You’re sitting on the edge of an afternoon with her, and you’re thinking in stoppages. At the precipice, she’s scuffing the backs of her shoes against the rock below, and you think that it must not hurt nearly enough. Her boots against sediment, digging in. You kick off your sneakers and watch them dive into nothing below, and think, now is not the time for regrets. The balls of your feet pushing into the stone, bone on stone.
No, you’re sitting on the edge of your words.
In the terrible silence there, and you grapple for something to do before you remember your feet still rubbing against the rocks. Carefully, you bend over and untwist the part holding your ankle, bringing it back up for inspection. It’s red, and when you gasp, she looks at you, finally.
“Ew,” she says. “It’s going to hurt.”
“Disgusting,” you agree, “it already is.”
She turns back towards the point she had been staring at all this while, jaw rust-stiff. She doesn’t want to talk.
You throw the foot down below, and since she’s not looking and you’re bored, you perform the whole routine again with the one that’s left: feet digging into stone bone digging into stone ankle unscrewed and then gone. You don’t feel an absence, but you expected her to say something. Anything. But she can’t see your feet, or rather the general space where they used to be, and anyway she’s staring straight ahead at the horizon, and the not-space before it.
Your throat is dry, and you’re thinking, why do I live like this when she speaks again, eyes closed and head lolled back, “If you were the only person left in the whole world, what would you do and where would you go?”
You had finished the last of your water moments ago, and your throat is sandpaper. You don’t have an answer to that question and you don’t want to reply to her anyway so clearing your throat: you ask, “What— what’re you thinking about?”
She doesn’t answer, just grins and raises her hand as if to fist-bump you. You try to meet her there halfway, but now she’s sneering, and you’re going to ask why except that you can’t, and it’s a burning physical feeling you won’t be able to stow away this time.
“About time to deal with your problems, isn’t it?”
And then you see it: something like a long, exhaustible plastic tube, except it isn’t really plastic, it’s live flesh, and you would scream except now you have no throat so this empty sound inside your mouth withers into loud gasps. But she’s your friend, your very best friend, so you smile at her and decide that you will deal with said problem later that day. Or maybe tomorrow. Maybe never.
So you sit there, a little lighter than you were when you started out, and you want to reach over to her. You slowly extend a hand and rest it upon hers, feather-light, and you keep it there for a while. Around this time, she has no voice. You give and you give, and she takes, soundless. You bask in the coldness of her silence for a little bit. You wait.
Long ago, she’d told you that girls like her burn away their life. Sickly flesh upon smoky tendrils upon fisted palms. She said that strangers get caught in the nets of these girls like dead leaves, like paper, and there’s not much that can be done then, except take some time out and wait for them to dissolve.
“Am I a stranger, then,” you had asked, heart dipping into your stomach and hands locked behind your back, spine straight. Schoolgirl posture.
“Not even remotely!” she had replied, distracted by a message on her phone. “You’re so much more than a dead leaf.”
Now, she trades in distractions and minutes, but you have nothing to give her.
Suddenly, she intertwines her fingers with yours, and speaks carefully. “I have been dreaming about you for a while now, you know.”
“Us, more like, actually.” Things could never be whole if she wasn’t a part of them. “It’s a regular school day, and we hang out in the back a little longer, talking about everything and nothing at all,” she says, looking at me. “I told you that I loved you.”
Loved. It was in a dream that she loved you, somewhere you loved her too. Loved, as in past. Loved, as in I don’t fully know you yet, but I see you and I like that oh so much.
You wait for her to say something, perhaps a dramatic follow-up as in perhaps she does really love you in this not-dream like scenario perhaps she didn’t mean to say anything in the first place and you wonder if she expects you to say it back to her even though she didn’t really say anything to you in the first place.
She’s made of needles and endings, and it’s like you’re perpetually stuck in her awning, where you’re a shadow in the cage. She’s made of needles and she punctures this moment by getting up from the edge and giving you a hand like, come on we have to go. She grins then, a wide rictus, eyes flitting towards your not-legs.
You do not love her.
She sits back down, nudges your shoulder gently. “Come on, I was just kidding.”
You turn away. “It was not funny.”
You consider giving everything you have to her until you yourself do not exist, and wonder which of you deserves it more: you, for revelling in each second you spend with her, or she, for being with you all along with her inappropriate jokes and silent thoughts and so much she doesn’t tell you. You consider throwing it all away, to nobody in particular.
Then she’s reaching inside you, hand bloody and features blanked clean. The other hand envelopes your mouth. You’re bleeding heavily and then you’re not breathing at all, and somewhere this has gone so horribly wrong, and when she holds out your heart in her hand, you do not even react.
She slams that heart right there between you and it bounces right back as though it were made of plastic not blood and tissue and such beautifully articulated veins. You register that this must hurt, but it does not. You give your hands to her, willingly. There isn’t much else left, but she takes it all: your mouth, ears, nose, hair, skin, chest, your stumps of arms, torso.
She’s gone then, and you can only hit yourself at the fact that you have just your eyes left now, and how they are burning so much. But they were gone so irredeemably beyond so long ago, so you try staring into the distance as she was before, committed to her even when you aren’t physical anymore. You don’t see anything except barren, empty land.
Dhwanee Goyal (she/her) is a fifteen-year-old student from Maharashtra, India. Pretty buildings make her heart beat fast, and she likes puns, double-sided blankets, sentences that trail off and… Her work can be found in Blackbox Manifold and Eunoia Review, amongst others. She hopes you found some brightness to your day. Her twitter handle is @pparallell.