I want to be alone. Everyday. For once.
The thought swims in my head as the swiftly approaching train sends a gust of frosty wind hard onto my face and the crystallised snow from the top of the platform drops to the track at the jarring motion. My mother always says the cold gets colder when winter is at the cusp of dying. A copy of Bluets in my hand a sundried tomato, lost depth of experience over the years of re–visiting. Tucking the book under my arm, I step inside the train. Most of the seats are empty spaces, less and less people in sight in the coaches adjacent as well.
I sit down on the seat under an advert that says pest control, and I think of the irony of the rotting wooden centre piece tucked away in the backyard of my house, slowly disintegrating like a breaking glass in slow motion. I step out every day to drink tea on the little swing—ignoring, knowing how it would only take a heartbeat to toss it into the dustbin. My mother doesn’t let us throw it away, though, because an astrologer gave it to her saying she must never part with it or else her children would take its place instead.
“The station has arrived.”
Flipping open my book, I begin reading again. Truthfully, there isn’t anything written there I haven’t already read a thousand times, but it is the familiarity of the texture of the pages that compel me to crack the spine open and operate on the language.
The train accelerates a minute later, a shooting star against the pink tinted skies. Someone sits next to me which I find slightly peculiar because the seats are all hollow laps to choose from. Slowly, the air shifts from a neutral odour to a sweet aroma as if the air has become pregnant with ripe peaches. Something pulls me from within to be more aware of my surroundings, but the stubborn nonchalance in me keeps me fixed in the head bent towards the book position.
An abrupt stop of the metro jars me, pushing me flat to the side of my seat. Something heavy plops onto my lap. I glance at the book face down on my plaid covered thighs, it reads Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson. The poet’s name involuntarily twitches the corners of my lips as I recall the fluorescent sticky notes I’ve stuck to random pages to remember those lines simply because I liked them.
“I’m so sorry,” A warm hand gently grabs the book from my hands. “It’s my destination, thank you.”
She tucks her pastel, aesthetic lavender hair behind her ear, the tips of the strand touch the top of her shoulders teasingly then swing back and forth. I stare after her as the air tinged with something sweet inaudibly groans heavily around me. She disappears behind the closing metro doors, existing as if she never existed in the first place.
I finally slap my book shut; it seems I’ve lost the will to read suddenly. I lean my head against the metro wall behind me and almost instantly, sleep bundles me up in its arms. In my dream, the dream doesn’t materialise into anything, instead raising the temperature of the cold evening into a warmer hour, and I’m a girl of summer.
Oh, how I long to be away from everyone.
“Final destination, the doors will open now.” The intercom pierces through my drowsiness and shakes me awake.
I scramble up from my seat, stepping out of the open doors before an overwhelming urge to shrug out of my sweater overcomes me leaving me in lighter clothing. I find it so strange that the station is entirely deserted except for a few rabbits loitering nearby, but in my psychedelic preoccupation, I don’t pause to ponder upon it.
The sun beats down hard on me as I walk; it feels like summertime sadness if sadness ever needed a season. Sometimes, summer only reminds me of sunflowers. I’m in a field of flowers, airborne even when my feet haven’t left the land. The sunflowers do not wish to look at anyone except the sun, unlike me who vacillates even between cheap ice-cream flavours. The yellows of their petals seem like twirling princesses: elegant, naïve, yet patronising as though boasting of their one-track happiness.
Rabbits scurry on the opposite side of the road, their eyes sparkling as if they are laughing at me. Since when did we have so many rabbits roaming around in our city? Up until now, I haven’t seen a single person around and instead just keep coming across rabbits.
“Rabbit, rabbit, am I Alice now?” I ask mirthfully to the passing animal. It briefly glances at me with laughing eyes before it darts away.
The emerald ivy veins make rustling sounds as I open the door to my house. These ivy plants definitely need a trimming. My house is strangely quiet; mom is usually out by the front garden taking a walk at this time, but today the only visible presence there is of another rabbit. Its eyes look like melted chocolate in a black cup, exactly like my mother’s eyes. I chuckle to myself, how funny was this? Beside this rabbit there’s another rabbit, this time it has my father’s eyes.
The chuckle dies down on my lips.
As I near the door to the living room, something brushes across the top of my head. There is now a peach tree in our front yard. On it, a ripe peach is so plump, it hangs the tree branch down overhead to caresses every passer-by’s head. The scent of peaches is so heavy, the air seems to be resting on my shoulders. I dash inside the house; nothing seems to have changed drastically for the duration of time I’ve been at work, but somehow, I cannot dismiss the atmosphere of change around me.
In my room, I see the calendar in which June has already opened its sweltering, moist mouth, beckoning trees to bask in the sun so they grow so high, the sun can giddily burn them back down. It is supposed to February. There’s a dried drool stain on my well-slept grey pillow that smells like old milk. A dreadful thought settles over my conscious: mother dearest must’ve finally parted with the wooden centre piece, and now I’ve taken its place—a beautiful thing that rots.
I frantically run down the stairs, almost slipping down the last two steps. Bursting out of the door of my home, my eyes search around for the two rabbits I saw earlier only to find them gone from where I found them. Something soft brushes my legs causing me to look down upon the rabbits now right next to my feet. I violently flinch away.
“Is this what you’ve become?” I cry out.
Sidestepping them, I walk away, onto wherever I would stop seeing all the rabbits. These rabbits—they are suckling on my sanity with a thirsty greed. If this is nightmare, I would rather never sleep again—but, I guess, it isn’t, for what feels this real and wrenching? The sound of rabbit feet scuffling (oh, why do I suddenly know what their movements sound like?) slams inside my ears like drums. Sweat beads on my forehead; the sun wants to melt me into an animal, too, I’m sure.
Suddenly, everything falls silent. Like the earth has stopped spinning and the stars are holding their breaths. I stop, too.
In the middle of a meadow is a mirror with golden snakes curling all over it. I step forward because moving is the only thing that is stopping me from a dark unconscious. My reflection slowly enlarges as my feet close the distance towards the mirror.
The mirror shows me a head full of lavender dye I saw in the metro, the girl who reads Emily. She’s here; a body. I stare at her; an unwrapped box of nightmare reality. I think of Frank O’Hara, I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world, and I think of Shinji Moon, does absence have flesh? She whispers in my ears: me, leaving. You, going — the distance between us stretching across state lines that for me hold oceans between them.
The lavender girl, who brought with her the stench of peaches, stares back at me. I cannot stop the laugh bubbling out of my mouth at the thought of meeting an actual person among these rabbits. Her mouth, cherry coloured like a peach’s belly, moulds into a similar joyful expression. I want to reach out with my fingers and touch her hand, and hold it till the both of us have a puddle of sweat underneath them.
My breath catches in my throat as I ask her, “what is your name?”
She tells me her name is mine.
Written by Barenya Tripathy
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