At night she remembered the sweet times she had when she was young. The times when her father sang to her while her mother made packaged ice cream from dry ingredients. Or the days she went to school, skipping through the clean streets, and the abundance of the world’s happiest people. Nowadays, nostalgia fed her cravings, and became her periodic dream. The buildings glittered around her, the dark alleys light, the pollution unknown, the crime fictitious, the police an illusion. Every day the notion of carelessness invaded her senses, and the people that loved her never knew the damage of the drug as they danced the same way she did. Nightmares did not exist then and now; she only tossed and turned in her bed, thinking about the same memory-- over and over again. They administered the happiness within their skin everyday. Now, even the blur of the night could not produce the lost euphoria.
The daily rush never gave way to the negative connotations of the world. Injections were their lives. The cartridges were prolific; they never ran out. She flourished seeing the needle and injection sites, millimeter by millimeter, decorating her skin.
Her life, that is, the system of waking up every day to acquire the utmost happiness in the unknown dark world, was tiring; her laugh, although it crept around the buildings of the city, was not so different every day, yet she laughed; and, not to mention that a comparison of her laugh with the other’s would escalate doubt, they need only recall that, although her brain was in euphoria, there were others stuck in euphoria too. As for Isabella’s euphoria, it depended on the total development of the drug; moreover it had yet to be proven, beyond dispute, that her life was under control.
She did the same thing every day. And every day that she did the same thing, it all felt new. She did not know she had looked up at the buildings before, or saw the alleys between the buildings providing people with light. Every day, she saw it as a new dream, a new day, full of a new adventure, and she was fulfilled. All she knew was to inject-- once a day.
Once in awhile, Isabella had thought about her life, reflecting on the good, and never approaching a stream of bad thoughts. She did find a stream, and visited there often, making trips every few days as it was high up in the mountains. Her father showed her the stream, and she often danced through fields of daisies, smelling the sweet scents of summer as she approached it. It was cold and fast running, yet she loved to see something so natural, and so aesthetically pleasing.
The river sparkled and gleamed in the sunlight, as Isabella approached one August morning. Flowing down the steep mountain, the day gave her a good feeling, yet it creeped around her, hiding it’s faults within the unseen shadows.
From far away, she saw a man. Laying next to the river, he had torn clothing, and did not look very clean. It was a different world he lived in. His face-- all beaten up-- sagged with gloom. As she reached him, he reeked of alcohol, subsiding for cologne and the gentle scents other individuals bathed in daily. She did not know of death. His face, dipped in blood, and his flesh, rotting and screaming decomposition, did not alarm her. His shirt was trimmed with holes, and it was gray like the color of his hair. She thought it looked familiar, yet it was not dulling her smile. The people of Isabella’s city did not dress with torn clothes, and they did not look as this particular man did.
Yet Isabella still smiled, watching the river flow and the sunshine as the stranger layed there. His pulse was dead, it went unnoticed. His eyes were half open half closed, it went unnoticed. His grey hair was disheveled, it went unnoticed. She was too high on happiness.
As Isabella sat next to the dead man at the stream, she did not notice the putrid odor of rotting flesh, or the reflex-like twitches of the bodies after death state. She did not know why the man’s face was plastered in blood. She wanted to care for him in his unfamiliar state.
She took the bottom of her shirt, slowly ripping off a piece of fabric. Inch by inch, and stitching by stitching, she ruined her favorite shirt. All of her shirts were her favorite shirts. She did not know an ugly shirt, nor did she know why she had so much love for every piece of clothing she had. Her love for the world never diminished, it was all about her inoculation. It was all about their addiction.
Finally, Isabella held the piece of fabric in her hand. She brought it above the man’s face and let it hover. She did not want to hurt him, she wanted the best for him. Yet, with the blood staining his face, he was unrecognizable. Impulsively, she put the fabric down on his flesh, trying not to wound him further, as well as clean the blood away from his face.
It did not work.
She lifted her hand up, yet the fabric stuck to his face. She deeply inhaled, then exhaled, and removed the cloth. She noticed a tiny smudge of the blood, but nothing super effective.
Isabella took the cloth and dipped it into the cold stream, her second attempt at removing the blood. She did not care how long it would take her, she just wanted to know that the man was okay, she wanted to know him.
She saturated the cloth in cold water, freezing her fingers in the process. It went unnoticed. Then, gently she rubbed the blood off his face. The skin felt hard under her fingertips. Isabella was not afraid, but the sense of hurting the old man had plagued the back of her mind. She circled around his face, sliding the cloth up his chin, and over his nose. His eyes were half open, however they were decomposing and unidentifiable. His face was drenched in water, but she cleaned and cleaned until she was ready to take the piece of fabric off.
The wind blew through her hair and struck the skin of her stomach where the fabric was missing, offering a slight chill. The sun still shined, and the river still flowed, yet a tree had blocked her from direct light, as Isabella and the man were stuck in the shadows.
She slowly lifted the cloth, wondering if the man was okay.
She looked down at his face. The folds of his skin, imprinted within her memory. The glow of his smile, faded from the last time she saw it. The brightness of his eyes, everlasting in her heart.
It was her father.
She began to hear the magic melody of his voice, and the lullaby he sang her every night. She remembered he went to work every day, but it was not weird he was at the stream. It was their stream.
The world began to spin. She laid down quickly, and hit her head.
And then I woke up.
“I wonder if dad knew the whole time,” my sister Catie said as I turned in my bed.
“Me too,” I said, tears rolling down my face. I wonder if I ever cried back then.
The sirens of the police echoed against the bare brick walls of our new home. I looked at the sign outside of our window and groaned. ‘Rehabilitation! Fix Yourself from the Old World!’
I no longer inject. I no longer felt the need for the satisfaction of the needles in my skin. The buildings did not glitter around me, the dark alleys were full of monsters, the pollution crept around like my sister looking for money, the crime existed, the police were posted on every busy city corner. Nothing went unnoticed and I never knew what death was, until I realized where my father had been. Slowly dying from the injections, he did not know, yet the happiness within our lives was some type of fake. It all felt so real, but I am no longer careless, and I am happy to feel. The world does have dark shadows.