Photo of water droplets of various sizes

Where Are You

“David, are you here?”

He hopes she won’t go in the back yard, because he doesn’t want her to find out that way. Slipped and fell on a garden fork stirring compost in the rain. He feels like a dumb old man.

He was scared until now, but now she’s back from her trip, and he’s calm. He can’t see her yet, because he’s still hidden away, waiting to burst out.

It’s dark where he is.

He has trouble remembering.

There’s still some of him out back, staring up at the dim gray cords of falling rain, which push more of him into darkness with each slapping drop.

Over the last few days, most of him filtered down through layers of grass roots, muddy topsoil, clay, sand. Ants drank drops of him. Worms used him to remoisten themselves. The marbling veins of mold absorbed what they needed as he sank through them.

He finally met a hard surface, then found pores to push into and passed through it almost like a ghost, regathered himself and slid into a large, dripping chamber.

There were others with him, so many others. Parts of others. Sent bobbing and spinning by more falling drops. Drifting. Some muttered clipped phrases in other languages, some in ancient tongues, some roared or growled, or they chittered, squawked, or grunted. But most were silent. He passed them, passed through some, felt their anger or sadness or confusion, felt some of it come with him, felt himself shrink a little.

The others frightened him, so he used the pulse of drips in the chamber to move along the walls, and found a way out. A long black tunnel full of others sitting, muttering, idle. It was harder to push through them, and they pulled more from him as he went.

The tunnel shrank and split.

He thought to split himself with it, to see where both paths led, but stretching apart made him feel weak, blurry at the edges.

So he chose only one and followed it.

Now he waits at the mouth of the tunnel, seeing light for the first time in days, staring down at the kitchen sink drain.

He hears her take the kettle from the stove, smells her vanilla hand cream—and he rushes forth into the kettle. He’s dizzy, blurred with others and bubbles in a new dark place. Loud metallic whooshing rises in pitch as it fills.

This churning is almost too much, but the rhythmic click of the stove lighting reminds him of who and where he is, and that he may see her.

Others relax into the heat and stretch themselves into division. Their mutterings go monosyllabic, then silent.

He focuses himself.

The water bucks and roars. Fragments of others split further, expand, and blow out the spout in a scream.

The kettle lifts and he feels the water calm.

Porcelain tinkles, and he’s poured into a mug where he mingles with sweet, pungent chamomile leaves.

She looks distracted—he’s almost forgotten why—and she disappears.

The stairs creak. Thumps above as she walks down the hall and says his name again. Then again.

Stairs creak, and she reappears, curls her hands around him, a single concerned eye visible past the lip of the mug.

She has her phone. He recognizes his own voice quiet and tinny. Then she speaks, but from all of it, he only understands the sound of his own name.

She puts the phone down and still looks concerned.

Everything shifts as the mug rises and tips, her face grows in the sky like a planet, the water lifts to touch her lip, air gusts from her nose above him, stirring the steam, and he relaxes and splits, and half of him disappears into her mouth.

That part sees more darkness. Another descent. He feels warm and thick, and the walls are soft and more porous than the chamber in the yard. He pushes through membrane and pulls in all directions, divides, and blurs to nothing.

The rest of him sloshes and drifts and watches from the mug. He has trouble staying together, is too relaxed now, and divides, and divides again, and expands and rises from the surface to float before her face, her eyes staring through him, before he forgets himself and joins the air completely.


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6 Comments

  1. jim ilika

    To me, this makes more sense than most depictions of an afterlife. I like the idea of the composted and decomposing life essence. I just got back from vacation and will be turning my compost heaps, with increased respect and care. Thank you.

  2. Ben

    I’d meant to read these stories in order… but your email blurb intrigued so I jumped into this one.

    The return to elemental pieces is well crafted here. As with so much of your writing, I feel it. You leave room to interpret. My own experience can become part of what I’m reading.

    There’s a story a person on CC turned me on to. You might like it. (I may have sent it to you before.) It’s about the last fading thoughts of a man with a bullet going through his brain. More literal than your style, but also taps into the feeling behind the action.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/09/25/bullet-in-the-brain

    1. Zachary Dillon

      I’m glad to have inspired you to skip ahead! And this is a huge compliment. Observing my own writing over the years, I’ve noticed that my primary aim has always been zooming in close enough to reach the level of “genuinely felt.” But alongside that, “room to interpret” hasn’t always been my strong suit. I’m delighted to hear you say both are achieved here.

      And I love “Bullet in the Brain,” but hadn’t thought about it in years! Thank you for reminding me. This is a treat, and a flattering association.

  3. galemartinblog

    I loved this piece. No writing program can teach what you have, Zachary. That intangible originality and daring to tell a story in a way no one else does. I hope you are trying to get your work published, yes?

    1. Zachary Dillon

      I’m so glad you liked it! And this is such high praise from you! I am submitting some of these stories to journals. For now I have to stick to those accepting reprints, since this blog counts as a “first run.” And then the waiting game. Your enthusiasm is flattering and invigorating, thank you.

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