I was running for a long time. I got to the point where I could feel my heart expanding like it was starting to fall outwards, seeping into my lungs so that my mouth tasted like metal and blood. My arms grew numb, becoming chicken wings instead of the expanse of my entire body. And everything was cold and wet and green.
I approached a room encased by trees without a fourth wall. A rectangle missing one side. Three men sat inside. One, with a beard, smoked a long pipe in a rocking chair woven together by bamboo. His eyes were covered by smoke as it plumed outward, hanging in a cloud behind his head. He faced the green but didn’t see me.
Another man lay on the bed with a dark blue comforter. His right leg dangled off the edge and slowly swung back and forth. His fingers intertwined under his ribs. He waited for me with no expectation, with zero attachment in his heart. His dark eyes darted into the outside.
I could only see part of the third man. He sat on the floor with his right arm supporting him, supporting the wide structure of his collar bones. He sat cross legged playing fuzzy music out of the stereo. But, his left leg was gone. And so was his face.
I stood outside of the rectangle placed in the woods and I entered knowing that was the only way to get through.
I walked towards the man on the bed and said
I love you.
And I straddled him, as a baby lies on top of her father’s chest, ear pressed into his heart. Tobacco smoke traveled from the pipe to the edge of the bed, trailing over the top of my body until everything became hazy. As soon as my sight became muffled I could hear the noise. The half man played an old folk song on the stereo. A woman sang of finding quiet in the desert and her mind clearing. The vibration of her soft and sweet tone calmed me. But, the song kept skipping, so I didn’t know how she got there. I could only hear the end.
The man on the blue comforter hummed the song, but at a much faster tempo, rattling my head on the barrel of his chest, creating a cacophony of sensations. The end of the song repeated over and over again until I shook violently from the man’s humming. I couldn’t stop jostling back and forth. I seemed to wait for hours for the sound to settle.
Finally, the half man shut the stereo off. My body now seemed to be molded onto another’s and I was paralyzed.
The man in the bamboo rocking chair still sat smoking his pipe. His beard and the dark circles under his eyes made him appear as if he had lived multiple lifetimes. He was unattainable, as I would never be able to grasp what came before me being in the room. But really, he was only a few years older than me. He gestured the pipe towards the bed, offering me a drag. I didn’t want any, the smoke was already too much and I thought I might throw up. But he attempted to hand me the tobacco anyway. He shuffled his bamboo chair closer to the bed so he wouldn’t have to stand to give me the pipe. Heaving his chest forward and sliding the chair underneath, heaving his chest forward and sliding the chair underneath. He tipped the chair onto the front curve and balanced with his forearms resting on the bed. Slowly, he put the pipe inside of my mouth. And, we both paused for a moment, seeing what I would choose. I felt rude not taking what he offered, him knowing so much more then me. So, I deeply inhaled, feeling the cloud of the room shrinking into my chest.
My bones became blank for a moment and I was completely lost. Not remembering if I was in the woods or a room or a desert or a bed. All of this effort, and I had gotten nowhere, fallen into nothing.
I felt three soft tugs at the back of my head. The half man was now standing over me and the man underneath. He had pulled out strands of my hair. I stared at his faceless face as he wrapped the strands tightly around his index finger, cutting off his circulation, turning the tip purple. He continued to pull at the back of my head for more hair, meticulously wrapping each digit until all of his fingers were suffocated. I shut my eyes, worried that his fingers would burst.
Then, the folk song began to play again. This time, the woman screamed about finding silence in the desert. The man under me started to rattle once again.
I opened my eyes to see where the half man had gone. He was back at the stereo. More smoke had filled the room so that I couldn’t see his right arm. But then, I realized it wasn’t there at all.
I wanted it to go away. I wanted the sound to stop. The rattling to stop. I could not stand to be shaken without moving. I closed off my eyes, my ears, the cells of my skin, made my exhales longer than my inhales so the smoke could expel from my insides. I couldn’t sustain my breathing for long and I fainted, sinking deeper into the man’s chest.
I woke up on what was cold and wet and green. I slowly dragged myself from the earth as foliage partially stuck to my body. A pile of my hair lay clumped next to my feet. I deeply inhaled, letting the cold fill me. I spit down into the earth. My blood and saliva seeped down into the soil. And I started again slowly, making my way to the end.