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Angel and the Cheshire Cat
She walks into her room, and there he is -- the Cheshire cat, half-disappeared and holding a butterfly loosely. She stops and stares, entranced by the floating, disembodied grin and the bloody wings of the butterfly.
"Listen Angel, if you're worth something, come here." His voice is soft and compelling, and she can hear the seductive, mysterious smile slipping through the words.
She is confused. Her name's not Angel . . . but she's worth something, isn't she? She goes to him, lying as he is on her bed. What else is there for her to do?
She leans forward, her hands pressed into the bed, and pauses, unsure. Her stomach is making her face twist with it, but he is all there is for her in the world; he called her Angel. No one’s ever done that before.
She feels thick warmth trickling down her wrist and looks. Blood. Her left wrist is gashed and bleeding from several cuts, because the bed is made of razorblades. She notices this in a detached manner, thinking “How strange…” She hadn’t noticed it before. She didn’t feel anything when it happened. Then she sees that the Cheshire cat is bleeding too, over his heart. She hadn't noticed that either. He must've fallen. “Poor Cheshire,” she thinks. “I would never let you fall so carelessly.”
The Cheshire cat grabs her arm and gently draws her down onto the bed, still grinning and murmuring the words of life. Somehow, she knows that these words are the only things keeping them both from bleeding to death. They don’t stop the blood, but they convince the mind that it is not time to die. “The mind,” she observes, “is a very impressionable child.”
She feels the razorblades now: they slice through her clothes into her womb. She winces, but she is silent – if she makes any noise, he will see that she is not the Angel he thinks her to be, but a silly mockingbird. In her mind, however, the pain looks like a slender blunt object, wrapped in the rags her mother uses to dust, and it feels like something that does not quite fit.
He holds the butterfly to her neck, blood appearing and disappearing on its wings. It flutters gently, apparently unperturbed by its gory attire. Neither is the girl. He purrs desperately in her ear, "When the world falls apart, I'll be looking for you, luv." She nods. It's perfectly logical for him to do so. It is her sworn duty to hold the world together, because if she does not, she will have let him fall, and they shall both die from lack of words.
Then, suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, she has to scream. As her heart tries to escape the body it knows is doomed, she realizes in a calmly hysterical fashion that it is not much different from a sneeze. She tries bravely to hold it in, but it breaks the seal on her lips and bursts into the air, a whispered scream, so loud that it hurts her throat and she can find no more words to explain it, to take it back. It is the sound of the world shattering like glass after a bird flies to its crystal-clear death against a windowpane. The cat growls with rage and jumps at her, then it begins raining paper and he's gone, disappeared without a trace. Were it not for all the blood, she could have made him up.
Tangles now surround her. But at least there are people in the tangles, thousands of indistinguishable people. Though they are all shadows, and all silent, she feels their closeness, and is comforted by the fact that she is not alone in this foggy monochromatic world. “I suppose they are right when they say that misery loves company,” she thinks with a tired smile.
However, when she makes it out of the tangles, there are no people, and she is all alone. She stands there, unsure of where she is, or what to do next, or even if there is anything to do. She has never been here, although it seems to be the other side of something.
A skinny owl rushes at her and she falls, slightly surprised. Shocked for only a moment, she soon stands up and dusts herself off. “What a funny bird,” she chuckles.
When she has the chance to look around, she sees Superman. She waits a moment to see what he will do, not knowing if he will rush her like the owl, or do something even less explainable. He looks over at her, and shuffles closer. She smiles, delighted, and tousles his hair -- she has actually known him for a while, but she never knew he was Superman. This is a pleasant surprise after the owl incident.
"Guess what?" he says.
"What?" she asks, bewildered.
"I love you."
She laughs and the sounds flow out of her like multi-colored sheets of beautiful music. She feels as though she has found the middle of her spectrum, the normal her. She tastes this new word, normal, and decides that it is good. She watches Superman save the world, and she never thinks of the time before the tangles, with the Cheshire cat and his butterfly.
But Superman decides he's had enough of saving the world and retires, moving back to his destroyed home-planet. He says they'll stay in touch, but she never hears from him. She sighs, and wishes that he would have just stayed around just a little bit longer, knowing how much she will soon need his saving grace. But it would not be fair to ask someone to stay out of obligation, so she never calls, and simply hopes that he will remember to avoid Kryptonite.
She swings by herself, and hums a little, and wishes for someone as old as she who understands the language of sunsets. “The best qualities,” she tells herself, “seem to be the ones I can’t teach to someone else.” Which is really too bad, because here, there aren’t even any shadow-people to keep her company, and she feels quite lonely.
With a flurry of black and the scratchy feel of cheap sweaters, the Cheshire has returned, but without a grin -- all she sees is the back of his head. And for some reason, that's terribly sad. It’s as though the Cheshire is gone, replaced by a faceless criminal who could not possibly be the one who saved her life with his gentle words. He is now the stuff of nightmares; visions that cannot be recalled upon waking, but that leave you with a pounding heart and wide eyes searching the dark.
When he gets up to leave forever, she notices the scars around his eyes, and that there's still blood over his heart. She wishes she could show him her blood too, to show him that she's hurting as well, but he might bring out his butterfly. So she just watches him watching his entire life end, his face the mask of a dreamer awakened to find that they were never really sleeping. She already understands that some piece of that horror will always belong to her, will always have been her fault. That is simply the penance dealt to her, and she will do it gladly, for it is light and easy to tuck away into her corners and carry everywhere she goes. “It’s strange,” she reflects, “the amount of comfort one can derive from feeling guilty when everyone else believes you innocent.”
Cornish, New Hampshire
Park City, Utah
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You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.