My first memory was of whorls of dust circling a soundless explosion in the darkness; falling toward that fire as other primal motes coalesced into my siblings. A long while later, I realized that I was circling closer and closer to an inevitable end, when the particles that had so improbably found one another to form my body would be disintegrated. I sped through the void, a meteor suffering from the twin curses of consciousness and longevity. My orbit was not stable. It wobbled ever so slightly on its ellipse, and would one day plunge me into another orbiting body.
In the last moments as I neared oblivion the dense silence was broken: I heard a voice; and another, and one after that.
You must understand that from the very beginning, silence was so absolute and infinite that it was just another inviolable feature of existence. Like the color of the night sky, or the bright reflection of the sun off its satellites; the sort of thing one only notices in its absence.
That first sound was momentous. It was as if the universe began all over again. Like finding religion when I could still bring myself to believe in those kinds of things.
The first noise came as five words. Each of them urgent, unwavering in their need. Unattached to anything.
“I wish he’d love me.”
The headlights of a passing car blinded Leah sending a bolt of fear through her. Could they see the whites of her eyes? Did the hedge she was hiding behind sufficiently mask her long awkward body half-crouched on the ground? What if they called the cops? She could see it now, being led out in handcuffs from the Steins’ yard like a burglar or something. A criminal.
Leah wasn’t a criminal. She was just keeping an eye on Paul.
Four kids died in the car accident. He’d been driving. A month ago and he still hadn’t come back to school. Just think of waking up in the hospital to that sort of news. Oh, hi. You killed your three best buddies and your girlfriend. Though, technically, Emma was his ex-girlfriend now. On account of the death. Not being cold, just being, y’know, realistic.
The light in Paul’s bedroom came on, with it a flutter in Leah’s teenage chest.
She slid out her phone, cupping it against her body to hide the glow. Hey, just checking on you, Leah typed.
Who’s this? Came back over the wire. Quickly, cruelly.
It’s Leah. From sch-, no, too tragic. Was in your hood and-, no, too stalker-y. It’s Leah, dummy ;)
He didn’t type back.
Leah looked up at the sky. A shooting star flared up and blacked out.
She made a wish.
The second time, I was expecting it. No, that gives the impression I knew that I would hear again. Looking back, that’s not at all how it was. The single most important thing that ever happened to me and I had no idea if it would ever happen again. I was left to wait, continuing along my course, my mind speeding like a teenager waiting for a message from their first crush. I was in agony.
That first sound threatened to disintegrate me, to shake my molecules apart. The anticipation of the next was even harder to take.
It came in the form of five more words, clear and plaintive.
“I want to be free.”
They had been laughing. Like, choking spit-and-tears laughing. The last thing Paul remembered was Greg ripping a big fart and everybody flat-out losing it. The car was hotboxed. Emma had her hand on his thigh.
They were going too slow for the highway. Cars had been passing them by swerving into the other lane, despite the double-yellow. Letting out long honks as they went by, which made them laugh even harder.
Greg’s fart. Laughing. A long honk.
And then, the hospital.
Then, this room.
Paul leaned back in bed. He was technically okay. His vital functions were functioning vitally. He could see, eat, shit. His heart was pumping blood and his lungs were carrying oxygen to that blood. He was fine.
Except he couldn’t move his legs.
He was supposed to be back in school by now. His mother bothered him all the time about learning to use his wheelchair. Why leave the bed, though? As long as they kept bringing food there would be no reason to leave. Their maid Sylvia’s patience was growing thin from changing his bedpan, but it was her job so he had no sympathy.
Not really, though. If he was being honest with himself, the only thing he wanted in the world was to leave that bed. That, and to not shit his pants anymore. And to have all of his friends back.
His phone buzzed. It was another message from that Leah girl. Total ghoul, that chick. He pretended that he didn’t know who she was. The phone buzzed again.
Maybe he could talk her into a blowjob or something, even if he couldn’t collect on it. No way in hell he’d let a girl see him like this. But blowjobs were a nice memory, from before. Paul reached under the covers and started rubbing at himself, he picked up the phone with his other hand. He was going to type, Send tits, but instead he started crying.
Paul looked out his bedroom window and tried to remember what it felt like to walk down his driveway. A shooting star flashed and faded out in the night sky. It distracted him from a movement in the hedge.
He made a wish.
My entire existence, the aeons of silence; exploded by that first lone voice. It was like day breaking for the first time. But a second voice? I could hardly contain myself. When the third one came I felt like I had stumbled upon a pile of great wealth. You know how when things are going right, we like to pretend that it’s because we deserve it?
The third came as three words.
“I want revenge.”
The world had come apart. Jason felt like he had been floating for the last month, since the crash. Since his sister’s body had launched through the windshield of one car into the windshield of another. She landed in the lap of the man who smashed into them head-on. He had swerved out of the way of some asshole crossing on a double-yellow.
Like that, the light went out of the girl who had teased him so mercilessly when he was little. The girl who had dressed him up in her clothes and put makeup on him while her friends laughed. The girl he spent the first part of his young life hating and wishing ill upon. He’d pictured every kind of torment. Baldness, pimples, warts. And he’d wished each of them on his sister.
But as they entered their teenage years something happened. Emma didn’t seem as evil anymore. Sometimes they would talk, late at night, after she got home from partying. She’d be sneaking back in through her bedroom window and Jason would be sitting on her bed with his eyebrow arched like he was going to ring an alarm.
They’d talk about love and whatever. Jason would talk about how he was in love with Leah Wexler, even though he couldn’t bring himself to ask her out. Emma would talk about how she wasn’t really sure that she loved Paul Stein, but she did give him a handjob (ew) the other day, so she was pretty sure he was into her.
His sister would share a joint with him out the window and then they’d go to bed.
From where his room was situated, he could see the Stein house. The light in Paul’s room was on. He’d survived. Jason wondered if his sister had been giving him a handjob when they crashed. Then he tried to get the image out of his head.
A star shot across the sky, it flashed bright before fading.
Jason made a wish.
After that the voices crowded one another out until they became static. Just noise and a heat so immense that I could think of nothing else for the rest of my life.