To us, it never mattered where we went.
When there were enough years in you, when our mother gave me permission, I took your hand and led you on your first great adventure.
Look, I said, this is the world. Or part of it. The world is a small place filled with many things that don’t matter. Where we live--it’s even smaller but we’ve got things that matter. I’ve got you, and you’ve got me. See?
Things were simpler then.
The sky was sad the day we found the dead squirrel. I looked and wondered what kind of terrible thing had happened so as to make God cry.
I should explain something.
We weren’t religious. To us, God wasn’t a person. People were too ugly to be gods in our eyes. Instead, the sky was our God. After all, why not? It was Heaven on Earth.
The damp gravel crunched noisily under our feet, satisfying our ears as we walked the mountain trail behind our house. It smelled of honey, the scent clinging to our nostrils, sickly and sweet. The backbreaking labor of bees, present everywhere.
Golden rain had painted these sloping grounds a crisp burnt yellow--many, many, many years ago, before we were born.
This is what I told you. It was a story. A simple story, to explain why the grass was yellow instead of green. It was also a lie. The truth would’ve been this: The grass is yellow and dry and dead because the sun is too hot and mean. There is no such thing as golden rain. Rain is colorless and cold. It falls from the sky and the drops are predestined to die, because they race towards the earth to meet the hard, unrelenting ground.
I spared you this truth, and I was punished for that. The Man-God thinks lying is a sin, and in the end this hurt me, so maybe that’s why I found solace in believing God to be the sky. It was less painful to put my belief in a beautiful thing I could see.
We came upon the dead squirrel suddenly, like we all do with things that are evil. Its head was missing. The weak throat gaped and yawned, blood and gore spilling out of the scar like coffee on a wooden table. The red mixed with the gold of the rain and the color leaped out at our eyes, an exclamation mark of paints lighting up the black-and-white mist on the mountain. The body was a mess of meat, twisted this way and that. I thought it looked like a violated marionette, the product of a cruel child’s play.
I was suddenly cold. I don’t know if it was the rain or the squirrel, but I began to shiver. There was an infection in the air, and it was spreading. It got into my lungs. They shriveled to dust.
My hands curled over your elbows in the iron grip reserved for the older ones and sharply tore you back.
Come on, I said roughly, pulling you in the opposite direction. Let’s go home. That’s enough for one day.
You didn’t struggle in my grip, which my fuzzy mind vaguely registered as strange. But it’s pretty, you said, and I froze then. The cold entered my bones and left my skin feeling dry and senseless.
What? I murmured, my lips numb and heavy. Pretty?
Mmhm. Your voice was a breeze, light and refreshing and soft. It tickled my ears and made me want to never hear it stop.
You twisted gently out of my hands and began to walk back to where the squirrel lay. I could tell exactly where the juices from the open neck met the dirt, because it was raining in torrents now and the water was red there.
I watched to see what you would do, and in doing so I watched the colors, too.
Rain crashed into the burnt orange leaves of autumn that hung from sycamores and plane trees alike. Pools of water were forming on the ground now, and next to me a leaf succumbed to its weight and floated gently down towards its own reflection. The ripples were too small for me to see when the leaf landed, but I knew there had been one.
I saw all this, but I remember none of it. Remembrance and memory are two very different things, and for everything besides you that day, I lacked the first.
I suppose there are some things I remember about myself. It’s impossible to forget a feeling you’ve tried to forget in the past. It’s a funny thing I’ve noticed, actually. We as humans tend to spend so much time on the things we’d rather not remember, that the moments become ingrained into our minds like scars in skin.
We’re an odd kind of animal.
Here. You pushed something fragile and cold into my hands, then stepped back, looking up at me with hope and endearing pride. Isn’t it pretty?
I brought my hands up to my face. There, between my palms, lay a little white flower. It was dried and nearly dead, the only sign of life about it magnified by the drops of water clinging to the shriveled petals.
It’s pretty, I said, forcing my words past the barricade in my throat. Then I got to my knees so I could look into your eyes--really look, into every single one of the millions of colors in your iris; the colors that reminded me of the colorless winter. The wet ground soaked my pants but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I was in that curious state of abandon which makes you want to stay in the rain as long as possible and hold your breath for as long as you dare.
The flower is pretty, I said softly, holding it up so we could both see it, but now it’s dead. Flowers aren’t meant to be picked. They’re born in the earth and that’s where they should die, if they ever do. Do you understand?
And you, with your glass heart and eyes of winter, gifted me with your gaze as you licked your lips and took the flower from my fingers.
I think I do, you said. A gift of a smile was given to me, then you turned around with the little white flower clutched tightly in your hand and began to walk away. I watched as you stumbled around a little in those red boots our mother bought for you on the Thanksgiving of the year before. You kept your eyes fixed tightly on the ground as you walked this way and that; a bundle of red, tiny and sweet. You must have found a spot to your liking then, for at that moment you suddenly fell to your knees and began to scrape at the mud with your bare hands.
What are you doing? I called out. I came next to you and crouched, too. The dirt was stuck underneath your fingernails in little clumps and bits of wet grass decorated your forehead.
You shot me a startled glance, as if the answer had been obvious. And I suppose it was, in a way. The flower was laid out neatly next to the little dent in the ground that had been made by eager hands. A silent explanation.
I’m burying it, you said, and resumed your digging.
I watched as you bent over your work and continued to paint, oblivious to the world--the real one--that was happening. Then, after a moment had passed, I began to dig, too.
The rain, the children to our God, continued to fall around us and never stopped.
I remember all this now.
I remember this as I sit here, in this swing, the one next to yours.
I remember. We ended up burying the squirrel, too. Any stranger would have thought a king to have died. The funeral procession was dark and noble, with droplets of gold marking the land and the music of rain accompanying the burial.
As the years we spent together grew in number, our job as gravediggers, spectators, and mourners became busier. For death seemed to find us wherever we went. On the streets there were shards of chalk, decaying from spoiled memories of childhood play. We found a lot of those. There were songs; real songs, songs from the old times, when we were still bits of rain and not yet human. You would discover them in the strangest places--the corner of an old suitcase; hidden behind the frame of an outdated photograph. The ones from the 80s, the 90s. I can still see our burial of Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” The sun was our priest that day, and he hummed a soft hymn of light for us. When I close my eyes, I can capture every single detail of you while you sang that song: the way your hair fell over your shoulders, the clasp of your hands as you prayed, the curve of your mouth as it formed the long sound of the “you.”
I’m thinking too much today. I know it’s not good for me. For the both of us. I know you wouldn’t want me to feel unhappy. The best way--no, the only way is to forget, and how can I? When you’re everywhere. In the air I breathe, in the rain that falls, in the flowers that die.
You only began to wither when the world grew. In a single moment, with one orientation and a signing of simple papers, our world was interrupted and broken and torn down then patched together again to create a myriad of chains. We wore the chains equally, but I should have known they would weigh you down more, more and more, and more, until you sank to the ground and disappeared. Because you were so small.
And as I watched you fade in the light of everyone around us--the other children, the strangers--I knew I had an impossible choice to make.
I wanted to give you what we spent so much of our lives giving to other things. And I hope, that one day, you can find it in your heart to forgive me.
I sit and think. And next to me, your swing is silent.
When I told you to follow me, you came without a thought. At the top of the mountain I turned and began to explain, or tried to, but I couldn’t. What I knew was something not tangible, for I could only gain coherence through bursts of feeling. What I did know, my dear flower, was something I thought impossible to tell you at the time without breaking away from my plan from guilt.
For the world was too big, and too great. The life in it would break you--you, who couldn’t see the ugliness of a dead squirrel simply because you were blind to all things evil, you who took the time to bury a flower, bury a song. You who took the time to stand in the rain. You who took the time to love me.
And so I brought you there myself. We stood on the summit, surrounded by the souls of everything we had ever buried. I made them promise to take care of you.
From this moment, my world is divided into what I know and don’t know.
I know I went up our mountain with you, and I will come back down alone. My greatest pain is the truth that I can’t tell you what lies in wait for you; my greatest consolation is the fact that I do know death is kind.
I don’t know what you are, but I know that you are mine.
And I know. When the rain falls once more and our God begins to weep, I will be here, waiting to sing your song.