(Sudden Fiction)

Asher Black

Atlas art provided by Asher Black
Atlas art provided by Asher Black

Jasmine tea. She offers me jasmine tea.

My knees sink into the grime. My back arches with the effort. My shoulders throb with the weight of the world. The skin on my hands tearing.

Jasmine tea. Like a slap. Cold and clean, as if calming a hysterical girl. Smelling salts. Potpourri in a prison.

I try not to wince. Not ignore her. The offer stings, but I smile. The world is so much more than her.

The world. I do not increase my effort. Do not let go. I refuse to be moved. To pretend it isn’t everything there is.

I think of Christ, offered bitter gall.

“I was only trying to help.”

I laugh. Trying to help. I will not be placated.

I slide under the weight. Damn it! I feel salt tears and try to hide them. Have you ever tried to dry your own tears with just your mind? Tears of effort. She probably thinks they’re self-pity. I understand. When something breaks, it is usually that dam first.

Go away, then. I don’t want to be watched. I will stand alone. It can only be borne alone. These are my shoulders. My arms being crushed. Veins bulging. Heart struggling to beat another hour. My back trying not to break.

All have left me here to this and to her. Deserted. They turned their backs and went into the world, adding to the weight. Some even laughed when they did. “When will he learn?”

And who is this person that can bear to stand alone with he who must be alone? Must be alone so that all else can hold together? First she invades my privacy, then offers me tea, and then… watching.

She’s turned her back now. Maybe she’ll go away.

But it’s a song.

I can’t control what my heart’s doing. I can’t manage it. I have everything else to hold up. All of reality, all of this world of suffering and ugliness and despair. I can’t also lift the song and can’t keep my heart from running to its freedom.

I can’t let go of the world.

Song. Tendrils of it touching me everywhere. Pushing in along bones and behind teeth, over muscles, along chords and sinews, against soft and pliant places. I can’t help what I feel.

“I wanted you to know it’s like this,” she says. “That I mean it. This is the only way.”

She has stayed here with me, high above all places, swept with biting wind under the stars. She has told me her name. Luna. She faces me now, and I meet her eyes, her gaze, hear her song, which never seems to waver. I live, now, in her seeing me.

Every day is close to an ending. Each moment under an incalculable weight. I am the most solitary, holding up all else in solitude, but not alone. Bearing with shaking knees that fundamental, unbreached distance between each person and all others.

We both feel the distance, but the paths have met. Whenever the exertion, weariness, and agony cause my eyes to cloud over, she begins the radiant song again. She touches me.

I bear the burden. No one else can. But she sings, sitting cross-legged before me. She tells me stories. The planet seems lighter, delaying the end.

It isn’t, of course, but I survive, even broken, crushed, slipping, inexorably over time. A little more each year now. I take the hurt so I can feel her in it.

Push upward. Reach one knee again. She smiles back at me. I heave a great sigh of breath and listen to her song of heroes. Perhaps she’s right.

I won’t let go, but I’m not alone because she won’t let go, either.

For broken links or other errors, contact Asher Black via his website.