I do not dream of darkness. I am not laying in a cave, but a field, surrounded by dry bones dug into the ground. I can touch one without moving. A white-bleached femur, stripped of all the trappings of life.
My bones are clothed in flesh and filled with marrow. I am otherwise naked. Dry wind picks at the hair on my chest. Red soil flakes away as I push to stand, hands full of graveyard dirt. I let it sift through my fingers onto the curves of the closest bone. It runs red as blood and soft as skin down its length. There are eight of them in a circle around me. The sun cremates them one by one into ash that clings to my ankles.
In a room that felt like a cave, they laid a list in front of me. A multiple-choice questionnaire. A space for my signature at the bottom.
“Are there good ways to die?” I said.
The lawyer folded his hands. “I cannot choose for you.”
Tall, curving grass brushes my waist and thighs, leaving cuts invisible but for the tiny pricks of blood. There is a tree with pale bark, smooth as bone. I press my lips to it. Its branches splay wide, refusing to caress me back. Above, something glints. I stretch toward it, humming at the sting of the grass cuts. I cannot reach, so I begin to climb.
I am high enough now to feel the tree swaying with my body’s weight, each branch supple beneath my bare feet. I twine my fingers through a cluster of new leaves. For a moment, it feels as though a hand links with mine. A leaf breaks off; the sensation is lost.
Each of them touched me as they died. I knelt over each of them, watching as they slipped away, my knife pulling from their femoral artery, their fingers gripping my wrist or clinging to my shirt. One raked my face, clawing at my mouth and pulling my lips into a silent scream.
I brush their ash off my legs and wonder who I will touch before I die.
I climb higher. The branches are thinning; the sky is grey and flat, the sun a puncture wound near its center. The wind presses against my bare back like a palm laid between my shoulder blades. I lean into it, away from the tree. The wind shifts, blowing leaves to block the tease of nature’s touch. My feet and palms are raw with blisters. Above me, a heavy leather straps hangs like a noose between two branches. A camera is caught in the crook of the tree. The strap brushes my cheeks as I slide it over my head.
I lean into the strap until I can feel my pulse against it, like a work-worn palm is cradling my throat, looking for signs of life. “Naked I brought you into the world,” I say. The cradle presses tighter. Naked I took them out, working off their clothes leg by leg by leg by leg until they lay before me on the altar of their living room floor as God made them. Red and white and looking up at me as I took a photograph for remembrance.
I am looking down, the dream world’s dry bone fields tipped with orange, sun swaying on its rope above the horizon. It waits for me to finish, to slip forward off my branch and give the earth back the blood of Cain. This is not its dream though, but mine, so I kick my feet and trace my hand up the length of my leather noose. I cradle it in my lap, expecting to see the four faces that have never once left my dreams. Four faces, eight femurs, but on the pitifully small screen there is only one.
It is my own.
The metal slit in my door is thrust open.
I am awake.
It is not dark here, either.
“Hands through the slot.” Roberson. Inspection time. I will be cuffed, chained hand to foot. They will put me in a metal box, they will strip me, I will raise my arms and spread my legs so they can assault me with their eyes–but not once will I be touched.
I will walk down white halls and brick steps and sit in a black metal van. They will point with clubs, push between the blades of my shoulders, tap on the back of the metal chair. I will sit, and they will chain me to the floor and I will eat my last supper of Lucky Charms in orange juice. I will feel human skin when I brush my own thumb across the drip sliding down my jaw, but according to the Texas Court of Appeals that does not count.
I am a murderer, not a human, and today I will die.
“Hands!” Roberson grows sharp. His club taps at the white wall beside my cell. I smooth my bedding down and my hair back. His brown uniform stretches over his stomach, the only part I see through the slit. No grass clings to me as I cross the brightly lit room, just four walls, one for each heart that stopped beating, one for each pair of hands that clung to me, one and one and one and one but now there is only me, and Roberson.
I rest my forehead on the metal door and slide my hands through the slit, a beggar’s open-palmed desire. Cold metal traces over my wrists. I shiver. My hand darts sideways and latches over his wrist.
For a moment, there is this: his skin on mine and mine on his and beneath the two the gentle cycling of his blood. Then pain–the club smashes against my twisted wrist. My fingers spasm over empty air. He is shouting, and I am smiling.
He is alive, and I am dying.
“I am ready,” I sing.
When Jenni Meade isn’t writing, she’s either running a construction company, making pork dumplings, or chasing a feral child. When Jenni Meade is writing, she is the feral child. She can be found on Twitter @jmeadeski or online at www.jennimeade.com.