She stepped barefoot onto the grass, feeling the dampness of the night against her skin. She breathed in slowly, relishing the fresh air, feeling it cooling her throat and lungs — it was delicious. The aromas of the evening danced on her tongue. A chilly breeze, wet grass, darkness. It was strange to say that darkness had a taste, but it most certainly did. She would be the first to argue so, even if she couldn’t quite articulate what she meant.
She sighed and craned her neck to look at the night sky. Far above, the stars glinted down at her, like faerie lights glued to a giant dome, twinkling and somehow close, in spite of their distance. Cosy, almost. Tranquil and calm. And around those pots of gold and silver that were speckled across the heavens, the night was inky black, juxtaposed with the bright glow of the cosmic vista. The blackness of the night looked thick and sticky, like tar. She knew that wasn’t the case, knew that the blackness was a void, a vacuum. And yet, she felt it in her soul that the blackness was full — palpable. As if she could reach out and plunge her hand into its endless waters, reflective obsidian liquid coating her fingers.
The night was silent. The night was alive. There were no sounds. Nature’s orchestra was playing its nocturnal symphony. The wind quietly hushed through the trees and the bushes and the blades of grass. The crickets chirp-chirp-chirped to themselves and anyone who’d listen — a sound she’d always found oddly comforting, a sound of home, a sound of peace, a sound of isolation, a sound of solitude, a sound of acceptance. And the stars overhead seemed to sing to her, too. Not an audible sound — no, she’d fully admit that she might be going crazy if there was — but a pressure, a presence, bearing down on her, pushing down like the comforting weight of a thick blanket on a winter’s night, a vibration, a droning, like the fluttering of a hummingbird’s wings, like the palpitations of an enraptured heart. It was there, if you opened yourself up to hearing it.
She breathed in again, relishing the rich bouquet of flavours and smells, body and mind dropping down from a state of high anxiety to a low level of acceptance and understanding. She fought nothing, she railed against nothing, she simply flowed, like a luminescent jellyfish on the infinite tide of the nightly ocean, the graceful waves of the endless waters deep and dark and cool and refreshing, her glowing light fading into the surrounding brine, trickling away from her, slowly fading with distance. She let go of everything, that grating, churning, buzzing chatter of the worldly worries. “Take it, drop it in the ocean,” her mother had told her. “Watch as it falls into nothingness, leaving you behind.”
She felt her heart becoming weightless, first rising in her chest, like a balloon in the chubby fist of the little girl she’d been, and then leaving her body — soaring, flying, euphoric. Her hopes and dreams swirled and danced around her in ribbons; silky and rich and colourful, everything possible. That childlike magic she’d once felt returned to her once more, an emotion that was rightly hers, an enchantment that had drifted away from her through the beating grey humdrum and churning cogs of modern civilisation’s mechanical heart. She’d never let it go again; she swore to herself — promised herself. She had it once more and she craved it, it was like cool water on the lips and tongue and throat after stumbling through the desert, perfect and chilly, quenching and good, dark and endless, a drop in the ocean, plunging into the depths.
She was a baby. She was elderly. She was eight. She was eighty. She’d been born yesterday. She’d just died. She was all of these things and none of these things. She felt eternity stretching out before her in all directions, she was a speck of dust, she was everything.
The words rose from her heart, bubbling to the surface of her still inner waters. At first, they were nothing but a vague, blurry smoothness, but as they got higher and higher they took shape, forming and twisting and malleable. Before she knew she was going to do it, it happened, the words erupted from her lips, urgent and honest, a desire to know, a need to know.
She asked a question, the question.
A question on the day of her birth, before she learned the shape and size and the colour of words, before the bias of language had been passed onto her.
A question on the eve of her death, once she’d learned all that she would ever learn, all she could ever learn, within the reaches of her mind and her intellect.
She asked it every morning of her life, as the flaming sun rose into the sky, burning red and orange. She asked it when she didn’t even know she was asking it, pushing it aside in favour of mundane hubbub, the yawning emptiness too great for her thoughts to bear.
She asked it every evening, as the tendrils of night swept over the horizon, as the infinite stars beyond her reach twinkled in the distance. She asked it consciously, as she stared at the night sky, as her mind chewed it over and tossed it this way and that, looking at it from every angle and under every light, the vastness of the possibilities so great, so magical, so wonderful.
It was a question to which she’d been given no answer, and yet she still asked in spite of the screaming silence that followed. It was a question that she knew she’d never have a response to. She’d know the answer when she died. She’d know the answer before she was born.
Her heart rolled in her chest, like a ship over an ocean wave.
She asked the question to the night sky, words forming a cloud of vapour that drifted slowly from her parted lips.
“Are we alone?”