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Weak in Wait

by Svetlana Sterlin 12 months ago in Young Adult
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Before this moment, I have never truly understood the phrase "biting cold".

Digital artwork by Zapista OU

[Originally published in Projector Magazine.]

Content warning: mental health, suicide.

Day 1

Before this moment, I have never truly understood the phrase "biting cold".

The moon is swinging from side to side in the sky. As if one of the chords that drag it in a steady arc across the night has been severed.

Her face was paler than the moon’s. I see it now, superimposed to fill the shadow where the sun’s light doesn’t reach. But crescent moons don’t have blue eyes or blonde hair or flirty smiles. So I look down, and now there is nothing to compare to her, nothing that can call her to mind but the scuffed shoes I wear. The ones she bought me last summer, nestled in a bed of crumpled brown paper inside a brown paper box. Blinding white and sparkly clean as she opened the lid and grinned up at me, holding it open on one knee like there was a wedding ring inside.

I realise with a start that I have been wearing these shoes for the last sixteen hours. These are the shoes that I wore as we walked in through the gates; through the pulsating crowd, like it was one being; through the faded flaps of the tent; through the faded drifters to get faded ourselves.

And then, a rush: lights, music, people, colours. All glowing and dancing and breathing sporadically to the soundtrack that throbbed around us. And her — always by my side, always with her fingers knotted in my own.

Behind me, a shoe crunches on a spot of stray gravel strewn around the roof of the hospital.

“You should go.”

The voice isn’t hers.

I should be grateful that her mother would even come out here to tell me that hope is foolish. I should be grateful for the time that we had. I should be grateful that I am not starving or homeless or afflicted by anything worse than this state of being human and a teenager. But I can’t meet her eyes as I brush past, leaving her to stare at the moon.

I should have tried harder. I should have gone back inside. I should have ignored her parents; I should have, I should have, I should have.

I shouldn't have. I shouldn’t have suggested it. Why did I? Who am I?

There is nothing left now. Nothing but the wait.

Day 2

My bed is colder than the roof of the hospital was last night. But this cold doesn’t bite — it gnaws.

I lie staring at my white ceiling for fourteen minutes before rolling out of bed and realising that I am still wearing the shoes. The rubber is encrusted with flakes of mud.

I throw yesterday’s shirt to the floor. Go to the bathroom. Splash some water on my face. Mechanical motions, repeated over and over. Humans call this routine.

Somehow, an hour later, I find myself walking through the sliding double doors of the hospital. The air conditioning burns my cheeks. The desk against my ribs.

Metal under my palms. A woman with curious, inquisitive eyes, speaking at me.

“Is there someone you’d like to visit this morning?”

“Uh—yeah. Yes.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Name?”

“My name?”

“The patient’s name.”

The patient. That’s what she is now; that’s what I made her.

“Who are you visiting, sir?” Her speech has quickened.

“Malia. Malia Smythe.”

“Date of—”

“Yesterday. The third. Of July.”

The woman's gaze lingers on my face. She seems wary, but it is fleeting, and then she is typing and clicking and looking up at me with a very different expression. “I’m sorry—”

“Look, I know that I'm not supposed to visit her. But how can you expect me to pace around my bedroom and wait—for days, weeks, months, forever—to hear if she wakes?”

The receptionist trains practised apologetic eyes on me. “You can wait here, if you like.” Her gaze moves to the hallway behind me, to the chairs and the hunched figures that occupy them. She shrugs and lifts a ringing telephone receiver.

My fingers clench tufts of hair, knuckles pressing into my skull.

*

The lobby bustles with people, all in various stages of anguish. We are compressed, like beans in a can. I try in vain to swim up to the surface, to gulp some air down, to see if she is there, too, wobbling on the edge of escape. But my efforts only push me further to the bottom. Here it is dark and dank.

I see her brothers come and go. An aunt, an uncle. Cousins. I’m the only one they don’t let inside.

Day 3

I will not go to the hospital today. Today, I am going to do something that will make a difference.

I plug my earphones in, sling a backpack over my shoulders, and run. Each pounding step on the concrete sends a shiver of impact up to my knees. The pack knocks against my spine, beating out of time with the music in my ears.

Smack. Smack. Smack.

Step. Step. Breathe.

The sky is clear but for the searing white bullet hole puncturing its blue vinyl.

Ten minutes pass, twenty. I weave a path through suburbia, the repetition of street after grey street, lined with house after identical house. And then the familiar outline is looming closer, and I am rounding the corner, and my feet are throbbing, and my stomach is heaving, and my lungs are curling to ash, and there it is — her door, the brown oak, thick and heavy, and the window I once climbed through.

Is anyone inside? Are they all at the hospital? Is someone watching the house for them? Is that something that people do?

The bushes hedging the fence scratch the right side of my body as I skirt the house. My eyes are broiled by the brightness of the pale blue wood panelling.

I squint up at the sky, only I’m not looking at the sky, but the side of the house; and then I’m not looking at the house, but her eyes — which can’t be right. Her eyes aren't that kind of blue. Are they?

I pull my phone from my pocket, click the power button, and there she is, smiling up at me with curved lips and sparkling eyes. My breathing slows.

I don’t need to climb today. Today, I lob the cardboard box that I’ve carried in my backpack onto her balcony.

Inside the box, one will find:

  1. A piece of (neatly folded) paper scrawled with hasty handwritten words;
  2. A piece of (mildly crumpled, lined) paper scrawled with quivering handwritten words;
  3. A pair of shoes;
  4. Residues of a dusty festival ground.

Day 4

Just. Breathe.

In

Out

Slow

ly

In

hale

Ex

hale.

Day 5

Day 6

One week. I promised myself that I would wait one week. Didn't I? Did I?

The shoes—why did I leave them? Why did I give them to her? They were meant for me; they still are. I need something to keep my feet grounded. Why did I throw them?

Day 7

I considered her balcony, my roof, the ocean. But we share too many memories in all of those places.

Pieces of my mind seem to have already broken apart and drifted away, memories unmoored. The cheerful ones were the first to cut their own tethers. The dark ones linger, stuck like flies to what remains of my brain. Yes—my body knows. My body wants to fight that other part of me, the part that doesn’t have a name, but I know that I can defeat it.

Yes—my veins are singing with the euphoria of self-destruction, hysteria howling through shuddering bones and trembling eye sockets.

Yes—the exhilarating adrenaline, the invigorating fear. This is what I am meant for.

This is the only moment in my life in which I, Jordan Tyler, human male of eighteen years, have breached existence.

Before this moment, this last moment, I have never truly been myself.

Awake

I wake not to a rush of light, but to a rush of cold. Air whistles through my ears and I want to block it out, but I can’t move my hands.

I know that I should feel it, should feel him, but his absence holds more weight than a presence.

I don’t open my eyes. Not when I hear the creaking of bedsprings, or the gales of wind as pressure is released from seat cushions and hovers over me. Not when I register the warmth of a hand blanketing my own.

But I can’t resist the fundamental human reflex of responding to the utterance of my name.

They should look relieved. They should be ecstatic. And yes, they are weeping and calling out, but an underlying perturbation hangs in the room like fog.

They are telling me that it has been eight days. Only eight.

A lot can happen in eight days.

What happened to me? What happened to him?

Young Adult

About the author

Svetlana Sterlin

Svetlana Sterlin is a prose, poetry, and screenwriter based in Brisbane, Australia. She's the founding editor of swim meet lit mag, a contributor at Our Culture Magazine, and a reader for Split Rock Review. https://linktr.ee/svetlanasterlin

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