Christmas. The streetlamps scanned over my soul, to find something that could redeem my intentions, but they failed. Driving along the country road, I felt a lot like them, encircled in dusk, but I lacked their warmth, merely a failure.
Away on business for six weeks, and I wanted to drive as slowly as possible. The longer the journey home, the more ways I could picture Karly yelling at me. She’d be on my case from the minute I entered the door, picking at the scab that was my existence.
My wife knew my weaknesses and preyed upon them, snacking on my insecurities like a vulture with little in the way of emotion. Was it my fault I had an asshole of a father growing up? Did I ask for the belt or his greasy hands on my body while mom was away?
I peered to my phone, teasing me from the cupholder.
I wondered if I should call Karly, say I had an unexpected meeting, and shack up in a hotel for the night. I could get a hooker, watch interracial porn, even order room service, but that wasn’t what I wanted. A sturdy ceiling and some rope, I’d fascinated over the way that rope felt for a while.
I reached for the phone, but it slipped from my fingers, burying amongst the crumbs beneath the seat. The road was clear, so I fumbled around for it. I yelled,
My eyes darted up, a young woman, golden hair, wide green eyes, glaring at me from behind the wheel of a blue SUV. She looked horrified, inches from crushing my vehicle, bones, and intellect into oblivion. Time slowed, my mind trying to savor my last moment on earth.
Smash, I shot through the windshield, leaving my face behind on the glass. I tumbled over the SUV, my bones snapping as I grasped for anything. I kept going, thumping into the road and sliding twenty feet, the exposed muscles in my face, melting under the friction.
Somehow, I saw myself, my body, broken beyond recognition. The lady hopped out of the SUV. She screamed, collapsing to her knees and hyperventilating. I’d never witnessed a breakdown before, even when my father abused me, I went numb, but that woman died inside when she killed me.
Blackness, but not entirely. There was a feeling, a sense of being observed by observation itself. Beyond the surrounding trees, over the hills and valleys, something was approaching. It wasn’t an object, objects are quantifiable, but it began to grow.
After what felt like hours, maybe weeks, the structure had conquered the horizon, then the sky, then the all. I didn’t realize at first, but it wasn’t growing, it was becoming everything.
A construction, comparable to a waterwheel, yet spanning the universe, rested before me, on its side as if to not intimidate. I didn’t know what to do or what I could do. I didn’t have my body or anything else for that matter. I simply was.
The world beneath my feet was no more. All that could be was the wheel and I. It was overriding my senses, the perfume of the texture, the taste of the feeling that came with viewing its magnificence.
The wheel shook, energizing, collapsing, and creating the surrounding everything all at once. It was impatient. I was impatient. I wondered if I was it.
It pulled me in, hurtling toward its paddles at incredible speed. I felt a terror, unlike any other as it rotated, or I encircled it. Its paddles shattered my soul down to molecules, tearing through me, one after another. Within the wheel, behind those paddles, was water and beyond that, people, times, and places. Before I could focus on one, the next collapsed my being, a new me experiencing anything for the very first time.
I was a little girl in Germany, my family in a tunnel, fleeing from awful men. We were nice to everyone. We always went to church, but the men wanted us dead; I knew that much. I thought fondly of the broach around my neck. Within it, a photograph of my Grandmother, a woman who’d given her life for mine. She didn’t make it to the tunnel, but she held the foul men off with a pistol. I missed her more with each passing day. Even in my forties, relocated to the United States, I’d lay awake at night and scream into my pillow.
My soul collided with another paddle; this time obliging that I focused on the experience. The wheel's impatience was growing, but I didn’t know what it wanted from me.
I mumbled to my sister, Afou, the sun beating down on the back of our necks and sand tickling our toes,
“Will pappa be back soon?”
She nodded and grinned, blood oozing from her bottom lip as we hauled more water from the hole, filth muddying the liquid. I missed pappa more than anything, but he went away to fight some bad people. Afou looked after me, though. Her mouth was always bleeding, but people sometimes bled at home because of the creepy-crawlies, so she’d be okay. When we got home, we could play with my toys in Mamma’s old room.
We began the walk back to our village with buckets in hand. I spilled a little water, but Afou didn’t mind. Twelve miles was a long way to walk, but we talked, and Afou always knew how to make me and my friend, Akuchi, giggle.
I found a toy along the way, circular with spikey bits around the edges. I went to play with it, only for a second, but Afou screamed really loud. She shoved me out of the way and fell onto the toy. It made the most deafening sound I’d ever heard, and Afou wasn’t screaming anymore.
My soul reformed. I begged for the wheel to stop, but before I could plead, I shattered and was anew. Each lifetime lasted for a fraction of a second, but I felt as though I knew everything there was to know. I wondered if all lives were terrible, or perhaps I only chose the bad ones, but I already knew the answer.
With each new reality, I wondered how much more I could take. Some short, some long, some Earth, some not. I’d walked, laughed, cried, and mourned with beings of all shapes and sizes. None were alike; none were unalike.
I didn’t want another life. I wanted mine. I’d died on Earth when I swerved into that SUV, but that man on the road wasn’t me. He was a veneer atop the slightest fraction of my limitless being, and his existence was so simple from here. His issues, colossal from his standpoint, yet feeble from mine. If I could be him again, I’d right his wrongs; I knew I could.
I asked the wheel for another chance, but it rotated faster, urging me to understand that it, and it alone, categorized all. The paddles washed by at increasing speeds, deconstructing my soul before galvanizing my spirit. The experiences became fractals of hurtling realities, but knowing all, I could observe at any pace.
I jumped for joy, almost falling from the toilet’s seat in our small apartment, the plastic strip in my hands, pregnant. I felt terrified, but having a child with Kevin was all I’d ever wanted. He wasn’t the most attentive boyfriend, but I knew being a father would change him for the better.
I’d shower my baby with gifts and give it the love I never received. I wondered if it’d be a boy or a girl. I felt silly for knowing what I wanted, a girl, my own little princess.
Kevin screamed, his knuckles whitening,
“Why didn’t you get an abortion?” My head slammed into the wall, “I can’t have a baby, you, stupid bitch!”
I struggled against his grasp, the room darkening as he crushed my windpipe.
Another paddle collided with my essence.
I grinned when Sam unwrapped his new trainset. My little man was having a hard time as of late, with the new school and all. The other kids weren’t used to his disability, that’s all it was, but they’d soon come to adore his smile in the same way I did.
He didn’t know about his other present yet, and I couldn’t wait to see his face light up. I’d saved for eighteen months, and bought a brand-new SUV with wheelchair access. Even better, the paint job matched his favorite color, blue. Three more hours, then we could go pick it up together and drive it home.
I reached for Mickey, or as we called him, the Colorado Bulldog, a cigarette in my hand, the night sky blinking above our heads as the planes flew over. Mickey never wanted to enlist, but Uncle Sam didn’t give him much choice in the matter. We had each other, though, and to me, he was family. I yelled over the gunfire,
“Bulldog, have a smoke!”
He took it with unsteady fingers. Mine weren’t any better. We all shook, all the time. I reached for my lighter, shells whistling above before colliding with the sandbags. I roared,
“Looks like we’ll be rubbing sticks together, brother! Hah!”
I looked up; my hand stuck in my pocket. Mickey was staring at me with a dumbfounded look on his face, blood running down his forehead. Then, I noticed the hole in his helmet. I screamed, silencing the war for a moment.
The wheel stopped.
Before I could question, it retreated into a spec of black.
The streetlamps illuminated the dashboard on two-second intervals. I pulled into the banking and stared at my phone, teasing me from the cupholder. I called Karly.