I climb the rusting stairs of the warehouse and listen to the silenced dripping through the gaps in the ceiling and the broken bits of window. The door to Gabriel’s office is still green, and even a fire that razed it to the ground couldn’t keep it a ruin forever. The war ends, but the watchtower stands. In the back of the office is a set of yellow stairs that lead up to a lattice of catwalks that are made of soft and barely swinging grating that sigh under the weight of me. There is rust where there was always rust and there will always be rust, making coppery streaks in the verdigris colored paint that marks the safety rails. They wobble at my touch. I climb the second ladder on the far wall against the gray cinder block and breach the cold night air by pushing hard the sticking hinges of the trap for roof access.
The roof is cold and dim, and lit with a shocking red light in the sky that reminds me of the river. Blue lightning flashes and makes a purple afterglow hang in the air, every hair metal album cover realized. I sing the words to the Watchtower, and creep closer to the roof’s edge.
I danced here, until it was certain one day I would fall.
Adam’s thoughts swim and dip and disappear and I’m left with only one voice.
That voice, singular, and perhaps the only singular thing I’ve ever witnessed in creation. Low, embarrassed, averted eyes. There’s a boy here, on the roof with me, shuffling his feet, his smirk one of apology that holds pasted to him his broken heart securely wrapped in pained insincerity.
The martyr among dragons. The boy with the wings whose undersides I’m most acquainted with, and their rushing proclivity to keep off the rain.
And all is silence, even the howling wind.
If I turned to look, the roof would be empty of him and black as a space where no magic lives because of it. There are places in the universe where Eli never set foot, and I went to live in them all, to light fires there, and burn them to ash. Maybe it’s me that’s the redeemer of sins, and the sin of existence without Eli is redeemed in the smoke and smoulder of my lost purpose.
With my eyes closed in the red glow, Eli can remain a memory, lost to time on the roof that is the inevitability of all things destined to be brought to an end. The way Eli was; the way all worlds are.
And in that way, he’s always on the roof, and always will be on the roof, with me, dancing to make the magic of him real. I never had to get to the roof, or to this place of dreams, or fucking start a war to get him back. I never had to chase him down every tunnel of my veins. I never had to conjure him from nothing, from the air itself. I only had to know, with complete simplicity, that nothing ever dies. The way I will always be dancing the edge, he will always be waiting behind me, to tell me or not tell me of the moment I’m going to fall.
I’m closing my eyes because I’m afraid to see that all this time, Clyde was my brother, and capable of the cleanest break in my heart made first; made earliest; when we were really children. Clyde, Eli, I swear to God, I never loved anyone but you.
It was easy for us to love you; easy for dragons to love a martyr, because you’re so easy to put our back against. Because we knew, we always fucking knew, Eli, that you would never put a knife in it or leave it unwatched. I’ll never have your back, Clyde. Keep it to the wall when I go out to fight for you. But watch mine.
The smile he wears is enough to force me up onto the ledge. I hear Astronomy on the wind spilling heavy from his mouth and I know he’ll ask me, in this time or any other, if while I’m there, I ever think of jumping. The origin of storms.
Any song he sang to me would be forced from his lips that grimace something back and hold it there, against him. Knowing, the way destiny might know, the fate of all things, is a game of silence. The quietest of men know the most about the future. Maybe every song he’s ever sung me was in desperation to make me laugh; a kind of whistling in the dark against all the trains he sees coming for me down the long tunnels of our time.
If you did, I’d catch you, Sera.
Sure. Sure thing, Eli. Because that’s something I’ve always known. At the bottom of any long fall, there’s you.
The edge of the roof feels like the edge of creation - the place I surely stop - where a wasteland of barren dirt spun wild in storms has become a cradle for every lightning strike of life we dared to murmur into existence by the light of flashlights, under blankets, long after dark had fallen.
Moving there, in the dim light, there were riders approaching. There were tigers. There were highways of diamonds and a dozen dead oceans. Every single thing Adam thought to give a name to, in his heart and in his songs. For a moment, I was certain there was only one existence, and it belonged to me.
It pulsed with a light I know well enough to follow, to a place where all light is connected in an idea we’ve come to call home at it’s invention. At the sight of my shoes, rubber-soled and off-key, inching my toes toward the long fall below, I know home is a place you leave everything behind for, even certainty. I smile a tight smile that is a sure sign of my approaching immolations, and I know that in that moment, Eli’s would be...proud.
Falling, face down, does not make you feel weightless. It makes you feel like a stone. Dark, limbless, and without the articulation of further speech. What makes you feel weightless, is when the wind catches you and blows you distant and easy toward the sky again, or mountains whose names you never bothered to learn.
I fell toward a brighter light, deeper in the earth, something molten. Written on it was the names of anyone I’ve ever loved, and I had enough time to be shocked that it was a single name and that name might have been Evelyn. If I was not a stone, full of a stone’s language, I would have remembered, or been able to hold in my hand what was being offered to me.
The last of a moon disappearing behind the land that rises to swallow it.
The sound of a hammer falling against the inside of bell.
The softness of his hair, when he cries.
Evelyn, you’ve broken your spine.
Well, who’s bright idea was that?
In the warmest place, covered in our smearing soot and snow, I clutch to Adam’s jacket. The swamp beneath us broils angrily. Adam, or some impression of him, tosses out the boyhood things to punctuate some tragedy. They fall into the muck with thick sounds; his favorite video as a child, a jacket he never wore, the first picture he ever kept of a girl. I try to explain to him that there was a train crash.
The air in his nose flushes out his annoyance in a single breath.
Evelyn, you’ve broken your spine.
He neatly and exactly tears into two halves a folder of sheet music. They flutter down around him like birds coming to rest.
There was a train crash. And I had to get things, to Grady. Because we’ve always known. Because there’s a name we all know, written in our hearts. How all words, in the end, become home, in the mouths of those we live for. Are we magicians, Adam? Are we musicians?
He stands with his back to me, paper crusting the sound of his boots on the wooden pallets as he squares his back and holds his chin between two fingers. I can’t see it, but I know he does it, while ruminating on my total lack of subtlety and what that means for him and his precious views of creation.
FUCKING ANSWER ME.
He doesn’t turn.
Evelyn, you’ve broken your spine.
I look down at myself for the first time in days, maybe weeks, spent within him. My clothes are soaked in blood I know is my own because of how it turns to other things within him. Averted looks. Broken promises. The feeling of something slipping away.
He sits in silence and I ask what he can’t before I forget and vanish completely.
Was this just a dream?