Dropped a glass and it broke today. Strangest thing. After it fell, it just sat there, not putting itself back together from hundreds of shards. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that happen. When something falls apart and you can’t fix it… Sure, I could glue it back together, but it’s never going to be the same. What’s that story about stepping in a river? It’s not like that anymore.
Anything can be recreated. We have the original Mona Lisa in a magnet on our fridge. So do the neighbors. So does everyone else. Today Jeth is chasing a blizzard of paper across the way. The ocean is doing all sorts of things. I can’t see it, but hear it, whooshing circular from a few streets down so loud it reaches our hotel, lime-green rubber lawn beds and dimestore cacti out front where I’m lying in my boxers above burnt grass, only my left leg reaching into the sun. Then I can feel the ocean too, its breeze cooling me in the pattern it sounds like. I can have the ocean and the ocean doesn’t have to be here. For a second I feel okay. I wouldn’t mind if this moment lasted forever. But by the time I think that it’s already over because Jeth is stalking over to talk to me and he doesn’t look happy. I probably don’t either.
I stopped saving myself after the hail came down over my dad’s fresh grave. Jeth says I do things the hard way. The old-fashioned way. I tell him those scientists can fix anything, even my life. I live it, and I’ll just let them take care of anything extra.
“There’s a mountain in my way,” he says.
I smile and keep staring forward, even though my eyes are closed. I know what he must look like, long hair in the ocean’s breeze and eyes so blue they blend in with the white and it must hurt to look at anything.
Jeth is freaking out at me about what’s going to happen if he doesn’t pass his Chemistry test. I tell him they’ll make more copies of them next semester, but he doesn’t care.
“Oh, what is wrong with you? ‘Money is just paper,’ ‘Age is nothing but a number’… You can’t seriously think like that. It’s irresponsible.”
“But it is paper. And it could all be gone tomorrow.”
“Nothing is going anywhere,” he says. “I’m going to have to live forever. I need to get off to a good start.”
“See, so you’re still at the beginning. And you have all the time in the world to make up for it.”
He smiles for some reason, then lets his mouth slide back into its default frown. There’s nothing left to say now. I go to him and hold him close. We kiss, just like we have a thousand times before, but this time there’s something special about it and I think, I will always have this moment. No matter what else is erased… This will never not have happened.
I decide to see the ocean too.
I travel barefoot over hot pavement, the sun directly overhead so that I don’t have even a shadow. Almost there.
Then the view comes up on me almost as a surprise. I settle on the dusty cliff and look, not forward, but back out over our nowhere. This is nowhere – with its gravel drives and blank billboards. Orange orchards and rest stops. Only tourists come here, looking for something they’ve never seen. But everything here must exist in some form somewhere else. The ruin in Athens, emptiness of the Grand Canyon in our hearts… And especially the ocean—it’s only water and we can get more of it. I look out over its sun sparkles and it seems to be bragging to me.
Sunglasses to the horizon, I notice something I’ve never seen before—faded smoke-gray factory, looks like it could be a whole city on the ocean, whole other weather system way out there. For a second it looks like a ship, like now it’s moving, and the transience of everything hits me again.
As I sit on this cliff right now, I know it could be erased from beneath me at any moment, so why do I trust it enough to even sit here? Because so could the sidewalk, the road home, or my bed as I sleep. I have about 2% faith left that my body lives under rules any different from any other human object.
You’d think with all the preservation we wouldn’t have to worry about losing anything. But it’s just like a computer. You save things on a computer, but you can still lose everything at any moment. Happens all the time. If you make it so something needs to be saved, it’ll destroy itself that much quicker.
I think of Jeth and his tests, that even through all the promises I know I can’t always be there for him. After all, I’m older and I don’t want to live forever. And lots of times, even now, I just want to be alone.
As waves worthy of surfing crash against some useless rocks far below my feet, I change one element of my own reality and tear a dandelion from the ground. It’s never going to be the same.
When I get back, Mr. Freeney is out on the porch. I don’t see him yet, in fact – what I see first is a ball of orange over the sidewalk, his cat Jinx looking very intently at nothing. Jinx the cat is old, but not as old as Mr. Freeney, even in cat years. His wife is the oldest, I think, and she’s there too, bent over a garden of venus fly traps. Jinx the cat comes running over when she sees me and jumps up onto my shoulder, despite how lazy she is. I walk very slowly the rest of the way to the garden and drop her off so that Mrs. Freeney says “Jinx, what are you doing, hmm?” Then she winks at me just to prove she’s noticed I’m there too.
“That cat’s going to earn her name yet,” she tells me, tugging a pointed weed out of the ground next to an almost identical flower.
I go home, avoiding the Palmetto trees, but kicking up a red ant hill on my way to number 106. The salvation is on the dresser, that’s what Jeth still plugs himself into before bed, two thick wires out of what looks like a cheap alarm clock, and so often I do wake up from its beeping. I look over to where he is and…
Now this is a part I don’t remember so well.
I’m guessing that Jeth was on the couch at first, the yellow taped-together joke we kept just in case we ever did get any visitors. But after that he begins to blur—he goes into a place that feels very digital to me. I can see him as enlarged pixels, his flaws. And yet he’s in nature too, I can feel that. Palms behind him through the window maybe… He smells like pine and birthday cake and like nothing at all. I close my eyes. His legs around my neck. No noises but ours in the din, then silence. I give him the necklace.
And we’re exhausted in our little hotel room. Him half-beside, half-on me. The necklace doesn’t look good on him – it doesn’t look like something he’d ever wear. But I know he still wore it up until… Until… Familiar screams from next door and I’ve never felt so sure. We could stay here forever, I think as I fall asleep.
I remembered eating stale toast in our third house the day after mom had left. The sun was muted, so pathetic I actually remember laughing. And over my head hung an even worse lamp on a wire stretched so thin I could hear it. The welcome rug was in gummed tatters, and the floorboards would crack when I got up to throw the rest of the toast away, like a spider had spun our whole house, then left it to fend for itself. The way I knew the spider had gone was that everyone did.
Then I’m in a library, flipping through an old card catalog—I hadn’t thought I’d been born early enough to see one of these. The cards are so thin I get a paper cut on each one and draw in blood the names of all the kids we can never have.
When I wake up Jeth is attached at his ears and mouth by two thick wires to the salvation, dust in the sun, things no one could save or would even want to.
And then it hits me. A wave of sadness unexplainable, burning my nerves like it really could kill. Every time, I try to append some cause, my childhood or how close we were at any moment to never see the inside of this hotel again. But my feelings went on without reality. I stare at Jeth till he wakes up.
He showers in absolvent and dries himself through the words of a hymn. Jeth and I save grains of sand. We save the necklace, and the hummingbirds that we can catch. We unsave the kitchen table so it looks new again. Unsave the flowers that died in the yard.
At the end of the day we move down to the ocean, just in time for the day to end. Jeth stands in the wind, on the rocks, with me a little ways behind him.
He says, “It’s strange that it moves without you telling it to.”
“Yes,” I say.
Jeth and I had enemies. Anyone who loved did. Technology made us more transient—it was easier to get lost. And they would find a way to take it all away no matter what, obliterating human and object alike, leaving any connection to dust.
The monks. They knew we’d see them coming, but they didn’t care. Their black temples on the horizon, each sanctuary a headquarters, dotting the evergreen mountains…their insides thick with diamond buddhas and leather zafus. But we knew why their aversion to attachment didn’t extend to their own souls. We were the ones who needed enlightening.
Jeth and I find the gas station. I gasp for breath on the last steps. If this body was who I was, I might as well have been a chair.
He looked post-beautiful, like he knew effort was a flaw. I cared too much and had bothered to brush my hair. Behind the plastic sat a monk in orange-robe uniform, still sacred, but he wore a name tag.
“That a beautiful necklace,” he says to Jeth.
I don’t put my arm around him.
“He gave it to me,” he says, and I sigh. Suddenly I’m glad the space between him and us is bulletproof.
Then he looks at me and says, “Wouldn’t want to lose.”
Outside I’m dragging Jeth by the arm.
“He was just being nice!” he says.
“Then where’s your necklace?”
Jeth reaches down to where it was, but comes up with nothing.
“We’ll get it back,” I tell him.
And we do.
Where does everything go? I know it doesn’t really go anywhere. Data exists in a location and when it’s erased from there, something else takes its place. But that’s it. There’s no burial for people who die through erasure. There are no remains. We’re not used to that. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Information comes and goes. By those rules, a story about something is more of a creation than the something itself, no matter how new.
I see Mrs. Freeney in her garden, fretting over some magnolias. I stand there for a minute before she even notices me.
“Oh, I just don’t know if these are going to make it this year,” she tells me. I watch her plant strange objects at their roots and cut necessary-looking parts from them.
“Our flowers always die,” I say.
“Well, what do you use on them?” she asks.
“You should try water,” she says, offering me her green watering pot.
“Thanks,” I say, grabbing the thing stupidly.
“And how are you and your friend Jeth getting along?”
“We’re… Uh, he’s okay.” I sigh. “Actually, he’s never okay. He’s a mess every time something bad happens.”
“Bad things happen,” she says with three times the confidence of a woman twice as pretty—or young—as she.
“Yeah, well he acts like it’s the end of the world,” I say, watching the sky.
“And what about you?”
“Well, you know, so do I sometimes. I worry about him, you know.” I didn’t see why I should be telling her this when I could barely admit it to myself. “It feels like everything is always on the verge of complete ruin.”
She smiles and I think, Oh God. But then she says, “Well… Once you’ve reached a certain age, you notice that even after the world’s ended so many times, you’re still here. These horrible things can happen, but it doesn’t change who you are.”
Then Mr. Freeney comes out and Jinx the cat follows.
“If that cat keeps eating these begonias,” she tells him, “we’re going to have to trade her in for a new model.”
“Ahh,” he grumbles, motioning her away. “I couldn’t get another. No other cat would do,” he said, petting Jinx.
I return knowing that Mrs. Freeney was right. Sure you had a filthy childhood with violence in place of money, you were a homeless teenager and when you asked your dad if you could come home finally he said you couldn’t because you were gay. But really, was it all that bad?
The next day I come back to give Mrs. Freeney the pot.
A slow breeze is coming in from the ocean, swinging the hammock, causing the windchimes to sing. The flowers are all alone. I see around to the backyard, and there at the old walnut tree is Mr. Freeney. Next to him is a guy about my age, looks like his son.
When the guy sees me, he comes over quick as if to get me out of there.
“Where’s Mrs. Freeney?” I ask him. “I was just going to…” I show him the pot.
He shakes his head. He doesn’t do anything else.
Then I shake mine too, because it doesn’t make any sense.
Then he says, “They never saved each other.”
I follow Jeth and Freeney into the funeral home. Thank God it’s raining, I think. I can’t imagine him having to endure this pain under a cloudless sky.
There’s a priest at the podium, already, and I’m glad for that too when I picture how empty the space would look without him. There are a lot more chairs than people sitting in them, and then I feel embarrassed. Real black roses at the casket interspersed with tiny white ones, some flower whose name has something to do with a baby. I can’t remember.
I expected this would be happy, as funerals go. She was old, after all. But there is still a young girl crying in the second row. Must have been her granddaughter, but we’ve never even met. I realize then how well you don’t really know people, even when you think you do. How long you’ll let friends live before you simply ask. Who are you?
The priest adjusts the microphone once everyone is seated. He wants to get on with things. Move on, that’s the point I guess. I’m sitting between Jeth and a woman who looks just a few years older than Mrs. Freeney was. She’s wearing a dark brown fur and black gloves. I wonder how it makes her feel to see people younger than her die.
Jeth shifts in his suit – he looks better than the undertakers today, so I can’t stop looking at him. I can see the black of the necklace underneath his collar. Now’s the time to be sad, I know, but the closest I can get is pity for those around me.
The priest clears his throat just in case not everyone is paying him full attention. I hear the buzz of his voice as a background to my own thoughts. Then he says, “Let this be a lesson to all of us of what can happen without technology.”
Back at their house someone has arranged a get-together. Not a wake, just something to keep Freeney from having to be alone
A technologist with a briefcase made the rounds, getting credit card numbers from old couples in the room. The woman I sat next to at the funeral talks to him.
Mr. Freeney was real quiet, sat in the corner petting the cat Jinx. Everyone’s ignoring him. I thought about going to him, but instead just enjoyed the feeling of gravity on my legs. There was nothing left to be said, and when he finally catches my eye, I just look away.
I came up to the hill, looking out on the apple trees with no apples, but clouds of pink and white blossoms falling to the ground below… Daisies leaning in the wind, sun at all the right angles and then, in the middle of it all, a billboard—small flapping ad for the land itself, to be bought and built upon, just as if it’d never been the way it was right now.
I sat and knew it had been this way. I thought about it so hard I felt I’d burned the shapes of the words to explain it against my skull. That someone would find them one day and read my head like religious texts to tell them what the future was already destined to be. Then, just as easily, the fantasy slipped from me, and all I could see ahead was the billboard’s bright red request contrasting with pastel reality. As I got up to tear it down, I realized another would take its place, but instead of rage I now found comfort in this thought. Looking up at a cloud in the shape of a reconstructor, effect and cause becoming one, all boundaries melted. It was at this moment I could see that there was a continuum. Civilization was nature, what would have happened anyway. Stopping before we reached the end would be suicide. It was, anyway.
So here I was with the metal in my mouth and nothing but memory to carry to my final moment. They say your life flashes before your eyes, but mine trudged like it was on a lag, skipping over crucial learning points and sticking when it came to the most forgettable slip-ups… Me with no pencil on the day of the test, stepping on someone’s foot as I danced in an unrecognizable ballroom, ugly pink decor pointing itself out over and over again. Then I was standing sunburnt on the edge of shallow water in a suit I don’t remember owning. Sometimes the moments most crucial to your future are those you’d never stop to think about. As a sparrow above my head made a nest from garbage, candy wrappers housing a lifetime, I pressed my index finger forward slightly and died alone.
I’m waking up.
I’m not supposed to be waking up. I try to fall back into the nothingness from which I’ve just come, pushing and pulling myself there, but the more effort I exert the more awake I feel. I check my skin for the cold breeze that should be there now. But there’s nothing, like I’m in a box, not outside anymore. It should be night, but a dim yellow is showing through my eyelids. My head doesn’t feel right.
I hear the sound of Jeth above, just entering the room.
When he sees me, he screams.
I open my eyes. There was Jeth, and someone else, bordered by doctors and aides. I felt something hot in my head. They were still screaming.
“Your face hasn’t been rebuilt yet,” one of the doctors explained.
I reached my hand up to feel my features, but restraints stopped me. I was naked with no skin, and they could all see inside me. “Mirror?” I asked.
She shook her head.
Then I realized I couldn’t look at myself with all these people around me. Not now. For once my outsides matched my insides. I felt like an accident. But almost inside the same thought I was then relieved by my failure. Some things could stick.
Jeth was crying like I really could have escaped. “I love you,” he said, clinging to my side. “Don’t ever—” he choked on his own syllables and then couldn’t go on.
“I won’t,” I said. “I won’t.”
Then I felt the haze of reconstructor taking over me. That had to have been what it was.
“You’ll keep him here?” one of them asked, and the last thing I heard before succumbing to datahood was: “He’s not going anywhere.”
Jeth and I are lying side by side in the hospital room, me in the bed and him on a row of metal waiting chairs. This is the same hospital I was in when I broke my foot at the show Jeth wanted to go to, but I hadn’t even heard of the band. Everyone else is gone. I’ve awoken with my face still off—I could tell by how Jeth was looking away as he spoke to me.
“Did it hurt?” he’s asking.
Sometimes I wish he could see the big picture.
It’s a struggle to speak through this throat, but I can resist arguing. “That’s not the point,” I tell him, sounding like a movie monster. “I can die and come back. They treat me like some kind of god. Nothing is permanent, don’t you see?”
“But you’re still here.”
Instead of feeling trapped, as I should have, I closed what was left of my eyes and attempted a smile. No one could destroy me.
Then one of the doctors came in and I took a few seconds to open my eyes.
“How are you feeling?” she’d already asked as if it mattered now.
I moaned my dissatisfaction, but she came up close enough for an inspection anyway.
“Well, one of the nurses will be in to check on you in a little while. Until then just try to lie still and relax. You’re still fragile.”
“Yeah, why is it taking so long for this stuff to work?”
“We’re going to get you into surgery as soon as we can. You should just be happy now that you’re alive.”
Surgery? I looked closer. This was the woman I was going to let play cut-up doll on my face? Was I already saved?
“Wait… You used medicine?”
Jeth looked at her with a certain fear.
She nodded. “What else?”
I finish the rest of the reconstructor off at home with Jeth and watch my face slide back to normal in the bathroom mirror. It’s dark at first, just in case I don’t like what I see, but when I finally switch on the light it’s as if I’d only pointed a toy gun to my forehead.
“What, are we living in the middle ages?!” Jeth is shouting from outside. “I can’t believe they let these people have knives!”
“We’ll never need to go back there anyway. Who brought me there in the first place?”
“They said it was a monk,” he sighed.
“Fuck.” I shook my head. All the painkillers were gone. But so was the pain. Then, now that the basics of survival had been taken care of, Jeth seemed to remember I had just committed suicide. He came over, feeling sorry for me, but that was okay because I guess it was what I wanted. Then he wrapped himself around me, legs and all, so that I was the one who had to hold him up.
That night we lay in bed, and he lay his hand over my heart as he slept, as if to stop me from getting up and going anywhere. I just thought. About my life, about my death. It was so strange that I’d just done it, because now I didn’t feel so bad. And yet I felt like the act might have had something to do with that. At the hospital I’d felt embarrassed, but now there was almost pride for what I had and hadn’t accomplished. People kept what they wanted, discarding what wouldn’t work and kept living, brave enough to take responsibility. We made the technology, I thought. Now we have to sign our names.
The son is outside Freeney’s on my way home. I stop only out of guilt and almost go to shake his hand.
“Mr. Freeney?” I ask, as if to confirm his existence, but really I just want to know if he’s okay.
He shakes his head again, and I almost feel relieved. Then he says, “He didn’t save the cat either.”
My heart sank fast. It was almost worse. I imagined the poor man alone each night for the rest of infinity.
“So this is what happened.” He pulled an orange kitten from his coat pocket.
“Mew,” it said.
I choked up reaching to pet the thing. “Ohhh, hello there…”
Then Freeney came down the front steps, attending to the tiny voice.
“There you are,” he said, gathering up Jinx from the son’s grip carefully.
I watch them and I can’t believe I ever wanted me or him or any of us in the ground.
“It’s a good thing you saved her before,” I said.
“I never fooled with that.” Freeney paused. “You know that.”
I look down.
“My son must have done it when he got her for me.”
We celebrate, me and Jeth for the holiday. We bought those little kid firecrackers that smoked in green and blue and ones that threw sparks out at you. Took them out into the yard where small families were together. I remember one girl was trying to drink juice from the cactus, and got a needle in her chin.
Then I asked, “Do you want to go for a walk?”
“No… You go.” Jeth said. He smiled strangely, then gave me an undeserved kiss.
I go out to the ocean and find the factory city across the miles. I can see their fireworks as tiny colored dots appearing and then disappearing where the water meets the sky. Other people walk around me and don’t seem to notice what it is I see. Then I become sad again, standing in everyone’s way.
What was I contributing? To the world? To Jeth, even? I took, returning nothing. My very existence was a thief to everyone. But then, who was everyone?
I saw them all around me, even here – those who lived only because they were born, and never could come up with any better ideas. What were they doing here? The sidewalk was swarming now, and I multiplied the spot I stood in with the size of the globe and I couldn’t believe just how much we were. There were enough fuck-ups in the world. But what was one more? I had never raped anyone, never killed anyone besides myself. Why shouldn’t it be okay for me to be around?
The walk home was rushed, and I couldn’t wait to tell Jeth about my new theory, returning to the room with the third smile of the year on my face. There’s no one in the lobby to see as I stop and steal us tomorrow’s breakfast from behind the counter. I come back and Jeth’s things are gone, even the salvation, a square absence of dust on the dresser and nothing but the necklace I’d given him is still there.
I moved into a smaller place, far from the ocean on a ghost town street. I sold everything except the necklace and including the Mona Lisa.
I’d woken up so many mornings next to Jeth that now I didn’t know what else to do during those times. When we would have been lying in bed far past lunchtime… Jeth was the schedule, and now it felt like life really couldn’t go on without him. There was nothing else to live.
I didn’t just go along feeling okay. There were very good times and very bad times. When things were somewhere in the middle nothing mattered. It was like death, in a way, and for that I kind of liked it. It was as close to death as I would get.
The longer he is gone, the less I miss him. I start to think about our arguments, about the dull color he’d dyed his hair, how we didn’t like the same music. In my fantasies I find it harder to picture his face till I’m just fucking a vague outline of a man, and I wish that I could miss him more, that I would suffer just for him just to be feeling anything… Still I can’t help but be happy when I see a new-grown dandelion escape the cracks in the sidewalk, or when Jinx the kitten stops to roll around on her back in the grass, and then I remember my sadness and the reasons for being sad and it all blends together so I come up neutral.
I only think about him now when I go to bed. Surrounded by the empty black of our room, thoughts come to me without my permission. It’s too easy to just pretend that he’s still there where I wouldn’t be able to see him anyway. That the poor heating is really his cool breath over my various parts. It’s nothing but habit that causes me to reach between my legs the moment his name first resounds in my mind. I know what will be accomplished by this sad fantasy, but I have to think about something, and I haven’t had any new material for six years, so without thinking I picture his face in the air before me, the way I always have. It should scare me, just an apparition of a head, but soon enough it has shoulders, legs, and all the rest…and he gives me not so much a feeling as an ambiance, so that I’m stroking my own hair and thighs the way he would, way he used to, way he never would again… I try to come as soon as possible, just to get it over with, and instantly as it happens my moans turn into sobs, sweat becoming tears.
It was so strange to think the sun wouldn’t be around forever. One day we’d wake up and it would just stay dark, and cold, and then we’d all die, me and Jeth and Mr. Freeney and even Jinx the kitten. There’d be no saving anything. There was no saving something you couldn’t reach. If we could just get there, I thought. If we could just touch the sun.
I thought about all those hours… My life, the way when you’re young you think you’ll live forever. Then I remembered. I hadn’t saved myself since I was 21. I could go back, relive getting drunk at Joe’s and fall in love as many times as I wanted.
I get up, switch on the dim lamp. Download my memories, placing them on the bedside table, and tape a note to the salvation: “Put these on.”
Woke up to a soaked pillow, sleep tears. Thought I’d got all my crying out last night. Who did Brian think he was anyway? Yesterday would be the last day I’d let him treat me like that.
Then I turned and saw a note taped to the salvation beside my bed that read: “Put these on.” I froze. Why was that my handwriting? How fucked up had I been last night? Should I listen to myself?
Through futuristic beams of sunlight I saw how different my room was. Where was my Smiths poster? Nevermind. I’d just reach across the curtains and grab the wire, insert it in the proper place and… Now I remembered.
I sat in the spot where Jeth and I had first met. Ordered a pina colada at the bar again, looked out at the dancers, and waited. I’m sitting up against the wood wall and beside me is an antique pay phone. I pick up the receiver and wait. Holding it hung-up in past anticipation. But I’m collecting dust right now. Then I realized I couldn’t relive any of it. I’d need Aaron and Rachael to be 21 too, and here… I’d need Jeth to still love me. This was no time travel. I couldn’t live in the past, or the present, and the future looked bleak. Actually, when I really tried to picture it, the future looked invisible.
I wait for Jeth anyway, wait on the phone for hours till someone at the bar is smiling, eyeing me like I could ever wake up beside anyone but the most nervous guy in the universe.
We always talk about “the universe” to extend our lives here on earth. To make it seem like what’s going on with us has anything to do with what mystery is out there. But of course the only guys I’d be dating live within a 30-mile radius of my house anyway. There really is only us right here and now. And no spaceships will be coming to abduct us to a more interesting place.
I prepare for my date with Jeth, showering slowly then putting on a suit that I would never wear. It was the doctors’ instruction.
These psychologists took estranged couples and put them in a lab. They’d put them side by side, inserting flowers in her hands and sweat in his. Injected each of them with new hormones made to prove that this world could recreate anything.
They sat me at a conference table, and for some reason he showed up. The moment I saw him everything was okay. It was like none of this had even happened.
He looked like a vacation snapshot without the smile. I couldn’t see the ocean in the background, and no magnetic frame was there to define for us where the memory ended and where we began.
“I miss you,” I said, and he gave me an expression like “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I thought about doing this before…” he said.
“Before,” he said. “Before Valentine’s Day.”
“You were thinking about me then?”
“Of course,” he said, and my eyes welled up with tears. Where had I been?
But even though I was crying, what I felt was not enough for what was happening. My emotions should have been past expressing through a body. I should have cared more than I did.
“I figured you had done everything you could to get it out of your mind.”
Then I was crying for my lack of further tears. The excess didn’t make up for it, but Jeth thought I was happy.
Then for the sex part.
We were to lie down in a dark room, choosing positions as we may. The carpet was rough and thin like we were on an office floor. I had him lie behind me, cock resting against my ass. I could tell he was hard before he even took it out, and in that moment all the awkward compensation faded.
We were in the city on the ocean, back to nature in our own way—we evolved into one another, all alone on a long beach, not caring if we drowned.
I couldn’t tell if it was the hormones or Jeth.
Then all I could think about was all he’d done to hurt me in this time, all the casual moments before that when we could have as easily just been friends, telling the secrets people need to keep on wanting more. I’d given him my all and more. And all I’d wanted from him was to know who I really was. But I didn’t want him to know what I was feeling now. I just wanted to be alone.
And by the time I remembered where we were, I realized he’d gone soft.
He reached his arm around to me, but there was nothing that could be done.
I fell asleep.
Awoke to the doctor standing above us, and immediately I felt ashamed, like he could tell it hadn’t worked. Then, didn’t he look regretful too?
The light was coming in from the hall, and it shone in a direct ray over Jeth. He tried to cover himself, ashamed, but almost like he didn’t remember putting himself in this situation, like he’d expected to wake up in his own bed, not on a cold laboratory floor.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said and closed the door, where he would surely be waiting outside for us.
I looked to Jeth in the moment the door closed, but there was no more light. He was getting up anyway, pulling his clothes back on quickly. In the few seconds we had, I wanted to say something but it was so cold I had to get dressed too. As I slipped my shirt on and buckled my belt I tried to plan what I would say, but right as I was finishing he turned the door handle and was out before I could think to stop him.
We met in a tiny room with the doctors, who thought we needed to hear their opinion on the matter. Jeth was seated with them but I stayed standing in the doorway.
One of them I’d never even seen started talking first. “I’m afraid you’ve…waited too long.”
His words rang truer than they should have. I wanted to smash his fat head in for being so right. Instead I pretended.
“Jeth, come on,” I called him as if nothing had even gone wrong. And wasn’t it better now? He paused before getting up and following me down crowded halls and out the front entrance.
As other, happy couples left the buildings, I told him “I thought you were going to start crying in there.”
“I wanted to,” he said quietly. We stopped just outside the doors.
“So why didn’t you?” I asked, reaching out to him one last time.
I pulled my hand away.
My diary is all blank pages. The entry where Jeth first told me he loved me, and our trip once to the next town—that was the farthest we’d gotten. All gone.
And then we never really had kissed that afternoon in the sun. We had never even met. I see two or three monks streak by orange outside my window, kicking up gravel and all I can think is how they didn’t get the memory, thank God they didn’t get that.
Sometimes you feel like there’s nothing you can do. You save, but you need to be saved first. I’m only one out of millions of people, only a few out of trillions of bytes. We all rely on their systems to make ourselves work. Without the main line, there’d be no salvation for any of us.
Every day I look out and see all those faces who seem to live to make me doubt how much control I hold. Make me think I should give up if only because it’s no use. But they’ve never even tried. I know I could save the whole world if I had the right technology.
They have the tech to renew anything, or wipe all of it out. A great big brain somewhere that remembered everything, even me and Jeth. So why can’t I just hook myself up and download the truth back from them?
But Jeth would have to know it too. He’d have to know it the right way this time. And when even he was part of them, I could make him believe whatever I wanted to.
The scenic route was on a freight train, through sand up the mountain at night. I’d have to show up physical if I wanted to change anything.
“I could save the whole world,” I say out loud.
I’m going out. The old-fashioned way.
I go to the city on the ocean, waiting through a motion-sick boat ride where I can’t see the side we’re headed to through a curved grey wall, but then we are just there, descending a water-soaked ramp to find what appears to be nothing but a carnival.
Blue balloons escape a child’s hand beside me as donkeys are led through a crowd of clowns, and I’m being pushed into some sort of competition for animals. Games have been installed into booths, stretching out of my view, and… The child screams.
“Wanna be a winner?” someone asks me, and I detect a faint accent that corresponds to the child’s.
There was an accent here, even though it only could have been a few miles from my house. My old house. Our old house. I turn around and think that I can almost see it from where I stand. I can see my old life, years wasted worrying about what had already been done. I’d thought out here was a fantasy, but now that it’s real I can’t want anything that I’d had. I’m on my way to the past, and nothing makes sense anymore.
I come back with second thoughts, back to the coast that I suddenly fear could never be home once again. But then I think, you have to work for love. You have to fight.
I walk the path back along the ocean road with the rocks and the flowers just as they’ve always been. I count them for comfort through a wave of nervousness for what I was soon to do.
I long for the time when I’d wanted to kill myself. From here it felt like childhood, teenage nostalgia. I feel it like the first time, flowers and all. I remember outdated machines, mornings after, philosophy… There’d always be time for more, and yet I was already so bored with it all. Out of the whole of life, knowing it had been the most important part didn’t change anything.
I look to Mr. Freeney’s house as I pass by, and see that the door is hanging open.
I almost don’t stop, like I’ve barely noticed, but I can hear sounds from inside like a broken piano, a human percussion. In the same automatic mind I step up across the short porch and push the door the rest of the way open with a creak.
Inside they’re torturing Jinx the kitten with a sharpened spoon. They gouge at her little blue eyes in jerking movements, laughing at the cute mewling sounds she makes. Then they take Freeney’s drill to her stomach, taking off as little as possible through her red fur, then taking off a little more till the sounds she’s making aren’t feline anymore, and she dies and is reborn as a 6-month-old, and then they do it again.
And I just start screaming why at the top of my lungs, drawing the word out like I’m singing it. Then I notice Freeney is behind them, tied on the couch, watching. They all look at me, even Jinx.
Now it’s time to do something. I step forward even though I see there’s three of them and one of me and they all have weapons and I have nothing. It seems wrong to be afraid, like it shouldn’t matter so I don’t stop until Freeney says something.
“It’s okay,” he says.
“Okay?” I’m asking. How could anything be okay?
“We’ll get out of this one way or another. And I know she’ll be alright.”
That’s right, I thought. She won’t remember a thing.
The three men look at me. I look back.
“You’ll die,” I tell him.
“Save yourself,” he said.
Tonight’s the night, apparently. Don’t even see the point in having set a date now, except if that’s the only way it’ll get done. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t even bother to get out of bed.
I pack my things: a knife, a pen. When I’m all done, I compare what’s in my suitcase to the list, and realize that I’ve changed my mind.
I check myself into our old hotel, but I can’t get the same room we’d had… Instead there’s a seashell lamp and office carpet, stains invisible through the brown. But there is also the memory. It’s hanging there like the stale air freshener that I now notice they put in every room. I’d always thought it belonged to us. I feel like I should be sad again, but it’s nice to be back.
I open the barred window looks like it’s never been opened before and see a shadowed outline of cacti, pink in the air, some monks in bathing suits on the lawn beds. I don’t know how I can tell they’re monks without the robes. It must be something in their movements, the way they stare at me. Then, they could be blind, or bored. Maybe they’re not monks at all. I need to get ready, but instead I join them.
I meditate. Twisted around myself in the dirt, I shift and sigh on each minute. I’m concentrating as hard as I know how on nothing, but this salvation is beeping behind the palmetto, and it’s annoying the hell out of me. I get up to switch it off, and it hits me. I’m already over him. As much as you can be. Funny how that changes nothing—I’m not doing this for him. I can have a bright future later. Right now there’s the whole world to meet. I feel like I could get away with murder—the sun is still at 5 o’clock but I can’t wait till it goes down. I’ll be on a train from nowhere, looking out for the orange.
I want everything to be erased.