It was a ragged hole, the flesh torn and puckered, and it never stopped bleeding. She tried to hold its edges together but her fingers would slip and it’d gape open again like a mouth without teeth.
No one would help her; no one could see her. They could feel her blood, though. She watched the living shiver if they touched it. It pooled at her feet and anyone walking through it forgot themselves and stood there, lost. She was surrounded by smeared red fingerprints only she could see.
Emergency rooms calmed her. She’d watch doctors stitching wounds together, the needle plunging in and out. She’d close her eyes, let out a shaking breath, and imagine she was in one piece again.
You can do it, he whispers as she sleeps. Believe in yourself. He knows he was a monster while he was still breathing, but now he’s doing all he can for her. All day, every day, he prays to whatever’s listening that she’ll be happy.
And for what? He’s still here, isn’t he? She seems absolutely fine but he’s still stuck trailing after her like cigarette smoke. He has to believe that if he can make her smile enough, maybe he’ll be allowed to leave this earth behind.
You are beautiful, he hisses into her ear. He tries to grab her by the shoulders; he tries to shake her until she understands. Do you hear me? You are beautiful and you are worthwhile.
Static always sang to her.
She used to wrap herself in it over radio, but soon came to prefer TV. She lived between channels, finger-painting with the fuzz on the inside of the screen. Sometimes her distorted laugh would seep out through the speakers. No one noticed, but she didn’t mind. The static mirrored her thoughts and made her feel alive again; when someone snapped off the picture, it was almost like falling asleep.
Until the new televisions arrived. There was no static between their channels: just a flat, uniform blue. She pried at its corners, scrabbled up against the flat screen. It was like throwing herself against the sky.
Now she waits, mute, desperate for just a hint of her reflection in the glass.
It wasn’t the quiet or the loneliness. It was the cold. He’d been shivering for years, down in his grave. His teeth chattered, grinding dirt. He wondered if it was because he died in winter. He should’ve held on a little longer, until spring, no matter how much it hurt.
But today would be different. He’d been testing the length of his invisible leash, forcing himself up to read his own tombstone, or to stand with only his feet buried in the ground. Today he worked himself free of his grave just like uncorking a bottle. Nothing held him here any more; maybe it never did.
He drifted higher and higher into the sky. He finally stopped shivering. Soon he’d be sitting in the heart of the sun.
He slammed the door on his way out. One hundred and thirteen families, and none of them felt right. He trudged to the next house and let himself inside. He found a mother, a father. Late night dinner in front of the TV, light-hearted banter during the commercials. They seemed happy together.
He sighed with such force it caused an neighbourhood epidemic of sighs.
But then he looked upstairs, and he found the boy. The boy who wheezed as he breathed. The boy who woke himself with nightmares, tangled in sheets and sweat. The boy who jolted up, heart racing, at the slightest sound.
Yes, he thought, this boy would do nicely.
She’d been sick for so long, and her body already seemed like it belonged to a stranger: thin and bald and splotched angry red. She tore herself free of it like picking off a scab. It felt great.
She had dreams of flitting around the globe, but discovered she was anchored to a single city block. It’s not so bad, though. Now she knows everyone inside and out. She reads over shoulders, waiting for somebody to turn the page.
And just when she thinks she has read every book and knows every secret, another baby is born. They’re brought home, swaddled tight, and she’s first in line to meet them.
Hello, little one, she always says, smiling. What’s your story?