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It’s true, what they say about souls. Like lights, they are, vibrant and gossamer, clutched tight to the chest like a raggedy doll named Sally or Bobo because that’s what innocence is; a soul.
My eyes flutter open and shut and I can hear my heart thump thumping away in my chest, right there next to my soul. Through the flashes of whiteness and the glaze of numbness I can sense it hovering over me, all blue and green—sickly looking, I suppose, but still beautiful. It feels like a sheet pulled up high, tucked in and snug.
Between flashes of brilliance I think back, and it’s difficult to remember who I was an hour ago. The past is a current and I am carried away.
His name is Hector and he slouches when he walks. His shoulders hunch in on themselves like a cave and somewhere deep inside that cave is a person, and somewhere deep inside that person is a soul—but I couldn’t find it. Brand new jeans with the tags still attached swing jauntily, slip lower. Shoes two sizes too big and five sizes too wide crunch stones and lit cigarettes into asphalt.
I think if his mother had taken him shopping perhaps those clothes would be paid for and his soul would still show. But that’s not how it happened, and he dropped out of school and his soul dropped from his eyes and the half-man, half-boy known as Hector was born.
Then I see Jen, on his arm.
Jen always went for the worst, and I can’t say I blame her. Where she grew up being on the arm of the very worst let a girl live for less—one guy each night, not ten. Who could blame her? Not me.
She liked Hector from the start because he had that swagger that was really a slouch, and his shoes were too big but he knew how to bluff it and make people believe. His eyes set on her and I can’t blame him for that, either, because if Jen wasn’t beautiful, at least she was stunning. Face like a heart (which was curious, thinking back), and eyes wide as galaxies and filled up just the same. If nothing else, she carried her watery soul in her eyes and Hector had found the piece he was missing.
An hour ago Jen realized who Hector was, and if it was two years and six months of pregnancy late, who could blame her? He had the swagger and she had the soul.
I don’t remember myself. I suppose it’s some strange defense mechanism—amnesia—if that’s what this was. But whether my absence of memory was due to trauma or something else, it made no difference to me. All I knew was looking back on the past was like staring at a blanket full of holes. I could only get little bits at a time, and the rest was quietly, inevitably dark.
I remember a scream so shrill it felt like a crowbar prying under my brain. My feet in worn sneakers—don’t wear sandals when you go there, mom always said—slapping and squeaking as they hit the ground. Looking back I see all the souls that expired on that street like a collage of ripped paper pasted on houses and swings and street corners. They’re all grey and tired, but not mine. My soul an hour ago was red as my blood.
Hector has her hair in a knot and his face is scrunched up in fury and fear. Jen’s watery soul pours down her cheeks and one hand clutches at the swelled belly hanging low under her shirt. Flashes of purple like bruises creep over her soul but in the past, I can’t see them like I do now; purple like bruises just beginning to heal.
Jen screams at him through the open door and the fear in his face is reflected in the wetness on her cheeks. Neither of them notices me there on the sidewalk. And neither sees the boy—just a kid—whose soul blazes like fire spun of rubies as his thin pale finger clutches the trigger, and a bullet is expelled toward the oblivious couple. A person will die tonight, I think. And perhaps with that death will die the boy’s need to avenge his father with the killing of Hector, responsible for his murder.
My sneakers sound softly and my arms are flung out to take the blame and the bullet, the latter of which whispers through me clean as a crisp ironed sheet.
It’s a tragedy, I think, some modern Shakespearean drama where the damsel lies dying in the arms of the hero. Except I’m not sure where my hero’s at because I am dying and he’s nowhere in sight.
My eyes flicker open, and shut, and open again. I bounce gently with the movement of the stretcher. The lights above that before seemed so bright now look ghostly and soft. My own soul is lighter, as if the fist that had once held it close now loosens until it will inexorably slip away.
I see the souls of the nurse and the doctor, and they are brilliant and somehow too real, too grounded. If I could see Jen’s soul it might be a shade paler, but held closer than my own. Before my eyes I see her heart-shaped face and lips that mouth a question. It’s not your fault, I want to reply. It’s the second chance that counts.
Awareness falls back from me and the lights grow ever softer, almost welcoming. As doors slam open on either side of me I watch all the love in my life rise up and be satisfied by the last of my memories; me with my arms outstretched, at that moment when my soul felt like mist on a breeze and the bullet of blame took the raggedy doll of my soul and offered it up to the great unknown. Before my eyes, the unknown folds me into itself and the souls I saw on that street, patched and grey, welcome me home.
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"No matter how dark the sky, you'll always have the stars."
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“You dress in shadows, brother, but there is starlight in your eyes”
-Elizabeth Bear, All the Windwracked Stars
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