September 3, 2023
Memoir Short Story by Kira Lange
It started as an inconvenience—black tar tracked indoors and streaks of black through my hair, easily managed by taking my shoes off before coming inside and long showers.
Some days, when I was young, I could hide the dark by painting my eyes with streaks of the void and going on stage and calling it “art.” It was freezing outside, so I burrowed into my brother’s “borrowed” too-large sweatshirt and hid my hands, hid my eyes, covered my head and labeled it teenage angst. I dipped my fingertips into the void and watched it drip from my nails.
Most days, I sang, and when I sang, the void thinned and released my lungs. I danced, and when I danced, the void slid off my arms and onto the small box theater floor where so many of us sat, stained. We barely noticed the tightness in our chests and breaths coming faster than we could catch.
Every day, I watched the margins of safety shrink smaller and smaller. I watched this viscous slime creep closer, and I ran. I climbed high, high, a mile high, and breathed a sigh of relief.
The day I settled into this new space, I noticed a speck of black at the head of my bed. I brushed it off quickly and glanced over my shoulder, hoping no one saw.
A few weeks later, I noticed a puddle outside, too dark to be rainwater, too thick to be safe. It shifted a little, iridescent like a beetle in the brighter, warmer sun. I started coughing up black specks a few days later. The palms of my hands grew slick with tar, and I cried large, dark tears. I tried to run from the room before anyone saw, scrubbing my eyes so no one would know.
It was harder to hide the dark in a place with such astringent light.
Angry, tired, afraid, I tried to move on through life, parsing verb functions and celebrating birthdays, going to yet another brewery with yet another shallow connection because “the IPA’s are really good here, I’m sure you’ll like it.” But every day, the void crept up my arms, further, to my elbows. The water turned darker and my eyes grew ancient as I faced myself in the mirror each day.
Though I dug my heels in and threw a fit, eventually, You took my hand, my nail beds picked and bloody, and brought me to the edge of the void, which now lapped against my window frame.
“I’m here with you, to carry this, if you want,” You said in a still, small voice. “I’m always with you, if you look to see me there.”
I ripped my hand from your Good grasp and ran. I yelled, it was by Your doing that it got this bad. Why had You given me this darkness? I never asked for it.
And then, there was just me, and the void. I could ignore it no longer. I tried to get close to the dark, swirling blacker-than-blackness, but every time I approached, it pulled at my feet, sucked me in to my ankles, my knees, and I had to rip myself free, leaving my shoes behind. My calves, hands, cheeks, hair—it was all coated. I left stains wherever I sat, whatever I touched.
I journeyed, far and not very far, to find someone who could help.
Some told me I had to just be imagining the void. “Haven’t you tried just not getting in? What about just washing yourself, like a functioning member of society?”
“If I could just do that, don’t you think I would have tried? Look!” I tried to grab their hands with mine, oil-slicked, and they recoiled with fear in their eyes and disgust around their mouths. “No!” they cried. “This is your fault, it wouldn’t be this way if you just worked harder.”
Some tried to cover it up, they gave me gloves and pants and sweaters, told me that if I couldn’t heal, I could at least hide, pretend like they pretended.
But the blackness soaked through my gloves as we passed bottles around. It soaked through my shirt as we curled up on the couch. It dried and hurt when I peeled the layers off each evening to try and rest. At one point, the cloth was so cemented to my skin, I had to chisel it off to release my limbs.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I blurted, one day. “This is hurting me. Nothing is changing.”
They shrugged and left. And there was me and the void.
Others said, “I have the same void that you do—my mother has it and her mother before her. We live in the dark spaces, and that’s just the way it is.”
Their skin shimmered in the bright desert sun—petroleum greens and purples and blacks. Most left, but one stayed behind, their ink-stained fingers like mine.
“We can’t stay this way,” I begged them, sobbing. “You have to know how to help me! I can’t do this alone... please stay with me!”
“I wish I could,” they whispered. “But I am working on my own.” Their eyes were very sad: the darkest indigo.
They squeezed my hand and left, and then there was me, and the void. I fell to my knees and the void climbed faster, enveloping my hips, my ribcage, my shoulders.
One old tortoise, older than the void itself, walked along and saw me, half-consumed. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“No! No one can!!” I gasped, the void at my throat. “Look at the way things are!” The void reached my chin. My breath came shallow and fast, too fast.
The tortoise stopped and considered the matter at hand. “Have you considered,” he asked, painfully slowly, “that this sort of thing is made worse by fighting? Being hard-headed? Refusing to yield?”
The void was at my nose now. I tipped my head back. “I’m about to go under,” I yelled, “this is no time for a line of Socratic questioning!”
Slowly, the tortoise waded into the void, swam for my hand, and deliberately and painstakingly guided us both back to shore. Each step was tested, proven true, and passed back to me to follow at an excruciating pace.
When we emerged, finally, the tar slipped off the tortoise’s shell easily, but clung to my clothes in the way I had gotten used to after so many years.
I sat on the edge of the void and plopped my feet in, too exhausted to care anymore.
“See?” the tortoise said. It began to feel still. Things other than the void became noticeable.
“You can exist here on the edge, and just look, and I’ll make sure you don’t get pulled in.” We sat together for a while, the tortoise and I, watching the heavy waves. But, eventually, the sun started to dip below the horizon, the tortoise had to leave, and it was just the void and me.
The sky was dark, but a few small stars came out, reflected in the oily waters below.
I sat there, alone, for a long, long time. Sometimes the void lapped at my feet. Sometimes it rose all the way to my ears and I was sure I would be pulled in, but, like the tide, it always pulled away eventually and I would be left; tired, sad, angry, but still there.
One day, I looked to my left and there You were, sitting next to me, surrounded by piles of muck, but your clothes shone white, untouched.
“You’re here!” I whispered.
“I said I wouldn’t leave.”
I gazed out at the void, overwhelmed. “This is too much, it feels impossible.” “It does,” You said. “But let’s just try.”
You and I worked on the edge of the void for years and years. Sometimes the ones who had ignored or justified or were afraid came by and saw the labor this place required. Some scoffed and moved on. Some stayed for a while, and we all worked together.
Sometimes the void grew, and sometimes it shrank. Sometimes storms grew on the expanse and rained down on me, and I wondered what the point was, to work on something that was so much bigger than me, so wild.
One day, the work progressed enough that I was able to walk away from the black sands for a few hours, brushing my feet off on a grassy bluff just ahead. I took a deep breath, and felt the sun on my shoulders. But, the clouds gathered soon again and rumbled, and I went back to the edge and worked again.
Those hours stretched into a day, three days, a week, a bit more, coming and going, like the weather in a Northwestern town.
This morning, I woke up, looked at my hands, ink-stained from working on the void (maybe they would always be that way), and I went to go see You.
You were sitting in a throne room, surrounded by wings and eyes and gold, singing and bright and sunshine, where the void was eclipsed by You, though traces of it were still on the soles of my feet and my clothes and my hair.
And You looked down at me and smiled, from Your throne surrounded by a million refracted rainbows.
“Can I sit here with You a while?” I asked.
“Of course, we’ve been waiting for you,” You said. And I sat on the gold-veined floors, and looked up at the feathers around me, breathing in the light.