His last thought is “Finally.”

The black, breathless shroud. An emptiness to end the emptiness. ​An infinite, dreamless sleep.

Then, interruption.

The IV is a cold finger on his skin. Its slow drip of forgetting ushers him from the black into the gray. Thoughts float like ashes and dissolve like cotton candy. Images flash like lightning and fade like Polaroids peeled too soon. Beginnings. Endings. A lingering embrace. A longer goodbye. There is freckled skin, warm, alive, eager. And then her fading scent on an empty pillow. Hope disappears like an almost-kiss.


The gray is an Escher paradox. Impossible paths leading everywhere and nowhere. At the center of the chaos, a tremulous pause, a hesitation where never-arriving calm threatens shadows into panic.

He opens his eyes. Shapes like faces hover. Some familiar. Some strange. They smile. They stare. They curse. They pray. They ask why.


There was a song. A very specific song, repeating, repeating, repeating. Were there pills? He remembers music.
Not this music. Electronic beeps and clicks, a rhythm without a melody. Soulless machines singing soulless songs to save his soul.

What was that song?

It made him feel. One last feeling before the black.


He is dizzy, swirling. He is Scrabble tiles looking for words in a tornado. His feelings are woodland creatures – sad bunnies, angry chipmunks, happy squirrels. They stand in formation across a meadow, then turn at the edge of a blazing forest to shrug before losing themselves in the smoke of it. Don’t go, he says. He wants to cry for them, but they have his tears.

Days and minutes blend into each other like the side of a rotting barn against a storm-welcoming sky. He sleeps for a moment and a year. When he wakes, the gray is gone. It does not go gently, like a woman teasing her lover awake with a song. It runs away like rabbit on fire. The room lights that seemed distant as stars pierce him like spotlights pressing for truth. They water his eyes. A false tear drips disappointment down his cheek and through the blur he sees a woman's face.

He wonders if she will speak. If she will yell at him for trying to leave. If she will try to understand with words what he doesn’t understand with or without them.

He remembers now.
There were pills.

Knives stab his stomach. Hammers pound his brain. Pliers pinch his arms. Chlorine and urine assault his nose. He feels the blood pump in his veins, defying him, teasing him back. He wants to be angry. He is too weak. He wants to be sorry. He doesn't know how.

What was that song?

He listens for it. Strains to hear its echo. There is nothing but the beep and click. And then, a sound like a sob. Another tear falls down his cheek. It is warm, and he wonders if it’s hers. She reaches down to wipe it away.

Her fingers are cold and their touch surprises him. The sobbing stops. And then she begins to hum. It is a sweet melody that reminds him of Christmas mornings.

That’s not the song. That’s not it at all. That’s the opposite of the song.

He opens his mouth to complain. She presses a finger to his lips.
You’re not alone, she sings. You are never alone. We are all broken. And we are okay.

She closes his eyes with her cold fingers. Rest, she says.

When he opens his eyes, she is gone.

He feels the throbbing in his chest and wishes it would stop. His bones ache.


He sleeps for another moment and a year. When he wakes, he looks for her.

Where is she? he asks the nurse.


The woman who sings.

You've had lots of visitors. Do you know her name?

She has cold fingers.

The nurse laughs. I don’t know, she says.

He sighs. My head hurts, he says. It hurts so fucking much.


More gray sleep. More stairs that lead nowhere. More waking and sleeping and waking and sleeping to the incessant beep and click. And then, a different sound. Whispers.

He opens his eyes to a room full of people. His brother is here. His ex-wife. The friend who found him. Not the one who broke him.

Where is she? he asks.

Let her go, they say. She's no good for you, they say. They don’t mean the woman with cold fingers.

A nurse stands over him.

How do you feel? she asks.

Everything hurts, he says.

Do you want something for the pain?

He looks at their faces. His brother, his ex-wife, his friend, the nurse. They are silent. They are waiting. They are listening.

You're not alone. You are never alone.

That’s not it, he yells. That’s not the goddamn song!

We're all broken...

A tear rolls down his cheek. That's not the song, he sobs.

His tears last a moment and a year. Then, a smile from nowhere and everywhere gently twists the gray into blue. He says it again, but this time his voice is a laugh like Christmas mornings.

That's not the song.

He looks at his brother. His ex-wife. His friend. The nurse.

He sees everyone.

And begins to sing.
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