And then blackout. It does this, it settles as a dark ton of iron in the middle of your chest, and it's shot from deep space, has magical properties that locks down your body and locks down your mind.
If there were two of you the blackout would eat one and then take a walk across the stars and have the other after returning. A meal and a snack, then a long sleep inside a grainy dream.
That dream is a nightmare, a terror, and it wrenches from you all the moments of grace you’ve had up until now. Banana splits and the dairy bar, riding bikes without thinking of exercise or tomorrow morning, first day of college, Thanksgiving in a warm kitchen that carries the scents of coffee and is pregnant with the chance of laughter and hugs from family, a cigarette beneath a carport during a hard rain in summer. Always eating, the blackout gorges on all of these moments and waits for more without realizing there will be no more of these times, without realizing it has eaten away the parts of you capable of living them.
Walking outside just to be walking outside and feeling the world under your feet without thinking of how it spins toward death with or without you. In childhood all the natural world was yours, leaves blowing across the town were tossed from branches for you, and what stuck to you from the earth or sky became part of you. Not something to be cleaned away immediately. The Earth was your Mother before she also devoured her share in a fit of control, a frenzied thing grabbing for survival.
Other people. Their lives moving in lines outside your own. Invite when you can, visit when you can. Align the stars just right. But other people died their own strange deaths, their voices forgotten, their scent. Conversation fell away and withered beneath roots until it existed in only an inward whisper, a wind howling for its children.
Books and television and more books. Reading and watching and laughing. Eaten away in precise nibbles were days in solitude across a warm bed with a book. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stephen King, The Pie Makers, biographies of Lew Wallace, Dan Beard, Eugene Fields, Cyrus McCormick, Daniel Webster, Pontiac, Knute Rockne. And then, without a book, a single evening kept alive in your memory. Your grandfather on the couch, you on the floor, a movie about the obliteration of Hiroshima that bored you to sleep until its final scene, a loud crashing of the bomb. You woke in a bliss, your first midday nap, only to see shadows caught against walls, arms held high, necks snapping toward clouds and clouds and clouds.
It eats laughter, sustains on it. The gluttonous starving need, it eats what it can of you. And when it purges, seeks carrion instead, you are left on the ground easing out of the membrane into a bath to start again. It eats in this way, and your little life is only big enough to be felt in its tooth, a distraction to be tongued at and swallowed.
About the Author: Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of the collections The Same Terrible Storm (Foxhead Books, 2012) and Where Alligators Sleep (Foxhead Books, 2014). He also edits the online journal Revolution John. He survives in Kentucky.
Story Song: "Nothing Compares 2U" by Sinead O' Connor
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone