Through the light splaying off the roof, Angela’s falling blonde hair looked cream-colored, intricately stitched together like a veil. She smiled. A sad smile she leaned out the window to give me. She didn’t want to watch me die, but she would not look away. I didn’t want to see her sad, but I continued squinting up at her—smiling so she would see I was happy—until the stabbing light overpowered and she faded into its fallout.
I leaned back and rested my eyes on a beautiful blue sky—seamless as a movie screen. The only sound in the whole world was this bird above me on a telephone wire. Its intermittent chirps sounded off the last of my life in scattershot segments of time. My breathing through thick and bloody lips was no longer labored but slow and regular. I couldn’t hear my heart anymore. I felt it in the pain in my ankle that pulsed, but it didn’t hurt too bad. It had mostly gone to wherever pain goes when you no longer feel it.
The day was perfect. The clouds couldn’t have been more cloudy. Still shots of billowed clouds like frozen explosions. Air surrounded me like a bath, just warm enough to make the long grass I was lying in feel cool. The grass was dry, not like in the mornings, and it smelled different. The smells of the dirt underneath couldn’t hide, but I liked it that way; it was real. I was dying. A funny feeling, but I think I was happy. In a little while I would scooch myself down so I was all the way in the grass. My head was in the road and I could feel gravel digging into my hair. I could smell the tar in the road, and my blood. I wanted to be all in the grass. I would lie in the cool grass and be gone before it got itchy. I had to be careful moving my leg. My ankle didn’t hurt right then, but I had been holding it still. When I moved it, if I wasn’t careful, it would hurt, and I really didn’t want anything else bad to happen to me.
This neighborhood reminded me of where I think I grew up. Past my forehead, to my left, spaced-apart houses bobbed in the seamless blue, under a sky of every shade of green. House-shaped mail boxes lined the street in little clusters, but behind and to my right stood the cavernous mansion of mail slots for the apartment complex where I rented a room. Next to the mail boxes green newspaper boxes had sprouted like weeds. A castle of business offices with windows of mirrors was barricaded by a moat of concrete sidewalk. Who would want the paper route for such a place? My first paper route was on a block full of only houses, with porches each in a different place, and I never let it go.
I looked back up so all I saw was sky. When I moved my head, gravel rolled under me like pebbles in my mouth. It was hard to know, but I felt like I had lots of time to pass over the moments of my life.
One year I planted a sunflower in the backyard and watered it every day with water I’d mixed some plant food into that made it grow so fast I could almost watch it. I’d sit next to it and talk to it. Before I went to bed I’d kiss it goodnight on its trunk. By summer, I couldn’t even touch the flower parts and I felt proud.
I couldn’t be sure it was real, of course. She had stories for me, memories. My fake mom with stories of her fake son. They were all I had though, and they felt wonderful. So I flashed through them as I lay there. Like someone else’s vacation slides, but I’d never been anywhere, and I could pretend. I was very good at pretending.
Blissful death circled above, a single bird, chirping on a wire. I laughed softly, soaking in the pain it brought to my lip. It hurt, but I moved all the way into the grass.
It was cold and windy and the sky was thick with gray, but it wasn’t raining. My mom said I…, but no, she wasn’t there. It was just me. It really happened. My sunflower had dried into an ugly yellow. I went out with my hatchet—for a kid, but sharp. The cold air blew into my eyes and made them fill with tears that fell down my cheeks. Each time I swung the hatchet and struck the trunk, flakes of yellow flew up into the sky—never touching the ground. When the sunflower fell, I caught it and carried it out to the front yard and laid it down past the ditch filled with leaves.
I was breathing so slow. It was almost time. I wanted Angela to be with me when it happened. I could be happy if I could have her image and the feeling I always had with her. When I squinted into the sun I could turn the rays into her blonde hair. She warmed my face. She was all I needed. One last moment. All I ever needed, to dissolve into that image of her, Angela. Angela.
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