Breathe Small in the Light

Fiction
Josh Hauser


Sun
Photo Credit: Jalal Hameed Bhatti

The dead refrigerator is entirely empty except for a single pickle in a single pickle jar, in the middle of the middle shelf. It’s the last morsel of food in the house and I’m starving, but I don’t dare touch it because it might be holding the world in place.

Outside the weather is loud, with white skies and blinding sunlight. I wander into the noise, cowering and squinting at the atmosphere. My skin feels itchy and warm like I’m wearing wool, so I pinch and pull to try to make it loose and comfortable. My feet are moving, but I have the strangest feeling I’m walking in place, like the earth is a giant treadmill.

Scenes changing, I head through the forest and into the wide openness, a grassy area a mile long by a mile wide. I avoid the middle because I think I will fall through. The field is endless and the sky is inches from my head. I now understand that there are things that I cannot understand. That’s likely better than most. Breathe small, if at all. Open field ahead, chaos above.

I eventually find the traps and notice they’re still alive. My voice falls like steel, and the earth rumbles below my feet. I pick up all the meat I can carry and put it in my pack. I don’t reset the traps.

There is an organized group who give daily updates. They don’t reveal their location because they can’t explain where they are. They say the ground is unstable, and the event from last year was just the beginning. I don’t know how they know this, but I don’t know much of anything anymore, except that the light is here. And so am I.

I keep waiting for my eyes to adjust to the new light, but of course they never do. Walking through the field again, I notice the land dips drastically downward like water over a falls. There are no canyons or valleys here. This is the curve of the earth.

“Welcome back,” she says, blankly.

“Thanks,” I say, and put my pack on the kitchen table. “This should last us for about a week if we ration conservatively.”

“They made an announcement when you were gone, something about rain.”

“There is no more rain.”

“They say it’s in the forecast.”

The same forecast broadcasts often, promising heavy amounts of cool, beautiful rain. It never comes. Brightness is the new weather. Brightness and light so abundant it swallows everything, erasing the outdoors.

“I think we should leave this place,” she says, pushing her tired black hair off her face and adjusting the top of her bright yellow sundress.

“You know we can’t do that,” I say, removing the contents of my pack onto the table. “There is nowhere else to go, and even if there was, we wouldn’t know how to get there. We are alive; we are rulers of the earth.”

“I don’t understand.”

It’s night but the light continues to shine. We start a fire outside because the stove is broken and we don’t know how to fix it. Cracking and whipping, the fire swells to an adequate size for cooking. I watch the meat transform color as the fire surrounds it, like the light that surrounds her and me. The meat is tough, overcooked, and overall tasteless. We wash it down with unlabeled bottles of sweet beer. Our basement is full of these, although we only drink now to remember, not for the moment. The backs of our hands touch as we sit indoors after our meal. This contact is important, as it reminds me that she is beautiful. I tell her this.

“You said I was alive,” she says.

“You are, and that’s everything.” I adjust my tie.

Our bedroom windows have been boarded up for months in order to minimize light. Some always gets in, but we are able to sleep for a few hours each night regardless. She sleeps better than me. I watch her on occasion, wanting to be like her, too confused to figure out how to die.

We awake at the same moment, and the backs of our hands are touching, barely. It’s hotter outside than yesterday, significantly so. I turn on the radio to listen to their message. Rain is coming soon, they say. It’s the same message as yesterday and many times before. The man speaking sounds tired and worn. She enters the room, yellow sundress disheveled but bright as the outdoors, and sits next to me and listens to the broadcast. I stare at her, hoping to drink her apathy. I don’t tell her the traps haven’t been reset.

The broadcast ends and we wander to the porch. We sit, and the light sits with us.

“Think of it like music,” she says, her eyes gently closed, as if she’s enjoying a breeze.

“Excuse me?”

“Our light is the new melody.”

The day—if it can be called that—passes slowly. The earth is a broken carousel, spinning without end, all its trapped riders wanting nothing more than for it to stop.

We sleep, restlessly.

Wait for the rain. Wait for the rain. Pray for the rain, they say. The message today is desperate, pleading, like our collective wills must bring rain or everything will cease. Needing rain has become less about basic hydration and more about normalcy. My morning is filled with thoughts about the life of the light, and if it’s alive it has to rest. It has to. And I look forward to that.

Beaming and blaring outside I tumble over my phrases, craning my neck to escape everything, finding no solace in consciousness, sight line on any color other than bright and fixate as she follows, blindly, smiling. The light breathes, invites us in and we accept without thought. I think we are in the field, but I can’t be certain, as the power of the light has increased. A wind pushes through the sky and hits me in the chest and scatters, and I look to her. We move our bodies like we remember how, bending, jumping, arms flailing wildly, laughing for hours and days and forever. We dance for each other, for everyone, for the light. Inside the light our insignificance is abundantly clear, so we let the skies push and pull us, like the invisible dust we are.

We fall back into our house, panting and smiling. Lie down in the light and rest, I think aloud. I look at her sitting on a kitchen chair, rotating her eyes around and around, trying to trap the day in memory. I walk over to her and verbally repeat our dance over and over, helping her secure it, but her memories are held together loosely with string. They will untie, or snap.

Eventually we prepare dinner. Most of the meat has gone bad, so now we only have enough for a few days. I don’t tell her this, but I feel strongly she knows. We fill our thin stomachs and don’t speak. She grabs the meat with her fingers and stuffs it into her mouth, and before she begins to chew she takes a large gulp of sweet beer. Our house is a dead spot in the light that will inevitably fall victim to its strength, as it’s undoubtedly tired of fighting. In the moment, we are the fortunate inhabitants of the house, somewhat protected from the hot light, chewing food and swallowing beer.

I don’t wash the plates, and instead let them rest on the kitchen table.

“Maybe we should sit in the porch tonight,” she says.

Her suggestion fills the earth, fearless of the light.

“I think it would be nice,” she says, genuinely, as she stands, adjusts her dress and tries to smooth the creases, and steps toward the porch.

I watch her walk in and disappear, and for a time I remain seated in the kitchen, looking at my folded hands. I let my eyelids rest on one another, gently, and brilliant red floods in.

Screaming heat greets me at the porch entrance, pouring over my head and dripping down the walls, flooding, stealing the breath from my lips. I sit next to her, endless and perfect light surrounds us, my tie glibly dangles and she reaches over and tightens it, and we hold hands and pray for rain because that’s all there is, and all there ever was.

pencil

Josh Hauser is the Communications Coordinator for a non-profit called Tubman, at which he writes, designs, plans, fund raises and fixes the printers (majority of his work). Much of his academic career consisted of writing and reading, and cooking unhealthily for himself and anyone else who dared to consume. Email: jdhauser[at]gmail.com