All things die.
She sat there, in the middle of the parking lot, beneath a scorching sun and with a winged corpse at her feet. Her winged corpse. It had died, and so too had she.
You. Will. Find. Happiness.
What she would give, to turn back time to the better days, when there was brightly-burning, wondrous, exhilarating fire, and not the ash of the dead and gone. The withered and lost. The missing.
She scrolled through her notifications while she was at it, before she doubled back to the apartment. She popped open Instagram, took note of a new follower or two, scanned the list of those who’d viewed her story out of pure curiosity, and noticed the pink-orange halo about his profile’s icon. He’d posted a new story – the first one, in several weeks. The fury abuzz beneath the surface of her flesh, scouring the reaches of her very being, and searching for every bit of her that it hadn’t yet electrified, ignited, set ablaze, and scarred from within – withered to a simmer. The fury bled away, into something featherlight and gently sparkling, the electric scorch softening to the pliant, the supple, the velvet of flesh beneath flesh.
Flesh grazing flesh. Flesh teasing flesh. Flesh tasting flesh.
Yet with one tap – one fateful touch of the pad of her thumb to the onyx, glass screen – her blood ran cold. Her veins filled with ice. Her vision glazed over with the thinnest of glaciers, freezing her eyelids to the whites of her eyes in horror. Icepicks fitted themselves to every inch of her skin, their tips pressed flush to her every pore, so that in tandem, in one swift and smooth strike, they pierced through her flesh. They pierced through her belly – do you think Kydo’s there? – and through her skull – you have to stop thinking, and start feeling – and through her lungs – I want you to breathe with me – and through her lips – you know, you like to kiss more than anyone else I’ve been with – and through the column of her neck – it looks like a bug bite. Just say it’s a bug bite – and through her fingertips – Take my hand. Whose are you?– and through her tongue – Ich liebe dich – and through her faintly-beating heart, beating fainter and fainter with each passing moment –
All that matters, in this moment, is that we love each other.
She wished she was dead.
You’re already dead.
And she was dead, because she was dead to him.
She rose from the ground, because she knew with what distaste he would have viewed her show of self-pity. Instead, with what adrenaline she still possessed – a nearly unlimited supply, it seemed – she took off down the steps, darting from floor to floor at a breakneck pace, and when she stepped foot on the landing, she didn’t dare stop, for if she stopped, she feared her legs might give out and she might crumble to the ground again and this time find herself not unwilling, but unable to rise to her feet and make it home. And so, she began to sprint, fueled no longer by fury, but by something altogether else. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was that motivated her so – any sane human being would have found themselves crushed just then, bled of their adrenaline as if stuck with a herd of leeches, and instead injected with some potent strain of pure, unadulterated Despair, perhaps manufactured in a premier sweatshop for mass-distribution by the son of a business mogul. But, instead, she felt as if she could run to the ends of the earth and back, without breaking a sweat.
Men didn’t define her.
She defined herself.
That’s the rationale she presented to herself as explanation for how she could not only still be on her feet, but racing down the sidewalk after having been woken from just shy of two hours of sleep, after having had her fantasy for the evening crushed and her self-image destructed, after having run a little over three miles beneath the blistering desert sun, and after having witnessed the love of her life out to dinner with another woman, one to which she couldn’t compare.
That was, until she saw it.
She stopped, dead in her tracks. In the middle of the parking lot just north of the faculty center and atop the little hill, at the base of which was the designated Beverly Hills bus stop, she stood, frozen to the spot. A few feet before her on the curb laid a little, trembling body, no larger in size than a golf ball. Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp. It was chirping, incessantly, every two seconds or so, letting out these high-pitched, cutting cries. Each one pierced the air, like a needle through rotting flesh.
It was a hummingbird, she’d found. Yet as she drew nearer with light, tentative footsteps so as not to scare it off, it didn’t so much as bat a wing. Something was wrong. That, she was certain of. Never before had she gotten so close to one of the sprightly little things, who always seemed to flit off at the speed of light if they caught so much as a glimpse of a human. Yet this little one didn’t stir, even as she knelt down beside it on the curb, and bent so that she might inspect it closer. She must have been just a few inches from the thing, yet it did nothing but chirp, its wails coming a bit quicker. It must be injured, she thought, scanning it for a torn, broken wing, or perhaps a thorn piercing through its underbelly. She saw nothing of the sort.
Physically, it seemed to be in fine shape. It was a beautiful little thing, with a tainted, white underbelly that reminded her of the hazelnut coffee creamer she’d put in her cup some mornings, if she had the urge to binge on something sweet. The cream of its underbelly melted into the dull, sallow orange of its sides, sunken and fiery near the feathers’ roots, yet grimy and emaciated at its tips, as if dyed by dust and dirt. The entirety of the section was speckled with little white hairs, and she wondered if birds, too, grew white hairs in old age. But this bird didn’t seem old – its chirps were too frantic and incessant, Help me! Please, help me!
And its wings stood ruffled against its sides, three toasted-brown layers of overlapping feathers. They reminded her of marshmallow held over a campfire, yet – the marshmallow had been forgotten on its skewer, and its underbelly had begun to melt, and soon hardened into a bronzed-brown, scathed crust just the same as had this hummingbird’s wings.
And its beak pierced the scalding mid-morning air – it was sitting in the sun, and she too, and she could feel the top of her scalp burning, and she knew with certainty that she’d wake to angry red patches marching all along the expanse of her arms and the tops of her shoulders and the creamy white of her scalp turned the same strawberry as her hair with them – as sharp as a needle’s point. She feared that if she drew too close, it would lash out at her in fright and stick her with the pointy end to its beak. It was a stately black, the fine-tipped thing, opening and closing in rapid succession, no more than a fraction of a millimeter at a time, so that the panicked little thing could cry, over and over, help me! I’m dying.
And the mane along its back was the truly fine thing, with a turtle background combining all of rest of its feathers’ shades – the bronzed, burnt-marshmallow brown, the fiery orange, the sallow orange sparkled with fine dust, the white, the hazelnut coffee cream, the beak black. Yet the beauty of it – and that which made it unique – was the green. It was a green she’d never seen before, in anything natural. The closest she’d come to it was the lime green of her mother’s sports car – a prized Sublime Dodge Daytona Charger fresh off the block and 1,500-models-only rare in the contiguous United States. Yet nothing natural could compare. Even the vibrance of the palm trees’ leaves which bloomed, fifteen stories into the clear-blue skies, in the botanical gardens on campus. Even the bright green skin of the lime she’d just bought for the sheer hell of buying a lime. Even the dazed green of the algae creeping up the sides of her apartment’s little pool, which dazzled if the midday sun hit the water just right. Even the brilliant green stripes that alternated with the black, and crawled up the sides of the only socks he liked to wear. Pink and black stripes, or green and black stripes. It was always one or the other, but never both at the same time. Unlike her and her mismatched socks. Even the stark, manufactured dye on his only pattern of socks, paled in comparison to the electric green spattered across the hummingbird’s back. It was stark. It was alive. And it was beautiful.
The same couldn’t be said of the little bird, itself. It had huddled in on itself, curled up into a fetal ball, puffed out its feathers just as a cat does its hackles, when distressed. It sat as close to the ground as possible. It made itself as small as possible. Even as she inspected the little thing, it seemed to grow smaller, crushing itself to the ground as if too weak to stand on its little, three-pronged claws. It seemed to her like one of those jumbo-sized pompoms they used to do crafts with as kids – Warm Fluffies, she’d called them once upon a time – yet this Warm Fluffy wasn’t just sick. She could see it in the way the thing huddled in on itself in agony. She could see it in the way its chirps quickened by the minute, how the somber little cries soon became piercing little screams, the panic settling in as it realized that no one was coming to help it. Please, help me, had become, I don’t want to die! She could see it in the way its little, beady black demon’s eyes squirmed, fluttering this way and that in hysteria. She could see it in the way the thing took a little, tentative step forward, stumbled to the side, spun up its wings with whatever strength it still possessed – Fly! Fly! Get away. Need to go. Need help. Won’t die. Fly! Please! Fly! – fluttered down off the curb, knocked into the cement, rolled a few feet, struggled to an upright position, spun up its wings again, flitted a few feet into the air, quivered there, and lurched to the ground just a foot or so further, struck the asphalt with one of its wings, and rolled forward a few feet. It stopped. It had begun to tremble. It didn’t try to flee again. It didn’t have the strength.
She could see it – that the little thing had too realized, that it wasn’t just sick.
It was dying.
And she saw the exact moment – when it stopped, dead-center in the middle of the parking lot, and it flapped its wings feebly for a dozen or so seconds until it had rolled itself into a sitting position, and then, of a sudden, fell utterly still, immoveable as a statue except for the little trembles wracking through its form – she saw the exact moment when it realized it wasn’t dying.
It was already dead.
She fell down onto her knees beside the dying bird.
What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?
Because she and this hummingbird, were one and the same.
And she burst into tears.
Everything over the course of the past few hours finally struck her. She fell apart. She let Despair snatch her up from where she sat, the undersides of her legs burnt through by the black, sun-scorched asphalt, take her into its firm claws, and whisk her away from Control. She left Control in the dust, for once. She hadn’t the strength, nor the will, to fight Despair off. Control allowed Despair to devour her.
The sky seemed to weep with her, because all that she could see, was a cascade of rain. Like the glass of a car’s windowpane, speeding through a thunderstorm, she thought. No, she didn’t think it. She couldn’t think anything. All that was running through her head was, it’s dying. It’s dying. It’s dying. There’s nothing I can do. It’s dying. I’m dying. It’s dying. There’s nothing I can do. She blubbered into her forearm, and she wiped her freely-running nose against the back of her hand even though they’d drilled it into everyone’s head by now – Don’t touch your face when you’re out! She touched her face. She touched her face again and again and again. She swiped her nose and rubbed her eyes and let her head fall into her palms and stuffed her palms between her lips because her sobs had grown so loud, she couldn’t contain them.
People were walking past – there were always people walking past here. None stopped. None stopped as she hiccupped into her fingers and drew her knees up to her chest and buried her face against the tops of her thighs and let herself be unquiet. And unquiet, she was. The sobs had turned to gasps, and those clawed from her vocal cords, each bubbling up from within her esophagus and erupting into the thin, scorched air, carried out over it in the form of high-pitched wheezes. As if she were suffocating. As if she were struggling for air, she cried out into it. Her cries begged it. Her cries pleaded.
Her cries wanted the ends of the earth to know that she, the Strong & Willful & Unbreakable, had finally allowed herself to be broken.