It smells like rain in the morning.
The room is heavy with the scent of wet stone, upturned soil; the air is dank and earthy. I take a deep breath and tiptoe to the window only to press my nose against the cool surface. Feel my breath fog up the glass. Close my eyes to the sound of a soft pitter-patter rushing through the wind. Raindrops are my only reminder that clouds have a heartbeat. That I have one, too.
I always wonder about raindrops.
I wonder about how they’re always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors.
I am a raindrop.
My parents emptied their pockets of me and left me to evaporate on a concrete slab.
The window tells me we’re not far from the mountains and definitely near the water, but everything is near the water these days. I just don’t know which side we’re on. Which direction we’re facing. I squint up at the early morning light. Someone picked up the sun and pinned it to the sky again, but every day it hangs a little lower than the day before. It’s like a negligent parent who only knows one half of who you are. It never sees how its absence changes people. How different we are in the dark.
A sudden rustle means my cellmate is awake.
I spin around like I’ve been caught stealing food again. That only happened once and my parents didn’t believe me when I said it wasn’t for me. I said I was just trying to save the stray cats living around the corner but they didn’t think I was human enough to care about a cat. Not me. Not
something someone like me. But then, they never believed anything I said. That’s exactly why I’m here.
Cellmate is studying me.
He fell asleep fully clothed. He’s wearing a navy blue T-shirt and khaki cargo pants tucked into shin-high black boots.
I’m wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face.
His eyes scan the silhouette of my structure and the slow motion makes my heart race. I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage.
Stop looking at me, is what I want to say.
Stop touching me with your eyes and keep your hands to your sides and please and please and please—
“What’s your name?” The tilt of his head cracks gravity in half. I’m suspended in the moment. I blink and bottle my breaths.
He shifts and my eyes shatter into thousands of pieces that ricochet around the room, capturing a million snapshots, a million moments in time. Flickering images faded with age, frozen thoughts hovering precariously in dead space, a whirlwind of memories that slice through my soul.
He reminds me of someone I used to know.
One sharp breath and I’m shocked back to reality.
No more daydreams.
“Why are you here?” I ask the cracks in the concrete wall. 14 cracks in 4 walls a thousand shades of gray. The floor, the ceiling: all the same slab of stone. The pathetically constructed bed frames: built from old water pipes. The small square of a window: too thick to shatter. My hope is exhausted. My eyes are unfocused and aching. My finger is tracing a lazy path across the cold floor.
I’m sitting on the ground where it smells like ice and metal and dirt. Cellmate sits across from me, his legs folded underneath him, his boots just a little too shiny for this place.
“You’re afraid of me.” His voice has no shape.
My fingers find their way to a fist. “I’m afraid you’re wrong.” I might be lying, but that’s none of his business.
He snorts and the sound echoes in the dead air between us. I don’t lift
my head. I don’t meet the eyes he’s drilling in my direction. I taste the stale, wasted oxygen and sigh. My throat is tight with something familiar to me, something I’ve learned to swallow.
2 knocks at the door startle my emotions back into place.
He’s upright in an instant.
“No one is there,” I tell him. “It’s just our breakfast.” 264 breakfasts and I still don’t know what it’s made of. It smells like too many chemicals; an amorphous lump always delivered in extremes. Sometimes too sweet, sometimes too salty, always disgusting. Most of the time I’m too starved to notice the difference.
I hear him hesitate for only an instant before edging toward the door. He slides open a small slot and peers through to a world that no longer exists.
“Shit!” He practically flings the tray through the opening, pausing only to slap his palm against his shirt. “Shit, shit.” He curls his fingers into a tight fist and clenches his jaw. He’s burned his hand. I would’ve warned him if he would’ve listened.
“You should wait at least three minutes before touching the tray,” I tell the wall. I don’t look at the faint scars gracing my small hands, at the burn marks no one could’ve taught me to avoid. “I think they do it on purpose,” I add quietly.
“Oh, so you’re talking to me today?” He’s angry. His eyes flash before he looks away and I realize he’s more embarrassed than anything else. He’s a tough guy. Too tough to make stupid mistakes in front of a girl. Too tough to show pain.
I press my lips together and stare out the small square of glass they call a window. There aren’t many animals left, but I’ve heard stories of birds that fly. Maybe one day I’ll get to see one. The stories are so wildly woven these days there’s very little to believe, but I’ve heard more than one person say they’ve actually seen a flying bird within the past few years. So I watch the window.
There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a—
His hand. On me.
of 2 fingers graze my cloth-covered shoulder for less than a second and every muscle every tendon in my body is fraught with tension and
tied into knots that clench my spine. I stay very still. I don’t move. I don’t breathe. Maybe if I don’t move, this feeling will last forever.
No one has touched me in 264 days.
Sometimes I think the loneliness inside of me is going to explode through my skin and sometimes I’m not sure if crying or screaming or laughing through the hysteria will solve anything at all. Sometimes I’m so desperate to touch to be touched to feel that I’m almost certain I’m going to fall off a cliff in an alternate universe where no one will ever be able to find me.
It doesn’t seem impossible.
I’ve been screaming for years and no one has ever heard me. “Aren’t you hungry?” His voice is lower now, a little worried now.
I’ve been starving for 264 days. “No.” The word is little more than a
broken breath as it escapes my lips and I turn and I shouldn’t but I do and he’s staring at me. Studying me. His lips are only barely parted, his limbs limp at his side, his lashes blinking back confusion.
Something punches me in the stomach. His eyes. Something about his eyes.
It’s not him not him not him not him not him.
I close the world away. Lock it up. Turn the key so tight. Blackness buries me in its folds.
My eyes break open. 2 shattered windows filling my mouth with glass. “What is it?” His voice is a failed attempt at flatness, an anxious
attempt at apathy.
I focus on the transparent square wedged between me and my freedom. I want to smash this concrete world into oblivion. I want to be bigger, better, stronger.
I want to be angry angry angry.
I want to be the bird that flies away.
“What are you writing?” Cellmate speaks again.
These words are vomit.
This shaky pen is my esophagus.
This sheet of paper is my porcelain bowl.
“Why won’t you answer me?” He’s too close too close too close. No one is ever close enough.
I suck in my breath and wait for him to walk away like everyone else in my life. My eyes are focused on the window and the promise of what could be. The promise of something grander, something greater, some reason for the madness building in my bones, some explanation for my inability to do anything without ruining everything. There will be a bird. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird. It will be—
“You can’t touch me,” I whisper. I’m lying, is what I don’t tell him.
He can touch me, is what I’ll never tell him. Please touch me, is what I want to tell him.
But things happen when people touch me. Strange things. Bad things.
I can’t remember the warmth of any kind of embrace. My arms ache from the inescapable ice of isolation. My own mother couldn’t hold me in her arms. My father couldn’t warm my frozen hands. I live in a world of nothing.
You will forget me.
Cellmate jumps to his feet. It’s time to shower.