WRITTEN BY CARLOS LAO
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING TEXT CONTAINS DEPICTIONS OF VIOLENCE, SUICIDE, AND SUICIDAL IDEATION
As it is
“O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world, But had not force to shape it as he would, Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim, And have not power to see it as it is:”
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson
And so you awake in the heart of a seemingly colorless void. You’re not quite sure what to call it, actually. The walls, if there are any, are painted such a maddeningly pristine white that looking at them makes your head spin. The whiteness around you seems simultaneously expansive and restrictive, so you consider for a moment that you may be blind. You desperately swivel your head in search of something that can relieve the immense pressure that accosts you from every angle, and, by chance, your eyes happen upon three squares suspended in the air at the edge of the blank void. The squares arrange themselves in a manner such that all their edges align, gesturing towards a vanishing point that doesn’t seem to exist, or a horizon that some lesser god had forgotten to draw. The squares seem to line the walls of some long-forgotten hallway, so buried in memory that it had simply ceased to be. With no other options, you resolve to go to the nearest square.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
You count 5 minutes 4 times before reaching the first square. Though from afar you had assumed it a painting, now standing mere inches away from it, you realize that its contents are moving. Reaching out to feel the texture of the canvas, you’re surprised to find that your hand instead comes in contact with the cool surface of what is apparently glass. A window, you think in a sudden bout of hopefulness. A small figure dashes by and you begin banging the window with the force of your desperation. You yell for help, but your voice is muted by the suffocating vastness of the void. The figure doesn’t return for you. You peer deeper into the scene, hoping to see someone—hoping to be seen. Through the distortion of the glass, behind your own reflection, you see children squealing in delight and darting to-and-fro about a playground.
A chorus of screams follows as the children all flee from the new tagger. You rest your forehead on the window to look closer. To your surprise, beneath the window you see a mop of sandy brown hair: a young child sitting alone beneath the window sill. For a moment you dwell on his desolation, but are quickly reminded by the pressing nature of your own struggles. In a final attempt, you bang on the window until the glass ripples and shudders. The child turns around to look up at you.
Help! You cry out.
He shakes his head, pointing a finger at himself before striking it against the opposite hand. He points once at their ear, and once at his mouth. The movements are graceful but foreign, and the message is clear.
“I can’t. Deaf.”
Suddenly the edges of the window begin fading, closing in on your chances of escape. You catch one final glimpse at the child’s face, riddled with despondence, before it is consumed by the milky oblivion. Your head, once rested on the window, now hangs low. You are alone again. But you think, for a moment, of all the times that you were not. The tides of your mind wash you back to the sandy hair beneath the sill. How long will he be alone?
You look up, in the trance of a foolish wish that you might see the child once more, but what faces you is that same, all-consuming whiteness.
You turn your head to view the other two squares that line the invisible hallway, overcome by the joyous realization that they have not gone. Two more windows? You wonder. Two more chances? You pray.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
You count 6 minutes and 6 seconds 6 times before you reach the next window. You’ve learned your lesson this time. No more fruitless banging and yelling. Instead, you try to make eye contact with someone. It seems rather difficult.
Behind the glass pane, is an elementary school classroom adorned in garish blacks and oranges, overflowing with students dressed in costumes so intricate that their form is nearly obscured. A wicked witch here, a haunted ghoul there. The room is crowded with laughter, but you don’t mind the din because it helps to fill the blankness.
Peering through the ruckus, you take a minute to observe if someone, anyone, might be able to catch sight of you. However, you find that everyone seems to be looking at something else. An entire room of students has set their eyes laser-focused on a single individual. You follow the leading lines of their eyes and find that all of their attention has been rested upon the singular person in the room that is not laughing. They aren’t laughing with one another. They’re laughing at another.
The boy looks at you for a moment, eyes wide like a deer in the headlights. His face is delicate, but his features are marred by smeared lipstick and runny mascara that dribbles down his cheek. He shuts his eyes and rips off the tiara that rests upon his crown, flinging it on the floor in an explosion of plastic jewels and metal. He opens his eyes once more, but you can hardly make out his pupils through the tears that now obstruct them. He lifts up the hem of his dress that’s soaked in water, paint, and hatred, and stands up to leave. Your attention is drawn away for a moment as you see something fly across the room.
Before the little boy can leave, the apple core knocks him in the skull. He turns around and looks at you once more, lip quivering, and you watch as a single black tear rolls off his chin. He shakes his head and, like the first time, the void bleaches any semblance of him into oblivion.
It’s no different, you think. They didn’t see him, they didn’t want to, and now I can’t see him either. A tear rolls down your cheek, and you catch it in your palm. It’s spitefully colorless. You let the droplet roll off your palm to join its bitter kind in the briny, bleached abyss.
You raise your chin and take a moment to take in the last window. The last chance.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
The last walk takes you a grueling 40 minutes. On the way, you almost stop thrice. The first, because the hunger begins to gnaw away at your stomach, but you deny the void the pleasure of cutting you down with starvation. The second, because you feel the flesh on your whole body begin aching—aching for simply being. Yet, you deny the void that same pleasure of stopping you with exhaustion. The third, because you hear your mind tell you to simply stop and consider staying, because searching seems much harder than not trying. Yet, you deny the void—the lesser god that created this nothingness—the pleasure of succumbing to its will.
The last window is the worst of all. There is no lead-in. There is no attempt at saving yourself. The moment you peer out the window, your ears are assaulted by a barrage of flesh-rending words—harsh Ns with hard Rs. Then you see her, the most vibrant spot of color in your chalk-white world. Her ebony skin and chocolate eyes glisten with seawater. Blue oceans swirl about in pools on her skin, and the saltwater cascades from her eyes. You hear her smooth caramel voice cut through the cacophony.
But the bleached bodies that pile atop her say “yes” when she cries “no”, until, when the last of their grunts had settled, she is no longer crying. They stand in a circle surrounding her. “No,” she whimpers a final time. Then you hear a sound so harsh it’s blinding. You’re forced to shut your eyes. No! You yell. But it’s too late.
You open your eyes just in time to see the last bit of color. A beautiful crimson the seeps through her ebony skin, before the whiteness takes it away.
You scream in agony. No more chances. Just alone in the void forever. Alone, thinking of all those you wish you could have saved though you can’t even save yourself. You collapse to the floor and cry out in a flurry of frustration, anger, and pain. Frustration that can’t be felt, but heard. Anger that can’t be calmed, but worsened. Pain that can’t be healed. Pain where nothing can be done. But then you hear it, a cry that’s nearly indiscernible from yours and forces you to stop your thoughts at once. You look up and see the figure, cradled on the floor just as you are. You both seem to notice each other at the same time because, in the instant you find the strength to get back on your feet, the figure does the same.
You run up to the figure until you’re face-to-face. You scream about the horrors you’ve witnessed and rant about the perfect whiteness and the broken void it is. You scream, and so do they, but their mouth produces no sound. You can hear the crystal-clear wail of your thoughts and words but while you stand with a racing heart and a broken voice, they seem to stand before you simply opening their mouth and closing it again, as if to mock you.
You’re disgusting! You shriek until the rasp in your throat becomes a stinging burn. You look at their face with eyes too far apart—or perhaps too close together. Eyes that melt and mingle with the pristine whiteness that surrounds your two bodies. Their nose is too large—or too small. You can’t decide because, after every blink, every shape deforms itself into a new monstrosity. You touch your eyes and nose to ensure that the void hasn’t taken them too. The figure also begins touching its disfigured eyes and contorted nose, mocking you.
Stop! You scream. But your voice is gone too. Lost to the whiteness and perfection.
You aren’t real. The Deaf child was real. The boy in the dress was real. The ebony lady was real. But you aren’t. This void is full of perfection and free of humanity, and it’s terrible. You are not perfection. You are not a part of this terrible existence.
Your thoughts ramble but you don’t make noise. You never made noise, because there can be no noise or pain in the whiteness.
You aren’t a part of this, you tell the figure before your fist breaks through it. —
The mirror shatters.
Perfection isn’t real. Perfection is an idea formulated and propagated by a lesser god. Perfection isn’t real, but beauty is. Beauty is the way the child’s hands danced, the bravery of the crying boy, and the voice of the ignored woman. It’s about being, not trying to be. Perfection was not, is not, and will never be. Beauty was, is, and will be. Though obscured by a curtain of faux-perfection, beauty is now for those who chose to draw it back.
You take a shard of the shattered mirror and, looking at your arm, see how hard it bites.
You watch as rubies drip from your veins, and the scarlet roses that surge within you spill across the void and make it full. The whiteness disappears, and the void falls apart.