Ray and Sky were numbed by the noxious night breeze. The wind nuzzled against the windows of the car, and in the air the smell of cigarettes and teeth whitener burned. Ray whitened his teeth everyday, and the side effect of the whitener was small white spots on his canines, and these small white spots made the yellow areas of the teeth more prominent, and because of this Ray increased the whitening. Sky was frozen in the passenger seat smoking cigarettes in an attempt to curb her relation with pain killers.
“We’re young and we are—we’re just old enough to know life hurts, and we’re just old enough to know that life is always going to be painful. We are looking for answers, and you think—you believe—that these will be a solution,” Ray shivered the bottle of pain killers, “and you may realize these will dull the question but it won’t do anything in the way of an answer,” (Sky interrupted with “yeah”). “And I think it’s time we sat down and had a real heart-to-heart and it’s good—”
“—Yeah. I think if we were face-to-face, or eating, or whatever, it would be awkward,” She said.
“Well like you know when you talk about your breakdown. What happened there?” He asked.
“What happened was this supermarket. I was in a…high school. It was a lovely, beautiful neighborhood place. But the thing is they had just installed theses automatic doors.” (Ray said: “sliding doors”). “Yeah the automatic doors. I felt kind of uncomfortable and frightened and then what happened is that I had, umm, I had only had a glass of water that day,” Sky said. Ray laughed. “No cause we didn’t have any food, and then I was going to have dinner after going to the supermarket,” She said. “Right,” he said. “Not the best idea. You should always eat before,” She said.
“So you’re shaking,” Ray said.
“Little shaky. Very shaky. And I said: you know what I think I’m going to just get a frozen dinner,” She said.
“I love those,” he said.
“Yeah. Ahh, well that is true too. And it’s also very quick,” She said. “So, anyways, blah blah blah and then I think I went into a little of—well I started to walk toward the sliding doors, and I was afraid to walk through them. Then I started to cry hysterically,” Sky said.
Ray laughed: “Oh no.”
“And so now, ever since then, I’ve been afraid of sliding doors. And I say to myself, if an electronic devise doesn’t acknowledge your existence, does this prove you don’t exist. Then I say of course not, but then I think does it? The pain killers help all of that, and I know you think there is one answer to everything thing. Like people take drugs to find the answer, or like, what did you call it a, a solution. Which is funny, but, well, like game shows try to make it seem like there is always one definitive answer, and I’ve kind of played into that by playing therapist on myself and saying like, I was a child and this traumatic event happened and this traumatic event has caused me to seek pain killers. Which is true, but there are also a lot of reasons, you know?” Sky said.
“So, it’s about me,” Ray said.
“No. What I was trying to say is you can’t really point to one single—”
“—Yeah, I know you say I try to make everything about me, but I think this is about me. I can only say sorry so many times, and I have to say for the millionth time I’m sorry. And I can see the pain I’ve caused you is what you’re numbing. Is that what you’re doing?” Ray asked.
Sky rested against the frosted car window. Strands of hair stuck to the icy glass. She burned cigarettes and changed the conversation to her uncle.
Her uncle hanged himself from the dying limbs of an ash tree, while hurricane sirens sounded through the vacated seaside. Sky and Ray were driving to the uncle’s antique shop. No one wanted the uncle’s antiques. Sky was responsible for finding a place to store the effects.
Her cigarette glow illuminated her footprint on the dust on the dash—a deer crossed in front of the car and terror tap-danced in the head lights, and Ray considered turning left and hitting the deer with the passenger side door, and Ray considered turning right and hitting the deer with his door, and he turned left (protecting his side), and Sky’s head whacked against the window, and the deer sashayed in the brake’s red ambiance.
Sky rubbed her head. She curled her knees against her chest. Her flowered skirt fell just below her sandaled feet, and her tube top rose and revealed the two dimples in the small of her back. Ray drove through the silence of the winter dark.
At dawn they entered a suburb full of cul-de-sacs and dead ends. At the edge of town the dying ash tree shadowed a small cross. The antique shop was adorned with moss around a window on the attic. Ray wrapped his arm around Sky. They walked toward the front of the building. Sky’s face faded to white, and her weight was faint in Ray’s arms. He noticed the sliding front door.
Ray walked them around the building. The only other entrance was the window in the attic. The ash tree was dripping small drops of water like they were being pushed through the needle of a syringe. He climbed the tree. The limbs beneath his feet sounded of crackling fire. He crawled out to the edge of a limb, hung over the roof of the building, and the limb splintered. He fell onto the roof shattering ceramic shingles. Sky laughed, while she climbed delicately placing her sandaled feet against the branches. Her mesh bag flopped at her side, and she tossed the bag from the tree to the roof. She reached out her hand, Ray swung her, and she landed next to him. They opened the window to the attic.
Inside the antique shop everything was iced. They opened the curtains, the room warmed, and the ice thawed. Steam rose from the furniture causing slow falling water like thoughts melting away.
“I want to get sedated,” Sky said. “To good vibrations,” Ray said. She removed a stash of pain killers. Today is the fucking last time, she said. She was always swearing it was the last time.
They numbed all the small pains of their lives. Their fears and their judgments. Their sensitivities. She used pain killers, and he used self-deception to dull everything.
Sky removed granola, bananas, and strawberries from her mesh bag. Ray peeled off his teeth whitening strips. They ate, and they watched the passing clouds streak across the iced sea. Ray talked about what the hanging man must have looked like flopping against the tree. “The body twisting with the hurricane winds. The salt water raining down. The sea boisterous against the rocks,” he said. He noticed Sky was not responding, and he realized that was her Uncle he was talking about.
“What about your breakdown?” Sky asked.
“It wasn’t much of a breakdown. More of a transformation,” Ray said.
“What about your transformation?” She asked.
“Well what happened was my father and I were hunting quail, and we saw a deer caught in a barbwire fence,” he said. (She said, “Ouch”). “Yeah and so the deer’s leg was caught in the fence and his body was on the ground,” he said.
“Already dead,” she said.
“Yeah. A no. He had big black eyes and I remember they followed us. And so what happened was my father said, ‘we’ll have to euthanize’. I asked what euthanize was, because I was very young. And my father said, ‘When something is suffering you need the audacity to kill.’ And I said: you’re going to kill the deer. My father said, ‘I don’t suppose your going to do it.’ I didn’t want to shoot the deer, but for some reason. I…well I walked up to the deer with my .410 shotgun,” Ray said.
“As children we want to be apart of things,” Sky said.
“Yeah, but I wasn’t going to shoot the deer and I remember the deer watched me, but he was responding when I touched him. He had patches of fur clumped in coarse bouquets of blood. Then what happened was that my father raised his shotgun,” Ray said.
“He shot it,” She said.
“He shot him yeah,” Ray said.
“I’m sorry,” Sky said. She had found green bottled beer in the refrigerator, and she handed him one. Sky asked: “what are those white stars on your teeth?”
Ray didn’t know what to say. So he said, “shooting stars.” He became self-conscious about the spots from his whitener.
The painkillers and the alcohol left Ray smashed and deadened. He whispered words to himself:
Brand names in plastic frames. Slept in, slept on, life lived in faded spots on sofas. Settee, chase lounge, daybed, futon, so many names for musky places to rest. Canoes hanging from strings in ceilings. Pictures of families with no names.
Magazines and newspapers: breaking news of the past.
Everything dying slowly: yellowing.
Ray and Sky napped.
Ray awoke. Sky was flaming a fire. Ray asked, “are you burning your uncles effects?” Sky said, “my cousins don’t know what to do with all this shit anyway. It’s a burden.”
The sun died, and darkness fell onto the room. Sky and Ray climbed the stairs and arranged a bedroom out of antiques. They warmed by the fire. Ray wondered what Sky was wondering about.
“Sky,” he said.
“Yeah,” She said.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Well. I feel you’re really nice, but I feel like I don’t know you on some level,” she said.
“Why?” Ray asked.
“I don’t know why I trust you,” she said.
“Yeah. Okay, so I’ll tell you everything. So, yeah, my father told me the dog was sick. You know after we got home. We had taken the deer home and cooked it, and the dog stole and ate what was leftover from the deer. My father told me to not let the dog into the house no matter what. I felt bad. You know for the dog. I took my blankets, and I went out to the dog house, and I sat with the dog. She had reddened eyes and dry lips. Her mouth was crusted with vomit. Then the dog turned and looked at me and had the same big, black eyes of the deer. I was so sure I was right. I needed to euthanize the dog. I thought I was courageous, going and quietly getting the shotgun from the table where my father had cleaned it. I was only a child, and I struggled with the weight of the gun. I pressed the gun against the dogs head,” Ray said.
He drank from his beer and said, “I put my hand on the dog’s chest and felt the heartbeat. The beat slowed…then silenced. The sun was gone and it was cold, and I took the dog tag from around the dog’s neck and placed the tag in my pocket.”
“Oh,” Sky said.
“I carried the dog by its rear until I realized its head was making a bloody trail. I removed my shirt and wrapped it around the dog’s head, and I pulled the shirt cradling the head of the dog. Allowing the feet to drag, the nails to make a scratching noise against the pavement and then the grass and then the dirt. It was a long time until I pulled the dog into the house, and I placed the dog inside. Then I went to my room, and I wrapped myself in the blankets of my bed, and I held the dog tags. I admired them the way a soldier admires a purple heart,” Ray said.
Sky doused the fire with left over beer. Empty beer bottles scattered the tables like forgotten relics of better times. They climbed the stairs and were scared by the mirror in the hallway. They were in bed by candlelight.
The fire downstairs crackled, hissed; sputtered. Then the fire glowed yellow against aging hallway wallpaper. The mirror engulfed in the reflection of fire. Smoke filled the room with menace. Ray put his pants on ass backward. Sky staggered into her flip-flops. Ray pulled the white sheet off the bed and wrapped it around his body and Sky’s. They stumbled costumed and frightened. In the hallway the heat forced them to their knees. The fire alarm activated, and the ceiling rained putrid water. The sheet was wet and stuck to their hot skin. They fell down the stairs a giant ball of sheet and limbs. Sky landed on top of Ray. Her mouth was wet next to his ear. Sky stood and ran through the umbrella of water and the cloud of smoke. Her flip-flops slapped and clapped. She ran, fearlessly, toward the automatic sliding door. The sliding door parted to the cool, calm night.
Ray stood and followed her out of the building. She jumped into him, legs around his waist, and they kissed. They ate pain killers and sat on the wet early morning grass.
They were young, and because they were young and numb they were unable to separate significance from insignificance. Everything that happened to them was perceived as important. Ray realized it was possible Sky wasn’t afraid of the sliding doors. He realized her fear was likely an excuse to use pain killers. He wondered: had pain killers euthanized all the things he had done to her.
Ray was also realizing maybe all of his epiphanies were wrong. Epiphanies were always short lived bursts of numbness. They affected him one day or one week and eventually became dormant in his subconscious. He recognized his tendency to be self-deceptive.
It rained ash, and the air warmed. The ash felt natural. Death felt unnatural. Sky removed a piece of ash from Ray’s eyelash, and she kissed him on the face. Ray smiled a yellowing smile.
Ray experienced the numb vibrations of their relationship.
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