BY J. A. TYLER
Journal Entry CCX
It’s like a figment of my imagination, how good this feels, and how at night when I fall asleep, I fall asleep hard and I don’t wake until morning, and nothing is sore or restless or tired. Because there’s so much good. That’s why I sleep hard next to her and that’s why sometimes I can’t believe this even exists. How did I get so lucky? And will I have to make it up later, all this good luck? For now, I don’t care, because I’m with her, and that’s all that matters, that’s all I care about.
Me: Look, I know you’re upset, but please.
Me: A sentence. A word. A letter.
Me: You’re barely even walking away.
Me: I know you feel the buzz in your pocket. I know you hear the chime.
Me: I know these messages are popping up.
Me: I know you don’t want this to end.
Me: I don’t want this to end.
Hey, you’ve reached me, leave a message:
The phone rang today and I thought it was you. Turns out it was only breathing. Was that you? I don’t know which way I feel. I don’t know. Because so much has happened in such a short time. I don’t even know how many days it’s been. Only the moon, always the fucking moon, and what else? The moon and it isn’t you, or…the breathing and no one on the other end says anything…and here I am, the same…though not the same, because…who is? No one, that’s the answer. No one. How could any of us be? We can’t even fly anymore…I mean, what is that? Why won’t a plane fit into the sky anymore? Isn’t that a rule of the world, a law of gravity? Yet, here it is, us all…grounded. And the snakes flooding out and the earthquakes and where is the goddamn sun? Sorry, I’m just…you know…exhausted. Remember how warm it was to sleep together? God. What I wouldn’t do to put this all back together. Look: If it was you, next time…please…just a word. Exhale a word so I know you’re there. Okay?
How to Play
Find a partner. Any partner will do, but the more they mean to you, the more important the game will be, and the harder you’ll play, and the more the world will open up.
When you have a partner, face each other and hold hands, one of your hands in each of theirs. If you’re missing a hand, do your best. If you’re missing both hands, use the stump ends where your hands used to be.
Stare into your partner’s eyes and try to imagine what the world would have been if they were never born. Try to imagine a world without them. Try to imagine them up on one of those four thousand planes that came careening out of the sky all at the same time.
When the imagining is at its most intense, when you and your partner both feel like you can’t live without one another, when it feels like everything will collapse if you let go, let go. Close your eyes and let go and slowly, slowly, back away from each other. Back away until you are in a different place entirely. Back away until they are only something you can barely imagine, until they don’t exist anymore. Now keep backing away, back away until you don’t exist anymore either, until it is like you were never born.
There are cars in the hospital parking lot, though there are also ripples of asphalt blocking the veins of roads within.
From one angle it looks like normal operations: An ambulance parked beneath a receiving overhang, a string of cars, glass fronts, the big white broadside letters.
From another angle it is waves of stilled pavement broken and jutting like newly risen mountains, the horizon smoke and cinder, the sky blue lit by a never waning moon.
After a few approaches on the streets, I’d stowed the photo album in my satchel, cornered my hands deep in my pockets, and took as many alleyways and side paths as I could to get here, trying not to meet anyone else.
Not blisters but heated patches of skin have begun to whisper through my socks, the hospital several long blocks from where our apartment was and the burning furrows of so many fallen airplanes between, so many routes I’d had to reroute as I came to check for her.
The further I went the more our apartment quickly seemed the only safe place left, because the more I walked the more I saw that the screaming never went entirely away, and everywhere loose figures looming.
Several times too I’d convinced myself that the sky wasn’t eternally moonlit, that it was lightening in preparation for a coming dawn, the sun finally returned after so much without, but it was only a trick I played on myself. The sun was gone and the sky was only a moon-haze blue, a tincture of glow mixed with fires and useless siren lights unspooling, left haphazardly around the city.
Without sustainable electricity the hospital flickered from clunky city power to generator and back again, a flashing show in each window of the red brick hulk, a perfect model of instability.
The main doors chattered and thunked, blocks chocked in their aperture, the doors fighting erroneous power while committed to the sensation of a person attempting entry, the doors trying to do as they’d always done before, even in light of the chaos.
A Resource Guide to
Proper Care of the Deceased
A tough subject, this one, but a necessary subject nonetheless, and one we must not shy from in the chaos of the moment.
We Need You!
Try to think upon the deceased not as loved or lost ones, but as a challenge to the rebuilding efforts, to creating stability in the reset of this post-event, where we need every citizen’s help.
We Need You!
We understand as well as anyone what a difficult time this is for everyone. The amount of loss and tragedy we’ve all sustained may feel insurmountable, higher than any citizenry has even experienced, yet:
We Need You!
We need you to grieve as you bury the deceased. We need you to have your sympathies while you dig, and dig deep. We need you to weep while covering over what has passed.
We Need You!
We believe in this, and we know that you’ll make the right choice. We know that you’ll put aside your suffering to help us bury what once was, to make room for what will be our new lives.
Inside the hospital, the front desk is abandoned and the landlines chirrup and silence in turn, creating an undulation of digitized bells, a nauseating wave.
I stand, reading the arrows and numbers and labels, not sure if I have the energy or the focus to understand what these wall placards say, the phones incessant in the background.
Hallways retreat in every direction and stairways crawl upward, twisting in parallel. This labyrinth though is where she might be hidden away, squirreled, so I pick a trajectory and I go.
The shut doors I leave shut. The open ones I peer into, and inside find either bodies in repose, tubed and silent, or empty beds, or some third configuration that defies normalcy.
Like the phones, monitors and other equipment beep and plink in pulses of irregular power, every piece already predicting the eventual shutdown of both energy and patients.
In one room, a placid figure lies in state while another brokenly kneels bedside, around them a doubled stench of the deceased. The blue glow through the blinds joins their silhouettes with vertical lines into one canvas of ending.
In another, the bed has been wheeled to block the entryway, the sets of apparatus hastily and shoddily stacked, and a groaning coming from under the windowsill. I move on. It isn’t her noising there.
A corner and I run into a nurse, her scrubs phosphorescent in the moon’s blue. She says something like Excuse me though it isn’t, then she hustles on, clipboard clutched to her chest, wild-eyed and gape-mouthed.
Miss, can you help me find—Miss? but she is vanished, a corner then another and she’s nowhere. I listen for the sound of her footsteps and hear only the warble of waning machines and left-behind loved ones.
Then the power cuts officially, the generators balk and fail, and I’m there, dim-coated in a hospital hallway, knowing she isn’t among these people, realizing none of the victims made their way here. These are only the holdovers from before the world collapsed, from before the devastation.
When I first went looking for you, I found everything that wasn’t you. And now, eons later, I find you everywhere. I find you in the tremor of a dead leaf on a long-ago branch. I find you in the way the moon glows up the backs of my hands. I find you in the machinations of the Mechanical Suns and in the warmth of the July Winds that threaten to erase our memories. I find you in the rhythm of my heart as it beats still for you, beats for finding you. I find you in everything, everywhere. Does that mean you’re gone, dead? Every molecule of me hopes against it. Hang on,
J. A. Tyler is the author of The Zoo, a Going (Dzanc Books). His fiction has appeared in Diagram, Black Warrior Review, Fairy Tale Review, Fourteen Hills, and New York Tyrant among others, and from 2007–2013 he ran Mud Luscious Press. He resides, now, mostly offline.
Photo by Berny Steiner on Unsplash
Published March 13th, 2019