Welcome to the bizarre bazaar of my mind
like an orange it doesn't rind
unfiltered it flitters
finishing a thought or not
less a stream of consciousness, more a
steam of no consequence
envelopes me like a fog
I try to grab some drops
but it just makes my brain fingers slippery
a platypus swims across
everything tastes like chicken except for eggs
six in one and something about your mother
does anyone else ever feel like their computer head
is just hanging there on the blue screen
or is constantly rebooting? the same four notes
playing over and over and over
into the spiral of infinity that is never far from
my trains of thought, as they travel this way and that
on their mobius strip tracks, turning inside out and
upside down but always returning to the same spot
like a roomba (was that supposed to be capitalized?)
I think, it's hard to let go of the idea of perfection
even when I'm trying to show the chaos of my mind
ugh, the silhouette of my poem got super blocky
time for some
short lines to add
anyway, where was I? which train was traveling the fastest?
oh no a drawbridge, will it raise in time
or will we crash through into the castle of my mind?
it's oddly quiet in here, the trains are gone
the birds have all flown down under
I wonder why anyone would want to read
this disorganized mess it's not even hot
a tepid squirming mass of ew
I'm not even going to finish that
Whatever, if you made it this far you deserve a present
here's a peasant, how pleasant
he's wearing a pheasant
gotta remember to drink water today
I can see why people don't like this style
who wants to stare into the face of insanity
or is that just humanity
hey writer Bunny
we're all mad hare
You are here
You are here.
In a place deeper than remembering,
you are born again.
In these brief seconds of eternity,
the lessons of your past and the hopes of your future
spread out in an infinite spiral.
Warp threads treadle up and down,
recurring themes in your tapestry.
Lessons learned, covered, and recovered,
until wisdom becomes identity.
Weft yarns shuttle back and forth,
frantic snapshots of your triumphs and defeats,
in familiar colors and never-ending patterns.
A few yarns, with brilliant sparkle,
intertwine with yours, again and again.
The Loom calls you back,
and you fall past the stars of understanding,
landing, bruised, battered, and breathless
into a new becoming.
The Water of life surrounds your body,
the blood of the Earth beats in your veins,
and the Fire of thought sparks in mind.
You emerge, taking in Air,
exhaling the memory of the stars,
for the nth time and the first time.
You cry out and your soul awakens,
ready to try and feel and love and learn.
You are here.
Love you, Dad
Yesterday or so it seems,
we were bursting at the seams.
My laughter on the edge of a snort,
Your rolling bass a deep retort.
Turns out, 70 candles on the cake was bad,
Hey, house is still standing, Happy Birthday Dad!
Today, I saw that photograph,
and I heard your awesome laugh.
Rumbling from your generous heart,
it's always infectious from the start.
Turns out, you can still make me smile,
Even though you've been gone, quite a while.
Tomorrow, or one day soon I fear,
I'll listen for your laughter, but it won't be there.
That first silence will be tough,
one day, photos won't be enough.
Turns out, though that memory is nice,
I'll have to live with losing you twice.
He's my best friend. Some say he's bad, inhumane even. But they don't know him like I do.
He saved me from the streets. I was wandering, alone, beyond hunger. Just waiting to die. I ran into him, and he snarled, "Watch where you're going, idiot!" I didn't have the energy to respond. But then he saw me, saw the state I was in, and led me to his car. He didn't mention how filthy I was.
At his place I was so weak, he had to carry me inside. He helped me clean up and offered me toast and water.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'll go shopping tomorrow. You can stay as long as you want. My name is Brian."
I just smiled my thanks. I was grateful for a full belly, a warm place to stay. I curled up on the couch and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Months went by, and I became more myself, ribs no longer showing, hunger a distant memory. We'd walk to the park, and it was sheer joy to touch grass, smell fresh air. Brian took great delight in my joy.
Brian worked from home, and I didn't like what it did to him. He spent all day on the phone, using a fake happy voice. Oily. Sometimes he'd get agitated, and slam his hand on his desk. Sometimes, the call would go well and he’d buy me a gift.
One night on his couch a nightmare woke me up, whimpering. I felt his strong arms lift me up and carry me to his bed. “It’s ok,“ he whispered, “you’re safe now.” He smelled like an autumn breeze. I fell asleep, safe in his embrace.
Brian told me about his past. He'd hurt people, bullied them, preyed on their innermost fears. He'd physically hurt them too, pinch, trip, shove. He'd been mean just to get a reaction.
I didn’t offer judgement or absolution. Just listened.
He quit his job. In the middle of a call he looked at me. I looked back. He said, “Look, you need to watch out for scammers, they prey on good open-hearted people like you. You almost lost a lot of money, and you wouldn’t have gotten it back. You can’t trust everyone, ok? You have a good night too, Agnes.”
He hung up the call, relieved. His next phone call he sounded happy for real.
“Jake, it’s been a while. Do you want to come over and watch the game tonight?”
When Jake walked in, I could tell they were brothers, they even had a similar smell.
“So,“ Jake said, “This is the girl who turned your life around? The one who tamed the savage beast?”
”Yeah, she’s a good girl. The best girl.” Brian smiled radiantly at me and I nuzzled his hand.
”Have you figured out a name yet?” Jake scratched my ears. "A dog's gotta have a name."
Brian‘s voice caught in his throat. He cleared it and said, ”Her name is Hope.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Enbys and Multis! Welcome to the 2000th annual Galactic Pickleball Tournament!
We're back where it all began, at the Pritchard Arena on the quaint little planet Earth. When it all started, they were playing with nets and just two arms per player, haha! Well I don't know about you folks, but I'm grateful to Jo-el for bringing such a fantabulastic game to the cosmos!
If you haven't been following along with the latest additions to the Rule Book, be sure to download the latest copy and subscribe for more updates. And if you left your racket, pickle, balls, tridents, singularities, or helmet in an alternate dimension, no problem! Just stop by the Picklery on level 500 for game gear, souvenirs, and this year's signature drink, the Greenie Meanie!
And now, it's our first match, featuring The Lovenauts from the Alpha Centauri system versus The Snorgeelbryetygpets all the way Sirius versus our home team The Mighty Pacific from Earth!
The team from Sirius is in full bioluminescence mode, so I hope everyone else brought their sunglasses! Alpha Centauri will start in the Zesty position, with Earth on Gherkin and Sirius on Bread and Butter. You can follow along on the 3-D tournament bracket on our app, now available on iPhones everywhere!
Best of luck to all the teams, may the saltiest among us win!
The Darkest Thought
I killed them. I wanted an easier life, one without worry of judgement, fear of conflict. I didn't want to keep having the awkward conversations about our differing beliefs. I wished my life could be easier. So they died. and now my life is easier. And I think I killed them.
I wished my mom wouldn't worry so much about me living a sinful life, I didn't want to feel that she thought I was going to hell. So we would talk around it, only talk of things that were safe. Until we barely talked at all. I couldn't be mad that she didn't tell me she had cancer. When would she have told me? I spent more time with her as an adult after she had the stroke, when she couldn't speak at all, then I did while she was healthy. Did I kill her with my neglect? Did I think I'd have forever to figure this out? Did I want her to die so I wouldn't have to?
I am my father's daughter, as well as daddy's girl. He would come over unannounced, cook me food I couldn't eat. He wanted to give so much, but he ended up needing so much. He would take up my space, leave his mess everywhere. I told him to stay somewhere else while he was in town. I wished he wasn't such a burden. He had a stroke and fell down the stairs, and few weeks later, had an aneurysm, and was brain dead until he died. I guess he's not a burden anymore.
My brother and I had very different political views. We spoke of it once and then never again, carefully understanding our love for each other might not survive such a battle. I wished I didn't have to see his views on social media, wished I didn't have to make excuses for him, defend him. So he died. There's no chance of us getting into an argument now.
It is hard to live with two truths at once. That I loved my mom, my dad, my brother and I wanted them to live long, happy, healthy lives. But I wished for an easier life, and they died and now my life is easier. Acknowledging this is like admitting that I killed them.
In my head, I know this is not true. But in my heart, this thought lives, rent-free, forever.
Time is a general, she marches on.
Do you rush ahead,
try to beat her to the end?
Do you march with her,
keeping time with Time?
Or are you her prisoner,
dragged along reluctantly?
She is, after all, undefeatable.
Time is an artist, she paints the past.
Pastel smudges of memory,
Bold strokes of emotion.
She drums the rhythm of now,
cheeky Time, did she increase the tempo?
She dances her way into the future,
spinning across the stage of history.
You think her linear, but she can see the spiral.
Time is a lover, she knows everything.
She lays your head in her lap,
caressing your grief until it lays down too.
She takes your light, your imperfections,
etches them into her heart, quietly erodes the sharp edges.
You'll fight her, you'll want her,
but in the end, you'll release yourself to her.
The trouble is, you think you have Time,
But all along, it's Time who has you.
FREE LOVE Dispensary
Ali stood in line at the Federal Resource for Emotional Enrichment dispensary to receive her weekly supplement of Low-dose Oxytocin Vital Enhancement. Her feet were tired after a day's work, but there was nowhere to sit. She could feel every crack in the pavement through the thin soles of her shoes. There were five people in front of her, at least a hundred behind her. She glanced over at the much shorter Pay-for-LOVE line wistfully. Maybe one day, she could afford to buy her LOVE, and not rely on government hand-outs.
Out of boredom, Ali read the faded, peeling signs she'd read thousands of times before. "A little LOVE goes a long way!" "A heart a day keeps the blues away!" "LOVE, scientifically proven to reduce loneliness, depression, and anxiety." "LOVE is for everyone!" "LOVE = Happiness = Goodness." She spared a thought for all the people who lived before LOVE. Would she have survived back then?
Her phone vibrated, it was Gary. She hoped she had enough time to wrap up the conversation before she got to the front of the line. It didn't occur to her to decline and call him back. He wouldn't be mad, just disappointed, and Ali knew from experience that life was easier when Gary wasn't disappointed.
"Hi Gary," Ali tried to sound bright and happy, as if she hadn't just worked a 10-hour shift on her feet.
"Hey babe, just checking in on you, are you on your way home?" Gary sounded relaxed, and Ali felt herself relax too.
"Yeah, just standing in line at the FREE LOVE dispensary," Ali said.
"Thanks sweetheart, it means so much that you do that for us."
"Of course," Ali said. She was well past feeling any resentment that Gary never stood in line for their LOVE. After all, like he said, it would be such an inconvenience for him to leave their apartment where he worked from home just to stand in line. So much easier for her to just pick it up on her way home.
"Can you swing by the store on the way home? I'm craving your world-famous stroganoff. Pwetty pwease with a cherry on top?" Gary pulled out his baby voice.
Ali hated the baby voice. It made her feel icky, somehow infantilized and like a dowdy old nurse at the same time. She forced a smile into her voice.
"Sure Gary, I'd be happy to."
"Thanks honey, love ya."
"Love you too Gary, I gotta go, I'm almost at the front of the line." Just two people in front of her now.
"Ugh, why are you always in such a rush to get me off the phone? Are you there with someone else?" As quick as a switch, Gary's voice turned from sweet to accusatory.
Ali's heart pounded in her chest, and she felt her hands go warm and clammy. She froze, unsure what to say.
"I'm sorry babe, that sounded really jealous, didn't it? I didn't mean it, I trust you 100%. I'll see you soon." And just like that, Gary's voice was sweet again, almost apologetic.
"Ok, bye." Ali managed and hung up.
She slid her phone away, just one more person before her. She started going over the shopping list for the stroganoff in her mind, calculating how much it would be. Could she also afford the bottle of wine that Gary said "completed the meal?" While they split the cost of rent equally, she often paid for all their food. Asking him to chip in was more trouble than it was worth. She calculated that if she put off getting new shoes she could afford the wine.
As if on cue, her right shoe clapped as she stepped forward. The sole was separated from the rest of the shoe and had been re-glued multiple times. Another gluing should hold a couple more weeks, and then she'd get new shoes for sure. It would be worth it to make Gary happy.
Without saying anything, the clerk held out a scanner, and Ali placed her ID card under it. The clerk read the scanner and portioned out fourteen heart-shaped pills into a small plastic bag, placing it on the counter instead of handing it directly to Ali.
Ali took the little bag gratefully, and said "Thanks." More out of habit than with any expectation that the clerk would respond.
The clerk simply raised one eyebrow slightly and tilted his head, as if to say, "Move on."
Ali turned, bag in hand. The clerk, through a loudspeaker, said in a gentle, charming voice, completely at odds with his expressionless face, "We are out of FREE LOVE for the day. Come back tomorrow, visit one of our other locations, or move over to the Pay-for-LOVE line." And with no ceremony, pulled down the cover on his side of the counter.
The hundred people behind her in line let out quiet groans, many mumbling to themselves. Some moved off, more moved into the Pay-for-LOVE line. The woman directly behind Ali let out a strangled sob.
"Are you ok?" Ali wasn't used to engaging with strangers, but something about this woman pulled at her heart and it was unusual for people to display sadness in public. The woman reminded her of her mom, in her forties, brown hair peppered with gray. Laugh lines and worry lines on a kind face.
"My children," the stranger whispered. "They've never been sad in their lives."
"Can you take them to the church?" It was well known that the church gave LOVE to anyone who could sit through their sermon. It was handed out right after the communion, and Ali had many memories of sitting on the pews, warm between her parents, as they waited for their portion of LOVE. It was where she'd developed the ability to think through problems in her mind, to tune out and turn inwards, relying on her own imagination, feeding her dreams while appearing outwardly attentive.
The woman's eyes, holding back tears, turned hard and stubborn. "No." But then her eyes dimmed to despair. "I suppose we will have to."
Ali understood. Her parents had encouraged her to think for herself, and even though the church told them how to think, how to live, they knew not to take the lessons to heart. At church it was Mom and Aunt Jo. Only at home could it be Mom and Mama. Ali had not stepped foot in the church since her parents had passed.
The woman pulled a locket from her shirt and opened it, drawing strength from what she saw inside. At a glance, Ali could see four faces, two women on one side, and on the other, two children. Ali's parents had worried constantly about her getting enough LOVE growing up. Looked for any sign of sadness, depression, anxiety. Ali remembered pretending to be happy so her parents wouldn't give up their own LOVE for her.
Without thinking, Ali opened the bag still in her hand and carefully drew out four hearts. "Here."
The woman looked up, shocked, and gently took the hearts from Ali's hand. "Thank you," she whispered."
"You're welcome." Ali pocketed her bag and walked away quickly, already regretting her moment of kindness. What would Gary say?
Her shoe clapped as she walked, mocking applause for her grand gesture. She could go on half rations for a week, she'd done it before when Gary needed an extra dose. It would be fine.
She tuned out the sound from her broken shoe and focused on her grocery list. Ali rounded the corner and collided with someone, causing them to drop a sign. Feeling out of sorts already, Ali took a moment to gather herself by picking up the sign. It read, REAL LOVE IS INFINITE. Oh no, she thought, an Endless Love Freak. The ELF, as they called themselves was gathering their composure also, looking a little rattled from the collision.
"Sorry I bumped into you," Ali said, holding out the sign and hoping she could get out of this encounter quickly. Gary didn't like to wait too long for dinner.
"That's ok, thanks," the ELF took the sign and smiled warmly at Ali. "Hey, are you ok?"
Ali's face must have given something away, "I mean, no, but what can you do?" She was surprised to have given such an honest answer. It was out of character for her to burden anyone with her real feelings, let alone a stranger. People with too many negative emotions were considered LOVE-less. Obviously, they couldn't afford enough of the heart to be happy.
The ELF's smile turned slightly sad, not with pity, but with empathy. "It's ok not to be ok, I'd be happy to listen if you ever need a friendly ear. My name is Robin."
"Thanks, Robin, I'm Ali." It was the kindest offer Ali had received in a long time. A very long time. Such a small thing, but it threatened her protective shell. She felt seen and vulnerable at the same time. To distract herself from the uncomfortable feeling, she focused on Robin's face, trying to come up with a polite conversation ender.
Robin's face was a series of contradictions. An expression of curiosity and child-like wonder, but also wisdom and intelligence that spoke of experience and education. The more Ali looked, the more she was drawn into Robin's eyes, a deep smokey grey. She pulled her gaze away, and the loss of connection was a physical pain. Ali wanted to pull out her bag of LOVE pills and take one right there. Loneliness and longing carved out a familiar hole in her heart. Depression and anxiety weren't far behind. Guilt and apathy nibbled around the edges. Bitterness was an easier emotion to handle.
"How can you possibly believe there's infinite love?" Ali snapped.
"I could give you a thousand reasons, argue with you until the end of time. I could tell you about how people loved before we created the LOVE pill, how they felt a whole range of emotions, but I won't. Nothing I say could change what's in your heart. All I can say is I wish you health, the full spectrum of human emotions, I hope that you find purpose and recognize your own worth. I love you." Robin spoke plainly, but from the heart.
It made Ali angry. "How could you possibly love me? You don't even know me!" But she wasn't angry with Robin, she felt betrayed. How was it possible that she felt more love from this stranger than she'd felt since her parents had left her. Certainly more love than she'd ever felt from Gary.
"I have to go." She felt a wave of emotions threatening to overtake her.
"Ok," Robin said simply, holding out a business card.
Ali took it out of habit and so she wouldn't have to speak again and hurried off. The claps from her unglued sole now sounding like accusatory slaps.
An hour later, finally home, Ali dropped the grocery bags on the floor as gently as she could. She was physically and emotionally drained. She continued moving on muscle memory and sheer stubbornness. She put away the groceries, put water on to boil then retrieved the glue and fixed her shoe, setting it to cure by the front door.
"You're finally home, what took so long?" Gary asked.
"I ran into an ELF on the street," Ali started.
"You ok babe?"
"I'm fine," Ali said out of habit. She felt the slightest stir of affection at Gary's concern.
"You gotta watch out for those nutcases."
"Mm hmm." Ali tuned Gary out as he started on a rant about ELFs and how LOVE was a resource and as such, there was a finite supply. Supply and demand, LOVE was for the deserving, the elite deserved more LOVE, hadn't they earned it? She'd heard this rant so many times, she knew where to nod and make affirmative noises.
He followed her around the kitchen as she cooked her Mama's stroganoff. The familiar motions brought comfort and nostalgia.
They had their own rhythm, Ali thought, as they moved around each other in the small kitchen, Gary stood by the counter as Ali pulled things from the fridge, then by the fridge as she chopped the mushrooms and sliced the beef and cooked it on the stovetop, added the cream and salt and pepper. Back to the counter when she drained the pasta in the sink. A dance, practical, if not romantic. Maybe this is as good as it gets.
"What's that babe?" Gary paused mid-rant.
To Ali's chagrin, she realized she'd said that last part out loud. "Nothing Gary, I'm not sure what I was saying. Just talking to myself."
"Aw babe, it's a good thing you're so cute. I love you, stupid bunny." Gary said with affection, which made it worse in Ali's opinion. If he was nasty, she could fight back. Instead she just felt ever smaller.
She wanted a LOVE pill so bad, she could almost imagine the wave of emotions the pill brought, chasing away the dark shadows, replacing despair with acceptance, the feeling of a hug, that everything would be ok, that feeling of belonging. Her hands shook a bit as she plated their meal and brought it to the table.
"Did you get the wine?" Gary asked, a little too sweetly.
"I did, I know how much you like it." Ali said.
"Don't you mean how much we both like it sweetheart? You're the best. Do you want me to give you some money for all the food?" Gary asked as he opened the bottle and poured them both a glass.
"No, it's fine, I'm good on funds," Ali said, putting thoughts of new shoes out of her mind.
"I'm so proud of you babe, you were such a financial mess when we first met, honestly, you had no sense. Ha ha." Gary always thought his puns were hilarious. Ali shrunk even smaller.
The thought reminded Gary of the LOVE pills. "Oh babe, why don't you give me the hearts so I can keep them safe for both of us." Gary liked to pretend he was the great protector.
"I'll give you yours, but I'd like to hold on to my own this time, Gary." Ali had forgotten until now that she was short the four hearts she'd given to the woman with children. She didn't want to explain her actions to him. Unfortunately for her, Gary was always so good at picking up when she was trying to hide something.
"Give me the hearts sweetie. Now." Gary didn't raise his voice, but the tone made Ali shiver. Reluctantly, she handed over the bag.
It didn't take long for Gary to count, only eleven hearts to last the both of them a whole week, seven days. And the temper he always kept so carefully under wraps started bubbling up. Usually, a heart a day kept Gary's anger away. And when that wasn't enough, Ali always gave him hers, it was easier for her to pretend to be happy than to deal with Gary angry.
"Where are the rest, Ali." Gary's voice was cold ice, the question more of a statement of disappointment. Anger was not far behind.
Ali was so tired, just so tired. She had nothing left for pretending. "I gave them to an older women with children. She needed them more than I do. You can have your full seven, I'll just take the three for the week."
"That's not for you to decide. I can't believe how dumb you are. What if I need more this week? Did you think about that? You're so selfish, so ungrateful, you disgust me. How dare you give away your hearts to some whore on the street? I can't believe I'm with such a lazy, stupid slut."
Ali was speechless, Gary had never been so openly insulting before. He'd hinted, he'd insinuated, but always with a just kidding attitude so she never felt she could take offense. It was almost a relief to hear him say out loud all the things she'd heard under the surface for years. Her silence and lack of response unnerved him.
Gary smiled, "Oh babe, you know I'm just kidding, we'll have to make some sacrifices, but we'll make it work. What are we going to do about that bleeding heart of yours? You're so lucky you have me, no one else could ever love you."
"Robin." Ali whispered. Robin's simple statement of love earlier that day ran through her mind, and with it a storm of emotions.
"Who the hell is Robin?" Gary shouted. "Is she your secret lover? I knew you'd turn out perverted, just like those evil demons who raised you."
Gary's insult to her mothers broke through the storm of emotions like a bolt of lightning, throwing everything briefly, starkly into focus.
"Robin, who I think is non-binary by the way, is the ELF I met on the street today, and I felt more real and honest love from them in five minutes than I have from you in the last five years. I may not deserve your love, but I certainly don't deserve your hate. I'm done."
"I'm done with you first! Get out!"
"This is half my apartment."
"Not according to the lease." Gary's smirk was slimy, and Ali wondered that she'd ever felt a drop of love or affection for such a creep.
He was right, when they'd signed the lease, he'd made up some story about it being better for Ali if only his name was on the lease. Ali realized she didn't care. She didn't care about any of it. There was nothing in this apartment that was worth her spending another second in this lie.
With nothing but her phone and wallet, she walked over to the door, and put on her shoes, hopefully the glue was dry enough by now.
Gary realized she was actually leaving, maybe he'd thought she would try to apologize and smooth things over as she'd done so many times before. "If you walk out that door, don't bother coming back until you're ready to apologize."
Ali said nothing. She thought about all the ways she'd minimized herself to show Gary love. She thought about all the times she'd shorted herself on LOVE, on love, for him. Maybe it wasn't his fault, maybe he was just a product of these times. It didn't really matter, like Robin said, you can't change someone else's mind. She would make the choice to love herself.
"You'll never make it on your own, good luck getting enough hearts to survive out there."Gary sounded desperate.
Ali stepped through the door without looking back, and closed the door behind her. She felt sad, and let herself feel it. She felt pity for Gary, and let herself feel that. She felt fear, but also exhilaration. A feeling of freedom she'd never imagined.
As she walked away, she heard Gary slam the door open. "You worthless bitch!" he screamed. "You're going to die alone and miserable, you freak!"
Something else was simmering up, embarrassment? No, anger. Anger made her feel hot, made her blood rush. She felt powerful.
Freak. Ali pulled Robin's business card from her pocket. Endless Love Freak, Robin Hart (they/them), with a number underneath. And on the back, Love is infinite. Are you ready?
"Yes." Ali said to herself, and called Robin's number.
Death carried a camera. They got the idea from a culture who believed a photograph captured the subject's soul. And Death thought, sure, why not? Mostly, it worked out great. In certain situations, they could appear corporeally, but still be invisible. They stood, at the Grand Canyon, and looked out over incomprehensible beauty, shared in the awe with all the mortals. Just another tourist.
It was a hot day, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and a number of tourists weren't as careful as they should have been. It was a bit of a hike for a man with a weak heart. Death lifted their long-lens camera, and captured an image of the man. In the view screen, the creased face stared in awe at the scene before him. His eyes were wide open, tears formed as he tried to take in the overwhelming majesty of nature. In the image, the man's face was red, his heart racing with exertion and excitement. Beads of sweat glistened and dripped just below his hairline. He was so alive.
Death looked up from the camera as the man sat on the ground and clutched at his chest. To the other tourists, he appeared overcome with emotion, not an uncommon sight. Then he slumped to the ground, bonelessly, and died. Tourists whipped out their cellphones, a family sent their kids to find a park ranger. A young man whose sun-kissed skin and muscular build suggested he was a lifeguard, tossed aside his backpack and started CPR. Blue-black hair waved silkily forward with each chest compression. His lips formed a perfect bow in his Asian face.
The lifeguard intrigued Death, as they were often intrigued by mortals who fought to delay the inevitable. It’s his time, Death thought. Don't make the old man suffer, let him leave on a high note. But the lifeguard continued on, oblivious.
Death raised his camera again, careful not to release the shutter. The young lifeguard had deep brown eyes, at first resolved, steely, but as the seconds passed, as he gave more breaths to the inevitable, his eyes showed tiredness, resignation, sorrow. Minutes went by, a park ranger arrived to take over, and the lifeguard stepped back, his face showing that he knew the old man was gone. He looked around to see if there was family to comfort. There was no one, the old man was alone. He put his backpack back on, waited until the ambulance arrived. He felt some responsibility for a stranger he'd never met while living, but whose breath he'd shared, whose heart he'd felt under his hands. His eyes were turbulent with emotion.
The lifeguard looked up and straight into Death's camera. Death doesn't have a heart, but something caught in their chest, that look of raw humanity connected to something deep within them. Click. They accidentally pressed the shutter release, and captured that look for eternity. Shit shit shit. It was not this young man's time. They felt the impending death strike zap down towards the lifeguard. With a flick of their wrist they directed it to a small bird flying overhead. The bird, unsuspecting, dropped with a thunk onto the path fifty feet behind the lifeguard. Some tourists recoiled from the dead bird and looked up quizzically.
Shit. The lifeguard was marked for death, and redirecting the death strikes would only delay the inevitable. There was no way Death could keep this man alive for his natural time. Or was there? Death was nothing if not stubborn and patient. Decisively, they split off this embodiment of themselves, Death now partially contained within this body, but still present elsewhere, everywhere, anywhere there is life.
Little Death looked down at his hands holding the camera. Strong, competent hands. The camera felt heavy in them, no longer an instrument of death, just a camera.
"Are you ok? If you don't mind me saying, you look a little pale."
Death was startled by the question, and saw the lifeguard in front of him, looking concerned.
"Yes, I'm new here." Death grimaced, as someone who had experienced all of humanity, he knew that was in the top ten most awkward phrases ever uttered in all of history.
The lifeguard just laughed. His laugh was melodic, infectious. His voice a surprising bass coming from a lean, wiry body. Something stirred in Death, in his belly and lower. Maybe I'm hungry? Distracted by these new sensations, he missed the lifeguard’s next question. "I'm sorry, what?"
"My name is Rich, what's your name?"
"My name is Death," Death said without thinking.
"Dev?" Rich looked slightly confused. That's not what he’d actually heard.
Death just stared at Rich.
"I'm sorry I laughed at you, it's just my way of releasing tension. That poor man."
"It was good of you to try to save him." Death looked intently at Rich, he knew he'd been staring too long to appear like a normal human, but was unable to stop himself.
"Anyone would have done the same," Rich blushed and looked away.
No, not just anyone. Death had witnessed countless deaths, and he knew this level of care for a stranger was not unheard of, but not common. True kindness was rare, precious. But he didn't want to be the one to share this reality with Rich.
"And anyway, it's not like what I did mattered. He's dead." Rich's face crumpled, he looked down and hot tears fell to the hot dusty ground, absorbed instantly.
Death reached out instinctively, gently lifted Rich's chin, wiped away his tears. "It mattered," he said softly.
Rich wept, quietly, but with heaving shoulders. Death reached out and enveloped Rich in a hug, patting his back as he'd seen countless others do for comfort. Rich's sobs subsided, he sniffled. Death sensed another death strike coming in, and diverted it to a small beetle crawling at their feet.
Rich awkwardly stepped back, "I'm sorry, I don't usually do that to people I just met."
"It's ok. It's very human."
"Thank you. Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Are you gay?"
Death threw back his head and laughed. He surprised himself with the joy in his own laugh, light, airy, sweet. No one had ever in all of existence asked Death if he was gay.
'I don't know." Death answered honestly.
"Ok. Do you want to get dinner?" Rich asked.
"I'd like that, Rich."
"Great! Dev?" Rich still wasn't sure he'd heard correctly.
"Dev." Dev said.
For Rich and Dev, the years passed quickly. Dev discovered Rich was a vegetarian, and out of respect for his beliefs, did his best to direct all incoming death strikes to plants and the occasional insect. Rich finished medical school and became a nurse, while Dev discovered others appreciated his photography talents. Particularly portraits. Clients said he really captured their souls in his photos, and he would just smile and respond, "Not anymore."
Dev joined Rich's family for Thanksgiving and they were happy to have him, happy to see how he made Rich happy.
"Where is your family, Dev?" Rich asked.
"Either in heaven or hell." Dev said.
And Rich left it at that.
They loved to travel. Shared with each other the beauty of parks, enjoyed bustling cities. Filled their senses with new experiences and each other. For the fifth anniversary of their meeting, Dev planned a special trip back to the Grand Canyon.
Rich and Dev stood near the spot where they'd met, the view was just as breathtaking as the first time.
"I still think about that poor old man sometimes," Rich said.
"If he hadn't died, if you hadn't tried to save him, we never would have met," Dev said.
"I know, I feel guilty that I feel grateful for his death. I hope his soul is at peace."
"It is," Dev said with certainty. He waved a hand, not in dismissal of Rich's statement, but to divert another death strike to a small weed trying to grow in the cracked dirt. It withered instantly.
Rich knew better than to ask Dev how he knew things like that. He smiled slightly, the quirky things that came out of Dev's mouth were a big reason he'd fallen in love. He reached for Dev's hand, but it wasn't by his side where it usually was. Rich turned around to look for him.
Dev knelt behind him on the dusty ground, holding out a hand with a black velvet box, and in the box was a white gold ring with small diamonds embedded flat into the band like stars. Classy, elegant, practical, sparkly. Rich was speechless.
Dev cleared his throat. He knew this was how many humans proposed to their mates, and not for the first time wondered at how strange humans were and how strange he was for feeling the urge to mimic them when it came to Rich.
"You are the best human I've ever known in the history of humans. When I met you here five years ago, that's when my life began. You make me a better person, and I can't imagine life without you. You make me happy, and I want to make you happy for as long as I can. Will you marry me?" Dev swallowed, he thought he knew Rich, but could anyone ever be sure?
Rich usually spoke before he thought, but now he took his time finding the right words.
"You are incredible, I love how you see into the heart of everyone you meet. I love how you joke with and care for my family. I love the way you look out for me. I love how unique your perspective is. If I lived a thousand years, I'd never meet another person like you, but I'd only want to live a thousand years if you were there with me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And I'm only sad I didn't get to ask you first." Rich knelt down in front of Dev, pulled a ring box out of his pocket and opened it. Black gold, with a single black diamond inset into the band. Mystery, simplistic beauty, stark artistry.
Rich and Dev looked at each other, and together said, "Yes."
Not much changed when Rich and Dev got married. Rich saved countless lives, and Dev captured them on film. Dev never got over the thrill of saying Rich was his husband, never got over the thrill of wearing his ring. They lived a full, meaningful life, filled with friends, purpose, family, and each other.
If Rich thought it odd that Dev kept buying houseplants despite being unable to keep them alive more than a week, he didn't say anything, just wrote it off as another quirk.
Years flew past, faster than a raven. Their hair turned grey, then white. Countless plants died in Rich's stead, and Dev never could bring himself to tell Rich the truth. But in all other ways, their lives were open, loving, happy.
Rich didn't get a thousand years, but he got one hundred. Just a few days after they celebrated his birthday, he collapsed, and Dev accompanied him to the hospital.
There wasn't anything left to say between them. Dev held Rich’s hand while Rich slept, and it was enough.
Dev could feel Rich's natural death was almost here, but he wasn't ready. He thought by the time it came he'd be at peace with the natural order of things. They'd made enough memories for multiple lifetimes. But he was having trouble letting go.
He felt another death strike coming in, just a few minutes before Rich's time would be up anyway. Should he just let it strike early? As he'd done countless times before, he reached out to see where he could divert the death strike. His heart stopped when he realized there were only other people in the hospital wing, not a single insect or living plant was nearby to take the strike. And he was too old, to tired himself to reach further. There was no way he would kill another person for Rich. He knew Rich would never forgive him for something like that. Dev realized he would never forgive himself, and marveled for a second at the person he had become, at how he was a better soul. Because of Rich.
In the end, there was no choice. Rich made the world a better place every second he was in it, and Dev didn't want to experience the world without him. With his free hand, he pulled the death strike into his own heart. Rich's name on his lips, he fell onto the hospital bed half on top of Rich, and died.
Rich stirred and felt Dev's deadweight on him, felt his love around him. He knew he was close to death, but even so, tears came for his sweet Dev, and more tears that Dev wasn't able to wipe them away as he always did.
Dev felt someone wipe away his tears. He opened his eyes and looked upon the empty face of Death.
"Oh hi, it's you," Rich said.
Death nodded. In Death's featureless movements, something felt familiar, and a truth he'd hidden from himself floated free.
"You're a part of Dev, aren't you?"
"Technically, Dev was a part of me."
”Yes, but while we collect all souls eventually, Death has no soul to call our own.
”Dev has a soul.”
Death did not respond, just turned to face Dev’s soul, looking lovingly at Rich.
Rich said, “Oh,” and left his body laying on the hospital bed.
Dev and Rich’s souls touched, merged, and with a smile, flashed onto the next adventure.
Death looked at the bodies, looked at the rings, one white, one black, on hands that would never let go. They saw the camera on the bedside table. And reached a bony hand towards it.
She sounds out the words, letter by letter. Each word part of a magic spell. Mommy and Daddy have the power to create fantastical worlds of delight with these books, but she’s a big girl and wants to do it herself. The gateway creaks open. She reads herself into the story.
She doesn’t have to sound out the words anymore, and brings home stacks of books from the library. Insatiable thirst, but now she can quench it on her own. She reads herself into secret worlds and sets her imagination aflame. At school, she reads the room and can see she doesn't fit in their book. So at home she reads friends and adventures into her life.
She reads the writing on the wall. She reads to escape her troubles, anxieties, expectations. Under the covers, under the table. She discovers, book by book, her own mind, self-awareness, values, desires. She reads herself awake, she reads herself into adulthood.
She reads to learn, to process her reality, and give herself a break from it. She reads for work, for life, for pleasure. She reads herself into a better version, reads herself into her place in the world. She reads her own story from the past, through the present, and into the future.
She reads between the lines, reads into his overtures and flirtations and takes a chance on love. They become the authors of another life. She reads to become a good mother, reads to find connection on this path that is walked by many, but in the end, is walked alone. She reads to her child, reads his mind so she can satisfy his needs. Reads the full range of human emotions when she looks in the mirror. She reads to survive and thrive.
She reads the lines in her palms. So deeply etched now, so many more than when she first started reading. She reads in them countless memories, a lifetime of work and creation, scars and victories. It's a good book, a good story. She uses her hands to pick up a book from her nightstand. She likes to revisit familiar stories. Well-known characters and plots surround her like a warm cocoon. And so, she reads herself into oblivion.