“Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth...Eyes so used to darkness as ours will hardly be able to tell whether their light was the light of a candle or that of a blazing sun.”
- Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times
I have nothing left.
I’d lain awake for what felt like hours, unable to move, unable to think. My brain was like an engine that won’t turn over. The thoughts died seconds before they could reach the surface of my conscious mind. Despite the blanket weighing down on me, I was shivering.
Focus, look at something.
I studied the blades of the fan, imagining them spinning faster and faster until they flew free of the ceiling and embedded themselves into my flesh. I twitched. Rolling over, I reached under my pillow for the box cutter, before remembering that I’d smashed it under a rock just a few days prior. God, it felt more like months. Time was conspiring against me.
I looked at my right wrist. There, my skin was still unblemished. My left wrist told a different story.
The cuts ran horizontally, one after another, all the way to my elbow. They were pink and raw, with dried blood still caked onto them. What little space on my arm that wasn’t scar tissue was eerily moist and hard. Every inch burned to the touch.
Something is about to happen.
I could feel it, like a steam engine hurtling toward me. Something was about to break.
My alarm clock read 1:30 in the morning.
At 2:00, I was somewhere downtown. It had been raining on and off all night, and the pavement was slick beneath her shoes. Vaguely, I realized that I was dressed for spring afternoons, with my grey tank top and black skirt going down to my knees. I shivered like a sick animal, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, but I kept going. At the next intersection, I felt myself turning left, drifting in the direction of a neon sign that said 24 hours . I was in the middle of the street when the light of a thousand suns focused directly on me. It burned.
I genuinely believed for a few brief moments that it was the flash of a cellphone camera. My mind was seized by images of wild-eyed hawks descending upon me, grabbing my flesh in their talons, clawing at my skin, pulling my hair, calling me slut , stuffing a fistful of sewing needles into my mouth.
The screams filling my ears were my own, drowned out by a blaring horn. The light that paralyzed me came from the headlights of a cargo truck that had missed me by mere inches. When when the world faded into place like a polaroid photo, I was sitting on the frigid pavement, empty of feeling. The skies opened up, and a deluge of rain left me freshly soaked.
As I sat there, in the middle of the street, water filling up my shoes and weighing down my high socks, time did a strange thing.
It didn’t stop.
People kept moving, rain kept falling, thunder still crackled above me, and a streetlamp flickered and died. Time didn’t stop. Instead, it disappeared completely. There was no future, no past. There was simply me, lying in a heap on the damp sidewalk, where I always had been and always would be. I looked at my scars. I knew I was hallucinating, so there was no fear, only morbid fascination as maggots wiggled in the red gashes on my arm and my skin turned grey and fell away in clumps. I stood up and, leaning on the wall, stumbled into the convenience store.
I could almost cry. It was perfect, it was simple. Just one last push, and it would be like going to sleep. My arms felt so mercifully light as I opened the plastic casing. I held the knife gently, like it was a butterfly. The maggots were gone, and my arm was clean now. A little sapling poked through the skin. Its roots were my veins, and its leaves were dark purple.
“Ma’am, you’re not supposed to take the merchandise out of the packaging.”
The steel blade glinted in the florescent light. It looked like it had a halo.
Holding it was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. My bandages--how had I not seen them before--glowed like fresh snow.
It was an act of love, I realized. Of purification. I could make the cut and it would wrap my diseased brain in cotton, hold it down through the death rattles. It was like sex. It hurt me, scared me, stuck to me like filth, and yet to some sick, broken part of me, it felt good. It pulled me closer and closer to oblivion, brain-death, and if I could just hold out a bit longer, just cut a bit deeper, I would be free.
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
Someone was speaking. I turned my head to see a woman that made absolutely no impression on me. Her features shifted and changed at random. The light in the store was blinding.
“I’m gonna need you to put that back.”
Before I could even register it, I was out the door, running at a full sprint into the cold night. My shoes were gone, but I still had the knife in my hand, unfolded. As my feet slammed against the pavement and the impact ran up my legs I thought briefly about being scolded as a child for running with scissors. I rounded a counter and fell to the ground. I tore at my bandages, and when they would not come off, I took a deep breath and cut through them with the knife. Someone grabbed my shoulders. Two people. Three. They tried to wrest the knife away from me. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, and my vision was obscured by tears, but I saw how deep I had cut, and if these people would just go away, I could finish it, I could be alone with the feeling and never have to-
“Shiiba, stay with me.” My eyes fluttered open. Someone’s face shimmered into view. It was Hatori. Behind her, there was a heavenly white glow, like the corona of a solar eclipse. I blinked at her. “Good. Okay, just...stay here. Relax.” I felt the touch of cold tile against my back and realized I was sitting up against a wall. Miki Hatori, the quiet girl with the stony glare, disappeared from view for a few moments, only to return with a first-aid kit. Without a word, she began cleaning the gashes with some kind of wet cloth. My skin tingled. I couldn’t feel anything except the damp fabric of my shirt pressing into my shoulders and the gentle thrum of my heart.