottom lip. “We could though. Sometime. If you want to.” I don’t know what is happening, but at the same time, in my body, I know. 

I want to be wittier, sexier; to flirt back like the main character in a high school rom-com, but all I can do is nod, manage to mutter, “That could be cool.”

The boy with the phone ducks his head out the door and calls her name. “Text me,” she says, and then she is gone. Alone, I have to close my eyes and force myself to breathe. But it’s not the height anymore. This time, it is the thought that my lips and hers now taste the same that has left me dizzy. 


Anuja Varghese

Anuja Varghese ( is a QWOC Pushcart-nominated writer based in Hamilton, ON. Her work appears in Hobart, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Plenitude Magazine, and others. Her short story collection Chrysalis, is forthcoming (spring 2023, House of Anansi) and she is currently at work on a debut novel. \\ IG:@anuja_v