And so they lived happily ever after. The end.
Their individual recoveries spanned a tireless circus of weeks, offering hope and growth on a tattered zoetrope left unwatched in your grandmother’s dining room. It seemed so circumstantial, so surreal—the escapist propaganda of the DMT released by one’s brain at that ultimate and penultimate moment of life and unlife, echoing silently through their brains like an overexposed television program in a dark, silent room with only the buzz of electricity lightly humming the soundtrack in prayer. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . . . Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm… Click.
Somehow, yet explained but yet unfathomed, they’d survived.
But before that, it was chaos. As he gazed into her cloudy eyes he wondered if they reflected his own doubt, his own alienation from judgment, or if they clouded over with that quiet moment at the pinnacle of fear, in peacefully resistant mortal anguish, screaming cathartically at the edge of the precipice where her consciousness ended. The death of either was the death of both.
Nothing like the fear of mortality to put a little spring in your step. Heh.
Physically, he couldn’t handle the thought. It fell through him like a magnet through sand: anti-acknowledged, vacuous, rejected. It left a fuzzy hole tracing its downward and direct diagonal path from left brain to right mandible. It wasn’t an option. It was never suspected to be an option.
A tic shot down his spine and flung his right arm upward and forward, passively, warningly, when the thought hit him the first time. Eyelids clenched, he could just see his arm plummeting through the window, through her chest, right through her. He shivered with self-doubt and a salivating curiosity. That could be his moment, then and only then. His moment to give her her moment. Heavy-lidded eyes dared him without focus. She was ready; he could tell.
Really she shouldn’t have gotten him going like that. “But I want it,” she’d wined in a slow, obnoxious crescendo like a mosquito. She was still attempting to light the broken cigarette lodged between two swollen lips and strands of blonde, tangled hair that cradled it like many maternal arms, or women mourning limply on the coffined bodies of their fallen soldiers. “Some part of me actually wants it to happen to me. That’s why I’m here.” She looked out over the rooftops, focusing, he thought, on a streetlight shining orange in that deep Parisian Midnight Blue.
When she’d joined him in the kitchen she sat right on the windowsill, one knee bent up toward her elbow, the other dangling on the ground, holding her hair out of her face with her right hand while her left arm dangled out the window, garnished with the maraschino cherry of a cigarette. Hoping to ash it, she flicked it a little too hard. It snapped. She didn’t seem to notice. She reminded him of a little girl naïvely hiding candy behind her back, except for the sweat-streaked face, the smeared and blotchy kohl threatening to run into her eyes. It was, in his opinion, a gorgeous summer night; in hers, a miserable one.
He felt distant, dangerous. “Look, Marley, I really don’t think we should be talking about this yet,” he warned her in a broken, raspy voice.
“You’ve never thought about your own death? What it would be like if you just died, right now? You never thought about what the world would be like without and after you? Does it not bother you at all, or does it bother you too much?” The scrapes on her knuckles showed pink and fleshy against her filthy skin, emphasizing her pink, wet mouth as she brought the cigarette in holy sacrifice to meet her lips. A stripe of filth or make up was stretched along a segment of her nasal-labial fold. He felt it best not to mention it.
It was just like Marley to lead him to the kitchen for a beer, unoffered but trivial. His voice felt rusty, small. Marley paid no mind as he meekly cleared his throat, over and over, hoping to find his old voice hiding behind a clingy patch of mucous. No matter the effort, though, his voice just didn’t sound like it used to.
Upon opening the door, he could finally comprehend the peephole’s ambiguous shapes; she was standing with her back to him. She turned around, hair frazzled, face wet. Was it appropriate to ask her if she’d been crying? Maybe it was just sweat. It was an ovenly night; a slovenly night. A night like the hug he so desperately needed, quiet and humming like a doting nanny singing a child to sleep. So consoled was he by this night that he found it impossible, undesirable, and unreasonable to sympathize with Marley. She’s always upset about something, he thought. I’ll have plenty of other opportunities to feel her pain and comfort it away. I need this night. It’s mine. He’d remember thinking that, months later, and hear it echoing through his brain for the rest of his life.
Eavesdropping on his nasty thoughts, Time snuck quickly by and he sat in a waking stupor when the long-anticipated knock, frantic and sudden, jolted him mechanically to his feet. The knocking resonated in his sternum, in his throat, pounding tenaciously long after it left the door. He wondered at his anxiety to answer to others so devotedly when he could barely even answer to himself. Heart pounding disproportionately, he looked through the peephole, knowing full well who it was. He couldn’t really see what was going on on the other side of the door, though.
In any case, months had somehow passed linking days in an endless somersault of lightness, darkness, lightness, darkness, lightness, heaviness. Time was just another flakey bitch to him, really; capricious and unpredictable. Offended by the most unsuspecting things. He and Time were going steady, though she made a terrible girlfriend. Marley was unstable like that, he knew, but at least he could relate to her a hell of a lot more than he could relate to Time.
The heat of the night seemed to fill the awkward, yawning void left in his immediate environment ever since that terrible night when his mother died. Her lack of presence was what haunted him; he wasn’t haunted by her presence the way he often feared and sometimes hoped he would be. Sometimes he would take this personally and feel abandoned; then, in moments of clarity, he would stare into his hands and tell himself that science had always promised that there weren’t any ghosts. If anything, his mother’s spirit terrorized him far more when she was still among the living in her broken, feeble, angry way. She wasn’t there now to tell him “that whore Marley can’t come over here” anymore. He should have felt joyous, at least about that. He should have felt relieved. But now he felt lost, uncomfortable, unsure of just who he really was after all.