written by: Keiran Meeks
Down I climb the mountain’s edge, down, and down, through the angry red skies and howling winds. There, I find my heart on a jutting ledge so very far down from where she fell. Nestled in the rock rose, she lays unwoven; the fall and ragged rock have burst her seams, her filling spilled. Her hands clutch her eyes, afraid to look at what has come and what has not. She whimpers and sniffles, a frightened child.
The kindest thing, I know, would be to leave her alone.
I kneel on the jagged floor and lay my hand on her chest. We shiver together as the wind rattles my bones and her threads. I leave her there to gather up her straw. The scattered thistle has kept most of it safe, but soon she will need more. As I tuck it back in place, my heart begins to sob beneath my hands. I don’t have the right words to give her peace. If she could cry, I know the tears would come; now is when the tracks would stain the fabric of her face. Maybe she would feel better if only she could cry.
I tug the needle and the thread from their home in my hair. I pull the frayed sides of her torn torso together and pinch the burlap closed. One stitch at a time, I will make her whole again. I will bring her back the way I have so many times before.
But when her hand falls to mine, I look at her face. There I find twin buttons looking back. They are empty and vast, large pools of lifeless black.
Her lips and hands tremble, and I know it’s not the wind. I squeeze her hand tight, and shadows fall across her painted face.
“Let me,” I pleaded, “let me.”
Her eyes turn away. To the sky, she moans. Just let me go.
But I can’t. So, I begin to darn her back.
Over the cliff’s edge, the swirling, gaping maw of darkness rumbles its displeasure. I will not let it have my heart, no matter how much it calls to her. So I do not peer over. Yet, everything from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes begs me to. If I look, it will win.
The air all around vibrates. The sky is angry and red, and below, the Void roars. My heart thrashes like a beast. She wails and moans over the whistle of the rock. I could try to calm her down, but I know she won’t.
I hope the Void starves, and I hope starving hurts.
My heart cries out to the wind; I don’t want to do this anymore. She begs the storm, just let me go.
But I can’t. She’s all that I have left.
The wind stings my skin like biting teeth, and thick drops of red rain stain my skin. The sky cries blood. Everybody knows that.
I try to cover my heart’s body with mine to protect her fabric from the stains. While they will wash off me in a swirl down the drain, the drops will soak into her burlap until she is nothing but a splash of violence. I can’t allow that. She deserves more than that.
The needle stabs my fingertips, but I can barely feel it; the cold is eating away at all sensations. Pink spots mingle with the dark sky red until the work is complete. I smile at her gnashing teeth.
Done. It’s done, she is whole, and now she can be happy again.
I kiss her forehead, and her body goes limp; the fight has finally gone. I lift her from the rock and the rose and hold her tightly to my chest. She smells of hay and mold and cherry blossoms.
She is silent as we climb back up and up the mountain’s face. I hum a song mostly lost to the wind, but the vibrations seem to be enough to calm her shaking form.
On the flat plane of the mountain’s head, inside our tiny home, I lay her on our little couch, nestled in the plush pillows. She silently stares at the floor as I flutter around the space, dusting out blankets and gathering towels to shove into cracks under the doors to keep the red out.
She does not speak for the rest of the day and night. A pot of bubbling eyes and simmering tongues come to a roaring boil on the stove. The overflowing brew is black and smells of gardenias and sage; it stains my lips when I bring the spoon to my mouth for a taste. It does not taste as good as it smells.
Outside, the storm begins to lash and roar.
My heart no longer eats. Yet, she told me once that she still craves it. It’s not hunger exactly, she doesn’t need to eat, but she craves the act. After a decade of eating every day to never do it again twisted something in her, an animal brain panic. It’s frightening, she says, and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.
I stare at her from the kitchen table. I watch her as she sits silent and still as a doll. Long ago, I would dress her in lace and tulle with large bows of cherry pink. She would giggle and twirl, the bottoms of her tiny stocking feet brown from the dusty floor.
Now, the seam down her body is thick and jagged. It matches the one across her neck and down the joint of both arms and legs. She will be more thread than fabric soon.
I take the pot from the stove and strain all the clumps from it, those I store in the freezer for later. Once strained, the liquid is a rich blue color. I swirl my finger around, and it is not stained when I pull it out.
My heart does not move even as I begin to undress in the kitchen. I fold my dress, socks, underwear, and shoes and put them on the ice box. The liquid is warm when I pour it over my head. It seeps into my skin and radiates down to my bones like sunshine.
I stand naked in my kitchen and let the liquid dry. My hair sticks to my neck in thick clumps, but I leave it be, put my clothes back on and begin to mop the liquid from the floor. I will store that too, and later I will pour it over my heart. It will not cure the pain buried there, but I know the warmth will do her some good.
My heart’s head twists in short jerky movements until she is facing me as though she heard my thoughts. Those eyes never move from their sewn place, but I can feel them. They can see my fears. They know I will never let her go. I can see the Void in those eyes sometimes. I can feel its anger even from the safety of our home.
I stare back into those button eyes; I know my heart is there. I ache for her.
Maybe I ache for what she once was, her strength and her warmth. Her face once stretched wide around a crooked, toothy smile. She doesn’t smile as much as she used to anymore, but it’s still there. She still has good days, and she’s still happy sometimes. But on days like these, those sunny days seem so far away, like a star so close you feel as though if you climbed high enough, reached far enough, wanted it bad enough, you could take it. Sometimes you feel like the tips of your fingers brush it, but then it’s gone, and the day returns, leaving you waiting for the next night to come. That is what it’s like when she has days like this. My fingers got the slightest brush of her happiness, then it was gone. Today we wait until the star returns to try it all over again. More than anything, I think it’s that happiness I ache for.
But the memory of that warmth, the fleeting brush of the stars on my fingertips, keeps me from giving up.
I can still hear the endless darkness from down below, over the mountain’s edge. It rumbles, and it growls like a stomach calling for food. It wants my heart. It wants to swallow her strings and all; devoir all she is. She is safest here in the warmth.
The Void is hungry. But it will starve.