Your last minutes

Swallows are in the sky again. I can’t see them, but the swoop in the air is unmistakable. My eyes struggle with the light, sending my brain lazy signals of muscular strain. My brittle fingers stroke the cave walls that I know by each grain. My skin is like fragile paper, and I’m careful to bear no weight on any part of me for too long. I can’t stay still, or move too fast. I have a responsibility to live. My vocal chords dried so long ago I no longer miss talking. Who would I talk to anyway?

I could draw you a schematic of every coastline and mountain, every building that existed in the last 6, no, 7 millennia. I know where each piece of furniture sat in your house and it’s highly probable I touched the trees that made them. What else was there to do? The world became smaller and smaller with every passing decade. I can only revisit places now, there’s nothing new.

How many of you wished for one more day? In the end, at the end, would have settled for a just a minute longer. To feel the soft contact of a hand in yours. To use your vehicle of flesh to dance, make love. To sing. To eat. To say all the words you’d meant to. Just one more minute was all you needed. I have so many of them. You thrust them upon me willingly and non transferably, so sure you were that I’d give them away in kindness.

The gifting created a phenomena. By the time everyone had connected the dots and saw I was the common denominator, I was already in hiding. It was emotionally impossible to cope. You all wanted to help me live, the outpouring of love filled me up a million times over. It was agony to keep breathing when you collectively changed the meaning of my name.

It started with a dwindling class of altruistic art students. Their passing wasn’t with screams or struggles in pain. They just stopped living mid conversation. The students still standing thought it was a stunt, and watched in anticipation for the next move. Those that had donated 10 minutes were spared witnessing their friends die. The few that didn’t donate watched their classmates inexplicably take a rest while the room rattled itself into destruction as the earthquake hit. There was no escape. Of course, those that had donated more didn’t even make it to class, still tucked up, asleep for eternity.

I had an insatiable need to fix. I could (with time) solve almost any problem. Electronics were easy and made logical sense, but programming offered me an artistic outlet. It made my soul sing through its trivial usefulness. It was never going to change the world, it was as futile as fashion. Out of date quicker than it could be appreciated.

I was never very good at maintaining friendships but I ached for companionship. If you needed anything I would’ve found a way to give it to you. If I couldn’t fix your problem it would eat into my skin like rot. So doubtful of my likability when I wasn’t useful, I’d soon believe that you merely tolerated me. We all suffer at some point, by grief or natural deterioration. I would wake in the night clambering drunk from sleep to scribble down dream theories that would fix pain. I once mapped out the conditional logic of pain that covered my entire living room floor. Reviewing it again after a deep satisfying sleep, so sure I’d discoverer something of real value, I realised I had been only semi lucid. It was as useful as a poem.

Or so I thought.

It took a few more decades, but my living room floor became the first building block on which I eventually mapped the body in its entirety, down to the nerves never seen before in any previous research. I never found a way to solve pain, but I did cure a number of conditions that no longer exist. Getting the paperwork to proceed with human trails would’ve wasted years and that’s an expense I felt none of you could afford.

Known the whole world over, my name was said aloud in sentences in every language. I didn’t want fame, that was never my intention. But I loved being loved. Withered and close to death from the chemicals and self performed surgeries, you crowdfunded to give me back all I had given. Time.

No one could’ve anticipated what that meant. I will remain hidden, moving undetectably and perpetually in the shadows. I’ll stay here alive without life until your last minutes are spent.

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The Assignment

This face. There’s a resemblance, a vague recognition of my identity. Bleary from sleep, the reflective steel plate on the wall warps my face into peaks. A flickering memory of the excitement I felt in the beginning. I was going to be like an an explorer.

A genuine modern day explorer, that’s how it was pitched to us. I had studied for decades just to qualify for an entry into the program. Being selected was a lottery as so many of us were in competition for an assignment. Why was I chosen? What gave me the edge? Brimming with excitement and already internally boasting, I wanted to ask the question but I didn’t want to give them a chance to change their minds. I imagined the fame in returning. They would seek me out just for 5 minutes of my time. I would be rich, in demand. Now the word “assignment” just makes my breakfast water sink into my bowels. I’ve no energy to stand.

They’ve packed me up, and they’re shipping me home. We should arrive this time tomorrow. Back to reality, my family full of questions. Back to my enviable career, my bank balance and properties. I don’t want any of it.

It’s 7:00 am and I should be meeting Mandy for coffee.

Apart from two mornings in a twelve month span, this had become our daily ritual. Sat at our kitchen tables at 7:00 am, miles apart, separated by five hours of water. It was the best part of my day. I wanted to make her happy, the best I could do was make her laugh for a few minutes over coffee before our days began. Her eyes looked into mine through a tiny camera on the top of her device, and I felt like I’d never been seen before. I wanted her to look at me and for me to look at her until we died. I was in love with her before we’d even touched.

For the second time since waking, my body succumbs to shock as I relive the last minutes.

An unknown number flashing up on my screen. The automated voice that sped through a series of words and numbers too fast to decipher, triggering spontaneous movement. I was no longer in control. My phone falls, and my fingers pushed into the soft skin around my throat, forcing themselves tight around an embedded metal stem. No time to take a breath. My fingers gripped like pliers, and twisted sharply breaking the tissue. My fist whipped away from my body and a wire attached to the stem sliced a clean line. My old life rushed from the recesses of my brain, filling up the empty spaces, and I was unzipped from neck to groin.

There was no pain as the blood jettisoned and pooled, redecorating my bathroom like a horror set. Then it stopped. No more left in me. I say Me, but that’s not right. I stood there feeling the thickness of the tissue around me grow cold and heavy. Trapped by its deadness. The sound of my juddering breath and slow dripping. I could feel gravity working. My head spins and the floor comes up to meet me. The sound of feet pounding up the stairs to my flat…

I vomit for a second time.

The conditioning for the assignment worked so perfectly that my given persona and body was all I knew. Explorers, they said, but we few that were chosen were merely “acceptable blenders”, white male worker bees, nothing powerful, no leaders, just suit clad yes men. We were there to document. Recording 24/7. Parents, schooling, friendships, are all staged. Born at 35 with a backstory that covered any conversation that could take place, an an imagination just wide enough to fill in any gaps. That holiday in Fiji never happened. My dog never existed, but I remember how I cried when I lost her, too heartbroken to ever think of replacing her. The tiny scar under my eye was not from a tree climbing accident, it was put there by a writer. In fact, every imperfection was its own story. My mother. My soul is in agony; how can she not be real? I can hear her singing. I can smell her shampoo and feel the noise of the house inside me, clattering plates, radios tuning in, the washing machine on spin. The focal point of my childhood, my development, my benchmark for love and kindness. My mother. She never even took a breath.

Memories from our real lives are shelved in a part of the consciousness we are unable to access during an assignment. Accessing them now feels bland. I feel nothing, like I was a cameo in my own life story. The people I am related to… I don’t care. I feel nothing but indifference.

We are never supposed to unzip here. Is this why? It risks exposing who we are, and the psychological dangers could only be estimated. For a second I consider that my feelings could change and my old life might hold some attraction in the future. Amidst this confusion my intuition tell me I know the answer already. I still don’t know why I was triggered. They are treating me like a specimen, securely stowed away from contamination. Even when they collected me they didn’t say a word, just worked silently to extract me. Why was I switched back on? No one will answer my questions. The short bursts of interactions I have with them are perfunctory. I search their faces looking for clues but they are expressionless. Are they switched off? I’m scrabbling around inside my head and nothing makes sense. Is this grief? My beautiful life…

In 24 hours I’ll be back in a place that no longer my home, and I will never be me again.

Mandy will be worried. I can’t breathe. I can’t cope with the thought of her being upset. She will be at her desk now, staring at her phone. I sat on that desk like an awkward gift two Fridays ago. I only knew her work address so I surprised her there. For two whole days we were inseparable. We didn’t sleep. There was too much to talk about, and we couldn’t stop touching each other. Right now, eyes closed, I could trace her outline with my fingers tips. My beautiful, funny girl.

Switch me back off. I want to be loved.

On the night the sky tore open

On the night the sky tore open and the star dust fell in, I sat in silence, thinking.

I didn’t know the world had changed. I didn’t know the airwaves that I hadn’t contemplated before, or fully understand (even now) could no longer work. I didn’t know all forms of communication had seized to be. I’d mopped the floor, the tissue and matter from the tiles. Like Tetris, I managed to store their bodies into two removal crates. As I sat with my head in my hands, searching my mind for building sites and dumping grounds, I heard the street come alive.

The sky brightened by the minute. I stood to the side of the window to obscure my body. I saw glitter and dust fall like snow at dawn, and children running, gathering it in their cupped palms. Parents took photos with their phones, and discussed the distortion in every shot, like the objects captured were being pulled upwards. The clouds moved fast as they were sucked west. The tear in the sky was slowly letting as much out as it was letting in.

For the first time in almost two decades, my body didn’t hurt. The change in gravity that eventually killed us all was beautiful in the beginning. The pressure on my spine was gone. I cried for no reason other than my body felt like mine again. The bleach on my fingers stung my eyes as I tried to wipe them dry. I wanted to dance again, to run.

Time moved differently. On the night the sky tore open, there was no more night. It was daytime for a week before darkness came and we were pulled from life.

For a week of daylight, I stayed in the abandoned apartment watching them rot. I couldn’t escape into darkness to dispose of them. I was periodically agitated, impatient. Deliriously on a few occasions, I quietly sang just to hear something outside of my own head. Internally I screamed at the crates, and was forced to endure their company, my clothes absorbing the stench. I had to wait for night to come. I was so sure it would happen soon.

For a week I watched through the window as people fell apart, then tried to rationalise and prepare. I saw people driving in cars that steered like psychotic horses. I saw people returning home from the supermarket with groceries and cash registers. I saw parents pretend it was all ok to spare their children, but clutch at them with such despair that the children knew. I watched as they drove themselves mad, fell in love, and took whatever they wanted…

For the last week of my life I watched the world like a television. Waiting for night.