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An Infinite Abyss
I walked to Elijah. He was wearing his signature beige trousers, harnessed on by a pair of suspenders over a white button-down. He sat under his cottonwood tree, the seeds falling, slowed by their feathered parachutes. Each twirling down, mimicking the pirouette of a ballerina. Elijah was oblivious to one stray dancer that had landed in his hair. However, she left as softly as she had arrived, swept away by a summer breeze.
I remember that spring years ago when we would come back from school and immediately change out of our uniforms so we could head to the forest, on the border of the schoolyard. Elijah and I used to collect twigs and fallen pine needles to build bird's nests. Our bare feet crushed dried leaves under us, our skin naked against the cool soil. Feeling the shade of the evergreens above, we sauntered into afternoons of blurred landscapes, getting lost in a labyrinth of trees. Putting our ears to the forest floor to listen to the secrets the earth was hiding from us, leaving soft footprints that called us home when the sun was tired. Peacefully lost in a daydream we shared. We slowly made our way through the woods picking up every small branch or tuft of grass that we saw fit, using the larger branches as walking sticks but then getting tired, and dragging them behind us.
Patches of sun spilled through the cracks in the leaves, we had reached the edge of the forest where the trees began to clear, making room for a meadow. It was barren except for the brilliant yellow daffodils that were scattered throughout the dry grass. The day was hot and Elijah and I were already covered by a thin layer of dirt and sweat, tired from our morning adventure. But as he was looking out into the meadow, admiring our discovery, a giddiness descended on us and he started to laugh, so I began to as well.
It became our tradition to head to the meadow after school, collecting every twig we could find on the way. He said the daffodils there would be perfect for the nests, so we picked those as well. When our hands became too full we deposited all the flowers we had gathered into a pile, next to the twigs and brown grass. A week later we had almost worked our way through a small section of the meadow. Still adamant on providing homes for birds, Elijah tried to pull a flower, but a bee flew out and stung him on the back of his hand. The sting swelled into a small bulge. It was the first time I had seen him cry. Tears pooling into his eyes and lip quivering, the soft whimpers of a child.
The seasons turned slowly as they always do, and spring passed into summer, our favorite season, for it was when we were free of our beige sweater vests and ties. And with the seasons our activities of choice changed. Nest building shifted into frog catching, which shifted into soccer, our new favorite pastime. Elijah’s siblings were always keen on joining us, even if we weren't always keen to have them around, especially his youngest sister, Emelia, who seemed to cry if the wind blew in the wrong direction.
Countless hours were spent in the torrid heat, but we always returned with grass-stained shirts and sun-stained skin. Elijah's ears were too large for his face which made them stand out even more when they burned. His alabaster complexion never tanned, only burned into a rosy pink, then peeled into a new layer of milky white. A striking contrast to my skin, which resembled the umber brown dirt we raced across every day.
I remember that damned day I walked to Elijah. It was late, around 9:30. His raven hair a messy heap above his forehead. He was in his usual attire of suspenders, a white shirt, and beige trousers. He’d asked me if I wanted to canoe with him and I’d said yes.
We reached the water and set the canoe down on the tall grass by the seashore. The cicadas screamed at full volume, fighting to attract a mate. Each going through a life cycle of molting, leaving behind skins to scare our sisters with. Their song almost drowning out the crash of waves against the night sand.
I climbed in first, then Elijah, and we pushed off with our oars, floating away from land. The moon was a dull crescent in the sky, which provided little light in the ebony darkness. Time passed in slow motion as we pushed through the water, but as our eyes adjusted to the dark thousands of stars appeared in the midnight sky, new one's becoming visible with every few minutes that passed.
Soon we had drifted so far from shore that I could no longer see the Allerton’s seaside home. Eventually, we were surrounded by a boundless expanse of dark water. The canoe bobbed on each wave, current, and ripple, swaying us with it. We stared out into the hundreds of infinities, crisp summer air drying the sweat on our foreheads and noses.
Our skin soaked in humidity from the air, while our lungs filled with heat. We continued to row into the abyss, hoping to be carried by the ocean into a tomorrow that wasn’t as half lived as yesterday. The thick air was filled with a soporific fog. Our arms grew tired and our eyelids heavy. “Would you like to take a break?” I asked, he paused for a moment before replying, “Yeah, only for a while and then we can head back,” We set the oars down beside us. It must have been close to 4:30 am, on the cusp of dawn, and a heavy drowsiness was settling upon us.
A cold room.
“Did he have another episode?”
“Yes, um, what was it this time honey?”
I could hear her voice shaking
I managed a weak nod.
“Has the exposure therapy helped?”
“He never speaks after his sessions.”
A comforting pat.
“One moment please Ma’am”
She wiped her tears then nose.
“Increase Paxil dosage by ten percent.”
I still let his ghost visit me sometimes… to reminisce in my dwindling memories of our summers together. Our frequent visits to the beach behind his house, swimming in the ocean water which made our legs dry from salt. The grassy field near the schoolyard where we spent so many sleepy afternoons sunbathing. His cottonwood tree who’s dancers we wished upon countless times, blowing them away with our childhood dreams of new shoes and hard candies. The night we drifted too far from shore, swimming in the same waves, drowning in the same current, only one of our heads breaking the surface in the end. Seeing the faded version of him in my bedroom some nights when the crashing waves pull me back into the ocean. The tide too strong for me to escape the hurricane. And with that tide, I float slowly back into the sea with him. We swam in the same water that night, we all swim in the same water, it's just harder for some of us to stay afloat.