In this death story, the clichés are ditched. The groans and blood are left behind. There is something on the other side. Cardigans stay wrinkle-free. Birds never fall from the sky.
Let’s unravel the foil around the word death and put it to our cavities. Let’s bite down on the possibility. Let’s start in the middle of the story.
On the third day of being dead, you realize your hair will never grow another inch. You dye it green and let the dye drip onto the bathroom tile. You lean your head over the bed and let it drip on the sheets. You lean over the boiling soup and let it drip into the recipe.
To pass the time, you move around the spaces you always have. You walk barefoot to the ocean’s bay where you wade up to your waist. Fish bob at the surface, mouths open, eating the summer’s blanket of insects. The water is warm and only warming. The ocean is 4 million years old. Or older. Time isn’t always best measured in age. On the horizon, bodies move around a ship anchored to a dock.
A body is a body even when it is dead. The sun highlights the sailor’s bones as they move the ropes from one edge of the boat to the other.
Back at home, you take your hermit crab out of his cage and place him next to a strawberry on a blue blanket. You’re thinking about the boat’s masts as he moves his claws from his shell. Another pot of soup is on the stove, its yellow broth shining.
What we want to do is find the line between life and death, between happy and sad, between grey and red, then pluck it taut. We want to make the line sing.
Let’s have the melody change our minds.
To keep with routines, you go out to the garden every Tuesday and pull chives by their roots. Your neighbors clink martini glasses by the pool, bleaching their bones and chatting about magazines from 2003. Something about the Cambrian age and octopus skulls washing up in LA.
You’re going to write a love letter to yourself. You close your eyes and run your tongue along the back of your teeth to concentrate. You love the way your body now moves beneath a sundress; the way your hand wraps around a pomegranate at the market; the way you navigate this new time with no shape. Every sticky note you write turns to water under the pen.
You love your nails painted red with roses you grind down with your thumb. By the end of most days, every surface in your home is petal-kissed. You fold construction paper and make the love letter into something tangible. You wear it as a hat.
When you were seven, every day for the month of August you dreamt of being trapped in a library. All the windows were open and the sun was shining but never inside onto your face. You looked for books about getting un-trapped and they were all filled with moss and pollen and how to survive but not a way out. You would wake up blurry-eyed and runny-nosed and calling out a whale’s song.
You decide to throw a party. You prep the floor with strawberry scented wax. All the teacups have been washed and you fill yours with gin and lemonade as you wait for guests to arrive.
The clowns knock a joke on the door. There are maybe 12 of them, but their bodies always seem to be morphing into the next. One clown with a lavender wig eats all the crab cakes before the other guests arrive.
The doctors come next, placing stethoscopes on everyone’s hollowed out cores. They mingle with the cowboys whose lassos slap against the floor and come back smelling of strawberry. They want all the TVs tuned to CMT.
You try to stop thinking about the ocean; about fossil fuels really being skeletons like you and the ocean floor bubbling with gas. Looking out the back window, you try to stop thinking about the first dog you ever had and how you sometimes still hear his bark.
The doctors leave before the stunt women arrive. You have to remind them that this is your home and not a movie set—no windows should be broken at this party. You sip your gin and lemonade.
The cowboys seem to be drawn to the stunt women. One bets the other that she can’t do a backflip off a horse and when she does, she is lassoed in for a kiss. You forgot to mention that all the cowboys are cowgirls. The stunt women and cowgirls move to the side of the pond in your backyard. Their voices ring off the water.
When the party is over, you lie down on the kitchen floor and reapply your toenail polish. Your hair is back to black now, the dye still wet at the nape of your neck.
Let’s go outside all of this. Let’s walk along the edge of the seam where we are breaking into darkness, or maybe it is breaking into light.
What we find all the way out on the edge is a vernal pool filled with our own reflections. When we slap the water, our own voices call back. We are all connected, which means, we are all inside this vernal pool at one point or another.
When we aren’t water, we’re taking deep breaths as chlorophyll in a treetop canopy. We’re moss on an old Sequoia which is inside a forest on an old planet which is inside a gravitational pull of an old universe. Isn’t every day the best day ever? Let’s take it slow.
Back when your first apartment was still an apartment in a city named after an animal, your lover would only drink out of a single cup. She would carry it around in her bag or pocket or right there in her hand. Fruit punch, water, beer; every single drink. She would hum a showtune when washing it under warm water, her hands moving the plastic’s shape in suds. When you asked, she told you something about lead and the smell of earthworms in glasses and how she couldn’t really trust anything but the cup itself. One night, when she was asleep, you slowly sipped ice water from its lip, wondering if some of her magic would wear off on you. The next morning, across a table of pancakes heavy with maple syrup and orange rinds still slick from being squeezed, she smiled like you finally delivered a long-awaited punchline.
We like to believe that lovers cross through lives too. A couple from Eurasia now a bonded pair of lobsters deep down in the sea. Street cats from Washington now leopard slugs in a garden. Do souls mingle and move around each other in the ether? If we clap in this life, can we hear it in the next?
How does it feel to be nothing and everything at once?
1 a: to bring an end
b: to use or dispose of entirely
2 a: to bring to completion or issue
b: to provide with a finish
3 a: to defeat or ruin utterly and finally
b: to bring about the death of
1 something that completes or perfects
2 a: final stage
b: the cause of one’s ruin
3 the result or product of a finishing process
4 the quality or state of being perfected
You take your hermit crab out of his cage and walk down to the ocean. His body recognizes the salt and he lunges from his shell. The beach is rocky, and you strain your eyes to follow him up and over the earth, around boulders and pebbles, and finally, he meets the water.
Seagulls dance overhead. Today is it sunny, a brisk wind catching on the water’s smooth surface. Slowly you undress down to your bones, and finally, you meet the water.
Jim Doran studied music at Washington College, and went on to earn an MFA in studio art at Towson University. His cut paper dioramas have been exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum, and his stop motion animation can be viewed on his website. Jim works and resides in his beloved Baltimore City, Maryland.
Olivia Kingery is a writer and farmer living on 80 acres in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with her partner. Her life is run by their two dogs, two cats, eight chickens, and one hermit crab. Her writing focuses on the body and more-than-human bodies. Mostly she is in the soil talking to earthworms. Find more of her work on her website, and find her on Twitter @olivekingery.