The weather is perfect today.
I stretch out my fingers and try to catch the rays of sunlight streaming through the trees. They slip through the cracks in between my fingers and fall onto my face. It’s warm.
“「 」! Look at this one!”
I turn and find her wielding a cluster of flowers like a sword.
“Woah, that’s amazing!” I laugh. It’s not the flowers that I find amazing. It’s her enthusiastic smile. She hasn’t smiled like this in a while. I bend down to pick up the woven basket resting at my feet. It’s already filled high with flowers, but I’m sure we can squeeze in some more. I offer it out to her, and she happily places her bundle with reverence on top of the other flowers.
A shadow falls in between us. “It’s time to head back,「 」, 「 」.”
She pouts from beside me, but a pat on her head eases her pout into a huff of acceptance.
We begin to head home hand-in-hand through a stone path surrounded by trees. The shadow remains steadfast on our backs all the way until we reach the gates of our house. When we arrive, the shadow departs to rejoin other shadows swaying beside the gates.
That’s when I see it.
“ 「 」, what’s wrong?” She asks from beside me.
I start and turn to her with a smile. “It’s nothing. Let’s go inside.” It’ll upset her if she sees it.
When we enter the house, I quickly make an excuse and slip outside again. The shadows are busy conversing and laughing at the gates and do not see me as I sneak past them.
It’s still lying there. Hidden in the shrubberies. If it weren’t for my height, I’d probably never have seen it. A blackbird with a broken wing hidden among the greenery.
“Oh no…,” I whisper as I kneel down beside it.
My hands hover.
I’m afraid that if I touch it, I’ll hurt it even more. Even if I do pick it up, who will I bring it to? Everyone will probably tell me it’s no use and that I should just leave it alone. But if I just sit here doing nothing then that would be even worse. With a huff and a wince, I scoop it up into my arms.
It chirps softly.
I return home, bird in hand. With great difficulty, I manage to sneak it past the shadows and whisk it up to my room. The sunlight streaming through my open windows seems to give the bird comfort as I lay it on my bed. I leave its side to rummage around my room in search of a bandage. I’m digging underneath my bed when the door creaks open behind me.
“「 」,” she says, “what’s—”
Her eyes widen, and she runs to me with an extended hand. There is fear in her eyes. Her eyes which are locked onto the bird resting behind me. I follow her gaze.
There’s something odd with the bird. The way its dark feathers catch the golden rays of light reminds me of the way embers spark before they ignite into a blaze. The bird stirs, bringing the illusion closer to reality.
With a spread of its wings, the bird erupts into flame. A fiery flame that explodes out in a wave of heat that sends us both backward. My back cracks against the wall behind me, and when I manage to come to there is a haze of smoke in the air. The blackness from the haze contrasts sharply from the bright white, red hot fire that dances around the room.
I scramble to a stand and find her lying a couple of feet away from me. She is curled up there, small, trembling.
“「 」!” I cry out for her over the crackle, the roar. “「 」!”
But in a wave of heat, the flames whisk her away in a sheet of blazing red.
I’m not sure if I scream. The crackling roar of the fire is too loud, and the smoke is too thick to let sound out.
It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault.
The smoke coils around me like a snake. Squeezing, suffocating, and—
And I find myself standing in front of a frosted windowpane. I shiver in my boots and press my face and hands up against it. I can feel the warmth seeping into my hands and cheeks from the glass.
Inside is yellow. A warm yellow. The warmth coats the wooden tables within and the men who sit at the tables. Their eyes are all trained forward towards a grand black piano that sits upon a stage. At the piano sits a woman.
Her pale fingers dance across the keys twisting this way and that in a flurry. Faintly, I can hear the chords and notes being struck on the keys, and I imagine playing the notes myself. The melody ends with a dramatic F major chord that is followed by an eruption of applause.
As always, she is as beautiful as the songs she plays. As she stands up for a bow, our eyes meet. A liquid amber that seems accented by her dark curls. She waves and smiles. I do too. We hold each other’s gaze, and time seems to bend around us. I hope we can stay this way forever but her eyes shift to the side. I follow her gaze.
A dark silhouette stands there right beside her. Their eyes lock. It takes her by the arm and begins to drag her away into the dark. She winces in pain and tries to rip her hand free. It’s to no avail.
I slam my fists against the glass. Pounding, punching, kicking.
The men sitting around the tables begin to clap.
She locks eyes with me just as she is swallowed by the darkness.
The clapping turns to a cheer that grates the ears.
It’s too strong. The glass wall is too strong. I can’t reach her.
I sink to my knees and—
And I find myself standing at the center of an empty room. A large window that is consumed by frost at its edges stretches from the ceiling to the floor in front of me. A silver moonlight spills in from the outside. The touch of it is cold and paints everything black and white. Faintly I can hear a rumbling from just beyond.
Perhaps, its thunder. Or maybe its…
I can hear her enter the room from behind me, and I turn.
There she stands. Long, thin, tall. So tall that she has to hunch over to not bump against the ceiling. In her hands is a long and thin stick. I don’t have anything in my hands but I offer my hands palm-up nonetheless. The stick flies down, and there is a crack of thunder.
“How many times have I explained this to you, 「 」? Without the opinions of others, you are nothing.”
There is tender love yet disappointment in her voice as the stick is brought down again. The sound is paired with another crack of thunder and a flash of lighting that bleaches everything white. And I—
And I find myself standing at the edge of a cliff. Just below, the waves crash against jagged rock that rises out from the depths of blue. Behind me, she stands with her hands covering her mouth. Just behind her is a hill. Down that hill charges a cluster of people.
“「 」, you can’t do this…!” She whispers.
I turn to her and extend my hand. “I can do anything. And now, I’m going to whisk you away.”
Without hesitation, she grabs my hand.
We face the ocean waves below us. And with a shout, I leap and she leaps with me. The salty air whips at our faces and a spray of ocean mist tickles the bottoms of our feet. The deep blue waters greets us with a cold embrace, and I—
And I find myself sitting at my kitchen table. All six seats are filled, and there is laughter in the air. At our feet blossoms vines and a colorful assortment of flowers. The flora and vines crawl up our legs and the legs of our chairs. They seem to be reaching towards the sunlight that pours in from above our roofless heads.
Everything is right. Everything is peaceful.
A white bird passes overhead.
I turn to the woman who sits beside me to point it out. In turn, the woman smiles a blindingly white smile. A smile so wide and strong that it almost looks like it can tear her face in two.
“My little heroine of justice.”
There is a crack. A crack forms at the corner of the woman’s lips. The crack grows forming a spiderweb of splinters along her face. Even so, she stretches her smile wider. And then she shatters.
The woman falls to the floor in shards, shards that morph into yellow pieces of parchment inked with words.
I leap for her but my reach is too small, too late. My hands pass through the air that is cluttered with the parchment, and my body falls to the floor. When I collide with it, I too erupt into twirling white rose petals and I—
And I find myself with my feet tucked into sand. The grains of it trickle in-between my toes as I shift in place. The sand is cooler down there than on the surface. The surface radiates so much heat that it distorts the air above it.
The sand’s surface is so hot that it absorbs the sweat that drips from my brow. So hot that it drinks up the blood that paints the area in strips of red. So hot
A shadow passes over me shrouding me from the beat of the sun. A figure stands there cloaked in white, and with eyes that seem to glow with the same colorlessness.
They extend their hand with a smile, and I—
Who is this ‘I’ —
The very concept of an entire person’s identity collapsed into a single word, a single letter. I’m certain there is someone out there who is able to readily accept themselves and to define themselves by this singular letter.
[I] am this.
[I] am that.
But I am not [I]. Not really.
Unlike [I], I am unable to define myself so simply. I am unable to define myself without ‘eye’. Without eyes turned towards me, I am uncertain. But…
Is it [I] think therefore I am, or [I] think therefore you are? Or you think therefore I am? ‘You’? Is there a difference between ‘you’ and I? I’m not sure of that either.
But to complain is to be ungrateful. To have been blessed with this concept of I given to me in the first place. Blessed to have been able to be given another chance to live as [I]. There is no denying it. This truth. And yet still,