Meredith Gris is born at midnight, beneath a gleaming supermoon. She isn’t breathing.
Nobody is prepared for it. Her mother screams to hold her, her hands outstretched, her face flooded with angry tears and exhausted sweat; the midwives rush from one side of the room to the other, murmuring beneath their breaths, ignoring the shrieks.
The doctor, hands soaked with blood, doesn’t say a word as she grabs Meredith’s chin, barely gentle, and forces her jaw wide open. For a moment, she just stares, the lines of her forehead creasing her skin in uncertain panic.
Then, with a quick, deep breath, she shoves two gloved fingers down Meredith’s throat.
“Stop!” Meredith’s mother cries, her voice hoarse and rough and split in two. She sobs, lurches forward, clawing at her bedsheets. “What the hell are you doing, stop! Stop it, she—”
The doctor’s fingers yank back, and bring a huge clump of sickly yellow slime out with them.
And she begins to wail.
Relief floods the delivery room like a tidal wave. The mother palms at her heart, bawling into the open air, holding her trembling baby to her naked chest. The midwives sigh, and cross their hearts. The doctor stares down at her filthy hand.
“A miracle,” Meredith’s mother whispers, brushing the tip of her fingernail slowly down her baby’s arm, her ears ringing with the shrill weeping. “Oh, you’re such a tiny little thing. How can something so small be so loud? God, you’d think your lungs would be the size of a horse, with all this screaming!”
“You’re very lucky, Ms Gris,” one of the midwives utters. She urges the mother back against her pillows. “If Dr Fanning hadn’t been so fast, tonight would have gone very differently.”
“Lucky?” Meredith is lifted slowly, and rocked gently until her crying turns to slow whimpers, and another nurse can wash her off. Her mother watches every minute. “I don’t really believe in luck, to be honest—everything that’s supposed to happen will happen. Luck won’t change a thing. It’s all just… I don’t know. Fate, I suppose. And, in this case, quick-thinking.”
“Well, then, the Fates seem to have a soft spot for your bub.”
“Something like that.”
Meredith Gris arrives silently into the world.
She’ll leave it in the exact same way.
At fourteen, Meredith Gris comes to understand precisely what kind of person she is.
Her mother has raised her to be wild and untamed, using gusts of wind as her map and old dirt trails as directions, racing through the world until midnight, when she returns home with sticks threaded through her hair. Some of her teachers call it neglect—her homework is never finished, and she sleeps through most of her morning classes, arms splayed out on her desk. They call her mother in for conversations, and they tell her over and over that a fourteen-year-old girl requires more attention. That if Ms Gris isn’t careful, her daughter is going to spiral down a terrible path.
“She’s a free spirit,” Mother sniffs. Beside her, Meredith is scribbling in a stolen, vinyl-wrapped notebook. “If the universe wants her to run amok, she will. If it wants her to calm down, then she will. Let it happen.”
“I’m not going to judge your spirituality, Ms Gris—I understand that it’s important to you.” Meredith’s mathematics teacher speaks with a constant question to his voice. His nose twitches as he bores Mother down with a strict stare. “But if you don’t step up and step in now and again, the universe is going to become very cruel, very quickly.”
Mother curses Meredith’s teacher out the whole car ride home. She calls him stupid, and pretentious, and ignorant, and lets loose a whirlwind of ugly, biting words. When they get home, dinner’s still collecting frost in the freezer.
“I’m guessing the universe doesn’t want us to eat tonight,” Meredith comments, staring into an empty fridge. She doesn’t mean it to sound so nasty—she’s only repeating what she’s heard her whole life, buying into Mother’s straight-lined beliefs. That fate will take her wherever she needs to go; fate will make all her decisions for her; fate knows what’s best.
But Mother won’t have it. She scowls, and wrenches Meredith’s ear, shushing her sudden shout of outrage.
“Don’t be sarcastic,” she snaps. “Meredith, the universe could have killed you before your life had even begun, but it chose to give you your breath back. Be grateful, and don’t tease.”
Then and there, with a sharp ringing in her skull and a gaping, panting mouth, Meredith decides that Mother is right. The universe will give her all she deserves—if she’s good, she’ll receive good in return. If she taunts it, it will take all the good back, and leave her with nothing at all.
Meredith Gris knows exactly what kind of person she is.
She is someone who believes wholeheartedly that her life is not in her own control.
By seventeen, Meredith Gris is a hurricane.
She wanders the streets barefoot, convinced that if the universe wanted her to wear shoes, her feet would be bleeding by now. When she laughs, she laughs loud, bent in half with the force of her giddiness, certain that the universe wants her to be heard from the other side of town. If she wants something, she steals it, unfazed by all the horrified store clerks and the frustrated security guards.
If the universe wanted her to spend money, she reasons, then it would have given her a job.
And she won’t apply for any jobs, because if the universe wished for her to work, then play wouldn’t be so tempting. The rain wouldn’t feel so good on her skin, and the air wouldn’t be easier to breathe at two in the morning, and the buzzing humidity of the summer would not be so alluring.
She tears through the world like a tornado, simply because nothing has stopped her, yet. Her mother stands and watches it all unfold, her arms crossed, her eyes glassy and uncaring, never once pulling the pin.
Meredith comes to believe that nothing can hurt her. It’s a theory thus far proven correct—though her knees are perpetually purple, her eyes are weighed with heavy grey, and her hands are so dry they’re splitting like spiderwebs, she’s still alive. She’s still happy.
Well. She’s sure this is happiness, anyway. What else could it possibly be? Contentment? Companionship?
Not for Meredith Gris.
She doesn’t care for friends. All her classmates steer clear of her antics, afraid that her turbulent ferocity might be contagious, and will turn them all, too, into wild spirals of fear. They laugh at her dedication to fate, at her willingness to excuse all her fire as the universe’s wish, and on the odd occasion she actually makes it to school, they pretend they can see straight through her, gossiping in hushed tones about her oddities.
It's not a problem, of course—Meredith is better off alone. She doesn’t need someone who cares about her if the universe is right there, and she certainly doesn’t need someone to tell her how to live. How to settle down, to quote her teachers.
Her mother has raised her to be uniquely independent. She has never craved touch, or gentle kindness, or to be coddled like a pet. She has never once wished to be held and whispered to. Not even in the unbreakable darkness of the hour before dawn, when she collapses atop her mattress and squeezes her eyes shut, dutifully ignoring Mother’s silence next door.
Meredith has lived seventeen years with nobody but the universe by her side, guiding her every move, and she is just fine.
Grim-faced officers all donned in navy keep showing up at her doorstep, asking if her mother is home. Asking if she feels taken care of. Asking if there might be any reason Meredith hasn’t shown up to a single class for the last month, or why she acts so strange, dancing on the tips of her toes when she should be sleeping.
“A girl your age needs rest, and education,” they reprimand. “And she needs to settle down.”
“If the universe wanted me to settle down, it would have taught me a lesson by now. Maybe I’d be dead.” Meredith grabs for the doorknob, and ushers each officer back with a shooing hand. “Don’t come back, please! Thank you!”
Eventually, they give up. Perhaps because she’s almost eighteen; perhaps because, finally, they have come to understand that Meredith is a force of nature, led by a predestined future she follows line by line.
Meredith doesn’t graduate.
Doesn’t matter. If the universe wanted her to, she would have.
She’s just fine.
By twenty, Meredith Gris has discovered all the benefits of a fine white powder she calls snowflakes.
It’s easier to talk about it if she doesn’t call it by its real name. It isn’t that she has anyone to hide her questionable habits from—friends are still not a require nor a want, and Mother only pays her mind once or twice a month, when they pass each other in the hallway at dawn, one off to sleep through the day and the other rising from the night.
It is simply that if Meredith tells herself it’s only snowflakes, only little white specks of nature, then she’s still fine. There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s still just a roaming wanderer, so in touch with the natural world that she can’t seem to—no, she refuses to find a spare spot in society that suits her. It’s a conscious decision.
If she calls it snowflakes, then it makes more sense why the universe would have given it to her, its fingers curling her toward the sugar-like hills. They’re just another part of the world.
The universe still calls to her every waking moment, twisting her feet to walk the direction it has laid out for her, steering her right and then left and then down and down and down.
When she wakes in a cold sweat as the sun begins to set, she knows it’s only because fate can see she’s a creature of night. When she feels that incessant tug in her gut that leads through back alleys and into strangers’ dim cars, she respects that the great beyond wants her to keep stuffing her nose. And when she needs to get the money for all these tiny snowflakes somewhere, she’s wise enough to see that the universe has placed Mother’s purse on the kitchen bench just for her.
She trusts it all. This is a plan that was concocted many millennia before she was born, by something ancient and clever. She’s only doing what it tells her.
But she does wonder, sometimes, if the universe always has the best intentions.
Meredith is still fine, of course. She’s completely and entirely happy with the life the universe has chosen for her, how outrageously fun it can be at three a.m., when she can waltz through the shore of the nearby lake and not feel the biting cold of the water lapping at her ankles. She’s not ungrateful, not in the slightest.
Sometimes, when she stretches her limbs out, yawns, and sees that the streetlights have just flickered to life outside, her head pounds. And her chest tightens with this awful, stiff feeling she can’t find a name for, and for a split second, she feels like there could be more to life than dancing alone, inhaling snowflakes, and sleeping straight through every hour of daylight.
It’s only a small thought. It comes and goes. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, she has complete and utter faith in the universe’s path.
But when it’s there, it throbs until it aches.
Meredith Gris is twenty-five when the universe finally leads her astray.
Snowflakes have become blizzards. Mother is gone. Meredith has no idea where she went—she just knows that sometime last week, she realised she hadn’t seen the woman who brought her into this word for three years.
So she sells the house, and everything in it. She uses a tiny part of the funds to by herself a cupboard-sized apartment on the edge of the city, and separates the rest into equal mounds, each bundle holding just enough for a week’s worth of snowflakes. Every now and then, she wonders what happened to Mother.
In the end, she doesn’t really care. Mother’s absence is no different to her presence. Meredith’s life is just as lonely as it has always been.
The truth is, that horrible, unreal thing has finally caught up to Meredith. Outside of her dealers and the family that purchased Mother’s house, she hasn’t spoken to a single human being for innumerable years, and the idea that nobody would know if she, too, disappeared has festered in her stomach until it finally grew big enough for her to acknowledge.
She never wanted friends until right now, as she sits on the middle of her empty apartment, her bone-thin arms wrapped around her knees. For once, the universe isn’t enough.
And it is becoming more and more clear with each passing day that the universe’s plan was never to keep Meredith happy. It was just to keep her. After a quarter of a century, it has deposited her in a pit, wasting every single ounce of trust she put in it, and now, with red-hot anger and ice-cold fear, Meredith realises that she has no idea how to get back out.
She keeps going back to the snowflakes. Keeps waking up in the black of night and falling asleep at dawn. Keeps counting her fingers for friends and coming up with zero.
All of a sudden, she doesn’t know why she ever believed Mother.
And she wishes that if the universe really does control every single inch of her life, it never would have brought her breath back at birth.
The universe abandons Meredith Gris at twenty-seven. Not for the first time, her breathing stops. Nobody is around, and nobody will know what happened to her for several weeks, when the downstairs neighbours discover a horrendous stain and an even worse smell on their ceiling.
Meredith arrived silently into the world.
She left it in the exact same way.