Rest Easy

Victoria knew she was going to die today. And that was fine. 

She set her alarm to play the song “Africa” by Toto. When it went off, she liked the sound of it so much that she just let it play, over and over, until the man in the apartment next to hers began to slam his fist against the wall between them. But even that couldn’t get her out of bed. It wasn’t until her temples swelled and burned like a pipe about to burst that she knew it was time to get moving.

As she brushed her teeth—for the joy of it rather than anything else—she inspected the contents of her bathroom counter. Notable items included a few bottles of painkillers and an old razor. Below that, in the cabinet, there must’ve been at least a few mostly-empty bottles of cleaning fluids. None of that mattered to her, though. She had no plans to kill herself today. 

She had twelve voicemails and, somehow, eighteen thousand unread emails that she had amassed over a span of years. It was clearly too much to sort through now, especially given the circumstances. And it wasn’t like that shiny slab of glass and metal would be useful to her much longer. Victoria slipped on the long sweater slung over her chair, stepped outside, and leaned against the railing of her balcony as she made her final phone call. 

It was to her sister. Her mother and father were still alive, but Victoria called her sister, whom she hadn’t spoken to in over a decade. 

She picked up after two rings, and once she did, they talked for about fifteen minutes. Victoria described the weather in their hometown, the way the sky was overcast with rippling clouds in different shades of darkness. Her sister spoke of her child, as apparently she had a child now. Neither of them mentioned the years of silence, and as they said goodbye, they made no plans to see each other in person. 

But she told Victoria that she loved her and, after a vaguely-embarrassing bout of silence, Victoria said the same. Then she ended the call. She stood and let her vision lose focus, wondering to herself when the last time she said that to someone was. Shaking any pity off with a shudder, Victoria took a step back and threw her phone as far as she could. It arched through the air, bounced off a passing car, and landed in the middle of a busy intersection.

Good place, she thought. Good arm. 

By now her boss would likely be calling to see where she was. Victoria could picture her phone vibrating incessantly on the crossroads of Seventh Street and McKinley, assuming it hadn’t already been smashed to stray mechanics under the wheels of a few dozen cars. Regardless, it really wasn’t her problem anymore, so she decided to get a cup of coffee at her favorite little cafe. 

It was only a few blocks from her apartment complex, but Victoria felt the sudden urge to stretch that route into a long and winding dance. She crossed from one side of the street to the other at random intervals, waltzing through daisy chains of honking cars and angry drivers. The only traffic lights she followed were the ones she made up in her head, beautiful lights in colors no one had ever seen before. And she didn’t look at the cars barreling toward her, not even to flinch as they came to a screeching halt mere inches away. 

There was no need to. She knew they wouldn’t come any closer than that. 

At the coffee shop, that lanky boy with the wild curls was manning the counter. James, she reminded herself. That was his name. He was a dance major at the local community college. He was always kind to her, never minding when she would sit at the table by the window for hours on end, nursing the same cup of lukewarm black coffee. Once, she fell asleep on the couch upstairs, and when she woke up and staggered back past the counter, he flashed her a smile and asked no questions. 

An ideal companion for any situation, really.

She, on a whim, ordered the sweetest drink she could find on the menu: a salted caramel white chocolate mocha. While James got to work, she asked him how school was going. She listened with a particular focus at how steadily pleasant his voice remained while he told her about overpriced books and the pains of balancing work and his rehearsals. Victoria nodded very seriously, even though he couldn’t see, and she tried to keep quiet while she dug through her bag for her checkbook.

There was a wall of polaroids behind the counter for Employee of the Month, and listed under March was a photo of James—James Marquez, according to the sharpie scrawled underneath. Taking a moment to make sure he wasn’t watching, Victoria tore out the last check in her book and copied down his name.

Under the memo she wrote LIFE, in big and clumsy letters. For the amount, she put in seven hundred and fifty dollars, a rough estimate of what she figured she had left in her bank account with a little left to get her through the day. With his attention still turned to other things, she folded the check in half and dropped it in the tip jar. Then she took her drink. Their hands brushed for a moment as she did, and she took the chance to look deep in his eyes and search for some important words.

“Keep it sleazy,” Victoria said. 

James snickered. That, she figured, had to be enough, so she made her exit and continued on with her quest to nowhere in particular. 

She saw her father through the window of the bakery a few doors down and stopped to watch him. They never lived more than twenty minutes away from each other, but she realized that it had been a long time since she saw him in person. His hair was darker than his age would suggest, but she noticed that he moved a little slower. Clumsier. Those hands that once picked her up and flung her in the air now trembled slightly as they pointed at an arrangement of croissants and baguettes. 

It was hard to think about, so she decided not to. Victoria had no time to think of things she was too late to change. At the very least she could find comfort in knowing that she would never find herself stuck in a vessel that was very slowly falling apart. 

That was something. That had to be something. 

There was a family of ducks on the pond in the park, and Vic sat on the shore to watch them swim in slow and lazy ringlets. It was still overcast, and a slight breeze had picked up that made her regret not bringing a better jacket. But it was too late to go back now, so she just picked at the grass underneath her and drank her coffee.

Every so often one of the ducks would tread close to her, until the slightest shift in her position would send them fleeing back to the rest of their family. Victoria wished desperately that she could die right there, right then, so that the ducks could climb up on her corpse and enjoy the fleeting warmth of her body without the fear of human danger.

It would be nice, she thought, if she could hollow herself out to make a secret home for all the tired birds of the world. It was not as though there was much in her to begin with. 

But that’s not how today would end. She knew that. Though there was no harm in daydreaming, was there? 

Was there?

When she was a child, during days like these, her mother would take all the blankets in the house and pile them into a nest on the floor for Victoria and her sister. She would make hot chocolate doused in a hefty layer of those tiny marshmallows, and the three of them would sit together all day and watch cartoons. 

Victoria didn’t know cold back then. She wouldn’t know cold until much later in life.

By late afternoon, the novelty of dying was beginning to wear off. She had taken to wandering around town, tracing her way through the people passing on the street. Every face looked familiar, even the ones she knew were strangers. She wondered, half-bemusedly, if she was doing this wrong. From what she’d seen in movies and books, dying always appeared so dramatic and meaningful. People wrote wild bucket lists, hugged their loved ones close and prayed to whatever god they decided to believe in. Was that what she was supposed to want? 

If not, what was it that she wanted?

Victoria lingered on a street corner and penned a list in her head of anything she could think of. She would like to not have to talk to anyone. And, she mused, to see a clear patch of sky at some point. Plus she was getting hungry and had the near-insatiable urge for a bagel with cream cheese. 

Was that it? Evidently. Perhaps the important part would come later.

Sitting outside a bagel shop, chewing idly at a mess of bread and cream, she wondered who would miss her. Victoria was fairly certain that her parents would be upset once they gathered she was gone. Her sister would likely feel the same—but other than that? 

Sure, there would be a small populace who would notice her absence. That was unavoidable. Victoria might notice, for instance, if all the junebugs in the world suddenly vanished. But would she miss them? What, really, would there be to miss? 

It wasn’t that she was some kind of menace to society—though at the same time, she couldn’t think of any notable role she fulfilled at any point. Her life was like one of those disappearing knots: complicated though it may seem, once you pull at the ends, the whole thing comes undone in an instant. The thought didn’t hurt her. It felt like a bird, a fat sparrow resting on her shoulder, fragile and soft to the touch. It was something she would have to keep still to accommodate. 

There was a sweets shop across the street that she’d passed by for essentially her entire life. She would ration her visits there, going every so often with some extra allowance or a special occasion that warranted an exotic chocolate bar. Or a scoop of gelato to enjoy on the sidewalk with a brief and joyful unawareness of anyone else on earth. 

Today, however, Victoria would get fudge. She would get a big chunk of fudge, perhaps mint chip or butterscotch, and she wouldn’t share with anyone. Or maybe she would offer a bite to every person she saw. That would be her decision to make. 

But she would have to decide now. It was about time for her to get going.

At the end of the day, Victoria watched the sunset from the top of one of the hills behind her childhood home. The clouds were finally starting to break, separating slowly and mixing colors like the rainbow in a puddle of gasoline. She was sitting on the ground, shoes tossed aside, chewing on her fudge and wondering if there was any way for her to have been this happy anytime before right now. 

The air smelled like dry grass and wet wood. When she was young, she wasn’t allowed in the hills this late. Her mother said that after sundown, the place belonged to the ghosts and coyotes. So tonight, Victoria figured, she was in good company. 

Her phone was gone and she ditched her bag at some point on her way over. There wasn’t much else to do at that point, so she just stared at the colors pooling above her, watching them like a child watching clouds until they shifted and turned into other things before her eyes. There was the scarf her grandmother made for her eighth birthday, with the fringes she would twist her fingers in when she was frightened. Her first girlfriend’s hair, thick and curly, and the way it smelled when she buried her nose in its depths. It was like every moment of her life had sprung from her skull and taken form in all the shapes around her. 

Because that’s what the world was now: shapes. They were shapes without meaning, and suddenly Vic was very, very tired.

She laid down on the grass and closed her eyes. Aligned her breath with the howl of coyotes and the rumble of a distant train. It was so good to breathe, so gratifying to feel the life inside of her pulse and expand with every inhale. Even the pain in her temples was a blessing just from the attention it drew to her presence in that very moment. 

Breathing. Moving. Living—would she miss it? Victoria searched herself for fears or hesitations, some sort of hand inside her that still clutched at the fringe of the world. She felt that it must be there, that it would be stranger if it wasn’t. 

But it wasn’t. It just wasn’t. 

There was a deep and syrupy sort of homesickness puddled inside of her, a longing for a place she couldn’t understand. Not yet, at least. 

When she opened her eyes after some time, her memories had seeped back inside her and she could see again. Night washed the world clean and made it peaceful, and though there were only a scattering of stars visible through the light pollution, the sight of them was an immense relief. They twinkled at her with a strange familiarity and a gentle affection. She imagined they would hold her if they could. Since they couldn’t, though, she decided then that she would hold them instead. 

Still lying on the grass, Victoria held her arms out wide, wide enough to embrace the sky so that every inch of it would feel whatever life she had left to give. She stretched her arms out until she could feel her tendons ache, but that was far from enough.

Victoria willed herself to be bigger, with longer arms and a head big enough that her temples would finally be calmed. She’d have hands that birds could rest on by the flock, and her legs would be so long and so large that no one would mind that she didn’t know how to dance. 

And she would grow even more than that. She would get so big that eventually people would no longer bother to look up at her. Clouds would rub against her legs like friendly cats, and she would soon lose track of the world under a blanket of white. She would have to stand still, very still, but growing more so all the while. 

Soon, Victoria hoped, the stars would see her as more than a pinprick on a distant planet. They would recognize the curve of her neck and the dimples on her cheeks, and the fragmented hearts they shared would snap and latch together. The love would be instant and absolute, and every thought and memory inside her would be water slowly seeping through a cracked vase.

They would carry her up until she no longer remembered the feeling of ground under her feet. But that wouldn’t matter. Victoria needed no ground, no gravity, no air filling her lungs. She would bury her face into the arms of the Milky Way and feel a safety she had never known in life. Then parts of her would slowly flake away, bit by bit, hanging in the sky with a newfound luminescence. 

She would be a night sky that no light on earth could cover. People all over the world would make new stories from her stars, forming constellations that would guide people far from home and make those without one feel okay, if even for a second. 

No one would know her name, but they would all know the language that they made of her. A language with a hundred words for “I tried my best.”

And that was fine. That was all she ever wanted.