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Nothing but Grey Skies

By , Winnabow, NC
I wanted it to be raining out, but it wasn't. There was only a convex rectangle of grey sky through my bathroom skylight. I wanted to hear the dull drumming of rain pounding down on the roof, on the window, on the road, on everything. Too bad. The sullen skies would have to suffice: they gave my white, highly-reflective bathroom a sleepy, muted feel, as though the clouds had somehow gotten under the locked door and hovered just above my mirror. Yes, the grey skies would do. They were at least preferable to sunshine. Sunshine would have completely ruined the black-balloon, October-rain, floaty, crazy mood I was in.

Why was I sitting, half-naked beneath an oversized men's hoodie, on the edge of my bathtub? Because I was freezing, and the bathtub in question was being filled with steaming hot water. Why was I trembling with cold in the middle of the summer? It was a combination of an unwanted feeling of disconnection and an inebriating numbness that left me floating with the steam from my bath water.

I sat there, arms folded tightly beneath my chest as I waited for the water to reach my calves. I probably looked like I was high. In a way, I was: I had so many endorphins in my system that I couldn't feel anything but nothingness or a cynical, half-hysterical amusement. I smiled ' empty, or maybe way too full, but it was a smile ' stretching my lips into sad, thin lines below my nose. I couldn't feel that yarn-ball of pain in my stomach; it was like there was a force field around it, and any time I came close, it pushed me away, into those funny little dreams the mind produces when it's rambling without any destination.

When I started getting warm chills shuddering through my body, I turned the faucet off and sat there watching the water. It was so clear. I liked the reflection of the leaden sky, and the way that I was just a shadowy silhouette without any definite features. I wanted my camera to capture that reflection, the flat shine of the dim light over the rippled tub floor. But I was too lethargic to move away.

I let my mind wander wherever it pleased and followed along the random trail of images and words and music. I sang songs to myself, songs that meant something, songs that were stuck in my head, songs that I hated. My voice was quiet and trembly, and confident, but in a whispery sort of way.
'Cotton candy in a rotten mouth . . . '

I loved that 'Wish You Were Here' was our song. It meant I could call him and leave a message with any line from the song, and he would know what I meant. It was like an inside joke, a secret, musical code that meant absolutely nothing to anyone else. I liked that, messages only we could understand.
'I was just a dreamer, but you were just a dream; you could have been anyone to me . . . '

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it shrivel up? Does it explode? Or does it sit on the edges of bathtubs pretending it's still alive? The world may never know.

Sitting there shivering on the side of that cool, plastic tub, I told myself the daydream I had in my head. Saying it out loud made it seem like telling a story, the way parents do to ease children into sleep. I was alone on a beach at sunset, sitting on a large piece of driftwood worn smooth by salty caresses, and I was watching the waves come in and out. I was singularly absorbed with listening to their calming, roaring rhythm, as though it were a symphony that would only be played once in all forever. My hair was blowing across my face, my skirt was wrapped around my legs, and my shirt was hugging one side of my body. I looked so beautiful and free.

The image flashed, and I was sitting in an old leather armchair with the same thoughtful, introspective, Mona Lisa expression. I was still watching the ocean, because the entire seaward wall of the room was made of glass windows, and the beach was literally the backyard of the house. I told myself I was somewhere in Italy, and smiled vacantly. It's so strange that he would later use that same image to cheer me up when I told him to talk about 'things I'll want to remember for later.' I meant, 'things that will distract me from the fact that you're four hours away,' but he hated when I talked about him leaving, so I phrased it differently.

I swirled my feet around in the water some, intrigued by the soft, echoey sound it made. It wasn't a slosh, and it wasn't a trickle, it was like the echo of some pleasant, peaceful sound, and I liked it.

After some time, I was ready to get out and go sleep on my bed, or try another call to that boy. I stepped onto the bath mat, and, strangely enough, the phone rang. I saw his number on the screen, and quickly answered before anyone else could. 'Hey . . . '

His voice was softened with worry beneath the fuzz of the connection. 'Hey . . . Are you all right?'

I chuckled, wiping my feet thoroughly on the mat and walking to my room to curl up in a corner of my bed. 'That depends on your definition of all right. I've been sitting with my feet in the bath, singing Neil Young and 'Wish You Were Here,' and talking to myself.'

'Neil Young . . . so he's rubbed off on you, huh?'

I smiled softly. 'Yeah . . . '

He paused a moment. 'You're not . . . Are you biting your finger nails down really far? Did you ''

'No, no, there's no point, it would just make my fingers hurt worse, and I already took care of it.' I realized that this might sound like babble to him, but it didn't really matter. He didn't absolutely have to understand all the details, just be reassured that I was alive, breathing, and still his girl, and that I planned to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

He paused again. I knew he was really trying to find the right way to respond, knew he cared more than his words showed, and the knowledge gave me a little surge of happiness, but for the most part, I was beyond it.

'Just don't hurt yourself, okay?' He sounded so scared that I almost took pity on him. But I wasn't going to lie to his conscience, wasn't going to give him what he wanted to be true, when, on some level, he already knew what was true.

I looked down at my lap, where the fingers of my right hand were fiddling tenderly with the makeshift, toilet-paper bandage around my wrist. My smile was empty as I murmured, 'Too late.'





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