Q. You were black once.
A. You were and will always be.
Q. Once you were black. A floating thing in the twilight wind. An absence. A cloud striding over the new moon. Gathered darkness. The fallen veil.
A. Once maybe you had a body. Now you have no body.
Q. Did you breathe?
A. You did not breathe in the way that breathing is understood.
Q. You went on like this. It was the only state you knew. Was it a happy state?
A. It is true that we tend to privilege the things we know.
Q. Who faces the darkness of chaos and feels reassured?
A. Darkness does not equate to chaos.
Q. Rather: there were no lines.
A. Now you have lines. They were not; now they are. Abounding like animated rabbits. Before you merely existed; now some cold mornings your hamstrings ache. Your calves cramp. Your toe extends for relief. (You stretch out reaching to it, the lost tangible perfect, the Platonic ideal.)
A. Perhaps: and when the visitors appeared . . . ?
Q. Yes, yes: and when they appeared, the visitors?
A. You were the thing left beneath. Behind. The forgotten before.
Q. Do you like them? Their riotous jangling wants? Their bright joys, their slouching sorrows?
A. You are wearied with this new world.
Q. But will you become accustomed? Because if you do not . . . .
Q. So if it’s all so terrible why don’t you just go ahead and change things then.
Q. Because isn’t your implied position of weakness only weak if you so choose it to be?
Q. Because does talking about problems ever make them any better?
Q. (It does not. You know this.)
Q. (Because the value in words lies only in the time it takes to speak them. They are themselves dead currency. Passing time has the only real value. Is the only softening.)
Q. Where are you now? Are you happy in that place where you are?
Q. You seem happy enough. Don’t you.
Q. Where is it? Where is the place to which you have gone?
Q. Look. We are talking to you. Look. Listen.
a. the plunge am the plunge the fallen fall the damp drops slipping out the falling out of the wider spaces. the skies. were set there. nothing intended creation is all is an act no intention. or rather intention is no excuse. it happened. you said it. you said it you said it. Now we gather amongst the nervy all these nervy stars. This coldplunge of fraying nerves. Such tired binaries. Once I was here // now I am there.
a. No, you listen: I am trying so hard to not to be. One oughtn’t have to try.
a. to be in the place of plunge in the eyes bound to the hole circle bound in that bound. in black. and burst. and bound. defined decried delineated delined de—
Q. This is going nowhere.
A. You’re beginning to understand.
They had been walking for what seemed like hours. Walking. The way two walk in a cold cold night. Now her furies had waned; she had stopped; now, he was trying to engage her. But she sat silent, staring, freezing upon a stone bench.
One of those nights with stars shooting the sky – why the party had been thrown, the stars. But the sky was cloudy now and anyway he didn’t know stars, and she didn’t know, neither knew the heavenly occasion. Just another party. She’d left dramatically, wrapping her face and striding into the cold white night. That proud way. Ignoring muffled protestations – wait! don’t go! – from those few who sympathized with her after the terrible scene. Ambushed by former friends, by colleagues, students, even her celebrated niece, all confronting and condemning her. All before them all at the party.
This is not the place, he had muttered.
His wife – herself a victim – touched his hand. Every place, she said, is the place.
Everyone watched the scene with exhilaration: the correct punishing of various wrongnesses. Grim and sour, slowly paling, the woman waiting for it all to end.
Then, finally, she reached for her wrap.
Let her go, his wife said. Following his eyes.
But he followed her into the snow.
She held crossed fingers to her lips as if she were smoking and exhaled a plume of breath. She wasn’t smoking.
I could quit it all, she said. I could be a mime.
Everyone’s a critic anymore, she said.
He stood before her, his hands pressed deep into his pockets against the cold.
A bunch of gaggling pompous critics. All so pukingly melodramatic about everything, she said.
She glared into the night as though they were all there, still there, still glaring down at her, accusing.
Then they were gone.
What do they really say about me? she asked, peering up at him.
After a moment, she frowned. Fine. Don’t answer.
It began to snow, tiny flakes that circled the air, hovering, never landing.
She said, So what if they have a point. So what? So they blame me?
She leaned forward. The world’s problems, she said, are not my fucking fault.
He could see her. Her crying face in the snowlight. But only a moment, as she wiped at her eyes and wearily flicked the damp off into the night.
You used to be more honest with me, she said.
When we were married, he said, I didn’t feel sorry for you.
Underfoot, frozen ice feels much the same as frozen earth.
Alone in the world was so much better. Because alone was what it came down to anyway. Sure there was shared existence, physical laws, fine, fine. But shared experience was so filtered – through the one body, the one mind, the warped individual self. We’re all together but really we’re alone – what he’d used to say. He’d say, What we can do is try to reach across the emptinesses toward each other. Or we can do what you do, he’d say. Raise walls and stand on them, look down from them, arms crossed, in judgment.
She was so sick of it. Of them. Of him. Even, she’d begun to understand, herself.
How far did a person have to run to get all the way away?
(Had he followed her through the darkness, the snow? Would he keep her safe?)
No matter. She was still her stubborn self. She wouldn’t turn back. Wouldn’t check to see if he’d followed. She just wanted to run, to run, she didn’t know upon what she’d run, and then the world cracked, and she slipped through.
Q. Is it a cautionary tale?
A. Yes, but only in the manner of any true story.
Q. Who is it about?
A. Who do you see here before you?
Years earlier, their first night together, living together, cohabitated, that legal word she found oddly thrilling –
They sat on their porch, sat up late, sipping whiskeys. The bedroom lamplight spread a meager trail into the night, and they looked out upon the creeping darkness.
Cohabitation, she said, tasting the word.
He laughed. You’re so funny, he said. So strange.
And she felt suddenly tired. The whiskey, rusted. The air, tanged. First night – all nights. Maybe he’d go to sleep and she could sit here alone. Or step out into the night. Alone. She looked at the glass in her hand. At her fingers. Her hand. She felt a bloom: to remove it all. Drop the glass. Chop the hand. And him. And the mind. And the night.
Now, now, she thought.
Behave, she thought, self-chiding as she was always self-chiding.
Keep quiet, she thought. Don’t let the world know who you really are.
She turned to him, summoning a smile, a nod. That’s me, she said. Very strange!
The poppies, he added. The poppies are beginning to sprout. Can you hear them?
Again she nodded, again smiled. But in the darkness she couldn’t hear a thing.
A recent BFA graduate from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, Gabrielle Rosenstein is currently a freelance illustrator living and working in Pasadena, California. Her character creations, dynamic distortions, and satirical psychologies are realized through the limitless qualities of digital illustration. She strives to evoke wild individualities and emotions in each of her portraits.
Sean Bernard‘s work has appeared most recently in Crazyhorse, Glimmer Train, and Western Humanities Review. He is the author of the story collection Desert sonorous (winner of the 2014 Juniper Prize) and the novel Studies in the Hereafter, published in 2015.