by Daniel Dagris
I think I’m dead, haunting my past on shuffle. Caly is giving me more than I give back. Taking me in, flaws and all, deeper than I deserve to go. I’m getting married in two weeks, to someone who doesn’t know me half as well as she does. There’s plastic wrap around one of Caly’s legs just above the ankle. She got that tattoo she’d always threatened.
I’m twelve again, and already tired of mowing our giant lawn. Pushing the lawnmower around reluctantly, I’ve decided to carve a yin and yang into the grass, for my own entertainment, but also hoping that I can leave the dark half long. While I cut the corners, my parents come out to see what I’ve created; its proportions surprisingly well actualized. They take a picture. I wipe sweat from my brow. They raise the blades up a couple inches and have me go over the rest of it as well. Something about them seems more real than the rest of this rerun. Maybe it’s because they passed years ago and I’m just happy to see them, but it’s like their forms have more definition, their eyes twinkle in ways that the eyes of the girl who loved me minutes ago didn’t.
The word cuts through a silence paved by my palm slamming my desk. I can’t hear the client on the other end of the call. My coworkers, who were loudly celebrating their sales calls, are startled by my outburst. Everything about them is a half-life. Rehashing this memory halves them further. But not the other support guy, Terry. He seems more present as he rambles calmingly into his phone, on a call with a client, sweaty feet dangling out of our second floor window, pigeons pecking bird seed off them. He used to keep a frisbee of the stuff under his desk, and after a stressful call, he’d slip off his shoes, dip his feet, and smile while feeding the birds through the rest of his shift. Reliving this memory, the sales guys seem like drones now more than ever. But Terry and the birds feel like they’re watching me, like portraits in a haunted mansion, they’re part of the scenery, but wherever I move, breaking form with the replay, their eyes follow.
“Welcome back,” Terry’s voice walks atop the water of his conversation on the line. His mouth moving only with the past, but his words like a warm finger reached through the bars of a cage. “These were good times for me too.” His body flickers. “You’re not alone,” Terry vanishes, then is back at his desk, falling back in line with my memories. My client’s voice rattles on, my own voice responds without me. I step toward the elevator, feeling the pigeons watch me through the walls.
I’m climbing a tree near the road of my childhood home, its branches so plentiful and close together that my body must bend and twist to get anywhere. My best friend follows, eyes vacant as a mannequin on a Disneyland ride. I hear the cry of a car engine speeding, coming closer. I rush to get higher. Hand over hand, backbend, leg-over, rushing, repeating these movements to break past the known, see the sky, run out of branches, escape the crash. I place my left hand over the left hand of the childhood me of this memory, as I circle upward again, the memory an endless loop. I find no escape. I hear the lazy slosh of water along riverbanks, beyond the edge of this place. I meet the gaze of my younger self. Buttons stare back at me, covering his eyes. The car crashes into the tree.
I’m back in Caly’s bedroom.
“You’ll always be mine,” she says in my memory.
I chuckle and frown.
“You laugh, but I’ll find a way.”
“I bet that new witchy shop sells potions and spells,” I hear myself tease.
“Sure, but a golem wouldn’t fuck me half as well. It also wouldn’t trick me into thinking I’m not alone.”
I walk away from her bed and toward her window, where beyond I hear water flowing like trains that run through the night. Sounds you grow to forget. The closer I get, the more the window distorts, showing only what I saw in flashes from Caly’s bed, now stretched and blown out. I pull but it won’t open. I knock and hear a memory of glass singing. I punch, and my hand distorts, folding into two dimensions, along the glass. I press with my fingers until I merge with the beyond, as if entering a painting, and pull myself through.
Drowning, water cuts at my lungs. The shredding is real, not remembered. And then I’m six again, I can’t swim, I’ve stepped a stride too deep in the swimming pool behind my neighbor’s house. My cousins are jumping off a man-made waterfall. Others are gathering fallen apricots from the orchard yards away. The neighbor pulls me from the depths and scolds the others.
“The water isn’t safe. Go inside.”
The child me does. But the winds of this place press me elsewhere, and I let them carry me.
I’m in an intensive care unit. Impressionistic monitors read out in blurred color, brushstrokes that fade, splatter, and bleed. This is no memory. It’s cold, like I’ve just been born and have never felt the air. There’s someone in the bed but their lines are equally undefined. Their flesh is discolored, the reds, purples, and greens of battery. Still life pressure paintings of fruit on bodies.
A blur of light blue scrubs slides past me and I catch the word “crash.”
A blur of pink scrubs passes through me and I catch the word “chill.”
A blur of red scrubs hooks a clipboard to the end of the bed, and I catch the word “coma.”
I lean nose to nose with the body and can only make out that I know this person. I try to smell their hair and skin, wondering if the body is my own or belongs to a loved one. I fade beneath the blankets, resting into this human casing. It isn’t mine. Caly has been lying here broken while I’ve tumbled slipshod through memory. Now I’m her passenger, the driver still present. As I sink further into her body, I lose me and become we.
We remember the tattoo we got when he told us he wouldn’t be ours, but he fucked us anyway. On one leg, above the ankle, an effigy of the man we love. Limbs sewn to torso. Eyes covered by buttons, so he could never leave. We remember how he loved us with the urgency of his hands, arms, mouth, and body, but never his words. We remember driving our car into his. “Just Married” in shaving cream across the back window. Smiling bride leaning against her groom, arm along his leg, her warmest smile glanced for an instant before the crash. We floored the gas pedal, performing the final sacrifice.
Here we will remain until the gas runs out, tethered together, with no coins for the ferryman.
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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay