Things that make sense. Things that don't. Bits of what I want to say, pieces of what I don't. Beginnings. No endings, not yet.
And you number the last days.
1. She stops breathing on purpose.
“So we’ll be ready,” she says—coughs. “It’s like a fire drill.”
You sit awake beside her long into the night. Try not to blink as you watch the rise and fall, fall and rise.
2. “What will it be like?” she asks. You press closer; breathe in (so she won’t forget how).
“I don’t know.” A kiss to her temple. “But I’ll be there.”
3. She throws a mug of coffee at you, tears streaming down her face as she gasps, gasps, gasps—and you don’t cry.
4. “Your mouth is a semicolon,” she laughs, tangled in wires on top of you. “You taste like an ampersand.”
“Your mouth is an ellipsis,” you murmur, “and Lord, woman—I will miss your punctuation.”
5. The pair of you wake up to unassuming sunshine. She looks at you, bright (alive), and you can’t help but whisper, “What will it be like?”
She breathes like praying, and the tubes—they seem so much part of her; you can’t remember what she was like before them.
“It’s here,” she says, her pale hand on your cheek, forehead barely brushing yours. “We’re here.”
I was blotted into the canvas, pressing my nose against a scene smudged with heat and sand and a quiet loneliness.
The desert is like that. It’s made up of windswept hair and parched throats and burnt skin, a stranger to shade, to mercy.
It’s never cared—not about who lives or dies or crawls, gasping, fingertips brushing along wavering mirages. It lays itself bare, no apology, and we crumble on the edge.
And here, he sings.
Drew used to want to be in a band. It was an idle thought in college, a brief glance in the direction of something that didn’t involve hours in the library and brain-frying, hand-cramping exams. One night in December his junior year, he’d sipped warm beer, watched a lead singer bend into a mic, his voice ringing in the hush that had minutes before been bursting with conversation, and for just a moment, Drew wanted it—the sharp inhale of a crowd hanging onto your every word, the hazy burn of stage lights, the nakedness of it all. The freedom.
“Drew.” The guitarist—what’s his name, Anderson?—shoves him towards rippling curtains. “Hurry up.”
“Man, I’m telling you, I can’t do this.” Drew would really like to wake up now. “It’s just—I’m not—” He tries to breathe, but it’s not happening. There are people outside in those seats, their voices a wall of indomitable sound. This is not what he wanted to wake up to this morning.
Suddenly, there’s a small hand on his. A quiet, familiar voice.
“Drew,” she says, and her fingers are warm against his clammy skin.
“Stop having a panic attack and let’s do this shit.” She squeezes briefly. “We’ve done it a million times. You’ll kick ass. And if you don’t, who cares? Do you think anyone out there is going to be sober enough tomorrow to remember?”
“Oh, fucking great,” Anderson hisses from somewhere to the left. “That’s a motivational speech if I ever heard one.”
Drew turns to look at Josie, then. There’s something about her dark eyes he never appreciated until this very second.
“I’ve never sung in front of anyone before,” he whispers.
“Okay, we’re fucked,” Anderson says, nodding calmly at the gangly bassist who keeps checking his iPhone. “Really and truly fucked.”
“We are not fucked,” Josie snaps. “Jesus. Would you just go on? We’ll be there in a second.”
Anderson grinds his teeth, grabs a guitar from its velvet-lined case.
“Fine. You’ve got two minutes to get his ass in gear.”
“We’ll improvise,” the drummer assures Josie, eyeing Drew over the top of her head before ducking through a gap in the curtains. The noise crescendos into applause.
Yeah, Drew’s going to pass out.
The square root of one hundred and fifteen is 10.724. The mass of a substance contained in a unit volume is its density. The density of water is one thousand kilograms. In the average lifetime, a person will walk the equivalent of five times around the equator.
“Okay, so.” Josie presses a mic into his hands. “This is happening. I don’t know what’s up with you, but do me a favor?”
“What?” Drew tries not to throw the mic down, tries to focus on Josie and her kind eyes. She has long fingers, he notices. Pianist’s fingers.
“Try to remember that the difference between anxiety and exhilaration is a breath.” She stands on tiptoe, kisses his cheek.