Dark. Quiet. Still.
Nothing – there is nothing here. There is no sound, no movement, no light.
The chest fills, yet not with dread, as it should, not with fear, but with the bitter scent of a breathless candle flame –hushed, no longer burning, no longer giving light.
I am voiceless, soundless, mindless – I only know that regretful smell of tinted smoke. It gives me no words, and I have none of my own. I gather no thoughts, and not one is mine to give.
Everything is nothing. I am nothing.
Dark. Quiet. Still.
And yet, somewhere far off there is a beat, a trepid, shaking pulse – the sentient rhythm of a heart. A human heart.
“I’m alive,” it beats to me. “I’m alive. I’m alive.”
- - -
It turned dark two years ago. Infection spread to my face, and, with one eye swelling shut, I became half blind. When this was discovered, a pale hand reached out, fingers outstretched, and closed my eyes beneath an itchy strip of gauze, a sweet breath blowing out the candle near my bed–
Then I became entirely blind.
I’ve been here ever since.
I’ve lost the purpose of my presence, I think– I can’t remember what I am to do, so instead I sit, waiting… Like a child hiding in a closet, hoping to be found in a game of hide-and-seek.
Patience is tedious, and I am no obedient youngster. I turn, again and again, searching –for nobody else will– trying, idly, to find myself.
I find them instead.
They’re here too– also sitting, also waiting, bleary and scarce, yet still inevitably present. Once I find one I cling to it tightly –even whilst it melts into my heavy grip– with the dearness with which a clam clings to its homelike shell.
Memories –they’re my addiction.
They’ve almost turned bare over the years, yet still there is breathing feeling in them– breathing light.
Through the dirty lense, they present themselves; my life replays in front of me in short, severed scenes, filled with vibrant, flapping colors, already thawing in the wind. I stand atop a cliff, my hands outstretched, and I catch them –the colors, the sounds, the tastes–
They land softly in my open palm.
Sensations come to me; they are subtle, soundless, and I am hardly aware of when they begin.
Sea. Sky. Seagulls, screeching, filling the air. The rhythmic rush of waves, breathing against the cliff, and the feeling of cool, salty seawater spraying across my naked chest.
Smells. Tastes. Fish, reeking and fresh, piled on the stone-cobbled floor. And –with spring– peaches, their skins downy, creamy yellow swirled with pink, ripe and soft in the hand, sweet and tangy on the tongue.
And voices –an endless murmur of notes, rising, falling, laughing and shouting, always buzzing in my ear –some with anxiety, some with command, some with truth. Words, phrases, songs, spiraling in the air, falling on my head, soaring, like leaves in the autumn, like snow in the winter, and like rain, in the spring.
I see my life –young, free, dancing in confidence of the future. Youngster. Juvenile. Credulous youth.
I don’t like to remember, though I cannot help it. Most of all, I despise vivid memories; like all others, they leave me behind –though I beg them, pleading them to take me too– and I am left once more in the quiet darkness with nothing– nothing but a painfully bland taste in my mouth.
All summers end, yes, but summers are meant to be lived, not remembered.
And all summers come again.
- - -
My summers are over –at least it must be so, for I no longer feel sun, nor warmth, nor fresh air.
The air I breathe –which I have breathed for five whole years –is the air in this room, and it is neither hot nor fresh, but rather extremely unremarkable; though considering the circumstances, I give it no blame.
There is sun, and warmth, and wind just beyond my window.
My ventures outside are rather rare, and –I’m afraid to say– not exactly daring, though I do admit they provide (somewhat delirious) excitement. They consist of going to the growing garden just outside and enjoying beautiful plants I cannot see, flowers I cannot smell, birds I cannot hear...
I have often wondered how the garden is at night, when the night-blooming jasmine lets its fragrance spill through the cool air, and the moon shines down onto the broad, open leaves. I cannot ever go to the garden at night.
But I am not alone, to ease my worries!
There are twelve of us –twelve sick mortals, twelve mistakes, twelve problems, all living, saved, in this small, cluttered home. And, if I may deem myself worthy of the honor, I do think I am the sickest, wrongest, and most bothersome of us all!
“Most heartfelt wishes to your continued success, dear sir!”
Ah, yes. My summers are over.
- - -
I ought to be grateful –and, truthfully, I am.
I am grateful that the morning comes anew. I am grateful that the plum trees bloom each coming spring. I am grateful, for the water still flows to my lips, and the thoughts still flow through my mind.
In cold, empty silence it bursts –the song of a howling beast, the melody of forgotten mountains, of looming forests, of infinite seas. It is harsh to my ears, rough, jagged– so dissimilar to the human notes that circle in my breathy memories. Like the light of a broken star, it screams through me, pounding, and breaks the banal beat of my softly chanting heart.
I am grateful, although I cannot feel it. My mind is grateful; my body is grateful.
- - -
When I remember cold, the bland air around me turns warm, soft, cradling me in its comforting embrace.
When I remember hunger, I feel, with a sudden start, how full I am, how cared for, how taken care of...
And pain– conscious pain. With it, leprosy’s numbing fist turns to nothing.
Aaaaaah, suffering. There is the inevitable source of my wisdom, my greatness!
“It will bring to you,” they told me, “sense like nothing else! It will make you a sage as great as Thales!” In animated sounds, they narrated to me tales filled with the might of pain, promised me gifts that none could give, predicting wisdoms that can’t be reached!
Yet I have gained just one single thought, and in it I can see no marvel, no sagacity. I’ve learned only that life is hard, that the future promises nothing, that youth, and health, and fortune all end–
It hurts to live.
(It wasn’t worth it in the end. I would’ve rather been happy.)
- - -
Every day begins with the sun’s awakening.
It crawls slowly into the sky, its tepid rays grazing against my bandaged skin. Though I can not see it, I know that it is orange, and lazy, and old, old, old…
It is the sun that tells me that I am not grateful for life’s lessons. I am bitter, and I do not blame myself, for I am a human animal, and we humans are cruel, unforgiving creatures, who always hold a grudge.
Only to her I am grateful.
The slim, strong, kind fingers which had pulled me out of a rotting wood, away from crumbling cliffs, away from drowning waves, away from fire and shock and raining meteors.
I do not know why she chose me, for I –I am the evil of the world. I scare it, disgust it, corrupt it!
All the world is prey to my abomination –all but she.
There is not much I know about her. Only whispers, snips of gossip, come to me through the night’s thick veil. I know that she is busy, and that success is abundant in the slope of her palm. I know that she works in the town, and that she comes here only when her day is over– when my own night begins. I know of her garden, rented year after year, of this small home she hides us in, calling us her secret, although we have given her fame that spreads from street to street with each coming day. I know it is not she who feeds our toothless mouths, not she who sweeps the floors, not she who washes our sore-covered bodies, for she is far away, in an office, signing papers, writing, arguing– Us, for whom she stiffly sits all day, she sees only at night. Only then she draws forth her own bare hand, free of paper and pen.
I know how hard and steely is her fist, how sharp her nails. I know the worn, tough skin along her thumb, the calluses below each finger, the dry skin covering the knuckles. I know the warmth, the care, in her touch.
I know that hand, which closed my ruined eyes beneath an itchy strip of gauze.
- - -
There is only one sun in the sky –yet countless people live on the earth it shines upon.
I curse life, in my humanity, for cutting off my tongue. Why bring me wisdom, only to render me no voice? Why give me music, and then take my instrument away?
I love the sun, but the sun only warms me.
I love it still.
“Ahahaha!” Life laughs, suddenly turning its ugly beast-face to my own, its eyes blazing wildly with feral humor. “Ahahahaha!”
- - -
Night is coming.
At the evening’s dim entrance, caretakers –faceless in my memory– move to light the torches, and soon the wild scent of smoke fills the unimpressive air. I cannot smell the smoke, only catch a faint whiff of it, but I remember its savor, and, clutching its memory, I breathe it in–
Clamoring noises replace the steady, dulled chatter, and my ears pick up the faint outlines of phrases, soft-edged words...
I’m moved to sit up, and somebody more able than I begins to spoon something warm, bland, and sticky –very sticky– into my mouth. Rice porridge –I’ve eaten it for years now, and with time, I’ve become used to it. It reminds me of myself.
And then– footsteps.
My living memory.
- - -
When she comes to me, my breath is hectic, tense, catching on every inhale, for I have waited for her –restless, anxious– since the lazy sun had slid into the sky.
Her presence comes over me like the contrast of a shadow. A sleeve of silk flutters against my shoulder, brushing against me like the feathery wing of a bird; I imagine it to be red –sanguine, victorious– as it had always been before, within my mind: soft, melting red, swaying under the light of the candle.
Two deft hands slip under my head; my chest filling, I recognize the strong, kind fingers –my fingers– as they work away at the knot at the nape of my head, pulling, tugging, until–
A fresh summer breeze hits my bare face, whispering over my eyelids. I tell myself it is her breath, although I know it is the wind outside, blowing through the open window. It does not matter –with that one cool gust, I open, and so does my one eye.
I can barely see at first, but slowly I make out the cordial worm-eaten ceiling, the warm yellow torchlight, the pasty walls–
Then I see her.
She is talking; I strain my ears to understand her words, but my mind melts, and I can only hear the low murmur of her voice.
She leans down, and a strand of ebony hair sweeps across my naked cheek.
Her fingers dip into an ointment, and then come again, smearing a thick balm over my brow, my eyelid… It’s meant to burn, but I cannot feel a thing– only the soft, agile fingers.
Her voice sweeps up, flutters down, then starts to rise upward once more. In it forms my song; all of a sudden I am young again, and life is before me, and I dance, dance, dance for tomorrow and for the sun that will rise again.
I no longer wish for my able sight, for my movement, for my youth. I do not need to come to her– she has come herself. I do not need to hold her up, for it is she who carries me, and the town, and the sky.
I know, then –with the touch of her living hands, with the airy breath of the evening, with the mossy hills, and falling waterfalls…
It is the hand that I care for, and not its deeds.
Searching, my eye lands on the burning torch on the wall.
Fire. I will not care for the warmth you give me; I will not care for your light. I won’t care that you shine upon my path, for I have long since lost my way, and strayed to night’s thick darkness. I will not need your light, your warmth –I will not want it.
I do not need to see her. I know she will be before my broken eyes, damaged, sickened, sightless –it will have no meaning then. Her –her I will see always.
And for a moment, it is there, dry and shaking, but persistently tangible, quivering in my sweaty hand– my voice.
Slowly, very slowly, I relax my curled fingers, letting it rise out of my hand, and then away, through the room, and out the open window.
- - -
There is no warning when she stops. Her fingers lift from my sores, effortless and young, and the breath skims over my face once more –there is nothing final in her movements, but I know that that sigh is a farewell.
I stumble; my music halts. I try to draw breath, to grasp her hand once more, to pull her back, but my fingers slip with ineptness. I lunge forward, but I cannot move. My mouth opens to give a shout, but life has taken my tongue. My sight grows bleary, my breath spirals away from me, and yet already the gauze is being pulled over my eyes–
I rise, pleadingly, and the silence around me bursts. The wind screams, the mountain crumbles, the ocean floods the world.
I feel. I fear. I love.
A cry erupts from me; tears fly off of my face, caught in the whirlwind, screeching, weeping.
My rhythm falls, heavy, tumbling, splattering me with ink –the ink which flows from a pen held tightly in a pale, commanding hand.
I need the fire’s flame; I cannot give. Not this. Not–
The last thing I remember is the eternal smile upon her lips.
- - -
The sun is rising.
I feel the light it gives. I feel its warmth. I know it is not old, that it is not orange, but red, bright red. Like the blood that flows through my veins.
Dark. Quiet. Still.
Only a heartbeat pulses through the heavy silence.
“You’re alive,” it whispers to me–
...for a smile…