When the young woman awoke in the heart of a hollow tree, the peace surprised her. Vague ghosts of a time before, of a frantic climax, pierced here and there the heavy curtains of her mind. The memories came in jets so blindingly bright that she had to shy away from directly gazing at them. Why was she here, nestled in a tree, away from anything she had ever known? Had she died? She could not believe that she deserved such peace as now surrounded her. The last wisps of an anger born of a life swindled, of a wounded love, drifted away. And even as she tried to capture them, even as she tried to stop their soaring away with her fingers, with her hands, the last traces of these emotions vanished and were lost.
As these last wisps of a life foregone dissipated, they left in their wake a lingering afterthought. An afterthought whose wisdom lay not entirely within her grasp. It whispered to her:
Life is ephemeral, coloured with love. And so forgive. And so forgive. And so forgive.
It seemed, for the moment, that a vague sense of unfairness was all she had left, all she could remember. Perhaps even all she was. And although she would not let this aftertaste of life define her, neither could she bring herself to let it go entirely. Something inside her clung onto it, as though she might yet scale this last tether like a ladder back into the world she had forsaken… or had forsaken her? Defiant in her heart, she wrestled to free herself from the tree’s embrace, so that she may reach out and still catch the feeling as it soared away. But the heart of the tree held her fast, weathering her wrath with untroubled ease. Above, the wisps of reminiscence, the last fleeting mementos of what she no longer remembered being, coalesced into a silvery cloud. She could still make out its shimmer. Tried to reach for it… but it was too late now. As she watched, the cloud soared ever farther beyond reach. Before her opportunity waned altogether, she hastened to heed the wisdom of the whispered words.
And so forgive. And so forgive. And so forgive.
Silently she extended forgiveness to the dissipating cloud of anger, of wounded love, of bitterness, of unfairness.
As soon as she did, the tree released her from its embrace and she fell softly onto the cold forest floor. A swift current whisked the sand below the surface of her conscious mind, and the vast emotional sea she housed within, washed over the brim and onto her cheeks.
‘You might have felt gratitude, you foolish girl,’ she chided. Then, she caught herself. Surely now there was no doubt that she inhabited some sort of afterlife. For indeed, was it not a prerogative of the dead to retrospect and judge the living too engrossed, too entangled in their own individual lives? Pure, heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity of life is not often felt by those who are not acquainted with the feather-breadth separating life and death.
She refused to weigh the thought further. Entanglement, engrossment is the stuff of life, she thought, trying to wreathe herself in the warmth of its promise. There would be time to feel grateful. For now, she would keep at bay these emotions that felt all too close to acceptance, to giving up.
She rose, invested with a new sense of resolution. How persuasive the afterlife that she might have so easily abandoned hope altogether. She studied the hollow tree. How close had she been to condemning herself to the tree’s eternal embrace? The bitter anger she had felt was the last unresolved parcel of her past self. What if she had not forgiven its source in time? Would the tree have released her, then? She shivered as she considered eternity in the hollow tree’s embrace, imprisoned by her pettiness, her incapacity to make peace.
The thought did not entirely make sense to her. Was not forgiveness, like gratefulness, also the stuff of deathbeds. She glanced at the obscure forested night. Had the tree been some sort of gate into the afterlife, then? The whispered words came to her again.
And so forgive. And so forgive. And so forgive.
The words now seemed invested with a more devious, more deceiving tone. Had the words indeed come from her own mind? Or had she perhaps heard the soft whispers of a persuasive snake? Was forgiveness the apple she should not have eaten? Had she been tricked into the afterlife? Into forgoing the last of her memories, the last of who she was?
Where she sought outrage, however, where she sought hatred, despair; all she found was this same empty peace that possessed the woods around her.
‘Stupid girl,’ she whispered, and began clawing at the bark of the hollow tree, trying to awaken some feeling to trouble her unnatural equanimity. She peeled slivers of wood off the passive tree, loosed handfuls of rotten mulch which showered into a mound at her feet. She hoisted herself into the hollow, made herself little in its embrace, willing it to return her to a time before she had made the damning choice to forgive, to surrender. But, no more could she return, than a child be returned to a time before birth. In the end, neither could she will herself to mean it enough, to care enough. If at all.
Exhausted, she stepped out and crumpled into a heap at the base of the tree. There in the humid mulch, she rested. It was some time before her sobs eased into the shallow breaths of sleep. The penumbra listened without a sound.
When she awoke, it was still night. And night, it seemed to her, it would forever be. It had not, she realised, quite been sleep, she had fallen into. Just some kind of emptiness, a hollowness within her like the hollow of the tree. She shivered to think what dwelt beyond the afterlife, for her to wander into. Wondered if one day she might find there the true end.
She stood up slowly, upsetting the mulch and bark of her bedding. She stretched and yawn and pondered her materiality. She glanced at her hands. Neither scuffed nor scratched by her outburst at the hollow tree. As she inspected her hands closer, they seemed to alter. Their fixed appearance did not seem to withstand the intensity of her gaze. Neither could she truly remember ever studying them so intently. Perhaps this accounted for their shifting appearance? The unsteady sight of them made her feel nauseous. So, she steadied her gaze on her surroundings.
There was no distinguishing feature to the forest around her. Wherever her gaze came to rest, there was more of the same. And so, she picked an azimuth at random and set off wandering through this new mysterious realm. None of the trees she crossed was hollow. Rather, they seemed… alive, growing to prodigious heights. Their foliage merged high above into a tight-knit, obscuring the sky from view.
She stopped. Was she making a mistake by leaving the hollow tree behind? Surely, she would not so easily stumble upon it again in these vast woods. She looked back to study it in the near distance. Was she wrong to think of the hollow tree as a portal? A gateway between life and afterlife? Could it be made to do so once again? Or, perhaps more importantly, could its direction of travel be reversed? Somehow she doubted it. Seeing all the other trees alive and thriving, made her wonder whether she had not exhausted its capacities. There seemed more promise in the idea that somewhere out there she might find the hollow trees opposite. A dead tree as a portal to the afterlife beckoned the existence of a living tree that would return her to the world of the living. Or so she believed. Just as life’s path stemmed from the womb, and to the womb never returned. She needed to find another way. And so, she left the dead tree behind.
The forest, she soon discovered contained very little mystery to be unveiled. Endless meandering had revealed nothing more than would have been revealed by merely sitting still and glancing about. Discouraged, she settled at the foot of a great tree. Her limbs never felt weary, in fact, she could not sense any variation in her energy at all. There just seemed little point in carrying on her explorations.
Perhaps she slept then. Perhaps she merely shut her eyes and dwelt into the emptiness. Whatever realm she inhabited, she was jerked back into awareness by a bright explosion that struck the very tree where she lay. Her heart leapt to her temples as, panicked, she stumbled away from the tree. A frantic electric energy pulsed under the bark, coursing back and forth from trunk upwards into the foliage. She watched in awe of the electric spectacle. She knelt on the cold ground even long after the brightness faded and the forest regained its soft gloom.
There was, however, very little time for questions to arise for, in the distance amongst the silhouette of trees, she could make out another drifting light. Then another blinding explosion as the spark collided with a nearby tree. This time the spark set off in another direction and soon disappeared from sight.
Whatever the light was, it was beginning to seem exactly the antithesis of the hollow tree. Bright and alive and… promising. She gathered all her hopelessness and shed it from her shoulders onto the soft clay of the forest floor, grateful that her wayward journey had finally been granted a bright shining focal point. She wondered whether she was more likely to see the shooting spark again if she waited; or whether the process was random like lightning, and thus, less likely to hit the same area twice. Lightning was what she knew so she decided on the latter. Besides, there was a symbolism to travelling a path rather than waiting, that appealed to her most romantic heart.
Not long into her pilgrimage, though time remained mostly immeasurable, she came to a different understanding of the phenomenon. She began by observing every spark as it wove its way through the silent woods, so like night marauders, all stealth and precision. She made note that while some would meet their journey’s end upon colliding with a tree, others would fly off again to find another mark. She then tried to identify some kind of pattern to their travels. Their motions, however, soon proved wholly unpredictable. It certainly did not help that they moved with such unfathomable speed and effortless grace. She found that, in order to further study the nature of their essence, she had no other choice than to turn her attention to the inspection of the trees. When a spark collided nearby, she would race over study the effects. The trees never exactly bore traces of the impact, nor could she find burn marks to speak of, nor shattered bark. Rather, the collision seemed to substantiate the tree, in a general way, as though the marauding spark helped reaffirm its presence, define it against an inevitable fading into oblivion.
That’s when the idea came to her that the trees were not trees at all, but something… else. The trees were distinctly alive, this much was clear to her, but alive in a different sense than that of simple flora. In fact, her differentiation efforts went so far as to identify four states of being. Dead: the hollow tree. Asleep: the stasis of all trees. Awake: trees grazed by a spark. Thriving: trees that are the final destination of a spark.
This was, to her, not so much unequivocal knowledge as intuitive wisdom. The two extremes, dead and thriving, seemed to hold between them the whole spectrum between loss and hope. There was something so familiar about these trees that something akin to empathy evolved between them. For lack of a better word to affix to the ambiguity of their nature, she resolved to stick with the word tree. There was a certain poetry to a forest of trees, a protective familiarity, which helped in warding off the alien nature of her whereabouts.
It could even be said that there followed a brief interval when her fascination with her environment wholly overshadowed her previous interest in the thriving trees as a means for escape. This new fascination bloomed like love, like a motherly affection of sorts. As her interest momentarily waned for the thriving trees, she gained a sensitivity for a variation in states of stasis. Shades of grey, of materiality, of vanishing. Through this lens, the forest no longer felt so wholesome. Now that she had awakened to this spectrum of health, everywhere she looked, she found trees in varying stages of vanishing. Perhaps, the other extreme of the spectrum from thriving was not only material death but immaterial oblivion.
When she stood vigil over these trees on the edge of vanishing, it often seemed to her that, were she to pass a hand through them, she might feel nothing more substantial than a faint mist. She never dared, however, out of respect, out of dignity. How she yearned for there to be a way to call the marauding sparks’ attention to these vanishing trees, so as to substantiate them before they were no more. But her wishes were never granted. The marauders were simply too few and too whimsical, and the fact of the forest’s declining health seemed entirely attributable to their incapacity to renew life before it faded away. They were fighting a losing war.
This new reflection jolted her out of her fascination. If the marauding sparks were losing a war against time, then so was she. Were she to find a way out, she would have to do so before all the trees vanished, leaving her marooned in this desolate landscape. Or worse.
Her mind once more focused on finding an escape, she returned to her study of the comings and goings of the marauders, of the substantiation and disappearance of trees, with a new, almost desperate fervour.
Her mind, however, soon revealed itself to be less than equal to the task. Her thoughts began drifting aimlessly, only at times focusing upon something in her environment. And it was lost in reverie that she nearly missed a curious and unique phenomenon. A flash of such blinding brightness as she had never before witnessed, was illuminating a wide span of woods in the far distance. Whereas the flashing marauders would normally extinguish as they collided with trees, or set off in another direction; this brilliant light did not fade or drift off. Even from a vast distance, basking in its pure shimmering light seemed to awaken something within her. If I could only dive into it, she thought, drown in its blazing embrace, then perhaps… But, even before she could gather her wits and set off towards it; the light finally vanished, leaving only blindness and half-formed hopes in its wake.
For how unique the event had been in all her stay in the dark woods, she became convinced that she had missed her opportunity, her one chance at escape. She fell to the ground, blind now with anger at herself and despair. But she was wrong. Once again, a brilliant light set the forest aglow, made all the more blinding, all the more awing for the kaleidoscope of tears through which she beheld it. This time, she did not hesitate. And, with her wits about her, she set off towards it. Though it was clear from the outset that she would not reach the area in time, she nonetheless learned much from the phenomenon. As far as she could surmise, the brightness surfaced from a curious convergence of many marauders, who collided with several trees in a focused area. The resulting cataclysm generated a sphere of such brilliance, that it appeared to freeze the restless marauders in time and space. The convergence lasted for many more moments, before its inevitable disbanding.
‘Why?’ she whispered, breathless. What was the stimulus? There had to be a raison d’être behind the unique phenomenon. Was it the trees that attracted the whimsical marauders? Or, was the convergence a mere coincidence? No, it couldn’t be a coincidence, otherwise, how can there have been two so near to one another? The tumult of unanswered, unanswerable questions that arose within her, failed to lead to despair, however. Quite the contrary. Having observed the phenomenon twice already, and in such relatively short succession, made her take heart. The details, for the moment, mattered very little. Sooner or later, she would certainly succeed in catching a convergence before it dissipated.
Mind full of hope, she rose to her feet and began to wander, thinking: lightning, thinking: the phenomenon was more likely not to hit the same area twice. Patiently, she awaited a third manifestation.
And when, against all logic, a third convergence took place, she did not waste a breath. The phenomenon was near enough, this time, for her to reach. And so, with the voracious swiftness of one who has everything to lose, she worked on bridging the space between herself and the blazing convergence. She wove between the trees with what felt like as much grace and speed as a marauder. And suddenly, she was through, leaping the last span of forest to plunge deep into the light’s embrace. Let her be illuminated or let her be consumed—she dove in headfirst.
The world burst into life around her, bustling crowds shifting hastily on the platform of a train, the squealing of the breaks, the scurrying pigeons, the cold early mourning air. They had hopped off despite the warnings of the ticket collector. The stop was too brief. They would never make it back in time. And indeed, as they skipped restlessly from one foot onto the other, awaiting the tea and sandwiches they purchased at a small kiosk; a blaring whistle announced their train’s imminent departure.
We smiled at each other, then, she remembered. She remembered. She remembered! And, faithful to her memory of this most precious moment; the two smiled at each other. Sweaty, unbathed and giddy with anxiety, they smiled wildly. No heart could contain the crushing love she felt at that moment. They snatched their sandwiches, forwent their teas and ran off together towards the leaving train. Laughing. Laughing. Forget the tea. Forget the sandwich, forget the train! They were together. And they were laughing. And they were laughing!
And then it was gone. The memory dissipated, and she was left laying on the soft cool clay of the forest floor. Blind. And she wished the blindness would endure forever. For what else was there to see? What could ever come to better such happiness as she had seen? As she had remembered? Then, one by one the trees began to trace themselves against her recovering retina, and she was torn between heartfelt gratitude and bitter heartache. To have remembered such a memory, was both too wonderful for words and a torture, of such inhumane cruelty, that she couldn’t even lend it a name.
The young man collapsed into the seat next to the bed. He sighed, just as the blue vinyl hospital cushion sighed beneath him, releasing the built-up tension slowly. He still held a thin sandwich wrapped in a thin film of plastic. Its orange cheese and cold-cut meat, spilling over the sides like an outstretched tongue. He was dirty, unbathed and sweaty, for he had just run to catch a train that wasn’t there, alongside a girl that wasn’t there. Well, not as she had been. He leaned over and grabbed one of the two teas that awaited untouched on the windowsill. He wondered if he had done everything right. It was imperative that he remember every detail. How else would he make a compelling case for life. Life over whatever realm it was she now inhabited. He leaned over and seized her cold limp hand in his. Delicately, he wrapped her fingers around the lukewarm paper cup of the tea.
‘We never did get to taste that tea’ he said to her. It wasn’t that the word taste was so terribly sad, but that’s about how far he managed to get without crying. ‘Wouldn’t change a thing about it though.’
Just then a nurse poked her head into the room.
‘Everything ok?’ she asked with a kind smile. ‘Thought I heard a whistle.’
‘A whistle? Oh,’ the young man said, remembering. He reached over to the small pile of items he had brought to faithfully re-enact the memory, and retrieved a train whistle. He blew into it faintly. ‘Sorry.’
‘How is she doing?’ the nurse asked, kindly.
The young man glanced over to the girl lying on the hospital bed.
‘Oh, you know,’ he said in a whisper, then sniffed. ‘She just needs to find her way.’ He nodded, smiling to himself. ‘She’ll make it.’
‘Faithful, please be faithful,’ she repeated over and over again under her breath, not entirely sure whom she was pleading to. There had not been a fourth convergence. And yet, as time flowed by, invisible and uncountable, she marvelled at the marauder’s dance and found herself clinging to the promise that the phenomenon would come again. A little crazed, she prowled the woods, trying, beyond reason, to predict the next site where the event would arise. Mistaking every flash, every impact of a marauder against a tree, for the coming of another convergence, of another memory; she slowly drove herself further and further away from sanity. Her emotions swelled, endlessly soaring and plummeting with every hope found and every hope lost; and it wearied her to the point of collapse. Time flowed sluggishly with anxious anticipation.
By the time another convergence took place, she had withdrawn so far within her pain, that she had almost stopped believing in their existence. In the end, the event had indeed been faithful to its promise. She positively leapt to her feet when it finally dawned on her that the powerful glow was not just another hallucination.
She ran at such speeds through the woods, praying that she may not be too late, that the trees began to blur. Just as the marauding sparks substantiated the trees they collided with, the memories were her sustenance now. Sustenance without which she would surely wither and vanish just like the trees. Her mind did not even register the last instants before she dove with complete abandon into the brilliant sphere. Into the promise of another memory.
A park, it was raining.
‘Where were you?’ the young man said.
‘I… I’m sorry,’ she answered. ‘I didn’t think you would still come…’
‘I almost left, you know.’
The two of them studied each other, weighing the intricate balance of emotion that would release them of their respective states of annoyance and repenting; release them so they could move on to enjoying their time together. For an instant, the whole affair teetered on the brink, and it did not seem as though there would be forgiveness between them. But then, she sneezed. And somehow that restored everything. She sneezed again and then they laughed.
‘Here, I got you these,’ he said pulling a bouquet of wet, withered flowers from behind his back. She took them.
‘Thanks… they’re… they’re… thanks.’ Then, laughter as weightless as a drizzle trickled between them.
‘Not that you deserve them. Come on,’ he said, ‘let’s go home.’
Miserable, but miserable together, they walked across the park towards home.
‘Home,’ she said. ‘Home!’ The word was honey, was colour, was warmth, was love. She clung to it as the memory faded. She repeated it over and over again until it had been drained of all its meaning and the dark forest of trees took shape around her once more.
More than a few heads poked through the door this time. Patients and visitors alike stopped to observe the curious phenomenon taking place in room 17. Then, a loud voice came from behind them breaking the spell.
‘Excuse me.’ A few of the onlookers had to leap aside so as not to get sloshed by the grey soapy water, as the janitor drove his mop right through the massed spectators.
‘Mister, I’m sorry,’ the young man said immediately.
‘Sorry’s not going to clean this mess, you know.’
The young man glanced about, as though only awaking to the mess he’d made. He was soaked to the bone and shivering. He looked confused for a second and was about to offer to clean up the mess himself, but the janitor was faster. He took the withered flowers from the young man’s grasp and placed a dry towel there instead.
‘How is she doing?’ he asked, looking over at the young woman lying motionless in bed.
‘Oh, you know,’ he said in a whisper, then sniffed. ‘She just needs to find her way. She’ll make it.’
‘I’m sure she will,’ the janitor said with a wink. ‘Now get dry before a nurse sees you and decides to put you in a sickbed too.’ Gently, he moved aside the watering can the young man had used to simulate rain in the park, and with a sigh that said it cannot be helped, he mopped the floor.
When she awoke, she found that she had not stirred from the spot of the convergence. She must have travelled from the memory straight into sleep. Immediately she sensed that something was… different. She could feel it more than see it, although there were certainly hints wherever she looked. The forest had grown darker, but, that was not all. The few marauders she saw had also lost a measure of brilliance. And although they still wove between the trees with their typical grace, their path did not connect with the trees as often. And the trees! Everywhere she looked trees were silently vanishing. And yet, for some reason, she, herself, felt more substantiated, more defined, more…alive, than she had felt since her arrival in these woods. Were the two related somehow? Was she the one stealing the life away from the forest? She felt more than a pang of guilt at the thought.
For all her distress, she still could not take her mind off the possibility of an impending memory. Since the very first memory, she had lived for nothing else. So, a little ashamed, she cast aside the conundrum and focused on moving to another area of the forest. Quite beyond the idea that the convergence would not strike twice at the same spot, she felt an odd certainty now, that she had developed an extra sense for the general location of the next convergence.
But as soon as she would find a spot that felt right, something would shift and she would move again, convinced that her senses were misleading her. She tried to convince herself that time had not stretched on longer than the other times, but as she kept wandering from area to area, despair finally took root. Had she missed it? Or did the convergence not take place at all? Both prospects frightened her. Suddenly, the growing obscurity of the woods, the diminishing frequency of collisions, the fading marauders, and now the absence of the convergence; it all seemed too coincidental not to be correlated.
‘No,’ she said aloud, surprising even herself, ‘it’s my turn to be faithful. I’ll wait. There’s no hurry. I’ll wait. I’ll wait. I’ll wait. I’ll wait.’
The doctor spoke clearly, and not without compassion. And the young man, sitting across from him, suffered nobly as he welcomed every wounding word like razors into his raw and vulnerable world.
‘Time is not on our side. I’m afraid that if she does not come back to us soon,’ the doctor was saying with all the cotton and care in the world; for all the good it did. ‘She might cross a threshold, beyond which… she will have incurred… too much brain damage. Beyond that point… even if she were to return… she would not be the person she was before the accident. Do you understand?’
The young man nodded. However, inwardly he had shelved the doctor’s words. Every single one of them. All neatly preserved and assembled in the same order, but away to the side. There would be a time to unwrap the unmerciful truth they bore. Only not now. Now, he had memories to re-enact, and this time, he had to do it just right. There was no time to lose, now less than ever. And he could not allow the doctor’s words, his grim message, to corrupt the execution of the memories. It was fine for the doctor to abandon hope. But if he abandoned hope, who else would there be to uphold it? Hope would not be abandoned then, but forever lost. Precarious as his hold on hope already was, it would not do to waver in the slightest, for there would be no retrieving it.
Without noticing his departure from the doctor’s office, he now crossed the threshold into room 17. His wife lay there, just as he had left her.
Bless her faithful soul, he thought. And me, arriving late, betraying her, of all things. And now of all times.
‘Just you wait,’ he said. ‘The path is always darkest in the moments before the arrival of light. You’ll see.’ With this, he went to work. The normally empty room was now crowded with labelled boxes. After organising them in just the right order, he walked over to the door, dragging a chair behind him. He carefully jammed the chair under the door handle and tested it.
‘Now,’ he whispered with a smile. ‘Let’s find you a way back.’
‘I must have lost my way,’ she whispered to the fading trees. ‘That’s all. Just lost my way. The memories will come again. I’m sure they will come again.’
Deciding that a moment of rest would work wonders on her fading disposition, she settled into the nook of an old barely material tree.
Why hadn’t it come? She tried to warm her soul with the previous memories she had experienced. All the beautiful memories that had graced her otherwise sombre afterlife wanderings. Could there be a doubt now? That this was indeed an afterlife? But nothing, not even the slightest detail of how it had been, came to her now.
In her darkest moment, just as she felt herself slowly drowning in the obscure, nearly opaque forest, just as she drifted away into the last deep embrace; something flickered in the air before her. She opened her eyes and saw that it was a tiny orb of pure white essence, falling to her.
For a moment, as she observed the softly glowing spark fall, like a snowflake on a windless day, she could not understand. She thought that she had, at last, succumbed to the surrounding black opacity.
And of all things she might have felt, it was endless gratitude that filled her heart. Endless gratitude for the few memories that had been offered to her, here in the anti-chamber of death. The brightest moments of a life that was no longer hers to claim. She took a deep breath and, with the last of her strength, stretched out her hands to gather the tiny orb of light, embracing the singular beauty of the moment. Then, from everywhere at once, a shower of such tiny sparks fell. And despite being on the brink of surrender, she was not beyond savouring the mesmerising spectacle.
‘What a way to go,’ she whispered, at peace.
Then, as the tiny orb of light touched her hands, she closed her eyes and welcomed the emptiness, the darkness therein.
The young man danced. Cradled softly in his arm was a weightless white dress, the one she had worn at their wedding. And how beautiful she had looked, there, surrounded by all whom they loved, all who loved them. In a moment so pure that the world faded around them for the briefest of moments, as they danced in a sea of radiating love. The floor was wet yet again, only this time it was wet with the young man’s tears. Without missing a step, he leapt into the next memory, the one when he had foolishly trusted her and had dived into the open sea, despite all the sharks and crocodiles that he knew lurked in wait, as they always had in his nightmares. He leapt into the next memory. This time, she was the one trusting him, as she let go and skied down a snowy slope for the first time, and in the worst, iciest conditions imaginable. And the next, and the next. They were sharing an ice cream cone because hers had fallen to the ground, even though he had told her not to hold it that way. They met for the first time again. He held her into his arms as she received the news that her grandfather had died. Then, she held him. Then, he held her. Then, they were yelling at each other, even though they both had forgotten why. And she left. She left angry. And he ran after her because… because how can you leave angry; how can you fall asleep angry; how can you go without reminding someone, every living second, how much you love them when you can never know, you can never, never be sure when you might see them for the last time.
And then, he saw her. He called after her but she would not listen. He saw it all again. He lived it all again. The screeching tires, the car that would not stop in time. He screamed her name, and if only he had not been so petty, if only he had listened to her, if only he had forgiven her, told her how much it hurt to love her so much; she might have heard him in time. Might never have been there at all. He screamed her name, there, on the street corner. He screamed her name by her hospital bed.
There was a thunderous crash as the car connected; as the hospital room door burst open. Then it was over. The young man could no longer go on because he had reached the end. He was down on his knees on the dirty soaked ground, crying, holding her invisible body in his hands screaming, ‘Please, please, please…’
‘It’s ok,’ she was saying. ‘Shh,’ she was saying. And all he could feel was that it was unfair. It was all so deeply unfair. That she was the one consoling him. That it had to happen to her, of all people. That it had to happen after they had fought over the stupidest thing.
‘I forgive you.’
She had said it with such nobility then, dying in his arms. But this time, she said it with such a frail voice that he almost missed it. For a moment, he could just glare at the janitor and the nurse who were standing by the busted door and the mess of boxes and props, frozen in place, glancing not at him, but at… her.
‘What,’ he said with a sniff. He wiped his tears away with the back of his hand. ‘What?’
Then, the frail voice spoke again, and there was no mistaking its origin.
‘I made it… I found my way.’