The boy looks at the woman lying ragged in the hospital bed, her breaths coming like rocky chunks of asphalt, filling the room with the out and in, out and in.
You are not of me, he said. I never came from you.
The woman, restless, moves her legs from side to side in her sleeplike state. Can’t keep a sheet on her, the nurses had told the boy. A chasm yawns in the space where her legs met. Sagging flesh swims there, shapes and color. The boy looks away. I never came from you.
A nurse bustles in with some supplies. A breathing treatment, she says. To keep her lungs healthy. The boy looks on. For what, he wonders. Blood clots in the brain, they had said. A coma. Why treat the lungs? Free. I want to be free.
The staff speaks to her like she is a child. They try to wake her, get her to wiggle toes, to nod yes. Eyes open briefly, looking at the faces in the room. They close again, no change. No recognition.
At last you can’t touch me. The boy stands at the side of the room. He won’t go near the bed. He doesn’t take her hand. He has come to be released of the chains that bind him to her, of the relentless presence in his mind all those years, probing, commanding, all-knowing, all-seeing. He whispers cautious syllables, like sending tiny snowflakes into the room one by one, knowing they will melt immediately in his breath.
The boy melds with another boy, a boy who has come from a deeper place, an older place. This boy is grey, with dead grey eyes and a dead grey face. No expression. No hope inside, just a dry walnut where his heart had once been. Dead boy looks around the room and sees the future. Sameness. Grey. No life.
I have been waiting for you.
Dead boy surveys the broken landscape of his world. He feels nothing. Is nothing. The woman stirs again, breathing louder, ragged. Her eyes open and close again. Her mouth lies open, a trap. Dead boy climbs inside and dissolves on her dry tongue.
The woman swallows, chokingly. She coughs.
The boy turns away, his heart safe in its velvet box. The woman’s face is someone else’s. He has seen what he needed.
Outside, the cold bright moon is ringed with ice. Birds fly overhead. The boy drives away into the night.