The temperature’s rising, the atmosphere’s crying, but still they refuse to leave. The walls feel sweaty and near, as droplets of air and dirt bounce back and forth to a forgettable rhythm. It doesn’t matter why they’re here or what they’re here to do. They were told to be here and were told to do things. So, they proceed, looking at each other.
He has a cut on his right hand and wonders if she’s noticed it. Trying to remember how he got the cut, he feels ashamed of the mush between the walls of his skull. He has lived a good life––finishing his work on time, making jokes neither too offensive nor too inoffensive, he has had sex several times, he spent plenty of time with his grandmother who always talked about how she loved yellowness, but the cut is not yellow and he cannot think of what to say or what it feels like to know another person, so he puts his hand behind his head and prays to a god he neither knows nor loves.
She notices the cut. There’s something metallic about it––the way the red seems to bend in the corner of her eyes––but she doesn’t care. Her feet are sore, her head is sore, her soreness is sore. She’s acutely aware of how she’s living in her own brain. A couple of times, she meditated with her father and hated it because it was just too obvious. She can only think of those couple of minutes to start the night when her pillows are pleasantly cold, before human heat ruins them. She loves those minutes. She loves the fact the she needs no one and no one needs her. He thinks she’s sad, but she’s happy for the first time in a while because she can feel her own lungs pumping oxygen and feels the stillness that comes from knowing the body and the soul are mechanical things.
“Are we really going to do this?” she asks him, grinning at how he awkwardly fiddles with his hand. She moves her hand towards his and leans the other against one of the grey walls, packing them together. He nods, wishing he knew why a vertical head movement corresponded to the idea of yes, but he can communicate. So he looks at her once more, sizing up what his life is about to become, what their life is about to be.
They’re both tired. Coffee’s but a dream these days. She’s scared that he’s scared, that he seems to have his doubts, but it’s too late. So she laughs again. She loves herself, the fact that she can see colors, the fact that she can feel the humidity in the room, the fact that she can laugh at perhaps the most stressful time of her life. She loves his cut too. Maybe he’s clumsy, she wonders, hoping he is because falling down flights of stairs feels like hell but makes for good stories. She had a daughter once, but she never knew how to control another human being, nor did she even feel like she had a basic right to turn a sack of flesh into a person because they shared some semblance of heredity.
He’s counting the seconds. He likes her. Though he has to like her. His parents always used to say a good person is good because they are told they are good. He wants to yell that she’s good. He wants to yell that she’s lived a good life. He wants to yell that this next life will be good. He thinks of what goodness is and whether it is a thing, as the lights on the ceiling flash, as droplets of air and dirt become more plentiful, as he feels weird, as they feel weird, as they feel for the first time. She looks at the cut on their right arm, finding it less metallic from this new angle.
Josh Kaufman is a current high school senior, who will be attending the University of Chicago next year.