A Death Series by Joe Aguilar
Q: Three months?
A: The friend I want to tell you about, her ideas that come at night are strange, she might drop the printer on her head, or she might drive the temple tips of her glasses through her eyes, or she might pour the boiling kettle water down her throat, but when she finds out she has only three months left, I believe she will realize that in the extremity of her fixation on how she could die, she has not thought much about how to approach the days that had always been limited—maybe everything before came too easily, or maybe in her youth it seemed that month after month arrived and arrived, sun, moon, sun, glass after glass of water, joints popping, hairs to pluck, sandwiches, doorbells, shampooing and handshakes, on and on until she forcefully halts the arrivals.
Q: One month?
A: Three months, one month (how would they differ?), both lengths of time not fixed enough to let her see herself pressing through all possible vectors, points, weather weathering, arrivals of plans that swerve away from hope, each major event, each minor entertainment, each smell on the wind, every silent body sound, although I would say that a month becomes easier to picture against another month already finished, like the month she spent lifeguarding at the Presbyterian summer camp where during the introductory meeting the group was told to throw a beanbag to another staff member for an introduction, and she caught it from someone who was later forced home by a family emergency, and one morning they had been served pancakes with blueberries, she remembers the fruit because it felt too hard and too cold, and later she had not objected to being felt up on a canoe with someone whose face she can’t remember, and on the last day of camp she had told a very small boy climbing the diving board he was too small to dive, but dove in beautifully, and I remember her saying how the light lit the water so completely that the body inside of it seemed to come apart.
Q: One day?
A: I would say she orders a seafood burrito at the place near the office and she stares at the flesh of the shrimp tucked in the rice until she can’t finish (is the shrimp pink or gray?) and I would say she can’t picture what wild shrimp look like in the water, swimming, or if shrimp swim or only scuttle over the ocean floor, maybe she gets lost in the vagary of what thrives in seawater, when she wants to imagine a shrimp she can only picture a clip of a cartoon lobster hurrying across a cartoon beach with its cartoon claws up in attack, and she feels terribly apart from nature, and she decides to go home without telling anyone, but then she thinks the phone must be ringing, so she returns, but the phone is not ringing, and she searches the Internet for shades of yellow and she changes her cover photo to the paler shade of yellow and she switches her profile picture to the darker shade of yellow, but the yellows seem too similar to each other, so she finds a shade of violet for the profile because she thinks that in complementary colors cool negates warm, sky balances earth, dust to dust, though yellow and purple may not be the right pairing after all, yellow can signify differently depending on context, heaven, wheat, or jaundice, and purple might be royalty or a bruise, though nobody notes the changes.
Q: Five minutes?
A: I believe that she does not move, she decides not to move, I am talking physically, but no inward movement either, no thoughts at all, she is motionless, though she becomes aware of shaking more than slightly, quivering to her fundament, and the air feels cold in her teeth, and the gravity compels her down against its equal and opposite force, like when she once stood outside in the dip of the lawn in her backyard, she may have been five years old, unmoving near the trees that held themselves up to where the top of them spread overhead, and she allowed her body no movement, even in the finest smallest parts, and she waited as the wind settled her hair over her shoulders, she raised the long bones of her arms out to the sides, and when she took a breath she tried to expand and contract her stomach with enough subtlety to not allow herself any flexing out, not visibly, this is what she has assigned for herself, and after a while it seems as though the air may thicken, even freeze slightly, the clouds may darken, the color of the grass deepens, and though she does not let herself adjust her gaze to check, in her periphery she may see a scatter of rain, or snow, or fog, or leaves, or light, or the cells of her own eyes, the film of birth, and she strains out to the air with all of her skin, to move without moving, to open all of herself out to the world, and a squirrel hurries up the leg, up the trunk, and over the branch of the arm.
Joe Aguilar’s fiction is in The Iowa Review, Conjunctions, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.