They sat in a poorly lit, five-sided shed in Southern marshes bordering the Gulf coastline and had spent the last three hours discussing the day-to-day mood cycles of the girl’s suicidal hibernation, and whether or not she should go through with the act— due to 3 main reasons and one little reason, that their “little talks had gone too far.” Due to the length of the conversation and the humidity, the boy's comments had lost clarity, but the conversation continued, digressing gradually into a blurred confusion. They did not face each other, but rather each occupied their own space, the girl on a mattress and the boy on a metal chair, separated by two stacks of wooden dowels, a hamster cage, and tote bin of computer supplies.
“You should not go through with it because...” he began as if answering a trivia question, “... you can swim with dolphins.” The truth had dawned on him yesterday while watching a video documenting an orphaned otter pup’s first six months of life. “You can swim with dolphins,” he said. “There is water, and dolphins, and you control a body that knows how to swim. I think they will let them swim with you. Sorry. They will let you swim with them.”
“Doesn't seem worth it.”
“I contend it will be.”
“I wouldn’t know though huh.”
“I haven’t seen them.”
“No, you wouldn’t have,” something inside of him clicked.
“I might have”
“I’ve seen penguins. You saying that doesn’t prove anything,” the girl laughed.
“Anyways, I’ve seen them. They are worth it,” he clicked back.
“Come sit over here,” she motioned to a chair.
Dack surveyed the distance, can I span it?
“Come sit next to me.”
“It is a true thing about the world that you can swim with dolphins, do you understand what I am saying?”
“I don’t give a shit.”
“Look, I don’t know what to say anymore.”
Dack looked up again, can I span it?
“Should I kill myself?” Elaine asked.
“Should I kill myself?” he asked back.
“Because you might learn what is next. You’ve learned everything worth learning here.”
“Why not just try? Try swimming with dolphins.”
“Yes one could swim with dolphins. Please trust me that I understand just how insightful this insight of yours is.” Her words came in choppy segments. Trailer park culture sometimes did this, but he was over ninety percent confident her tone was mocking.
“I'm proud of you for your insights,” she, maybe, jabbed at him again. “I’m proud Dack. Oh! Oh! Dack I am proud! I am proud!” she yelled orgasmically.
His mind told his face to grin so he grinned, and their eyes met.
“So I should go with you?” he asked.
“Yes, I told you.”
“Because I told you, you might learn what is next.”
“But I enjoy this.”
“Not this conversation hell no, but life, yes I do.”
“A joke, he makes a joke,” she gasped.
“What?” he defended, “you’re enjoying this?”
“Yes,” she said, “I enjoy this conversation. In fact, this conversation is so good that I have decided against blowing my brains out.”
“Oh god. Elaine.”
She looked up at the wooden rafters, motionless above her.
“That would be, just horrible.”
Her head craned back, exposing shadowed triangles in her neck.
“After the trigger, a decaying body. Does that not go against life? The act of it sounds so messy. Won’t it be messy?”
“I know what you mean,” she said, averting her eyes to the side, “that part I do, wonder about.”
“You’d have to put a cold metal barrel up against your head, pull down on the trigger. I enjoy moving and eating and being alive.” He slapped his forearms to indicate ‘life.’
“Please, your arms look like fishbellies. If I pulled a gun right now, you wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do.”
“I can’t,” his sentence broken off and neither spoke. The conversation entered what he counted to be the fourth reflection period.
He numbered them in his mind, ranked his performance, and thought through the logistic of taking her to Pelican Bay.
“You want to know the most interesting thing I’ve learned recently?” She broke the silence. “The other day I focused and heard four new frequencies coming from that fan. That’s the kind of stuﬀ I’m into now. It reminded me of this weird sensation, associated with this one time at soccer practice in high school. I was hungry and standing there with my knees locked, probably with low blood sugar, and I felt something. It wasn’t happy or sad or anything, just a unique overwhelming sense of awe mixed with a sense of feeling fucked in the universe. It’s not great. It’s not bad. It’s not anything. Really, it really isn’t anything. It is remarkable how nothing it is. The only, the only thing it is, is indescribable. It immediately reminded me of playing video games at Erin Castle’s house. Now every time something odd happens, like hearing four new frequencies in the fan, my mind thinks, Erin Castle - soccer practice - that feeling, usually in that order. And I’ve never told anyone this until now. It’s such a thrill to have someone listen you know? It’s such a thrill to reveal new information. Too bad there isn’t anyone else that wants to listen. Too bad that’s the last interesting thing I’ve left to say. And learning something, oh god, forget that. I promise there isn’t anything else there. Learning that is. I mean learning.”
“Yeah you know, like learning new things.”
“Why are you so obsessed with learning? You know there are other pleasures.”
“Please, you make it sound like I’m about to take up sex work. I’m depressed. I’m bottom barrel. I’m fucked.”
“You gotta have sex to be fucked,” he tried at a joke.
“I’m serious though, I’m taking you swimming with dolphins. Then you can decide.”
“Seawater. Blah. Have you ever tasted it?” she asked.
“Yeah, but it isn’t a big deal. We can shove a pacifier in your mouth or something.”
“And then suffocate? Excellent.”
“You can breathe through your nose.”
“Scuba tanks connect to your mouth though.”
“No. No tank. You breathe air.”
“Yeah, you breathe when you surface, normal swimming. It’s just you and the dolphins.”
“Just me and the dolphins,” she parroted in a mocking tone, “… and a pacifier. Don’t forget the pacifier.”
“And a pacifier.”
“Is it really any better up my nose than mouth?”
He thought about it.
“Yes, it is. Because salt is purely a taste.”
“Taste is mostly smelled though.”
“For most things, yeah, but salt is one of the few that isn’t. Think about it.”
“I wish it was the scent that was unbearable. I could find a nose clip and breathe with my mouth as I prefer.”
“You’d swallow the seawater and get sick. You are lucky.”
“If I were lucky God would have let me retain my blowhole from evolution as a vestigial appendage.”
“Don’t say words like that. This isn’t a time for words like that!” he gasped and smiled at her.
Her neck stayed motionless, bent downwards.
“Yes keep talking. That will help.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Why can’t you be more assertive? The whole façade would work so much better on me, I think.”
“I don’t believe you are what you say you are.”
“I understand,” he replied banally.
“Here. Come sit over here.”
“Why so can examine me?”
“Sit over here, it's the least you can do.”
He stood up to span the distance. He stopped to pick up the hamster, then walked to the side of the bed.
“How would you like me to sit?”
“Can you put it back?”
“I’m not thinking straight, it’s okay.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“I was calm before, I don’t know what is happening now.”
“Are you scared?”
“I’ve told you. Now come here.”
The crevice between the mattress and wall sunk to a U-shape as he slid his back against the plywood wall.
“I don’t know how you support yourself like that. Are you gonna put it back?”
“The hamster? No.” Dack handed her the hamster, “here.”
She took it and Dack noticed her thumb tremble.
“Tell me the reasons you said were not-sad reasons,” he said after a long silence.
“Why are the dolphins not okay?” he tried once more.
Dack lifted his sweatshirt hood over his head. A hundred years ago, they would’ve had a family and tilled the soil. Dack and Elaine, a hundred years ago, a crew of two in Baldwin, Alabama. “A crew of two,” he let slip through his mouth, “a crew... of two.”
“What’s up?” she asked.
“A crew of two. Fifty years ago, with kids.”
“Dolphins,” he muttered inaudibly to change his answer.
“I feel like... this is the correct ending, and it has to be a tragedy for it all to make sense. Is there anything fine left for me to learn? Tell me, something about this world.”
“I thought it wasn’t emotional.”
“It’s not. But in the end, my mind needs to make it that way, doesn’t it?”
The night outside the shed was passed along on its own. It blew cool, heavily-scented air into the shed’s screen window above their heads. He still listened to her as she recited her 3 “not-sad” reasons and repeatedly assured herself that her feeling moments prior to committing the act were in line with “harmony of nature and natural processes.” He shuﬄed his body around, swung his legs over top of her, and lay down by her side.
She felt his thumbs tapping against her arms in rhythm with the snare and bass drums of the slow-paced song playing from her iPhone, something he had always done, a cornerstone of their relationship, it was perhaps the last piece of their relationship left unspoken. Like a junkie beating something into the dirt, all the other small nuances had been yanked into conscious conversation by a hidden, anxious version of Dack that consistently expressed its dissatisfaction by ruining quiet moments with stories of his childhood, thoughts from that day, and pointing out these small nuances in their relationship, for example, things like tapping drumbeats on her arm. Somehow though, this one had passed by undiscussed.
The image of the vibrating snare drum within a plume of falling dust, as if it was just beaten to the ground by a sad drunk, now framed her relationship with Dack. They were similar in so many ways when they first met. They were so similar. It had changed her intuition towards the diversity of life on earth’s crust. Like a pebble glued into an asphalt road, spending one-hundred years pressed against a pebble of nearly identical size and shape, her intuition towards what should and should not be expected of a neighbor was out of touch with reality.
Her life did not flow continuously, as it likely did for the mound builders who occupied the land seven thousand years ago. She viewed her life as disparate phases. Like a mat of tossed leaves, unwoven, lay flat across a mound builder’s floor. Just as each leaf’s growth was framed in an environment, a tree branch, that preceded the leaf’s existence, so too were the phases of her life framed by a culture that preceded her spawning into her home 22 years ago— high-school, internships, vacations, and college, all split into several mini-phases, occurring with diﬀerent moods that were strongly related to the climate of the city she lived in, the season, the music she listened to, and her main daily activity. The final hour of each phase, from age 12 until now, was nostalgia. Then, later, the nostalgia for a given phase came back and bit her, intensely, a total of two to three more times after the phase ended and she moved into a new one. The gaps between the leaves were these final-hour nostalgia moments that made the collection so chaotic, the sober understanding that phases could not be re-created, that she would again be pushed into her next phase by forces inside her culture and outside her freedom. Because she was a little bitch, she thought, she must pass through every rite of passage, every hoop her culture threw at her, before she could stand free at the edge of the last hoop and know what total human freedom, limited by only a body, felt like. Her leafy mat now sat beneath the dusty snare drum, to frame her relationship with Dack more completely.
She opened his eyes to look at the person she was spooning, partially a monster to her now, and thought about how much he liked The Pixies. His original appeal to her was nothing more than an idea inside her own mind. He was supposed to curb the nostalgia that separated her life-phases whose barriers felt so sharp. Blend her life into one. Be the common thread to weave it together. Before him, her current phase contained zero other persons to know of her last. No other person was aware of her life. He was supposed to. A cliché photograph of a water-droplet at a waterfall’s edge, labeled ‘life is unpredictable’ now replaced the snare drum and mat.
The fact an isolated water-droplet on a waterfall’s precipice cannot be photographed, yet she’d envisioned it anyways, was related to the fact Dack’s appeal was nothing more of fiction inside her own head. Their four-year run was nothing but a projection in her mind, one that assumed the ideal would materialize, then persist in a steady-state, a state that somehow would allow them to remain interested in life and one another until they died of old age. A glitch in her thinking, like accidentally believing that a water-droplet inside a river could be photographed. Or forgetting to turn oﬀ the coﬀee maker.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay, tell me your reasons, calmly this time.”
Elaine calmly gave her speech, stated the three not-sad reasons, and still felt calm.
Holding him in bed had always felt anti-productive. The proactive one who motivated the other to move on always won the game. Now, moving on to explore death was the ultimate proactive adventure. She muttered, “I win,” in the context of her thoughts, and rolled to her side.
As she let him go, she saw what she was: a stream of conscious experience and an impression in other’s consciousness. If she was mistaken about him, and he too was these things, then her suicide would carve a deep impression in his stream of experience. If she was right, however, then she likely had lived twenty-two years impressing less on others’ consciousness than any other human to reach her age. They’d been together almost four years. She was eighteen when the anxiety peaked and her mom forged her signature on the application.
She watched Dack’s hunched frame jock-walk out of the room without turning back. So, she was right. She was ninety-nine percent sure. Even so, the details of their beginning came rushing back in an unavoidable way.
Dack spent a great deal of time deciphering her suicide note, the details of which deviated from their conversation in the smallest, most annoying of ways. The letter mentioned “learning everything on Wikipedia” four times and contained several pieces of their conversation the night before. As a token to their past life she transcribed by hand the voice recordings on her iPhone before taking vodka and 750 milligrams of Xanax on Wilson Bridge. After locking her cloud, she laid down on the guardrail to let chaos theory and the position of nearby atoms determine the fate of her carcass— on one side, a river, and on the other, a road. The iPhone, now a waterlogged array of tightly packed silicon wafers, was thirty feet under the river’s surface, rendering the conversation contained in the voice recordings less accessible, but still existent. Pieces of the conversation were in the letter, pieces in his memory, and the full copy in two places both inaccessible to humans: one, Elaine’s Gspace which was locked by policy, and two, the dynamic mess of air, water, and silicon atoms that comprised her waterlogged iPhone, the Tensaw River, the Gulf of Mexico, and some of earth’s atmosphere, which was locked by Dack’s imperfect knowledge of these atoms.
Dack’s incomplete memory still noticed inconsistencies between the letter and their conversation. For example, “Wikipedia” had replaced “YouTube,” as Elaine’s metonym for the internet in reason number 1, in a list of 2 reasons for why she committed the act: All the boring questions have been answered in an uninteresting fashion by… Wikipedia … The 2nd reason, however, matched Dack’s memory, that is, she hadn’t felt “in the mood” to choose arbitrary physical actions. He recalled the image of Elaine raising three fingers against the shed’s plywood backdrop, stating there were three not-sad reasons she wanted to kill herself, and saying the word “YouTube” a lot. “YouTube” and “her education” had delivered the collective body of human knowledge to her on a “shit-platter”, she had used the word shit-platter several times, and said knowledge should be accrued in other ways, if one is to live indefinitely and remain interested in life, and then lowered her second finger, stated a third reason, and lowered her third finger into a fist. But the letter did not have a third reason, nor the word “shit-platter.”
Life continued for him. Sunlight came through the window’s blinds in horizontal stripes and patterned his torso, light, dark, light, dark. He ran his fingers down the grooves of the window, focusing on the sensation of the sunlight on his open skin. He closed his eyes and adjusted his skin’s sensitivity back and forth, narrowing in on the transition point where his nerve endings could resolve the heat from an individual stripe.
He finished the last month of his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and had a professional career developing software to characterize metal dislocations. His work aided a metallurgy factory in Sweden develop slightly stronger metals to use as pressure plates in aircraft braking systems.