The dog watched him from the pine grove. He was by the river, in the sand, and was not moving. He had appeared hours ago, and all the dog could be was curious. Many things washed up by the river daily – dead fish, garbage, and even other animals – but they boy was unlike the rest of them. The dog finally approached to find that he, like all the other animals, had died. He waited by the river for several more hours to find if anyone would find him, to see if anyone else would wash up from some great catastrophe, or simply because he had a dissatisfaction with the conclusion that no one would find him – or worse, that no one was looking. Eventually, as the tide began to roll, the dog decided to pull the body away from the bank.
At the close of day, the dog became restless. He was hungry, and the boy’s state made the dog glum. He was tired of chasing away other dogs and slowly watching in anticipation for something to happen to the boy other than the slow decomposition that had defined his previous hours. The dog waited for something, anything to show him that the boy’s end, as his life, was to be different than his. The dog knew that when he would die, nothing would change. Those birds, rodents, and even the dogs around him would not show him any dignity as the boy was supposed to be shown by those around him. For hours more, no one came.
By morning, the dog decided to abandon the scene and the boy to the elements. He had no dedication to the boy and had fulfilled his impulse of curiosity. He searched for food and returned several hours later. Sure enough, when he returned, less of the boy remained. At his return, however, he again saw the boy in a state as he should have deteriorated into hours ago. The boy was not human anymore, but the same as any of the others, the animals. With this, the dog returned to the shade of the pine grove, more uneasy and unsure.
His lungs expanded. He stood. He felt. He turned. He saw. He screamed. He ran. He fell. He pushed. He stood. He ran. He cried.
He found. He hid. He cried. He saw. He ducked. He sat. He prayed.
He saw. He ran. He ran. He found. He drove.
He arrived. He ran. He told. He hugged. He cried. He left.
Her lungs expanded. She snored. She awoke. She stood. She walked. She drank. She baked. She ate. She showered. She left.
She walked. She saw. She heard. She smelled. She felt. She turned. She listened. She screamed. She cried. She left.
She laid. She wept. She showered. She slept. She drank. She cried. She left.
His lungs expanded. He awoke. He ran. He showered. He drank. He biked. He worked. He wrote. He spoke. He ate. He biked.
He read. He thought. He watched. He cooked. He sat. He ate. He wrote. He slept.
Her lungs expanded. She typed. She typed. She typed. She typed. She sent.
His lungs expanded. He rode. He fell. He cried. He sat. He yelled. He died.
Her lungs expanded. She sang. She said. She bowed. She walked. She dressed. He grabbed. She pushed. He pushed. She cried. She screamed. He shushed. He forced. She cried. He left. She left.
His lungs expanded. He sat. He watched. He smiled. He laughed. He watched. He cried. He left.
Their lungs expanded. They spoke. They ate. They laughed. They saw. They heard. They kissed. They left.
Your lungs expanded. You painted. You mixed. You thought. You sat. You saw. You watched. You heard. You painted. You left.
My lungs expanded. I sang. I smiled. I drew. I laughed. I spoke. I spoke. I ate. I did. I left.
If it was raining, I didn’t notice.
The dust fell around her. She hadn’t been in this room in years, and clearly, no one else had, either. From the doorway, she could tell that the sheets were still crumpled on the bed, and there was still a dent in what had been her pillow. The walls were the same cream, clashing with the slightly brighter whiter of the furniture. The desk was still tucked away in the corner, littered with papers and brightly colored pens. The only difference was the smell: musty, almost damp. She wasn’t sure what had happened, other than time, but it made her, somehow, feel older.
One of the hallway floorboards creaked loudly, a sound she didn’t remember, and she turned. He stood in the doorway, all the dark color of his outfit looking out of place. His eyes, full of sympathy, stared right at her, and she looked away from him and walked over to the desk. The papers looked familiar, covered in cursive, but she couldn’t remember why there were there. Was it homework? A novel? She took a small step towards it, her waist pressed firmly to the wood, when he said, “You can’t. Touch it, that is.” She turned towards him, eyebrows furrowed.
“Lily,” he said, the same look in his eyes and a sad smile on his face, “You know why not.”
“They’re not going to fall apart,” she said, but then she thought about it. Paper, she knew, browned and tore with time; it was why people for history projects would soak it in tea or coffee. But this paper hadn’t. It was still white, pristine even, and the pen she’d used hadn’t run. Why were the papers all right if the room itself, if the house itself, wasn’t?
“Lily,” he repeated. Neither of them said anything for a moment, then he continued, “Come on. We shouldn’t be here.”
“Where should we be?” she asked. He didn’t say anything, simply turned and began walking, and without really wanting to, she followed him, down the hallway, down the rickety stairs, and out the door that squeaked loudly on its hinges.
Outside it was cold, all of the trees stripped of their leaves. The street was deserted. She supposed everyone was at work or school, maybe. She wasn’t quite sure what time it was but peeking out through the clouds, she thought she could make out the sun.
“Say your goodbyes,” he said, his back to her as he looked up at the house. She turned and looked at it, too. The simple brick building with the dark green door she’d seen every day of her life stared back at her.
“To what?” she asked. Once again, he said nothing. She elbowed him, this time, but he didn’t react. “To what?” she repeated.
“Come on,” he said, setting off down the street. She followed after him, and somehow, as she walked, the day seemed to keep getting brighter, until all she saw was light.
If it was raining, she didn’t notice. It was the second funeral of the year for Mary, and something that would normally concern her, such as her hair in the rain, didn’t merit a thought. She was consumed by grief, but more than that, by anger, at her mother, her brother, and at the world. Her stepfather was dead, and she hadn’t seen him in over a year. Her mother had a restraining order against her own stepson. A security officer was standing outside of her mother’s front door at this very moment, should someone try to break in. The coldness of her mother and the insensitivity of her brother had been excused by the deaths of their immediate family. Why did everyone still expect her to be so perfect? She stuck her hand in the direction of her stepfather’s children (who were from before his marriage to her mother); they nodded coldly but didn’t return the gesture. She stood on the other side of the grave as people somberly paid their respects by shoveling dirt into it. As Henry (her stepfather’s first child and the ringleader of the radiating hate) stepped up, he flung the dirt in her face instead of inside the grave. As she spit the dirt out and brushed off her wool coat, something overtook her. Her mother looked at her, disgusted, and her brother swallowed down a chuckle. There were so many things for her to be angry about; the deaths of her new sister-in-law and her stepfather since age 12, the looming divorce in her own household, and about a thousand other seemingly tiny, insignificant things. She was surrounded by the people who had raised her, yet she felt so alone. She began running, but not at Henry or any of the other family members that had hurt her in some way. She ran in the opposite direction of what she knew. She had grown up here, but she ran so far and so long so she didn’t even know where she was anymore. Mary had often been made fun of for her short stature and had never been particularly athletic, so when she made it this far she was as shocked as her family. Just for a few short days, Mary felt what it was like to not be tied to the cold, horrible people she was forced to call her family.
Nobody had heard from Mary for days when she suddenly showed up at her childhood home. Her mother simply scolded her for tracking mud into the house.
Every day she would wake up, get her morning coffee, and step into her car. The mornings were fairly routine. She enjoyed her life in the city despite the traffic. She took the time of her day to take periodic sips of her coffee and think. Along the side of the road were pedestrians, enjoying their morning stroll. On the other side was a park, filled with dogs and children running around. The traffic lights seemed to take eternities, but that was never out of the ordinary for her.
The car came to an abrupt stop.
Her body jolted forward, spilling coffee all over and possibly incurring a mild injury. The car was driven into another. The person in the car above came out to apologize, and she paid the money. She began to wonder why one would stop on a busy city street. She began to fill with rage and inquired why. They had no answer. She could have assumed that they were distracted somehow. She was in shock because of the crash, and nothing seemed to be real. She was hesitant to get back into the car, as people like this may be everywhere. This had been taken care of, but what if there is another person just like this somewhere else in the streets? Calmly, she stepped back into the car. Her coffee-soaked dress and bent leg sat pitifully in the passenger seat of the car. The taxi one block away was riding smoothly and well. After all, this could have been another fairly routine morning.
A day went by. She called her cab in the morning with coffee in hand. Her leg was bruised and battered, but she ignored it nonetheless. Around her was the same group of pedestrians, all on their morning walk. The kids in the park, socializing with the well-behaved dogs. She felt a strange sense of familiarity. The car looked the same, but maybe it was because taxis are so standard. The streets were identical and so were the people on them. The déjà-vu hit her at once.
The car came to an abrupt stop.
This was just like the day before. Sincere apologies, confusion, rage, and then the day would carry out as usual. Perhaps it was bad luck. Maybe her routine needed to alter.
A month passed. Cars zoomed throughout the city just like normal. Her crash impact healed without the care of anyone. Her routine carried on without any interruptions. Timing was key in her life. Without perfect timing, she thought her life would be a wreck. Was her timing in order to get hit twice? Was the crash only routine?
After she clips her eyebrows, she leans back to take a look. In the mirror, with partly rusted edges that resemble dried blood, she sees her bare reflection. She has been stripped of everything she owns and is forced to dress in a white dress without jewelry, makeup, or color. She gazes deep into her own narrow green eyes and traces upwards, over her forehead, across an old long scar, and settles on a patch of hair that stuck out. She hasn’t shaved her head in a week, and sprouts of her brunette hair are already reappearing in tufts. She strokes her smooth, now hairless, skin that lies above her eyes. This is the only smooth part about me, she thinks. After being in this place, wherever she is, all of her once-smooth lines have been harshened, her once-soft skin calloused, and her once-stable mind now rigid with fear. Her hand quickly retracts from her face when she catches a glance of the guard standing behind her in the mirror. Time for him to shave her head. One of the only dignities she has is shaving her own eyebrows so no cuts were left, unlike if the guard were to do it roughly like they do everywhere else. The buzzing begins and she closes her eyes and bites her lip to keep herself calm through the sound she has grown to hate and the sharp pain of the hot blades nicking her scalp. Hair flies, the closest thing she has seen to confetti in years. Three years, actually – today, she has been here for three years. I guess we are celebrating, she thinks sarcastically.
White is everywhere. It’s her clothes, the walls, her skin after not seeing the sun for three years, the guards, and presumably the others. She doesn’t know if there are others for sure; she has never seen them but has heard distant shrieks in the night, at times she too wanted to yell out. The guard leads her back to her room, a way she has memorized as it’s the only place she has gone; left, right, straight, left, stop. Her room number, 4873, matches the white ink behind her ear. The door slams behind her, interrupting the ongoing buzz in her ears. Three seconds later she starts moving frantically, looked for any way out of this marshmallow of a room she is in. She ought to give up; almost all of her time had been spent looking since she arrived, to no avail. Late into what she guesses is night– it’s when she sleeps, at least – she decides to try and open the door. She has been too fearful of what might happen if she did, but at this point, she does not care. Death would be an out too. Surprisingly, the porcelain knob turns and opens, and she steps out and runs. The hallway is crowded with others just like her. Does this happen often? They burst through the door and are met with black earth.
The bicycle had been her sister’s. It was lying over there, next to the wall, under the sun. Sometimes from my kitchen window, I could see the two sisters playing in the yard. They were riding, running, laughing, hugging, and they would fall to the ground and lay in the grass, with the bicycle beside them, all the time.
I hadn’t seen the younger sister coming out of the old dusty house for a long while. The small town was changing, out of people’s control. The government kept doing their own stuff and chose to leave this place, alone, fighting against itself by its small and useless power.
I rarely saw people walking on the streets. Most of the time, people were disappearing. I am not sure what were they escaping from. But I didn’t have time to think about it. I had three kids to feed. I didn’t even pay extra attention to the grocery store across the road which had lost one of its workers several days before.
The older sister sometimes would come out of the house. She usually came out in the morning and would lie in the long, uncut grass, watch the sky for the whole day, then go back to the old dusty house in the late evening. She didn’t have any emotion on her face. Once I saw her ride on the bike for a minute, then fall to the ground. She was the sister who would never fall when riding the bicycle. Most of the time, her sister was the one who would.
I couldn’t remember when, or from where, the man with the pure white coat came to the old dusty house. He came every week. Every time he came, the older sister would leave the house and walk across the road. She would bring her sister’s bicycle with her, and bring it back with no dust. She did it every time.
Only one time, the sister didn’t leave the house. That time, after the man with the pure white coat left the old dusty house, the whole house was quiet for two days. There was no one coming out of the house or going into the house, not even the older sister. I almost thought it would be like this forever, but the third day, someone pushed the front door and got out.
The younger sister was no longer in the house. I still saw the bicycle come out of the old dusty house every day, but not the older sister. I decided if she was coming out, I would make her a piece of apple pie by taking the rest of the flour in my house out of my flour bag, which hadn’t been filled in three months.
One day, when I was at my kitchen window, I found out that the bicycle was gone. I no longer saw the sister, but I heard that she was going to leave this town.
I saw the bicycle again after three weeks in the big trash field. It belonged to the sister, then to the other sister, and then to nobody.