Sarah Anne Strickley, faculty editor of Miracle Monocle, has this to say about the winner of our annual Ambitious Student Writing Award: "We received an extraordinarily high volume of excellent submissions to our student writing competition, which both thrilled and challenged us as an editorial team. In the end, "Take Care" was the clear winner. We loved the ambition on display, the imagination, the willingness to take risks. This is clearly a writer to watch and we're thrilled to have him in our digital pages." In addition to publication, the writer will receive a $200 cash prize.
I return from work to find Emily waiting outside my apartment, holding one of her memories again.
It’s a glass ball the size of a snow globe—just like all of the others. Inside, two porcelain figurines enact a ten-second scene over and over on a loop. One, a large bearded man in a red flannel shirt, rears his hand back. His lips move, his face contorting into a mask of rage. The other, a little girl in a yellow sundress, cowers by a coffee table. She shakes in tense, hummingbird trembles.
There are tiny shards of blue next to the little girl. Wilting flowers sog into an eggshell white carpet. A broken vase. A moment of careless neglect, and the violent aftermath.
The scene resets before the father’s arm comes forward, before the back of the hand connects with the pale shivering face. But I wince every time all the same.
Emily offers the memory without a word. She lost her voice months ago to a violent bout of laryngitis and hasn’t spoken beyond a rasp since. No longer truly sick but still unable to rediscover the thrum of her vocal chords.
Apparently, if you stay quiet long enough, your body just forgets.
“Look, Em, I talked to you about this.” I put my hands up, refusing to take the orb. “You can’t keep giving me these. I’m not the right person to take care of them.”
Emily doesn’t budge. Big brown eyes bore into me with unwavering directness. She presses the glass ball into my chest.
“Fine.” I fumble the memory into my hands. “But this is the last time. No more.”
Emily smiles. She places a hand upon my shoulder. The fluorescent light of the apartment complex hallway flickers across her eyes like something kindling. She nods once and then turns to walk away.
I cradle her memory with my elbow and dig out my keys. Emily’s footsteps clop away in the background, dim echoes reaching me in softer and softer hues. It takes a minute with my added burden, but I maneuver the keys out of my pocket. I open the door. Linus is waiting on the other side, panting with anxiety.
“Just a minute, bud,” I tell him. Linus has had trouble with his bladder lately, peeing in the house for the first time since he was a puppy. His paws click restlessly. Before I get his leash, I put Emily’s memory on the bookshelf next to the others. It takes some balancing, getting the ball of glass to sit just so on the thin plank of wood. I always hold my breath before I let go.
The memory wobbles but ultimately settles into place. I grab the frayed red leash off the coffee table. Linus following me all the while, hot breath on my face as I fasten the metal clip to his collar. I run my hand along his fur, stiff and yellow like hay. Fleshy bumps riddle his side. Fat tumors; the vet says they’re harmless. Just a cosmetic price for getting older.
Linus strains at the edge of his leash when we get to the main hall. He wheezes forward in treadmill scrabbles. I want to run alongside him, to let him tear loose and finally get that sense of relief. But I know that’s not really the best thing for either of us. Not with my balky back and his trembling joints.
So I act as the medium of restraint, as per usual. I hold Linus back, tether him to a more orderly pace. He waggles waiting for me to open the outer door. We go outside, and I guide him across the parking lot. We beeline toward the thin strip of grass separating the apartment complex from a check-cashing emporium.
Linus lifts a quivering leg just before we reach the lawn. Urine dribbles onto asphalt. The most pressing business complete, Linus gingerly steps over the curb. He does three maypole circles in the grass before crouching into a squat. I wait.
And then, without warning, Linus collapses backward.
He tries to get up, pushing weight onto his front paws, but his back legs bow beneath him. He lies there. Looking up at me with helpless, brown eyes.
I hoist Linus up by the hips. First holding him in place so he can poop and then scooping all seventy pounds of his lab-mutt body. I stumble back to the complex with Linus sagging in my arms. I curl a finger around the handle of the entrance door and twist my body to swing it open.
Emily steps into the hall as I pass her apartment. I can see that she wants to help. She trots ahead to my door. I try to wave her off, but Linus’s body slumps like a sandbag. I lift a knee to adjust his weight, and Emily opens the door for me. A simple act of kindness, asking nothing in return.
It infuriates me.
“Thanks,” I mutter as I stumble through the frame. I bottle my rage, my frustration at being given so much, so much that I cannot return. I kneel Linus to the floor. Emily has a hand on my shoulder. An offer to do more, to stay. I brush her off.
“Really, appreciate it, but I’ve got it from here.”
I usher her out of my apartment. I shut the door behind me with rattling force, and Emily’s memories jostle on the bookshelf. They clink against each other but do not fall.
I crouch back down to meet Linus. He’s so still, but his eyes are rolling white. Like he’s been trapped, like he has been taken hostage by some unpredictable force and is desperately trying to find his way out.
“It’s gonna be okay.” I take his head in my hands and play with the silk of his ears. “Everything’s gonna be okay.”
I don’t know if dogs can understand us. I don’t know if for all the years I’ve been talking to Linus, I’ve really just been talking to myself. But in this moment, looking into the wildness of his eyes, I can’t help but feel Linus knows that I am lying.
My parents bought Linus as a graduation present. His defining feature as a puppy was a tendency to use his paws as hands. Always swatting at balls, never picking them up with his mouth. Crouch down to his level, and he would place two tiny paws on each of your shoulders, as if he was trying to hold you down. Linus was a gift, ostensibly a reward for surviving high school intact. But I always suspected that my parents choose him more as a consolation prize. As a way to make me feel a little better about staying. Ever since the multiverse opened up, people don’t usually stick around Fairview by choice.
Senior year, most everyone had their destinations circled. They’d done their research. For the aquatically inclined, maybe Universe 24, where humans and dolphins lived in a hybrid society. For those looking to fulfill some grand destiny, maybe Universe 48, where Earth was locked in an ongoing struggle with a race of transgalactic slavers. For those more interested in spending their days on a ski resort, maybe Universe 63 where a prolonged ice age littered the planet with eminently carveable glaciers. The possibilities were literally endless.
And yet, I stayed behind.
I received the same brochures as everyone else. I went to my mandatory guidance counselor meeting, listened to the possibilities that could bloom if I filled out the right paperwork, took out the right loans, and applied for the right aid. It wasn’t that I was ignorant. I knew there was a larger world. But every time I closed my eyes and imagined my future, all I saw were these same old streets. The life of my father and his father before him all contained within the city limits.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to leave. More than anything, I wanted to break tradition, to live something other than a small life. But the specifics, the gritty realities of building a future somewhere else, were beyond me. I couldn’t fill out the forms without feeling like an imposter. For all the universes laid out before me, I couldn’t find another one where I belonged.
As graduation approached, I watched thumbtacks clutter the map of the multiverse hanging outside the guidance office. Mailers from different universes littered the roll top desk I inherited from my grandfather. Financial aid applications crumpled to the bottom of my backpack. Deadlines came and went. And I slowly reconciled myself with the fact that I would live an unremarkable life. That home was not something I would find so much as a glass I was already trapped under.
The outside world was a collection of unfathomable strangeness, so instead of leaving, I tried to build a life out of the familiar. I found a pet friendly apartment complex. I got a job at the local ValueLux warehouse unloading trucks—usually wares from better, brighter universes. I met a girl. I did everything that felt right, with the delusional assumption that this would be enough. Lying to myself that I wouldn’t always have one eye on the horizon, trying to glean all that I have missed.
After his blood test, Linus is a trembling mess. He doesn’t stop whining the whole drive home.
Even when he had control of his body, Linus never handled vet trips well. I always had to hold him through the whole procedure to keep him from unraveling. Present for every humiliation—the rectal thermometers, the inspections of his mouth and eyes, the pricking vaccinations, the needles mining the sinews of his leg in search of a vein.
I carry Linus whimpering into my apartment and lower him onto the kitchen floor. I scoot his bowl forward until it nuzzles his nose. His breakfast, still untouched from this morning.
Linus doesn’t even look up.
A dribbling pool of yellow had been waiting for me on the kitchen tile when I woke up. Linus had barely scooted out of his own puddle—I found him curled up by the refrigerator door. His head slumped between his paws, his ears sagging in distress. The vet’s office didn’t open until 9:00, so I just sat there next to him. Tried to get him to eat by the handful when he wouldn’t touch his food. Waiting for the time to pass, trying to find some parcel of peace in the midst of our dread.
I dig into my pocket and smooth out a creased bit of notebook paper. Some general recommendations from the vet for Linus’s well-being. A harness to help him stand, a pill to rejigger his appetite, melatonin to help him sleep through the pressure of his bladder at night.
I tuck the list back into my pocket and tug shoes back onto my feet. Usually I avoid the ValueLux at all costs on my days off, but any action still beats waiting. At least, this way, I can pretend that this is something I can fix. That I still have some modicum of control.
I open the door and almost plow straight into Emily. Her fist was raised as if about to knock, another memory in her left hand.
“Christ, this is really not a good time—” I say, but her arm is already outstretched, the glass ball already slipping to the tips of her fingers. I take it from her and peer inside.
Two figures lie on the concrete roof of a long flat building. One: a girl of around twenty, wearing black leggings and an oversized college sweater. The other: a boy of the same age, wearing a plaid button down and cuffed grey jeans. Low-lying clouds flutter across the top of the orb, occasionally obscuring the couple. The two get closer with each glimpse through the clouds—like bodies dancing through a strobe light. The lips of the figurines part ever-so-slightly. The mouths are about to touch.
And then the scene resets. The couple comes apart, each back to their separate positions on the roof. The clouds swirl back into place.
A catch lodges in my throat.
“That…you have to understand, that was so long ago. Things are different now. I’m different now.”
I look down at the floor, focus on the ghosts of dirty footprints. Not daring to look Emily in the eye. The memory is cold and glossy in my hand. I want to give it back. I know that I can’t.
“Look,” I hold the orb out, and nod to the figures peeking through the clouds. “That…that kid down there. He was wrong. He thought he had something to give you, but he didn’t. I thought…I thought I would be someone different. Someone with more. Or, I dunno, someone who could be satisfied with less.”
Emily has heard this all before. I remember her explanation, from back when she had a voice to give it. It’s not about what you want Matt, she had said, her tone crisp and matter-of-fact. Don’t you think I’d pick someone else if I could? But I don’t have a choice. My memories chose you. Neither of us gets a say.
I finally look Emily in the eye and am once again unmoored by the steadiness of her expression. Her fingers fidget slightly at her side, the only sign of her discomfort. I cough—a tightness in my stomach scratching its way out.
“I can’t keep taking these,” I say quietly. Emily shrugs. She walks back to her apartment, her brown hair rippling in curtain folds as she leaves.
The memory sits light upon my palm. I clench my fingers around it and lean my head against the apartment door. My breath comes ragged and deep. The oak of the door presses cool against my forehead. Tension radiates up my jaw.
I never asked to take care of so many precious things. I never said I could.
I open the door and walk back inside. Linus raises his head limply from the floor. There’s no more room on the shelf, so I nestle the newest memory next to a stack of magazines at the bottom of the bookcase. The clouds inside the orb part just as I set it down. I see us, Emily and me, clear as God.
When I leave the door catches in the jamb. I heave a shoulder, and it shudders shut. A faint jingle of glass leaks through from the other side. Emily’s memories trembling with the force of my exit.
But, for now, none of them break.
Linus had only been sick in the serious way once before. He was four years old. His body had swollen since he was a puppy, now a barrel of a dog about waist high. His snout had elongated, and his eyes had become permanently caked with sleep. But he was still fundamentally the same dog. He would still leap his paws onto my shoulders when I crouched, still groaned with human exasperation whenever he laid down. Despite changes in form, the essential was still preserved beneath the surface.
By all appearances, he had been healthy up until the moment his food would not stay down. I tried everything. I changed to an expensive, sensitive-stomach brand. I made a hash of chicken and rice that we split for dinner. None of it took. All of it vomited back out, Linus always maneuvering to a corner of carpet behind the couch for the task.
Two days passed. I did not know what to do. My parents had retired to Universe 33 two weeks prior, renting a cottage on an emerald studded beach. I did not want to bother them, not after they had made such a clean escape. Google told me that a dog could survive without food for three to five days. I made an appointment with the vet for the following morning, and lay on the couch beside Linus through the night. The water he drank passed right through him, and we would crunch through snow to allow him relief every hour.
Emily was waiting for us after our two a.m. outing. I let Linus into the apartment and then met her in the hall. We hugged. We were not together at the time, but we were not yet truly apart. We sat in the neutral territory of the hallway, under the glare of the fluorescent lights.
“Is he going to be okay?” she asked, fiddling with the strings of her hoodie.
“I don’t know.” I had not realized the depth of my uncertainty until I said the words aloud. We sat quiet for a moment. A couple on the second floor were having a fight. We could hear dim muffles of their argument. You could hear the rage, feel the force of the initial shout, even at a distance.
Emily reached into the front pocket of her hoodie and removed a glass orb. She rolled it across the hall, the memory slurring over dirty ghost footprints until it reached my side. I held it up to the light. One figure. A little girl watching rain drip down her bedroom window. She held a finger to a single drop, traced its path toward the bottom. Her eyes darted to other drops running down the pane, her teeth gritted. I realized that for her, this was a race. The girl’s finger reached the sill. A distant flash of lightning illuminated her face. The girl’s eyes positively shined.
“I did the same thing when I was a kid,” I said, watching the memory loop back into motion.
“I feel like it helps to remember. You know, how little we need to really be happy.” Emily adjusted her position on the floor, straightened the slump out of her back against the wall. “Whenever I’m down, I like to think about that. How all you really need is a little space to call your own, and eventually, you’ll get your moment. Eventually, everything’ll be okay.”
This was only the third memory Emily had given me. At the time, I was still surprised by how light they felt, how cool to the touch. I still wondered at the intricate beauty of their design. I was still stunned that I should inherit something so fantastic. I cradled the memory with two hands. When I squinted, I could see a dim reflection of my face warbling off the top of the globe.
“Don’t mention it,” Emily said. “You’re the only person I know who can hold one without it shattering. Don’t really have anywhere else to turn if I wanna make space for more.”
“Still,” I said. I watched another dull flash of lightning ache out of the globe. “It’s an honor.”
“Please, don’t read too much into it.” Emily stood up. She worked openings for a coffee shop off the turnpike, and she would have to wake up within the next two hours. It was already a sacrifice for her to have stayed with me this long. “I hope Linus is okay.”
He would be. The trip to the vet did not reveal anything threatening. Best guess was that he had eaten bad snow, maybe needed to purge himself of the salt used to treat the road. That evening, Linus gobbled his chicken and rice, and the food stayed down. I set Emily’s memory down on my nightstand, next to her other two. I had not yet designated a bookshelf to accommodate their volume. I was not yet at the point where keeping the memories so close to bed could plague me with sleepless nights. I did not yet see them as the anchors that they would become.
That night, finally, my dog was healthy. That night, I slept with Emily’s memories lullabying by my head and considered myself grateful.
Beth-Anne is working the doors when I arrive at ValueLux. She’s wearing the typical red vest, plus an oversized lei as part of our new store credit card promo. Apparently every thousand dollars in purchases gets you a free trip to a tropical Universe of your choosing.
At the door, I flash my employee badge in lieu of a membership.
“Oh my, dropping by on your day off? To what do we owe the honor?” Beth-Anne puts her hands on her hips in mock sincerity. She’s a few years older than my parents but still plugging away despite being eligible for retirement. I asked her about it in the breakroom once, while I was trying to force-feed a crinkled dollar bill into a vending machine.
Oh, I just don’t know what I would do with myself anywhere else, she’d answered. All sunny and chipper, sipping from a Styrofoam cup of coffee at a plastic folding table. I’d meant to follow up at the time. I wanted to find out what she meant—how, for her, this could possibly be the best of all possible worlds. But the vending machine kept spitting my dollar out like a taunting tongue, and I got distracted trying to cram it back in.
“Just picking up a few things,” I say, slowing my stride as I walk past her standing pad. “Nothing too exciting.”
Beth-Anne smiles and nods, her glasses slipping down to the brim of her nose. She pushes them back into place and retrains her focus onto the next customers, gushing with enthusiasm about the adorability of their infant child.
Unloading trucks for eight hours a day may be murder on my back, but the sales-floor jobs have always struck me as the truly exhausting work. You’re trapped in a performance. Your voice, your facial expression, your words, all gleaming with positivity and attention. Your entire body dedicated to sustaining an illusion. Creating a utopian universe for customers where they are suddenly endlessly interesting—where their jokes are always funny and their needs are always pressing and their mere presence is a gift.
I lasted a week when I was promoted to register. The pay was better, and the labor didn’t crack my body, but a void thrummed in my chest after every shift. I returned to my apartment hollow and pitted, as if the work was making me tap into a limited resource. All my pretending was being mined for an outside cause. No reserves were left to get me through the rest of the day, to conjure a mask of okayness in my quiet hours.
Working the loading dock takes its toll. I know it will only get worse as I get older. Most everyone over thirty on this shift has had some kind of surgery. Backs, shoulders, knees. I know, in time, something will give out. But it’s still better than the alternative.
I squeeze through a logjam of carts and maneuver my way to the pet aisle. I find a harness, though not the brand the vet suggested. The price is high. I slide my phone out of my pocket. Still no word from the vet on the bloodwork. The harness flaps flimsily in my hand. I wonder if it could even hold Linus, if called upon for the task.
At checkout, with the specialty food and drugs, the cost comes up to over a hundred dollars. The clerk doesn’t recognize me and pitches me the credit card offer. Something about putting what I spend to use, about the desirability of a getaway.
I pay in cash.
I stop at Kelly’s before going home. The bar is only two blocks away from my apartment—I could walk the rest of the way if need be. I leave Linus’s medication on the passenger seat, its label warped and accusing through the film of the plastic bag.
It’s a little after four, but the tinted windows block out most of the sunlight. Kelly’s is the kind of bar where it’s easy to pretend there isn’t an outside world. You can take refuge in the muted warmth of its cave, order one of the three beers on tap, maybe a simple mixed drink. They do not offer any of the imports. None of the exotic spiced liquors from Universe 45, none of the unpronounceable fruit ciders from Universe 32. For a few hours, you can pretend that this is the best and only universe.
My feet creak against the old, waterlogged floorboards. The bar is quiet, just a record player in the corner spinning Exile on Main Street on a low volume. A few regulars are hunched over a pitcher at the end of the bar. Their faces hooded in the dim light, their conversation limited to the occasional grunt. I run my hand along the empty barstools. They all have rips in the vinyl, orange stuffing exposed like scar tissue. I grab a seat and order a gin and tonic.
I sip from a chipped glass. The pour is strong, and my lips pucker on contact. My heart gallops raucous inside my chest. I don’t know how long it’s been racing. I don’t know why. Could be dread, could be guilt, could be the lingering sense that I’m spending my life in a train station, bearing witness to every departure without ever mustering the courage to jump aboard. Some alchemy of the moment has shallowed my breathing, wrung me out. I focus on the mottled mirror behind the bar to steady myself. My own grey eyes staring back. A little sunken, but much the same as they have always been. I ground myself in the familiar. The stability of my body, the comfort of the space I can call my own.
The hammering subsides. I slip my phone out of my pocket, unlock its screen. One missed call is etched on the display, the voicemail icon pulses in the top right corner. A tape recorder overlaid atop an envelope, archaic imagery in the service of something new. The two spools of tape look like a pair of glasses. The icon stares at me for long syrupy seconds. I thumb the screen dark and tuck the phone back into my front pocket. I slug down the rest of my gin and order another.
I start in my seat. I recognize the voice but cannot yet match it to a name. The empty glasses have somehow multiplied in front of me. The bar is now awash in bodies, the stools to my right and left all occupied. I do not know where they all came from, how they got here. The differences between a lapse in memory and a portal to another universe are so slight. I turn around and find the source of the voice. Short blonde hair, thick neck, skin tanned leathery brown. A beard two shades darker than the rest of his hair. A name blurs at the tip of my tongue but won’t come out.
“It’s me, Dave Reynolds. Class of ‘09? Used to have a mohawk?” He covers the sides of his hair with both hands. A funhouse version of his face creeps into memory. Chin splotched with acne, reed-thin, mohawk an ever evolving shade of neon. “We were on the same math track in high school?”
“Oh shit, yeah, Dave.” I nod violently to compensate for my delay. “You were the one who always had the ocarina right? Like from the video game.”
“Christ, yeah.” Dave laughs. “I was a real dork.”
We handshake hug. Dave offers me a seat at his booth, and I oblige. Even though we were barely acquaintances in high school, conversation spills as though we were old friends. I tell him the local gossip. The shop teacher arrested for child pornography, the revelation that our old middle school was riddled with asbestos after all, the bleacher collapse at the football stadium during last year’s homecoming. Dave tells me about how he got on the ground floor of a tech startup, squirreled away enough to snatch some beachside property in Universe 33. He tells me about the emerald studded beaches, the crabs with diamond shells and the seagulls that carry letters between cities. The way the sun is different there, softer in a way where the hottest days can still feel like a balm.
“You should come by sometime,” Dave says over his second Yeungling. I fiddle with the lime straddling the rim of my gin. Tear it into pieces, tumbling scraps of citrus into my drink. I do not tell Dave that my parents saved all their money to retire in the same universe he chose to live in on a lark. I do not tell Dave that since they moved, I have never visited. That for all the time that has passed, this is still the only universe I know.
Dave’s in town to visit family, has a dinner to attend. He scribbles his name on a check and I realize too late that he has paid for both our drinks. A bell dings above the door as he leaves. Despite the crowd, the stool I left is still waiting unoccupied. I return to the bar and order one more drink for my own tab. I am not in any hurry. I have nowhere to be.
The stars are out.
I lean against the brick facade of the bar, my feet stretching out toward the curb. I’ll walk home shortly, just need the moment to steady myself. To let balance surge back up through my legs, to still the spinning. The bricks scrape coarse against my scalp. The nearest street light flickers in little death spasms before it goes out.
I breathe slow and deep. Above, pricks of light puncture through the black. They multiply the longer I look. The process is hypnotizing, the way the stars come out all gradual in the night sky. Then again, I guess they don’t really come out at all. They’re static, fixed points in the firmament. The only real variable is the focus of my attention. How much I see being dependent upon how long I look.
If given a night long enough, I wonder if the light would be blinding.
A car with a busted headlight whips by. Its cyclops eye only illuminates the opposite side of the street. I shake loose the cobwebs and force myself into motion. I stand upright, still touching the wall for support. Lurch a little to the left, a little to the right, and then the ground solidifies beneath my feet. The world stops spinning. I let go of the wall and begin to drag myself home.
I pass the neon glow of the cash checking emporium. I step through the flattened grass of our trampled lawn. I walk through the parking lot. Only at the glass entrance door, with my hand on the handle, do I remember my phone. The voicemail icon stains the top of the display like a smudge that won’t wipe off.
I double tap the icon. The message crackles out, breaking through a cradle of static. I can’t keep the words in sequence. They tumble like marbles spilled out of a bag. Decisions...cancer...matter of time…suffering.
I have walked through the door. I do not have the phone in my hand. I am on the floor. My head is in my hands. I do not know how I have gotten here. I do not know how I can possibly get up.
When I finally lift my head, Emily is there, crouched beside me. Her hand is on my knee. Delicate, like a bird perched on a wire.
“It...will...be...okay.” The words claw out of her throat. Raw and voiceless. I look into those big brown eyes. I know that she is lying. I don’t care.
Another orb is in her left hand. I take it from her without asking. Hold it close for comfort, peering inside.
Two figures. One: a young girl on the cusp of adolescence, wearing a yellow softball uniform with starched white pants. The other: a wobbling toddler, maybe three years old, tottering with a paper plate of cheap pizza in his hands. The girl is running down a sloping hillside. I can just make out the edge of the diamond—a chain-link fence and dugout just visible at the edge of the memory. The game has already begun. The boy is in her way.
The girl plows straight through the boy. She looks back, sees the toddler’s face crumple. Red and howling, his pizza face down in the grass. She hesitates, then turns toward the dugout. Resumes her stride. She takes one look back, shame bleeding into her face, before the scene resets.
Emily and I share a wordless moment on the floor. The memory continues to play in its relentless loop. She squeezes my free hand, and I stand.
Inside my apartment, Linus struggles to greet me. He tries to get up and falls. Over and over again, whining all the while.
I cram the memory onto the crowded shelf and rush to his side. I shovel him into my arms.
“It’s okay, bud,” I say as I stagger toward the door. Intent on getting Linus outside to relieve himself, but buckling beneath the weight. “It’s all gonna be—”
My back seizes as my fingers stretch toward the knob. I drop to a knee with a thud. Linus spills out of my arms, his whole body thumping against the door with legs desperately churning.
The room shakes. Glass clinks. A slow slurring sound, like skeeballs rolling up a slope.
I don’t know which memory is the first to shatter. It could be the one with Emily and the toddler. It could be the one where she watches the rain fall, the one where she struggles to surface beneath a pounding ocean wave, the one with her father’s rage. I don’t know the order of how it happens. All I know is one by one they tumble from the shelf. Shards of glass skitter across the floor. The figurines wither into dust free from their globes.
I pound the door with my fist. Linus pants beside me, alarmed by the crash but unable to run away. I crawl toward the mess and begin to clean up the wreckage. On my hands and knees, I see the one memory that didn’t fall. Snug at the bottom of the bookcase, next to the stack of magazines, Emily and I lie on the roof of our apartment complex in our glass globe. Staring through the clouds of a night sky. Counting stars.
I pick up shards of glass with two fingers and collect the pieces in my palm. Despite my care, a gash snarls just below my thumb. Blood drips. I ignore it, continue to grope my way through the shatters. Later, I will wrap the cut before it becomes infected. Later, I will clean the blood before it stains. When I finally make my escape, I will leave not a trace of myself behind.
But these are concerns for a later hour. For now, I just want to clean the wreckage of my own creation. Here, in the universe I call my home, I collect the pieces one by one before I throw them away.