I was always small and weak. I was half a foot shorter and 30 pounds lighter than everyone else my age. I've never had good health either. I had asthma and heart problems. I was anemic for a time too. I was given the mindset that small and weak people such as myself were fated to lead small and weak lives. If I had lived for longer, I'm sure the things that held me back would have just increased, but that's not to say that I was ready to go when I did. I should've had more time. I wish I'd had more time.

It was the end of a normal Saturday. I got under my covers and easily drifted off into sleep. I forgot to say my prayers, I wondered if that had anything to do with it. I don't remember my dreams from that night, but I know that I had them. In fact, the last sensation I had of being alive was that of a dream. It was the falling feeling you get that jerks you awake. It happened to me a lot, only, this time, that jolt wasn't enough to wake me up. I became conscious, yes, but I didn't wake up. There was a little pull from the inside of my chest, and that's the last thing I felt. That was the last beat of my weak little heart. It was over. It was over, but I was still there.

My eyes were closed, and my body was limp. I felt nothing. No blood pumped through my veins. No breath moved the air in front of me. It was a stillness I had never felt before. This was the peace they always spoke about. This was the place I was supposed to rest, but I wasn't ready. Tonight wasn't the night. I was supposed to have more time.

I can't be dead, I thought. I lay there with nothing but my own worries and refused to believe that this was happening. You'd think that the fear of dying only exists before one actually dies, but even with all of my problems, I hadn't really thought about my death before it happened. I suppose I didn't think it would come so soon, but there it was. I had so many fears for what would come next, things I couldn't help. I just had to lay there for hours, charting out my future, my future as nothing more than a body. I assumed that that's what my life-or lack thereof-would be: an eternal coma.

I was quite wrong. 

I would be long gone before my body is shut up in a mahogany coffin and buried six feet in the ground. In fact, I wouldn't even be there when my neighbor, Lorraine, finds my body in this exact place. For eight hours, I meditated on all of that. Then, the sun rose.

My eyes opened again to see the room around me flood with light. I regained (I thought) a certain amount of control over my body. I was only capable of certain motions at a time, but I could move again nonetheless. My heart, however, did not resume its efforts. I sat up and I looked out the window. Something didn't feel right. I mean, other than the fact that I was dead. It was the way the light looked- it seemed wrong. It didn't feel like morning. 

I couldn't entirely understand what was happening at that point, but I couldn't be bothered to try to figure it out. I was just relieved to be alive (sort of). Everything seemed different now. The world around me was changed. The sunrise looked entirely new. And as I came to *this* realization, something happened to change my viewpoint once more.

The television turned on, completely unprompted. I was taken aback as the credits to Napoleon Dynamite began to scroll backward on my TV screen. I had watched that the night before. 

What's going on? I thought. How can I die, and then feel like I'm the one being haunted? I tried to reach for the controller, but my arm would not obey my wishes. It's just a TV. I told myself. It's not like something's going to crawl out of it.

As I calmed down, I heard my phone buzz. I attempted to approach it, but I made no motion. I looked at it. It was 8:00. There were two texts from my brother. I tried harder to will my body to move, but I conceded: I couldn't move. It pained me to see them. I knew I wouldn't be able to reply. I had tried to turn my head to look out the window, and I couldn't. It was clear to me then that I wasn't controlling my body. It was controlling me. My body stalked backward to where the phone was. It turned on the screen and looked at the texts. I saw no new messages. It was the exact thing that he had texted me the night before:

"Video: I saw this and thought you'd appreciate it." 

"Hey, do you want to get together tomorrow while I'm in town?" 

He texted me just before bed, and I thought that I'd just wait until morning to reply. I had no idea what would happen before then.

Why didn't I ever text him back? I wondered. 

The phone buzzed again, and the top message disappeared. I couldn't quite put together what I was seeing. Then, my body walked backward away from the phone. Why backward? The phone stayed on and I caught a little detail that I couldn't quite comprehend: the time, upon further inspection, read "8:oo pm".


As impossible as it was, it was just as impossible as dying in your sleep and waking up the next morning. 

The phone buzzed again and the last text disappeared. I was overcome with grief at the image. It was a weird thing to be upset about, but I still felt a strange rush of hopelessness at the idea that I would never be able to read that text again. I would never be able to reply. Why didn't I text him back?

My body turned and I finally understood what had been so off. As I looked out the window, I saw the red sun on the horizon. The window of my bedroom faces the west. I would only be seeing the sun if it was evening. I wasn't looking at tomorrow's sunrise; that, unfortunately, is a sight that I would never get to see. I was, once again, looking out my window at the last night's sunset. I was living my last day alive in reverse.

It wasn't a particularly eventful day. It isn't one I would have remembered if I hadn't died at the end of it, but I now believe it is the single most important day of my life. I reverse-finished my movie, and I reverse-lounged on my couch. I reverse scrolled through my phone, and it all made me pity myself. Not because I'm dead now, but because what I did while alive was hardly living. That's how it had to be for me. Too frail to go out. Too fragile to do much of anything. If only I had been healthy, I thought, I could have been something. I could've taken risks. I could have disregarded what others thought. I would've stepped outside of my comfort zone. I would have been something. I guess I thought that I was better than all of the healthy people who had the same opportunities.

I backed my way into my kitchen and reverse-ate some leftover chicken from lunch, and yes, it was just as gross as it sounds. The leftover box that I put the food back into reminded me of the lunch I had with my mother that day. The next day she would be called and told that I had died in my sleep. She would come to the same realization that I was coming to: that lunch was the last time she'd see me. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I didn't understand how lucky I was. I got to see her again; she wouldn't have the same opportunity. I would get to see her smile at me one last time. 

I pulled out some paperwork from my room and worked (or, more accurately, un-worked) a good portion of it. I spent a few hours on this same tedious task. It was intense. Moments in which I was as enraptured in my work as that first time I did it were few and far between. I worked hard at my job, but there was no reason I should have been doing so on a Saturday. As I looked at the stack of papers I flew through in front of me, a new thought came to my mind- one that only a dead person would consider thinking. I was something. It's weird. I had spent all of these years wishing that I had been healthier or smarter or richer without stopping to think that maybe what I had now was plenty. I liked my job and I did it well. I made a significant amount of money, and I did it all while being weak. I struggled with the concept. How can it be that I was a success this whole time? Why wasn't I satisfied with it? I was left in a state of confoundment, but my body took no heed. 

I backed up into the car and reversed my way to the restaurant I that I had met my mom. As the car parked, I saw my mom in the mirror. This is the last time we'd be together. I came out of the car door and walked back toward her.

I heard her say something along the lines of, "We've ah lah!" I recalled the conversation, and I believe that that translates to "I love you!" Strangely, I did not hear myself say it back although we did shout matching "Yibe"s. 

We exchanged some reversed chatter that I couldn't understand or remember, but I didn't care. I just spent my time taking in her face, her expressions, her smile. If there was any remaining communication between my body and my mind, I would have been crying like a baby. I would be screaming how much I love her and hailing down thanks for all that she had done. If I could have changed one thing about that day, I would have said: "I love you, too." 

We re-entered the restaurant and it warmed my heart to see her laugh again and to feel the rising and falling of laughter in my own chest. I wished that I could keep her this happy. I wished that I didn't know that the next morning she was going to feel like she'd never laugh again. So, I pushed the ideas out of my mind, I ignored it all, and I watched my sweet mother laugh. Then, something changed. 

There was this look in her eyes. I had finished un-saying some monologue I had come up with, and I saw her cheeks drop from where they were when she smiled. She suddenly looked so sad. I first thought that maybe it was just because she had been smiling so greatly before that the contrast was playing tricks on me, but the look lingered. I racked my memory of the conversation in an attempt to find a sensible explanation, but none came. There were times that I saw her mouth open out of the corner of my eye. She had something to tell me. Something was wrong with her and I didn't notice. 

I loathed myself because she needed me, and I wasn't there for her. I should've loved her more. I should've loved her better. I should've been there for her when I had the chance. Now, I'll never have the chance again. 

The waiter un-delivered our food, and we un-said all of the things that we discussed. I can't remember half of the things we said that afternoon, but it still hurt to watch as all of the time we spent together disappeared before my eyes. It all still happened, but when we handed back our menus and un-said our greetings, I felt like I was in this exact place again. Did the time that I spent with her mean anything? I backed up and watched her smile shrink into the distance. I should have been better. 

I returned to my place and remained in a state of uselessness. I did absolutely nothing worth noting, and the hardest thing to know was that this is how I spent every day. Texts rang through my phone and I didn't even flinch. I saw them light up the screen and then disappear. I would never know what they said. I began to beat up on myself as I realized that I treated everyone in my life with absolute carelessness. Why wouldn't I just make an effort? 

Visions of my mother's sad eyes and my brother's lost messages came to my mind. I should have been something to them. I may have been a success, but I completely failed them. What people on the other side of my phone may have needed me? I wouldn't know, and I wouldn't have cared if I had. It was terrible. I was terrible. What kept me from being good?

I felt my weight sinking into the couch cushions, and it became clear that nothing was in the way of my "being something". I blamed my health for my dissatisfaction in life, but it was all me. Everything I did was to try to please myself, but therein lies the problem. My life would have found meaning in the people around me had I forgotten myself long enough to think of them. It ended up making no difference that I was a success to myself. I was a failure for everybody else.

I fed into my self-pity. I took no risks for anybody except myself, but it wasn't because of my ailments or my size; it was because of my selfishness. If I could just go back for one day, oh, the things I would do. I said to myself, If I could live this day forward one more time, I would do it differently.

It's an unfulfillable resolution. To say "I'll be good" is common. To follow through is rare. How many times does one resolve to be good-to put others first- then wakes up the next morning telling themself that they have countless "tomorrow"s to wait for? We're all convinced we'll change one day. Unfortunately, we're wrong. 

The difference for me, though, is that my tomorrows had already run out. I desperately wanted to retake the lead and turn this day-this life- around. I needed to do it differently because I didn't just live that day twice; I lived it every single day. If I could have just changed that day, everything would have been different. 

I wanted to reject the idea, but I couldn't ignore that I never meant anything to the people around me. And now, I've lost the chance. I strained so hard to regain control of my body, to will my heart to beat again, but it was over. My life had been a shielded tunnel that I walked through alone, so I was destined to die the way that I lived.

I watched the sun get pulled back into the east, nestling her way into the hills in the distance. 

When people talk about "seeing the light", I guess it wasn't meant to be taken so literally. I saw my life that day in full view, truly illuminated for the first time, and as the sun disappeared and the world became darker and darker, all of the things I ignored about myself came into the light. 

I returned to my bed and settled down. There was so much that I regretted. I wished that I tried to fight that all-consuming urge to put myself first. I wished that I had known more people and taken more risks. I wished that I knew the people around me better. I wished that I had known all of this, and I wished that I had just one more day to fix it all. 

Life is a peculiar thing. It seems like something we have an entitlement to, but if you treat your life like it's in your possession, you get nothing from it. You get what I have. The thing is, life wasn't my right. It was a gift- a wonderful blessing- and it was put to waste. I neglected to sow my seeds and I reaped nothing in return. 

The sun disappeared in the east as my eyes began to close. It was here that I looked upon the world for the last time. Here: as it was just preparing to wake up and repeat the old routine. It was a cruel touch that my last memory would be of the morning. Each new day presented me with a new opportunity to change, and the sunrise, even in reverse, still gave me that keen sense of possibility, but when the sun was gone I knew, this time, that possibility was wasted on me. I didn't deserve more time.

May 01, 2020 21:26

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


S.M. Lawrence
15:02 May 07, 2020

Hi, I got you in the critique circle email, so here's some entirely unqualified feedback: Your take on the prompt was really interesting and as soon as I finished that first paragraph I wanted to understand what you were going for. My only suggestion would be to make the exposition and his thoughts at the end more integrated - the ending felt more like an essay than the continuation of the story. The big reveal was great though, and (again) the idea is really interesting - keep it up.


Show 0 replies
Shawna King
16:17 May 05, 2020

Wow! I really enjoyed this story. It's such a unique take on the prompt and the emotion was so raw. Good work :)


Brooke Jenkins
18:06 May 05, 2020

Oh my goodness, thank you. That means so much, yours was amazing!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.