What is Death but a Dream from which we do not Awaken?
by Barbara Byar, 3.49am, March 10th 2022

Summer sweeps into Autumn steep, sky full of dying, much as the room down the hall. Jessie hasn’t long to leave him. He’ll be lost soon and lost for good.

“I gotta try, Cal. I’m the only one who can now.”

From the barrel-bottom of her 12-gauge, Cal blinks, eyes glazed shellac like the things congregating under the porch. Jessie barely hears the tremor of his plea.

“Hurry.”

Shotgun shoulder-strapped, backpack hoisted, Jessie stands on the porch. Surveys. Trees bare and brittle, fields high and dry far as the eye can see which isn’t far at all. Murk muddies everything that once was and ever will be.

The empty porch chair rocks. When was the last time anyone sat there? Yesterday or forever? Who knows? Was it Uncle Wilson, gnarled fingers rolling tobacco, finishing with a lick and a spit? “Jessie, girl, listen and listen good. When you’re young you know everything but life? Life is about learning you know nothing at all. And death?” He puffed smoke rings and through each, Jessie glimpsed a version of their world that hadn’t ended, only begun. “Rest, Jessie. You can’t save the dead, only die trying.”

Faster goes the empty chair, creaks loud in silent dusk. A distraction, nothing more. She’ll find him this time. This time, she would. Jessie breathes deep and hits the dirt, boots scrape bone-dry but kick up no dust. The creatures under the porch are quiet after last time. Probably afraid of her now.

Good.

I’m coming for you, Marshall, she thinks but does not say.

He hears her anyway. “Jessie…”

She’d loved him once. Loved him fierce.

“You still do…”

Maybe. But she’ll do what needs be.

Jessie skirts fields and heads for road. Let him show himself in plain sight. No more cat and mouse in the corn. Brody is still propped against the mailbox at the top of the drive. Suitcase open; contents chattering on wind. Light catches his face as the sun settles along the horizon; makes him look lively. Jessie crouches, ignores the holes in him. Miracles did happen here.

“Brody?”

“Jessie, watch out.”

A truck barrels out of nowhere, smell of petrol thick in trailing slick. It makes less noise than the crack of Marshall’s smile as it splits. The match as it’s lit.

Fuck.

Jessie hitches under Brody’s arms to drag him back but Brody merely breaks in two and falls away.

“Run, Jessie.”

The corn will flame plume bloom the second the wind shifts. No going back. Only forward. Jessie jumps high and hard, inferno Hermes at her heels. Leaps. Lands. Pulls out the shotgun. Fires.

The truck, flames, Marshall, vanish.

Fucker.

Jessie keeps walking towards the city hidden by bend and trees. Ignores the crows doing what crows do. She used to think there was no good or bad dying, only dead. She thought wrong.

Marshall’s voice follows on the wind, “You remember, Jessie? Remember the first time? Out on the balcony, town lit up like Christmas, sun a giant bauble sinking between the towers at the bottom of Myrtle Street. I put my hand on the small of your back and you closed your eyes and sighed. Could have tossed you over but I didn’t. Did I? And I wouldn’t. Would I? Cause I love you, Jessie. Love you true.”

Jessie feels the pulse throb from his hand. Moans. And there they are, on the balcony of their first place, watching the world unfurl. She looks up at him, fires raging. Give up. Give in. You’re never gonna win, long as you want him still.

“Let us go, Marshall. We all got our own dreams.”

His eyes soften but grip tightens as he pulls her in and cups her face. “Them, maybe. You, never.”

Jessie kisses him and they’re back on top the stalled Ferris Wheel of their first date, Jessie’s hands down his pants, Marshall’s up her shirt.

“Don’t,” he says as she unchains her safety belt.

Jessie laughs. What is that flimsy thing gonna do anyway? He’s too hard to argue long and their carriage sings a song as she rides.

“We’re the stars in the sky, you and I, Jessie.”

“You’re mad.”

“Am I? Look up.”

But she wouldn’t.

“Jessie…”

She let him cum. She isn’t that cruel, but as he does, Jessie’s knife ends that life. Wide eyes close as she hacks a hunk of his hair.

“Next time,” he whispers.

“There’ll be no next time.”

He smiles as Ferris wheel creaks and crumbles.

Jessie jumps. Lands in the farmhouse next to Cal, barely breathing, if at all. At first, she thinks him gone and all for nothing but then Cal Autumn leaf shudders.

“Where’s Sarah?” he says as breeze drifts through childhood window, curtain made of stars floating like the astronaut he’d always dreamt of being.

“Gone.” Jessie shoves two of Marshall’s hairs down his throat. “Tell mom…Tell mom, I love her,” she says.

Cal blinks.

Jessie pours water into his mouth “I love you, little bro. Remember that.” He clutches her torn sleeve. “I can’t come with you, Cal.”

Cal swallows. And is gone.

Marshall is waiting on the porch in jeans, a white t-shirt and aviator sunglasses just like the day they met—him leaning against the hood of his beat-up Corvette, smoking. Felt before seen; he is all her dreams come true.

Again and again and again.

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The car door slams. Brody stands, waiting for the whole life moment to moon rise from gutter puddle. Heart empty, briefcase full, there isn’t one place he wants to be, but two he is due.

Rain starts, warm as piss. Did that once. Down a neon Vegas alley. She’d laughed, tucked the twenty in her tube top, wiped cum from her mouth, his piss from her leg. Didn’t make him feel mighty, just obscene.

Where’d it all go, Brody? Where’d it all go? Dreams fade to side-street, strobe screams and nothing, absolutely nothing will ever get him gone from his own memories.

No traffic, only a lone coyote, coat wet as Brody’s getting. It sniffs the air; one paw forward, whiskers back; eyebeams the suitcase. Ears prick at the scratching inside. Considers.

Brody still hasn’t moved and that’s a Schrödinger’s vision of indecision. A screen door creaks and there his wife is. Or was. Hard to know what’s real anymore.

“Brody, get yourself in out of the rain, you’ll catch the death of you.”

“Coming, dear.”

But he’s not. Cause he can’t and he won’t. Not again, anyway. She made him choose so choose he did, and it wasn’t her. Brody puts on his hat; snaps his collar and turns heel.

The end of the road isn’t a ditch or a light or ephemeral fandango. There, eye-shine, chin tilt, lip shimmer, just out of reach, Jessie waits—always and forever.

“I love you, Brody.”

He’d die a thousand times to catch the starlight in her eyes. This time, this time he will not be broken. This time, he will make haste, lay waste, ward off all moon bright, wind rustle, rain-check charms.

Street empty save for rain, car hits him with a splash. Briefcase contents dance. Brody’s broken but not bent, soul battered but not rent.

Boots click on manhole steel. “Better luck next time, Brody. Now, give me the case.”

“Fuck you, Marshall.”

“Give me the damn case.”

“Or, what?”

“Or, I’ll kill you.”

They both laugh.

Marshall kicks Brody’s purpling limbs. “Kill you a million times.”

“I’ll hurt you a million more.”

Brody doesn’t mind dead, only the dying. Next time. Next life, there will be silver sardines on porcelain plates; fingers touring crystals as they fall from her eyes. Next time, he will not be broken.

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There’s only one way in or out of this god-forsaken place and it’s a frost-bitten steel bridge sneeze-fragile with ice. No train. No plane. No motherfucking snow mobile. Only molten nickel belching from the plant, bloodying ice and sky.

And ghosts.

“Tell me something, Cal. Did you ever dream we’d make it?”

“Yes.”

Grey building slants against looming, leaden clouds. Hinges frozen and snapped. Doors ajar. Which today? Door 1, 2, 3, 4 scuttling along the ocean floor. 5, 6, 7, 8 swinging on the garden gate. Where would he find her? Would he ever?

Cal climbs snowdrift stairs. Somewhere, a baby cries, a woman sighs and a singing man slaps his thighs. Her laugh, a trick of the wind down clammy hallways, through ice-tray doors. Breath steam thick, he feels none of it, only sick.

“Sarah?”

“I’m here.”

Cal opens a door to rain. To side-walked Sarah, umbrella morse-coding the moon. She puddle dances when she sees him. Laughs in full-throttle, Apocalypse Now, Agent Orange sweep.

Stops.

“You betrayed me, Cal.”

“Never.”

And there’s Marshall, knees on mossy cleaves, mouth on his cock. Up and down. And it feels head-back, jaw-slack great, better then…

“Me?”

No, Sarah. No.

Cal moans. Not despite Marshall’s a man, and his sister’s man at that but because of it. Cal grabs Marshall’s head, Marshall, his ass, as Sarah sofa sits, file scraping the ice from her nails. She looks up and their eyes meet in shitty, showhouse cum-stained fleet.

“I was never the man for you,” she says, and skates away down endless hall. Disappears behind some other door.

Cal runs. Cause running’s all there is to do. Mirrored ceilings, tiled floors, frost-bitten corridors.

Which door? Which door? Which door?

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It’s after the end but only just.

Desert hum, heartbeat drum, Marshall cross-legged on some frozen tundra, breath loud in languid exhaust.

“Jessie…”

How he loves her. Loves her most now she hates him. He hand-holds his heart. It does not beat but throbs. What good at all if it does not beat for another? Blood gushes as he takes a bitter bite of it. Closes his eyes.

Remember the life that was; the dream that is. If he could take it all back, he wouldn’t. Some things you can live with, others couldn’t. Better here than anywhere. Better here in dream possibility than doors closed for eternity.

Marshall chews. Spits chunks which chitter-chatter across desert floor—a key for every door.

“Marshall.” Her hand on his head. “You’ve destroyed one world.”

“I’ll destroy them all.”

Jessie strokes his face where forehead meets forelock. “Life breaks, dreams make. Be what you can, not what you were,” she says.

“I can only be that with you, Jessie.”

She sits next to him, elbows on knees, chin in hands. “It’s not my job to save you, Marshall.”

“You’re the only one who can. Don’t I get to be happy, Jessie? At least here?”

The tundra shimmers much as her eyes when she looks at him. “Don’t I?” she says.

“Would you leave me alone for eternity?”

Jessie stands. A solitary teardrop lash-lingers in prisms of possibility. “Come find me once you’ve found yourself.”

And she’s gone.

The city skirts the desert floor, towers diamonds on the horizon, demanding countenance evermore. An endless concrete sea of a billion doors. Behind one, his heart is not scattered, and suitcase gathered. Behind one, he has not killed them all. Behind one, lies redemption.


 

Behind one, they are happy only ever and forever more.

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