I walk into his bedroom and his absence fills the space. With him, he has taken the breath out of the room, and just like him, it will never return. It is left lifeless, not like a battleground is lifeless, but like a wall is lifeless. I run to shut the window, forbidding the wind to distribute his scent throughout the streets, allowing his aura to dissipate and be broadcasted to any passerby that Danny is gone. Crawling into his unmade bed, I bury myself in the quilts. I fight to hold onto his smell the way one fights to hold on to a bar of soap in the bathtub, but it is already slipping away. This realization brings a fresh wave of tears to my sleep-deprived eyes. Frantically, I wipe them away, like a madwoman shooing away non-existent flies. I will not let them cloud my vision and take away the last things I have left of him. I lift my head from under the blanket and will myself to gaze around the room: the telescope by the window, the four-legged chair he will never again sit on, the guitar he will never again sing me to sleep with. I take his copy of Virginia Wolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and let my feet walk out the door, but my mind stays there for quite a while. I never quite catch his scent again.
I need to get out of here. Every inch of space reminds me of him. Each hallway an emptiness where he should be. Every mirror lacks his reflection. I wish the mirrors would break and continue to show his reflection anyway. The walls creak in their own experience of grief. Each doorway, a doorway that he should come walking through at any moment now and tell me that it was all just a misunderstanding. This was all just a false alarm, he is still alive, he has to be. He can’t just be here one second, and then not be here the next. It doesn’t work like that. How can something exist and then just cease? How can that be possible?
I need water.
I walk to the kitchen and place a glass in the sink. Turning on the tap, I let my eyes drift around, but seeing the grocery list written in his slanted handwriting pushes me over the edge. I run out the front door leaving the glass in the sink, the tap still running. Unable to hold any more water, it overflows.
The only clue I have to how long I’ve been out for is the fact that my two-hour playlist stopped playing a while ago and random songs I don’t know have been playing since then. I cross the street and run in the direction of the bus stop. Danny’s dead. Stop. He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead. Shut up! Danny’s dead. Danny’s dead, danny’s dead, danny’s dead, danny’s dead, danny’s dead! The voices in my head won’t stop, but keep replying over and over again, teasing the tears locked behind my eyes, waving bait at them to come out. Danny’s dead. Leave me alone! I run faster, trying to make the voice go away. I NEED DANNY TO BE HERE! He’s dead. He can’t be. He is.
“NO HE’S NOT!” I yell at the life-size Realestate lady printed onto the bus stop. I stop running and stand to face her.
“He’s not.” My voice falters as I repeat myself, the words emerging just above a whisper as my vocal cords strain to keep my voice steady. We stare at each other for a long time. She doesn’t say anything. I hate the silence.
“Say something,” I beg her. She stays quiet. I hate her smile.
“STOP SMILING AT ME AND SAY SOMETHING, THIS ISN’T FUNNY!” I shout. I can feel my face heating up, tears prickle my eyes. Is she deaf!? She keeps staring at me, her silence cutting into me like a knife.
“Please,” I plead in a voice more broken than whole. I need someone to talk to. I need Danny.
“Can I tell you something?” She stares at me but her eyes seem a little kinder now. Maybe that’s simply because my eyes see everything blurred, like looking through a rainy window. I take her silence as a yes.
“When my brother came home from fishing with my Grandpa for the first time, he ran and told me, “Julie, the world’s a good place, wanna know how I know? There’s this rule. When grandpa and I went fishing, he taught me that there is a rule that says that fishermen can’t keep baby fish so if you catch a fish that is still a baby then you have to let it go no matter how much you want to keep it, and then I caught a fish and I was really scared it would be a baby one but it wasn’t so then I got to keep it, but Julie, if I got a baby fish then I definitely would throw it back because its fish mommy and daddy would be really sad if it died when it was so little, and that’s how I know that life is fair because even if a baby fish gets caught then the fishermen are nice and give them another chance to keep living, so probably life is like that for people too.”’ I was quiet for a bit.
“He was so cute, always choosing to see the best in the world. I can remember so vividly how excited and happy he was, each sentence slipping out from between his
smiling lips before he finished the previous one.” I read the name written under her picture.
“Listen, Liza Emberkdon, I think that what we call the sky is actually the surface of the water, and when it’s cloudy, those aren’t really clouds. The sky is covered in a sheet of grey because it is winter, and during the winter the water freezes over. In summer it gets warmer and the ice melts. I think we are like fish under the water. And above us there are fishermen. When people die, it’s because the people from above have gone fishing. Usually, they catch the old fish which is why most people who die are old. The thing is, these fishermen don’t play fair. They don’t follow the rules that the fishermen grandpa talked about did. Sometimes they catch a young one and don’t let it go. They weren’t fair with Danny. Danny wasn’t done living, but the fisher’s line came down and caught him and there was nothing he could do. They didn’t give him a second chance, they didn’t throw him back in. They’re not allowed to do that Liza!” My voice cracks and the next thoughts I vocalize are between great heaves and breaths getting caught in my throat. Everything around me is blurry and shaking and I can’t keep my hands still, constantly trying to wipe my face but the tears won’t stop. I don’t want to cry. I want Liza to take me seriously!
“They have to put the baby fish back in the water! They have to! There’s a rule! Why didn’t they throw Danny back in!?” I am shaking. My eyes sting as I pound my fists against the advertisement, willing Liza to understand, but she doesn’t.
“MY BROTHER IS DEAD LADY! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND!? HE IS DEAD! ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING, HE IS DEAD!” A man in a blue suit walking by looks at me and understands the meaning of the word agony for the first time. I don’t care that I’m making a scene, I didn’t care what he thinks of me. He doesn’t understand. I continue to pound my fists against anything in reach, screaming, crying, hands pulling at my hair. I am so angry at those stupid fishermen! Why can’t they follow the god damn rule!?
I wonder what life is like above. Can they see us when they look down?
“Do you think they can see us, Liza?” She stays quite again, but I don’t hate her as much anymore.
When I get to the park I see more of them than usual. They cover the East side of the park. Every inch of normal blue sky is littered with the little black hooks dancing dauntingly above the trees. Danny would have told me not to be afraid.
“Don’t worry. They’re not here for us,” he would promise me. But he’s not here and now I’m afraid.
They didn’t follow the rules with Danny, so how am I supposed to trust them?
The girl playing on the swing set is completely unfazed. I’m scared. Part of me wants to scream at her, to warn her, while another part wants to let her believe in the good of the world for a bit longer and spare her from the real grief that comes along with knowledge.
I feel dizzy. I'm cold. I stare up at the sky, my eyes squinting, maybe if I close my eyes enough they’ll disappear. Don’t be stupid. MAKE THEM GO AWAY! I wish I didn't have eyes. I’m really cold. That’s not true, I want eyes. My head hurts, please don’t steal my eyes, my head hurts. Stop. My head. Stop. Is it’s raining? My head hurts. I don’t like them. Stop it, focus! I’m scared. Don’t take my eyes. Am I crying or is it raining? Stop stop stop! I don’t want to lose my eyes. SHUT UP! Living in the dark would be scary. SUSH! - - I’m scared.
I try to quiet the voices in my head, but each thought interrupts the last as my mind races a million miles per hour in tightening spirals that make me nauseous. I want it to be quiet. I’m scared.
I’ve learned to be aware of the thought spirals when they occur now, even though there is nothing I can do to stop them. Usually by the time I realize, I’ve already lost myself. Run away. Don’t do it. Run. Don’t listen. I am not my thoughts. I am not my thoughts. I am not my thoughts. Keep pretending. Keep trying to fool yourself, you know I always win. My thoughts don’t control me. You know you’re not strong enough to fight me. I am not my thoughts. You know you’ll end up doing what I say. No! Stop it. GO AWAY! Just listen to me. No, I can do what I want! RUN. No. The black hooks are still there. They’re watching you. Run, now. NO!
No one around is affected by the presence of the hooks. Why aren’t they scared!?
The girl on the swing smiles, “Mama look! Airplane!” She says, excitedly pointing to the East side of the park.
I can’t go home right now. I’ll get myself to eventually, but I can’t go quite yet. This
day has been too overwhelming, too overstimulating. I'll go soon. It’s dark now and I like the silence of the street. I’m thankful that there aren’t any street lamps in this neighbourhood so nobody can see me.
It seems endless, complete darkness stretching out in all directions. I imagine the concrete under my feet disappearing and just floating up, away from this complicated world and becoming one of the stars I stare up at.
“What would life be like as a star?” I whisper up into the night. Some people would notice me, some might even know what constellation I was part of. Others would just walk by. I’d like the people who paid attention. They would be the most interesting type of people, I think. Danny would have paid attention. I imagine how it would feel to be a tiny dot in the gigantic unknown that is the sky, to be a single freckle on the face of the universe. Unknown, Undiscovered. Unreachable.
I wonder what life is like above. Can they see us when they look down?
“Can you see us?” I ask out loud, my voice desperate and raspy. My throat aches
from screaming. Each breath feels sharp, burning as though I am inhaling shards of glass.
Sometimes I imagine that Danny can look down into the water and find me. After all, when we look down we can see the fish sometimes. Do we look like fish to them? Of course we don’t, we aren’t fish. What if they’re not fish either?
Are we fish?
Eventually, I give in. I let my knees embrace the feeling of jelly that they have fought back the entire day. Letting them collapse, I ignore the pain of the rough pavement against my skin. I lie down on my back. As it starts to get dark, the premature night emerges, undeveloped and starless. The day has come to an end, but the road holds on to the heat inflicted upon it by the sun mere hours ago. On any other day, the warm asphalt would have felt nice and brought a smile to my face. But today I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice most things today, at least not the nice things. For my nicest thing
was gone and nothing could come close in comparison to the way that he was. He was the nicest thing I had ever known.
Stars started appearing in the sky now, little holes poking through night’s dark curtains. Are they really stars? If the sky is water, are the stars people from above’s eyes looking down on us? Are we really fish under the water, or have I just been trying too hard to make sense of Danny’s death and gone too far to find an explanation? Did I create this world in my head to cope with my grief, no matter the cost? Has the cost been my sanity? Could he actually just be gone? Is that really just all there is to it?
I don’t know.
I recognize three dots, and I find myself standing on the beach back when we were little kids frolicking under summer’s last rays of sunlight. He would stand behind me, pointing his fingers determinedly at the sky, trying to get me to see exactly what he was pointing at.
“Alnitak,” he would whisper excitedly, “the first of three stars in the Belt of Orion.” I would nod and pretend I knew which singular star out of the millions I saw he was pointing at.
A gust of cold wind laps at my back, making me aware of his lack in reality. Uninvited, tears spring up in my eyes. But for once, crying is good. It blurs out the stars, until I can no longer see how much they reminded me of him.