My short story “Asheville” just went live in Issue Five of Bending Genres! Ahhh!!!
Sitting in the back of the bus with a dollar store notebook on my lap, sketching and thinking about the past. October droplets stain my public transit window, turning the grime to a vertical stream as it passes and changes the passing headlights into alien stars–nothing more than ways to mark my way as I move along.
The headlights become fireflies in fading light, the summer retreating to its chrysalis, nights getting colder and rain and wind starting to claim the treehouse we made out in the woods, not in the trees but among them, sitting on the ground and made out of repurposed wooden fences, branches, and a blue tarp we liberated from a neighbor’s backyard. More branches plotted out the yard around the house, where we’d plant our garden once we had enough money for seeds. We never had enough money.
Playing backlit portable games underneath the blue tarp sky we made, taking our first sips of alcohol–vodka stolen from parental bottles and transferred to empty Coke cans, filling the bottles back up with water to disguise our theft. We were good.
You painted the tarp ceiling like it was the Sistine Chapel, counting sixteen candles and watching as you made a Frankenstein God touch the finger of a Super Mario Adam. You learned quickly that a little paint went a long way when some of it dripped off of the tarp and into your hair. It speckled it like you were a painted galaxy, took days to fully wash out.
You swiped a pack of cigarettes from the corner store when the clerk wasn’t looking, and we only got a cigarette in before we tossed them out, laughing and coughing. Your throw landed them in the creek, and I started like I was going to fish them out, but you told me it was okay. We were going to be enablers of fish addiction. We started a fire.
My pen is tracing lines I don’t know the endpoints of before I make them. It’s only when I hold it out in front of me that I can see the general shape, can make out what it is that I’m sketching.
You said we were going to get married someday, that you’d have my babies. We hadn’t even kissed yet. I laughed, sputtered out an, “Is that so?” Flames played in your eyes. You said, “mmmhmm.”
Midterms and finals and college searches. But you wouldn’t make it that far.
One day you were here, and the next you weren’t. Recited words and lit candles and crying eyes and offers of consolation. Days and nights of empty wandering in my room, thoughts moving from what I could’ve noticed to what I should’ve done. Could’ve and should’ve. Weeks melting like wax from a candled finger in reverse, working up the energy to take a shower, change my clothes, go to the corner store we used to haunt so I could put some food in my stomach, no matter how unhealthy it was.
Taking walks through the woods alone, thinking I saw you walking beside me, like a phantom limb you were, always attached to me. I kept walking.
My stop is coming up, but I have to finish this sketch first. It needs to have an ending.
One night long after it happened, I walked back out to our tree house. The tarp had sagged from the season’s rain, branches bent, but it was still standing. I crawled underneath and sat in there, the moonlight becoming something different fed through the water-blue of the tarp, something new. You were almost there beside me.
We’ve already passed my stop, but that’s fine. The drawing is done. It’s us sitting under the tarp together, the glow of a portable screen on my face as you watch with your head on my shoulder, in a place we both know, back when time stood still.
Vapor trailing off a simulated cherry, taking in the air of a cold, hard, muddy, Eraserhead-type October night. Throwing tiny acorns against a wooden fence, little tree seeds with so much potential yet facing such great adversity. Listening to songs that sound like they’re coming out of underwater speakers, tearing holes in sweater sleeves, sitting here and living in a lofi world.
I don’t know where I am anymore. A sequential thought is a miracle, tossing through scenarios both experienced and imagined, seeing the sights that made me who I am, flooded streets in summer storms and generators running at full volume at night, sneaking honey buns out of convenience stores to keep my belly full (you’d call them corner stores), not knowing how to sit or stand or move or act till I got out of that place, like a curse, sensory pleasures the ambrosia of the broken-down town.
My whole life felt like a chord progression you couldn’t place, resolution out of sight, almost grating, until this moment, this turn of events, this change of the hand and tune of the strings that brought the entire piece into order, that made the whole song make sense. You helped me with that.
So I put myself into things that can erase myself, that can create something new, something whole that will fly far from that place where I used to be, that cursed home, still home, always home, no matter how far I fly, erase the times and the places and the people, erase my past self until I’m nothing but a palimpsest, a scraped and scarred blank thing, standing under harsh light but with no discernible features to be seen. I am feeling all of these things.
I feel I’m flying through clouds most days. Sometimes with hair standing on end from static shock, sometimes soaked freezing from the rain, but flying, floating, above it all. And there is no way to erase those things, to erase my selves, the Things I’ve Seen. No need to, either. And out in this night, if I can’t be in the clouds, I’ll just have to make my own.
Traveling the sinews and cells of a breaking body, the sine waves of thought as nothing more than chemical signals sent from one location to another. A word: spaghettification. A photo in a physics textbook: a body falling toward a black hole, being stretched past comprehensible limits. That is this feeling, here, being unplugged and plugged back in again, at random, consciousness in spurts guiding you, giving you just enough animation to keep you alive, to allow you to do what you need to do to survive. Dilation of time, seconds turning into hours. A smell you don’t recognize. Hearing the sounds you’re making as if they’re coming from a deep and distant tunnel. This is extreme trauma, a body pushed to its limits, and a will to survive that cannot be defeated. When your eyes close, it’s a green field you’re standing in, nearly endless except for the streets at the borders, traffic nothing more than light whooshes and faint movements. Morning dew still clinging to blades of grass, and warm sunlight like childhood playground days in the summer. When you open them again, it’s your own blood all around you, more of it pooling inside you, and a burst of pain in your spine like liquefaction of sense. It’s a pure animal fear, lizard-brained, all higher functions suspended for the time being. Are we all just light trapped inside a cage of skin and bone, glimpses of a limitless form only ever temporarily shining past animal wants and needs? It’s nothing but sines now, all coming through in waves, and this is not the day that you die. This is the day that you defy the odds and live. Because you are more than this cage of skin and bone, even if you need to put it to use to save the light. And when that’s done, anything can be done. So you get to your feet, through agonizing pain and the cold flush of lost blood. You find that the pain can only reach a certain height. Maybe we’re all just sines in the dark, endless arcs, rising and falling, forever, in the ever-dark of space, becoming other things after this life, then others still, experiencing love and loss and birth and death, an endless cycle, but this story isn’t quite done yet. So you stand. You walk. You take in breath and call out and taste the cold flower of the air as it dances on your tongue and shows your breath. All we need to do to survive and thrive is find that moment that can provide a firmware update for our soul, and you’ve just found yours. The reason is the reason. So you walk out of the cold and toward the warmth. You keep moving.