Breath in; out. I repeat the motion with a certain long-forgotten memorization. All around me is white and I can hear a loud but distant beeping note that seems to be in sync with the sound of my heart that it is overtaking. I seem to think I am alone but then I am not.
I never thought I'd see Jesus; long haired teenaged boy naked with the slow song of breath and lives behind him. I raise my head, bark and root tendrils behind me, and he touches my face. I don't remember waking up; that's nothing new now. Everything is white, and then I decide I must be dead, or almost. Jesus-boy is here and I feel as though as if I could fly. He's only flashes now, but if I live, I can tell people I saw him. They won't believe me, though. After I found the snow, it was winter only for me.
The white is fading, glittering now in the dimming light. The soles of my feet touch grass, soft against bare toes and paper skin. Sunlight paints my face golden, and freckles bubble on my flesh. Running chalk fingers over stalks of grain, the summer smell of air and clean and I know I must not be alive because now I can smell without the hurt and tears. I'm walking slowly like heartbeats, silent breaths of frantic lovers love. I don't know where I am.
Then I see two girls in front of me, standing, looking. They sway slightly in the faint breeze. Behind dirty white heels, three graves are waiting patiently like beds; neat, singular evidence of death in this beautiful field. I look at the little one, in front of the first earth coffin, dandelions in hippie-brown hair, staring black eyes unblinking. A white Sunday dress hangs off the skeleton-child. Taste like hollow air fills my throat, familiar as breathing now. I can remember the last time something reached the swirling acid of my stomach, loud quieted by pale sheets of skin, folded against glass ribs blurred now with teenage forgetfulness, but still there.
She coughs as she inhales the web, spider and all. She wouldn't have noticed it, if not for the feeling, the imprinted feeling of the insect crawling up her skin, the quiet pinkness of her throat. She spits on her white Sunday dress, dirt painted fingers struggling to wipe it off, the taste of the spider's body, the deadness. The web feels glued, stained to her paper thin lungs. She runs to the bathroom, the glittering of the tile-paved floor and silent bubbling of her mother's fish tank, colourful swirls like a washing machine, and now she's looking at the bottom of the toilet and the spider is there too, floating without a lifeboat in its crumpled legs. Her throat tastes sweet, like candy at cheap corner restaurants and there's a humming in her head. She likes this feeling.
The memory is beautiful and terrible and I don't want to remember because of the idea it inspired; but I can't. It's practically poetry. How many needle-bone thin girls standing on street corners with cigarette fingers, being alive, can say they are that way because of childhood? I don't want to be proud: it's guilt-laced. I turn away from the little girl who scares me. She is too ugly-thin to be not real. It's juxtaposition, this dark child in a bright summer field. It doesn't fit.
The beeping is fading now, quieting with my fear. Tombstone pearls of teeth are chattering and I know I must be scared because it isn't cold here. The skeleton-child is still standing there, so I turn away (I can't look any longer), and see the other girl. Black eyes are the same, surrounded by dark makeup, red lipstick like a creature of the night and I didn't think it was possible but she looks strong and broken all at the same time. She feels 15 years young but skinny enough to die. She reminds me of something, something shadowed and covered up by childhood vines crawling around it, shrouding it from remembrance.
Another memory forces its way in, scarily real and it hurts to remember.
I am standing in front of a friend's mirror (though I do not know her very well but I think she is alive and that makes me dead so I have made up my mind to like her) all made up and I feel ridiculous but there is something in the way my hair is curled like a Lolita and my red lips like blood hang off hollowed cheeks that I know make me look grownup, so I don't rub it off with bitten nails.
"Tristin, come." she calls. We run into the night, kissable vampires fearless, lone wolves courageous. We prowl the streets at night, teenaged dreams illuminated by streetlights then the low coloured lights of the nightclub that remind me of my mother's bubbling tank. There are girls in furry coats like lions and fishnet tights like scales and high heels like towers and I cannot compete in my ripped shirt and leather skirt. Standing there, dull brown hair cut awkwardly like a child's, and I am no longer a vampire in this room filled with scaled lions who stand on towers, who attract boys like insects to blood-filled flesh. My friend tells me to follow her into the darkness of the velvet walled room, where there are more lions and boys. We settle on the low couches, pinched between a bearded man and a girl who looks too old to be young. I do not know what to do but then it is snowing and I watch as it settles on the table, soft and calming and beautiful. The man shovels the snow to make neat little paths on the glass. Then my friend leans down and presses her face to the snow, breathing in its cold goodness, I think. She suddenly lurches back up and the blue crystals below her eyelashes go upward until they get lost inside her head. The man whispers in my ear to smell the snow too, and his words taste like smoke and something sweet so I am very nervous. But my friend is fine and she looks happy, somewhere, so I bend down and I smell the snow and then I find it is not snow at all and my nose is on fire and it burns. I throw myself backwards and I mean to tell the man that it is not snow but then I notice that the girl has eyes made out of glitter and my body is jittering to invisible music so it finds some room to dance. It is cold, I am cold; it must be winter now. I get up and suddenly I am not walking through a doorway but staggering, like poorly strung puppets dancing ballet. There is another door, white like the winter I am in now, so through it my body pulls itself.
I can remember a mattress in a room, in the very centre. There is a boy there, on the mattress, all hair and muscle and blue jeans. There are stars on the ceiling, glowing faintly with a beauty you couldn't explain and he shows me them. We curl up on the faded cloth and we watch the stars until I stand up and touch them. I ask to go there, live on the brightness of the stars and get married and grow old together until we're children once more. He laughs and makes it snow again. I tell myself on my insides that it's okay. Stars still shine in winter. Not as bright, but they still shine, I think.
It's a sick joke between the girls, I think, but I can't throw up now, regardless of practice. So I gag and choke but there's only a memory of the candy-sweet taste of bile in my mouth. It's over. Fallen to my knees like a believer, memories flash like old black and white movies where you kiss boys at the back of the movie theatre. It's too much. The beeping is growing louder and faster and it is almost a constant buzz in my ears now, a soundtrack to this flesh-strippingly painful awakening. I look up and there is a third girl now. She is too similar to ignore and I know I must be looking at a mirror or else it is me as an angel, because I or she is all white and shiny and smooth around the edges. She smiles and I watch as skeleton-child (who is now me, I see) takes a step backward with bobby-socked feet and falls, black eyes unblinking, staring, into her grave. There is no sound. Tristin with fifteen years does not close her eyes either as the wind catches her and floats her, slow-motion, down to her earth coffin. The world is getting brighter but I stagger to the first hole and see the little one, then the young one. I couldn't save them. I think I must have been wrong though because I thought the angel would go into the third grave but she is still here, and it is still empty. She reaches out her hand, not bone and paper skin but muscle and sinew and I am scared that she will not take my skeleton hand, black nails and dirty. She takes it, though (so I am relieved, for the moment), and leads me to the edge of the hole.
The beeping is deafeningly loud in tiny ear drums now, floating out of the grave like an earth and dirt music box and I know I must but I can't. The whole world is white now. I hold my breath so if its winter down there I won't smell the snow and I jump down. Flying now, past lions and mattresses and there is a spiderweb falling with me now, entangled in a boy with long hair and glitter eyes and glowing stars falling out of his open stomach. I never thought I'd see Jesus; but I think now I have.
But then he is gone and there is pain, white and there is a humming in my head. Tangled black insect legs part and then I can see. It is white here too, but not the white of my mind this has shapes, chairs, the call of phones and sounds of electronic waves and computers attached to my body. The beeping is still here, steady and slow, reminiscent of my heartbeat and Mother is there and now I know.
It's not a question that coughs quietly out of my rough mouth. It's a statement, a resignation of truth. Mother nods and stains her face with saltwater once more as shadows imprint weight on my stick insect body, a tracing of a future, empty of the sweet taste of bile a constant on my tongue. A future without stars and glittering tears and the Jesus-boys in blue jeans who cause them, where it never snows.
A future without winter.