Once, in the far north, there was a witch of vast primordial power who shared a dream with a human. Together, they built a magnificent city at the edge of the tundra, whose light became a beacon to all humanity. Craft and knowledge crystallized in the utopia birthed by the witch and human’s covenant, but a day came on which the covenant was broken, and the city was destroyed by the armies of man, its people massacred. With the dream shattered, the witch returned to her city’s ruins and sequestered herself among the graves for time uncounted, slowly passing from human memory in all but the sparse myths shared among the races of men. There she waited, bound to the ashes of the once-great city.…
She holds a thin string of glass between her fingers, sets the safety glasses on her nose, and freezes. The stunned faces around her mirror her own vacated expression as blood rolls into her eye. She blinks. She pulls the glass out of her eyebrow, pulls it straight until she can see the pointed end of it, sets it down, and takes off the safety glasses. She walks into the bathroom and begins to wash the blood away, but the near miss continues to drip. The teacher corrects her when he comes. He helps her stop the bleeding, and she watches his blue eyes as he stretches a bandage over her tiny wound.
When she eats, her belly swells outward. It draws her away from daily life, propping her sideways in the mirror where she lifts her shirt and pushes the obtrusion back into her body. It pops out when she lets go, and she forces it back in, just to reaffirm the possibility. She tells herself that real babies take months to grow, not hours, and she repeats the process, pushing in, popping out, pushing in again. When she is convinced of the bulge’s impermanence, she returns to her day until the protrusion catches her eye. Then she is sideways in the mirror again, with her hands on her belly, telling herself that real babies take longer.
He sits on his desk like a yogi and stares out the window, watching the traffic roll down Tremont Street. Occasionally it squawks, but he doesn’t seem to notice; only the people in the crosswalk, on the Common, on the sidewalks capture his attention. Hunched in his hoodie, he swivels slightly to follow the progress of a woman in a yellow raincoat. Now he leans toward the far edge of his window to observe a man crossing the intersection diagonally. Another catches his eye, and Scott says, “Either that’s Michael or a lady,” and I, lying in his bed with a literary tome in my lap, laugh at our own joke.
I am him two hours from now, when he stops being Scott and becomes myself just to get his homework done, and the girl standing in the closet, looking at herself in the mirror and wondering if her pants are flattering or not is him the next morning. As for the boy on the Common who runs from his parents and through the pigeons, causing them to shatter, fragmentary, into the air, that is him on a date next Saturday.
For now, though, he is searching the crowds for hope, and, not finding it there, he is beginning to search the cars too. He knows he won’t find what he’s looking for, but he searches anyway because he would like to hope. This is in spite of the person he will be in four hours who, when the red glare of Loews Theatres snaps off and he is left alone with his thoughts, will snarl and rage against him for having thought of hope at all.
Being Scott doesn’t bother him as much as being someone else might, and as he presses his face against the window thinking, “Is that—No, he doesn’t have the right hat,” he finds a strange contentment in the melancholy blank that comes from watching innumerable strangers parade through their seemingly fulfilled lives while he sits dumb on his desk, studying a series of worlds he doesn’t know how to be a part of. Something within him shifts slightly and although the man entering the subway station at one corner of the intersection isn’t the hope he’s seeking, he finds a smile building within himself so that, when two hours have passed, he does not become me. Instead he is Rose who stands on what is now her desk and places her hands on the window, kissing the skyline. She reaches down to the amassed detritus of daily life and removes a lipstick suitable only to burlesque musicals. She smears it across her lips, flashes her teeth to no one in particular, and draws on the window. She admires her handiwork for a moment before reaching under the desk for a paper towel to wipe the make-up from her face, beginning her transmutation into someone else.
By the time she has stepped off the desk, she has become me, prepared to engage the studious routine of literary analysis. I prop myself in what is now my bed and hold the biblically fragile pages of the text between my fingers, thoughts of hope lost amidst thoughts of poesy.
Janice had considered the possibility of life after death from an early age. Raised a Catholic, she had examined the concept of heaven and hell and, with a child’s logic, found it implausible. Heaven, as it was described to her in church and in the religious classes following mass, seemed no heaven at all. The thought of an eternity of lyres and singing the Lord’s praises filled her with a lethargic ennui. As for hell, its basis as a world of pain and suffering didn’t ring true for her: how did one inflict mortal harm upon an immortal and, indeed, immaterial soul? Surely the loss of the corporeal body meant a corresponding forfeiting of bodily woes?
So Janice sat in the pews of her small suburban church watching the rapturous belief of Father Reilley as he spoke of the afterlife that all good Catholics would enjoy while the fans spun lazily on the high ceiling and the third light from the altar flickered almost when Janice willed it to. In this way, religion died for Janice.
Accordingly, Janice spent many an evening lying in her bed, staring into the darkness above her, trying to stretch it into oblivion, into eternity. Sometimes she would try to morph the darkness into the belief in the afterlife that had been handed to her, but even the wobbling shadows of her imagination could not subdue her skepticism. Always, she would close her eyes and, listening to the buzz of silence, imagine instead what not existing might be like, seeking out the memory of the time before she was born.