Void and Repair
by A. A. Khayyat
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
They both sat quietly on the couch. The muted TV was on again. June watched the screen with jaws clenched, arms crossed, and her eyes squeezed into a slight frown.
Stellan held his phone up to his ear. “I’m turning the anchor off,” he said to her. “Something’s wrong, okay?”
June said nothing.
“That was pretty bad,” he went on. “Did you know?”
She knew the euphoria that had been seeping through to her, transporting her to a world she did not know but was drawn to with an irrational love.
She glanced at Stellan and frowned at him. Then she went back to staring at the TV.
“June,” said Stellan, the phone still on his hear. Sheaves of paper lay on his lap.
“I didn’t know anything,” said June.
“You couldn’t tell I was acting strange?” he said.
“You weren’t acting strange. You were happy. You were singing. You were telling me about your middle school crush—”
He shook his head and gritted his teeth. “Come on,” he said, glaring at his phone and kicking the coffee table. “Pick up the damn phone.”
“I’ve been on hold for twenty minutes. Twenty-four seven my ass.”
“Why are you so upset? We were having fun.”
“The whole day was a goddamn blur because my patch is going haywire.”
“I’m going to throw the damn phone.”
June chewed on her nail and got up. “I’m going to bed,” she said and stormed off toward the bedroom.
“Hey,”:he called after her, “if the doctor says he wants to see us. We’re going to ARCO, okay?”
She slammed the bedroom door.
* * *
It was dark when June opened her eyes. She sat up and raked her hair, looking at the window. The curtains were drawn. The streetlights were dimmer now, condemning the bedroom to a gloaming that accentuated the floating specks of light June saw within her eyes.
The hissing whispers swung back around, seeping from the colorful cracks that now etched all over the room. June stared at the webbing until the whisper grew louder and she strained herself to hear what it was saying.
“Who are you?” she said under her breath, her eyes vibrating in their sockets.
But there were no words: just the calm crashing of water against rocks, a distant scream or laughter from a girl, playing or drowning in the sea, dolphin-kicking her way around the depths.
June smiled as she thought she saw herself, mermaid-like in a natural habitat, absorbing the life-giving depths as she swam among the fish, the harmless sharks and the papery seaweed like a diaphanous caress against her wet skin.
There was only the water now.
She kept staring at the cracks until they began to leak. Crystalline drops fell from the glowing edges of the cracks toward the floor.
June stretched her arm and held her hand open, palm facing upward. A drop of water collided with her skin and vanished, leaving only a fleeting cold trace before disappearing in a final, momentary splash.
Stellan was still asleep.
The cracks closed, the whispers of the water vanished and the room was dropped into darkness again.
June smacked her lips as a subtle metallic coldness now began to tug on her tongue. She grabbed the glass of water on the bedside table and downed it all, knocking the prescription bottles over. One of them rolled off the table and onto the carpet.
Tingling needles swept over her legs and she swung them off the bed to the floor. Her feet touched the carpet, and cold pinpricks stabbed into her soles. She winced, peering down in the darkness toward her toes.
Stellan shifted and turned. He cleared his throat and began to snore softly.
June watched him for a moment and tiptoed to the bathroom.
She ran the tap water over her fingers and stared at herself in the mirror. “You’re fine,” she said, whispering. “You’re okay. Okay?”
The hollowness in her stomach was slowly turning into a burning ball that shot up her esophagus. She cleared her throat and patted her chest, still running the water over her fingers.
“You can do this,” she said, pulling her shirt up and glancing at her patch. It shone with a faint orange light, buzzing very softly and whispering to her.
Her feet moved quietly over the wood flooring, and she sat down on the living room couch, her eyes watering all of a sudden.
She glanced around, watching the walls, waiting for a kind of signal to nudge her instinct. But there was nothing on the walls. Even the whisper seemed to dissipate.
When her tears began to roll down her cheeks, she felt a burning spike in her chest. She closed her eyes and sought to control her breathing.
The burning in her stomach lurched up, and she patted herself on the chest, inhaling and exhaling meticulously. She drew air in through her nose and exhaled through her mouth.
Then, she shot to her feet, made for the front door, and grabbed the hanging car keys.
She clutched the steering wheel and turned the volume knob all the way. The music blared and shook the car. Her head bobbed to it and she began to sing along, squeezing the steering wheel and shifting in her seat.
The lights from outside zoomed past her as her fingers began to tap the steering wheel. Her voice rose to try to rival that of the singer’s exploding out from the speakers.
But the song was broken by a burst of static, dropped to a low hum for about three seconds and blared again.
June turned the volume down and squeezed her eyes shut momentarily. Her patch began to reverberate again, and the colorful cracks were now zigzagging all over the windows, the upholstery and the void of the night.
The whisper grew louder, and she could now discern it: a girl was calling to her, young and full of life. But her voice was breaking up through something heavy, gurgling and full of tension. But a euphoric wave snapped her out of her endeavor.
She cranked the music up again and screamed along with the singer’s high-pitched notes.
The humid air burst through her when she climbed out of the car. Her hair danced in the darkness as she peered down the mound toward the crashing hiss of the water, blinking her eyes at the surf licking the gray sand.
Distant buoys were blinking red.
Her feet sank into the sand. The granules clutched onto her skin like glass, and she stumbled down the mound toward the ocean.
The air grazed against her with sharp coolness, and she clawed her shirt and sweatpants off. She inhaled and stepped tentatively to the water.
When her toes touched the edges of the surf, she drew back, drew in another breath, and treaded forwarded, stomping her way through the water, gritting her teeth to the piercing cold creeping up her legs and spine.
Gradually, she picked up speed and began to run. Her feet slapped against the water. The world went dark and the cold engulfed her.
The wave kicked her up, and she sank face down into the water. June’s eyes stung to the touch of the salt water. But a burst of energy from the implant sent her forward toward the darkness of the ocean.
She pushed herself to the surface, crawling away from the beach with quick, persistent strokes until the the water settled to a gentle sway, raising her up and easing her down as she wiped her face and rubbed her stinging eyes.
Looking back toward the beach, she squinted at the dotted lights beside the pier and the condominium buildings looming over the road. Everything else was a muted gray, remote and detached from her personal heaven.
She realized she could float effortlessly, as if the depths were keeping her above the surface. She whooped and hooted, allowing the waves to cradle her this way and that, pushing and pulling her capriciously.
Even as she swam naked, the chill vanished for a moment and she was struck by intense warmth until a strong breeze picked up, sweeping by her with a dagger-like touch. Her teeth began to clatter.
She dove into the water, straining to keep her eyes open as a stinging itch suffused them.
She dolphin-kicked and twirled, the water around her growing heavier. She opened her eyes and shot up to the surface.
Snapping her head left and right, she twisted her body and lost all sense of where she was. The cold bore down on her hard, and she began to scream when the water began to drag her downward.
She opened her mouth and drew in some air, kicking her legs and lunging forward. But the water was obstinate.
She coughed and dipped her head again. When she brought her head back up through the surface, her entire body shook and her head spun.
The world around her, cold and wet, muffled her senses and she blinked, quickly noticing the giant cobweb of deep cracks in the windshield. To her right, there was only half a window, sucking in gushes of water.
She felt everything bob back and forth and shook her head. The persistent screech in her ear gave way to the tapering screams behind her, jolting her to attention.
The water was up to her chest now. She wrestled with her seatbelt. The buckle was submerged. Jagged lines of dark blood ran from her hairline to her jaw. The car tilted forward in the water, and Maeve was still screaming in the back seat.
Their mother’s head rested on the steering wheel, obscured by heavy trails of crimson. Her eyes were closed, and she did not move.
Maeve was still screaming when the car angled forward. June gritted her teeth and unbuckled herself, clutched the driver’s seat headrest and twisted her body around with a moan. Tiny shards of glass fell off her lap and drifted towards the floorboard.
The car jerked and the water rose. Maeve screamed for her mother. June’s breath trembled out of her while she struggled with Maeve’s seat belt.
“Mimi, look at me,” June said. “Push the button on the buckle, okay? Mimi?”
“Why isn’t Mom moving?” said Mimi, wailing.
“Mimi, push the buckle!” She clenched her jaw and tried to reach the underside of the backseat cushion, wincing. “The red button on the buckle, Mimi, please.”
As soon as she pressed her fingers inside the cushion, the car dipped forcefully, thrusting June back down onto the dashboard and the windshield, breaking it.
The water swallowed them all.
June flailed her arms as the car forced both her and Maeve into the depths. She held her breath, opened her eyes and blinked. Maeve’s eyes were closed. Bubbles shot out of her mouth and nose. A stream of blood threaded away from a cut on her cheek.
June drove herself upward, planted her hands against the back seat and felt around for the belt buckle. She ran her hands frantically, glancing at Maeve, who had her eyes shut.
As June ran her hands along the cushion, the car forced her down. She opened her mouth and expelled a muffled scream and then dragged herself out of the broken window, propelling herself with broad strokes.
She was stopped; her jeans had caught on a shard of glass sticking out of the window frame. She kicked and thrashed until something nudged her free, and she swam upward.
The suffocating heaviness shattered off of her as she broke through to the surface, gulping all the air she could and screaming. She breathed in water and began to cough.
The patch on her waist sizzled and burned, urgently shining white and red. She clawed at the water, screaming. The waves took her under and heaved her back to the surface. Her body strained against a tugging force.
She screamed and dipped until she closed her eyes, the heavy water and seething cold reducing everything to a haze. Her arms thrashed, and she continued to scream until a wave pressed her down and she felt nothing.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by A. A. Khayyat