[Note: This story contains themes of suicidal ideation and intent.]
You would draw the circle in salt, but you live in an apartment with carpet, and a part of you cringes at the thought of leaving a carpet full of salt for the next tenant. That’s why you won’t take pills or slit your wrists if you do it. You don’t want to think about someone else having to live in the place where you were rotting in the bathtub for weeks before anyone found you. You’re so tired of being a problem in life that the last thing you want is for your death to be an inconvenience.
Magic should be done in the woods, anyway. It needs trees veiling the moon, bare earth and the distant cries of owls. It needs a certain space of silence. It needs to be done right.
It’s been so long since you felt like you were doing anything right.
There are no buses that go out as far as the nearest woods, so instead you lay out a plate (Corelle’s “Spring Blossom,” green flowers on white porcelain, old enough to be your mother), and you trace the circle with blood.
There isn’t very much blood. Just a smear from a scab you can’t stop picking. Just enough for the circle, wobbly and misshapen no matter how carefully you draw.
A part of you insists there should be runes inside it. There should be demons’ names written there, red on white. There should be some Latin invocation you can speak. There should be anything other than the shape of a hole for you to pour all your grief and shame into.
That’s not how this works, though. That’s not how any of it works.
So you sit there, cross-legged, plate in your hands, and listen to your neighbors chatting in the hall and the distant sound of a television in one of the other units. It feels as though there’s a pane of glass between your world and theirs–it feels as though you’re not really real. If you tried to reach out to them, you would pass right through.
You focus in on the jagged, bloody edges of the circle until the white porcelain swims beneath your gaze. Until your whole face hurts from trying not to cry and the space inside looks black, black, black.
Something brushes against your mind, silken and lighter than moths’ wings. Why are you sitting on the floor, child? someone asks.
“I didn’t know where else to sit,” you mumble. You lean back against the sagging couch until you can almost tip your head back onto the seat.
That was a lie, the voice answers. There is no accusation in it; the voice heard what you said and compared it to the truth and found a discrepancy. You sat here because you didn’t believe you deserved to sit on the couch.
“Yeah.” You stare down at the plate, tracing the familiar border of flowers that you’ve seen every day since you were a child. Your parents would be so–disappointed isn’t the right word. They don’t see you as useless, worthless, a waste of space. They would be so upset that you didn’t think you were worthy of the twenty-dollar thrift store couch.
You plan to do something that will hurt them, and you don’t want to hurt them, the voice says within/against your ear. That’s why you called to me. Because you want to live.
“I don’t want to live,” you answer. “But I want to want to live.”
The slightest heaviness settles over your shoulders like a gauzy shawl. You live in a world of wonders, the voice whispers. Every day that you live is a miracle–do you know how few worlds there are where life survives? Where plants drink in sunlight, where cells divide and devour, where beetle wings gleam in a thousand, thousand colors? How is it that you do not want to live, when life is your world’s triumph against the void?
You run your thumbnail over the edge of the plate. “I know,” you say. “I just don’t feel as though I’m … a part of that. I feel like everything else is allowed to exist in itself, but I have to earn my place. And I can never earn my place, because I’m worthless.”
In all the world’s abundance, still the void calls to you, the voice says, and for just a moment, there is warmth in it. You feel protected, wrapped up as though in a fleece blanket when the nights are just starting to turn cold.
“Is that where demons come from? The void?” you ask.
You feel a laugh tickle down the back of your neck. I think you do want to live, the voice says. Because no one who has resigned themself to death would ask a question to which they do not know the answer.
You want to reach up, to see what will happen if you trail your fingers through the insubstantial substance wrapped around you. Perhaps you will feel the surface of it, silken skin or serpent-scales. Perhaps it will burn at the touch. Perhaps it will dissolve into nothingness, and you’ll be alone again. “Curiosity isn’t much to live for.”
No. No, it is not. But even the smallest mote of light can illuminate a dark room–and you, child, are a bonfire in the darkness.
“Is that why you came?” you ask, so softly that you can barely feel your own lips move. “Were you looking for light?”
Yes, the voice answers. I was looking for light, and you opened a window to me as I sailed through the abyss.
“I’m sorry it was me,” you say.
Do you really imagine that your light is lesser? You do, the voice says, and for the first time, there is reproach in it. You cannot imagine that you are one of the bright, shining creatures that I love so well. You see the light radiating from everything, even the things that disgust you, and you wonder why you cannot see it in yourself. You wonder how it is that I can see it. Interstellar ice trails over your spine. No. You think that I am lying.
“It’s not that I think you’re lying,” you say at once. “It’s just–you’re probably trying to be kind. The truth hurts, and you don’t want to see me hurting.”
You called to me because you wanted a reason to go on living, says the voice.
You nod. Your shoulders go up, round over, as though you can make yourself a valley between them. Nothing else has helped. You’ve seen so many therapists, taken so many pills; you’ve filled journals with empty words, trying to crystallize something you like about yourself that could sustain you during the bad days. But when the bad days came, you read through all those scrawled praises, and you hated yourself more than ever. What an idiot you were, to weave self-affirmations like incantations against despair. What an idiot you were, to think for even a second that you were worthy.
Let me tell you a secret. It may help, or it may not, the voice tells you. You can feel it all through you now, like a tissue of interstitium between all of your vital organs. It’s warmer than you had imagined it would be; it’s colder, too. When you look upon the world in all its splendor, it is illuminated by your light alone. All of the delights of life–the swift fish in the rivers, the sunlight through a dragonfly’s wings, the faces of the people you love–are delightful because you love them. You are the sun by which you see them, and what beauty they have is in your beholding.
“That can’t be true,” you say. “You said that everything that lives is full of light.”
I did not, the voice tells you, deep and sure as a heartbeat. But that is true, as well.
You sit with that a moment. Blood beads over the fresh-picked scab; the seat of the couch digs into your shoulder blades. “I don’t understand,” you say at last.
Do you not? the voice murmurs. It is the rush of your blood, the rasp of your breath. Or are you afraid that I am telling you the kind of truth that hurts?
A sob shakes you. You grip the plate so hard that you’re afraid you’ll break it–that you’ll break whatever it is that you have right now, this connection with something terrible and wonderful and infinite. There’s a ringing in your ears so deep that it aches; the muscles of your temples strain and shudder.
Because you do understand, don’t you? In some deep, secret part of you, you understand, and more than anything, you are afraid of what that understanding means.
You are not merely observing the world. You are touching it, changing it, passing through it and leaving it altered. You love the world, and that love makes you a part of it.
The light of the world is your light, too, and you can never be severed from it.
You almost don’t want it to be true–because if it’s true, you’ll have to find a way to live, and you have spent so much time preparing to die.
You are a part of the world, and so you deserve to live, the voice says gently. You are a part of the world, and your light enriches it.
“I don’t know what to do,” you say. “It’s so hard.”
It is, the voice answers. It will always be hard.
You wait for a but that never comes.
I am going to leave you now, the voice whispers. You feel it withdrawing, easing out of your nerves, releasing your coiled sinews and letting you relax. You clench reflexively, trying to hold it in.
“Don’t go,” you say.
“You are part of this world,” the voice says with your own mouth. It lets the plate go and wraps your arms around you. “And I am not. I must go.”
“Just a little longer,” you say. “You’re going back to a dark place–just stay a little longer here, in the light.”
And although the voice does not speak again, when you climb to your feet at last, you feel something curled up like hope in the hollow of your throat.