by Zoe Adrien Lapa
I. A night more blue than black shines its million lights through Lucy’s window, spilling sparkles all over her bedroom floor. Breeze and cricketsong flow in gentle waves towards her, begging her for a sweet honeysuckle night of dreamy sleep, but nothing penetrates the glass she seems to be encased in. She’s a beautiful dead butterfly, pinned, and tonight she’s thinking of crawling into her closet and scratching her way straight through the wall.
Not as a ghost passes through; she imagines tearing at the pale cream with her blunt nails, scratching and punching through plaster until a hole just big enough to fit her body is carved out. She imagines it as a relief, a reward after a long night of hard, desperate work. The heat of all those clothes, all that enclosed space pressing down on her, and then finally! the cool night breeze. Comforting. Refreshing. And the night– so very still.
Lucy contemplates this hypothetical stillness. Holding the thought like a grain of sand, she rolls it around her mind until it emerges from her wriggling worm-like tongue: a pearl.
II. After sleep and morning’s arrival, Lucy gets dressed, grabs breakfast and starts the trek to school. She does this five days out of seven, like most everyone her age. She walks to her first class, picks out a chair and drops into it, pulling out her notebook and clicking her pen in one fluid motion. As the teacher walks in, she prepares to take notes.
And then she blinks.
And the teacher’s walking out. Every other student in the room is standing, yawning, picking up backpacks and shrugging them onto shoulders. When Lucy looks down at her notebook, she sees a page full of mathematical gibberish in her own chicken-scratch handwriting. There’s even a couple doodles in the corner, a heart, a star, a distorted smiley face. But she doesn’t remember ever drawing them. This arrests her, shocks her enough to hold her with invisible chains to her chair, but after half a moment paralyzed, her limbs gracefully unfurl. A thin film of acceptance settles over her entire body.
Lucy stands tall and walks right out the door.
III. Ann’s name fits her well. Short and sturdy, unsubtle but not unrefined. Bright as a pinprick star. Ann is a beautiful young woman and she’s Lucy’s very best friend.
Ann is also worried. Lucy’s been spacing out a lot; she’s always been dreamy, but never quite this absent. Never walking into doorframes, making eye contact like it means nothing, wandering off without telling anyone of a purpose or a destination. Ann ends up looking for her best friend everywhere nearly every day– under chairs in the common rooms, behind vending machines in the cafeteria, within bushes out in the garden. Doesn’t find her there. Gazes deep within Lucy’s eyes. And doesn’t find her there, either.
IV. The world can be quite beautiful in limited color. Monochromatic, melodramatic. A kind of cornflower blue. A very urban kind of darkness, where the darkness isn’t a total or even partial absence of light; just a filter through which selective lights pass. Lucy found her field of vision narrowing, the hues becoming more subdued, and found herself unconcerned. It was getting harder to care, harder to do anything not in the repertoire of her autopilot; much easier to follow the invisible hand guiding her. It moved her from place to place without consulting her actual consciousness. In this manner she swam through the world, barely rippling the water. Slowly removing the barriers between her and it.
V. They’d been friends since they were babies. Their families went to Sunday church together. When Ann and Lucy were kids, they loved each other with a fierce childlike love that scared their mothers. Lucy was adamant and Ann was firm: they went everywhere together. Neither left behind. When Lucy went on vacation with her family, she took Ann because Ann demanded to go. I am not, she said, letting you go alone.
In high school, they separated into their own people. Lucy wrote for the school newspaper and Ann played oboe for the school band. The boundaries between them were always a little bit blurry, but they learned to be apart, how to have other friends. Ann even had one or two boyfriends for a while. Lucy was never really interested in that kind of stuff, but she thrived in high school nonetheless. Top of the class, journalist, promoted to editor, all wonderful. Her mother kept trying to get her to join a sport, but she wasn’t good at any of them. Still, though, Lucy was fine until she wasn’t.
VI. Lucy’s mother presses a bible into her hands. It burns her palms, but that could mean nothing. It hurts her heart, like thorns replaced the ventricles, but that could mean nothing. This could all mean nothing– this table, this chair, this family, this family, this curse hanging over her head, this movie. It could mean fuck-all.
VII. She’s walking on a layer of glass all the time, never touching the actual floor! She’s blacking out from moment to moment, blinks and then an hour suddenly gone! She’s talking less, smiling less, floating through every day! She’s flickering like a candle in the wind! She’s fogging up the glass on every mirror, window, and windshield! She’s lighter than a feather! She’s lost touch! She’s missing! She’s gone! She’s gone! She’s gone!
VIII. Lucy’s on the front porch. She’s still present, still here. She wills herself to stay here. And she does– she notices the grass, the roads, the moths, and the moth-eaten night like a wallpaper behind it all. Every second happens to her, all neat, in consecutive order. Time obeys the clock.
Just then, she sees Ann walking up, her smile gleaming in the dark, and Lucy begins to smile back. And there Lucy feels it. The almost-involuntary stretch of her mouth–
IX. Blink. Ann’s face. Ann in a beam of light. Ann in blood-red, cornflower-blue. Lucy’s fingers feel numb. Her entire body is thrumming, thrumming, thrumming.
X. Blink. And then: Lucy’s body wracked by sobs, Ann bent over her back, hugging her close. The two girls meld together, shaking as one. Lucy hiccups. “Hey, hey, Lucy. Come back to me. I’m right here. Lucy. Come back. Come back. Come back.”
Lucy, wet-cheeked, begs Ann with her eyes, beautifully expressive. Life is hard. It’s hard. And I don’t know why, but I know I can’t handle it anymore. I haven’t been handling it. I’m slipping away! I’m going crazy! I’m dying! Ann, using carefully measured words, begs back. You went away. I don’t blame you. I know it’s hard. You left me here. Don’t do that. Please. You’re not crazy. Just stay, please.
Together: we’ll figure it out.
XI. Reality hurts. It’s almost garish after the monotony of monochrome blue; just like that, Lucy’s false peace shatters. Everything happens too much, all of the time– keeps happening and happening and never stops. There’s Ann hugging her from behind and there’s Ann beside her with a glass of water and there’s Ann holding her by her shoulders saying something incomprehensible. Lucy yearns for darkness. It stubbornly refuses to come.
Think about the space between you and your closet. Between your closet and the wall. The space between you and your boyfriend. The space between you and your best friend. And then think about the space between you and the water you’re swimming in. Between your heart and the water. Between you and your waterlogged heart, crusted over.
Saturation: occurs when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with, or added to something. No clear antonyms, just the opposite of maximum capacity; in other words, a fraction. Incompleteness. Hunger. Lack.
XII. Once, Ann had skipped out on a lazy day with Lucy to go to the movies with a boy. The entire time she thought of the space between her and him, how it was suspiciously girl-shaped, how it smelled like her best friend. How it glimmered in the darkness of the theater. The popcorn tasted like it had been laced with something. His arm at her back felt like a crucifix to carry. And she did carry it, all the way to the car– to its cramped backseat. She carried all that weight for half a night, and then for the rest of it she laid in her bed. Thinking of holes and the things that could fill them.
Half a step away was Lucy with her beckoning closet. Somewhere, something like glass shattered. “Something is happening to me,” like a wisp of a whisper, floating away like smoke. Something is always happening and it’s always less solitary than anyone thinks. Everywhere the threads that bind us to each other wriggle, stretch, and slice. They never break.
XIII. Lucy keeps coming back to herself like lightning striking the empty body. Ann keeps on being there, smiling at Lucy’s broken face, welcoming her home. Ann tries to teach her all the ways we learn to stay inside our body. They go running, sometimes. They try not to be alone. Still, the atoms and molecules at the edge of their fingertips repel each other’s skin. They try but they never really touch.
XIV. Ann starts ignoring her boyfriend. And then Ann breaks up with her boyfriend. Ann, actually, stops dating boys. Says she’s bored with them. Says she’s got too much on her mind. Says all the boys here are ugly. Says her grades are going down, and anyway, Lucy, won’t you study with me? Lucy sees. Lucy observes. Lucy keeps observing.
XV. A night composed of all stillness, no animation, drops from the sky like a theater background. Not even an owl, or a bat. Not even a rodent. But here she is, hair over her eyes: She’s crawling up and down the walls! She’s spinning on an axis like a ballerina in a box! She’s throwing up black bile! She’s digging a hole straight through the tiled floor! She’s eating shards of porcelain! She’s transmogrifying into something! She’s fanged! She’s clawed! She’s gone!
XVI. There are a million ways to die: you burn, you bleed, you break, you crack, you drown, you pass, you slip, you slip away– and it goes on and on and on. One for every person but nobody ever gets to pick. But Lucy? Someone’s pressed all the buttons on the elevator and now she’s stuck stopping at every floor. Building with a million stories, and infinite windows to look out of. Life’s passing water through an aquarium and she’s in the doctor’s office staring at it. Life’s a raccoon eating cat food and she’s the cat. Life’s on a video call with her, supposedly, but the video won’t fucking load, and the audio’s cut off, and nobody’s heads can stay still.
XVII. And now comes a day so blue it hurts your eyes. The pavement’s pink like nothing else is pink, the wall’s put on its very best shade of beige. Grass so green it could be a forest. Oil puddle with a rainbow in it at the back of her father’s car. None of the colors fit with each other. They all demand to be seen, to be heard, to be felt. They all feel they have the right to exist.
So, without thinking about it, Lucy gets up. Walks out of her room, down the stairs, straight out the front door. And keeps walking. Criss-crosses all over the streets, looking at house after house after house after building after corner store after flowerbed after house after house and takes note of every single thing; cataloguing the image her eyes present, separating it into distinct and disparate parts. This is the road: it is a road. This is a person: they are a mother. This is a car: it is a Honda. Something is happening to her, like someone shouting in her ear. Like someone scooped out the soup of her from the oceanic world and put it into a clear vase. Like someone’s scooped everything, put everything into its own little clear vase. She watches, no longer part of anything but her very own, disparate self.
It keeps fading in and out of her. One day she looks in the mirror and sees blood seeping from her pores.The other day she looks and there’s nothing but acne on skin. Sometimes she feels like a winged creature. Other times every inch of her foot presses into the floor like gravity’s decided to stop being lazy. In one brilliant moment, she realizes it: the undeniable truth, the truism that’ll save her, the idea that’ll stop everything it needs to stop: she sees it unfolding in front of her like so many index cards taped together. She can see it! How to Be! She can trace the path she needs to take on any map. It’s shining!— a snap of someone’s fingers and suddenly she’s in English class, she’s thirsty, she’s sore, someone’s giving a presentation, and Ann’s looking at her. She looks back at Ann, deliberately.
All that bright and honest gospel evaporates away.
XVIII. The bible doesn’t help. Lucy never expected it to. Something in her wants to burn it, to hiss, to tear it with claws she mostly doesn’t have– but she’s normal. Or trying to be, somewhat successfully. So she just shoots it into the trash: perfect three-pointer, rimless shot. Her mother would be proud.
XIX. She tries to find the words to explain it to Ann. She tries saying them out loud, in the usual way, with words that form sentences that coalesce– if done correctly– into pure meaning.
So, like, sometimes I’m here. Sometimes I’m gone. Sometimes I’m, like, different.
See, the thing is, I left a part of me in my closet. I was trying to scratch my way out.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to come with me. You don’t have to help me get it back.
XX. Ann doesn’t let her go alone. That’s the story. They go to her room, under the cover of a night more blue than black. They go into the closet. They don’t try breaking through the wall. They just sit there, under all those clothes, and overheat. When they reach their limit, independently, they reach for each other’s hands. And then they leave. They go outside, right through the door.
XXI. Lucy can’t stay all the time. Sometimes, she just goes. Like a live wire touches metal. Like bread in the toaster jumps. Like the birds all flying, all at once. But inside her body, where her soup is, she’s still, she’s breathing, and she’s cool and bright and free.
XXII. The roads cut through the sidewalks, neat rows of houses behind them. The many, many cars. The air is suffused with something like potential, like the dip before an exponential curve. Ann sits on the curb and looks out at the empty streets, the sky a familiar blue-back expanding in front of her. It’s approaching 6:00 AM and Lucy has plans for today, important plans that required early rising, and she’s running close to being late. Just when Ann is tempted to pull out her phone, there! Lucy comes on walking, the sun a halo behind her. Like Ann’s own personal devil– like a dark angel– like a bringer of light.
Zoe Adrien is a young Filipino writer. Their work is featured on Fifth Wheel Press and Father Father Magazine, among other digital spaces. They can be found on Twitter and Tumblr via @zoeadrien.