Featured in the 2021 Spring Issue of Rambunctious
By Sondrine Blusk, ’21
“You should go out with her,” Lia commented as I trudged into art, after having been slammed into by a mountain of a student twice, squeezed in between an oblivious freshman and a wall once, and been caused to spill my open backpack full of stuff all over the floor.
“Who, Lia?” I almost wondered out loud, before quickly masking it with a cough—right onto a passing classmate. They shot me an incredulous look but kept walking, shoulders hunched and hand grasping for a mini bottle of hand sanitizer hanging from their backpack.
God damn this was not my day!
“Isi! The girl you were just talking to?” she answered energetically, settling down to the floor to walk beside me, as if she were any other student.
Hmmm, I acknowledged, too school-focused and just slightly ready to randomly crawl into a hole for the next century to fight it. Maybe.
“Yay!” she exclaimed, taking this as a yes and doing a little dance. Strands of her long, dark hair fluttered and skipped in a breeze that only seemed to affect her, and the floor seemed to bend to her smiley will, as if she were walking on a trampoline. My eyes bugged out and quickly dodged around the cramped art room, where desks swarmed any available wall space and exhibits cluttered the center. My gaze hopped from student to student—those already seated, and others pouring in—yet none of them seemed to notice the interactive floor.
She’s not real.
I snapped an analytical gaze over at Lia, who had lightly wandered over to my assigned desk right against the window-wall and was pressing her face against the glass, looking at the frosty outside in wonder.
The industrial white lights buzzed too loudly, feet trampling upstairs shook the building too vigorously, and the cold air was too prickly.
She’s not here, you idiot! She doesn’t EXIST!
That’s all it was—absolutely nothing. I was just going batshit crazy. I mean, a spirit from my head? Give me a break. So much for those new schizophrenia meds—they were probably just a stupid placebo.
I gritted my teeth, and heaving in a breath, I squared my shoulders and stiffly wandered over to the desk, hunkering down, and hunching over the array of artistic tools.
“What’s that for?” Lia asked suddenly, unsticking her face from the glass to point at what looked like a mini pitchfork with three identical paint brushes attached to each prong, leaning against the side of the window sill.
Quite honestly, it could have been just as likely an exhibit as a tool.
Narrowing my eyes, I struggled to shove her out of my head and get on task.
She wasn’t real—I knew that. So she deserved to be treated as such.
My hands suddenly feeling like lead, I numbly pulled out a crisp piece of paper and started to do a warm-up sketch while trying to fight the warm, tingling fog overtaking my mind.
The last of the students straggled in and the bell let out its final empty ring, while Lia craned her neck around and ran her hand through her hair.
“Do you think dogs know they’re dogs?”
I clenched my jaw.
Art was nice—an escape, even—from the vulture-like popular friend group that picked at me all day in class, each of them peppering me with peppy white words and burning-salt voices.
They weren’t not nice, but they were always there, words flying at me in a stream of “hey girly” and “ugh, I know right?”
Pick pick pick. Caw caw caw.
“Y’know, you really don’t have to ignore me to get me to shut up,” she continued in a hesitant, hurt voice. “I can take a hint.”
Something inside my chest rattled, twisted, tightened, hollowing itself out, at her mournfully melodic voice that wove itself through my head.
I started sketching in tighter, swifter movements, burning my eyes into the paper.
“I get that you don’t want to answer me. You have your reasons, I guess. But I can still talk, right?”
I took a swig of iced coffee to take my brain by the reins, and plucked a fat pencil from a nearby jar, trying to drown out the faint buzzing sound crowding my ears.
“I’ll still talk, then,” she decided, floating just above the windowsill in a sitting position, one jean-covered leg draped over the other. An artery in her neck ran from the slope of her shoulder to the curve of her jaw; it jutted out just slightly with the turn of her face, as she stared over her shoulder back outside. An injured bird, thin and ruffled, hobbled through the thin layer of snow while its eyes flirted longingly with the sky. Mixing with the clouds, a flock of geese thundered by, shouting orders at one another in rough honks and quacks. A single strand of hair cupped Lia’s chin, while the rest clung easily to her pink and white sweater as she watchfully followed the bird’s movements with her eyes. “You don’t mind, right?”
Shaking my head back into reality, I allowed myself to close my eyes and welcome a mindless darkness, letting my hand lead me. I felt my hand firmly gripping the pencil, which stroked the paper in long, acrobatic motions. A swipe here, twirl there, the pencil tip ran leaps and bounds, dragging my numbing hand along with it. The paper, once smooth, was soon rough with pencil marks and erasures, all while I kept my heavy eyes closed, head swaying to a song that was stuck in the back of my head. Lia chatted in the background with the put put put of the rattling heater mixing with her thoughtful voice.
“It was okay, back in your brain,” she mused. “Medulla had a lounging area, but it was mostly meant for the big guys. Y’know, Frontal, Thalmus, Stem—all of them. Not so much for me.”
I felt my ears perk up, pushing away hardly delectable voices that fogged up my head, but kept drawing whatever this pencil was making, finding comfort in the skritchscratchskritch of the lead. As the point swooped down to the middle of the paper to draw what felt like an a wobbly, elongated oval, sounds from the room merged into a murmuring song.
The clickclackclick of Ms. G’s heels.
The skritchscratchscritch of pens and pencils.
The swishslapswish of paint brushes.
A clackclickclack from a computer.
And Lia’s voice orchestrating.
“But it was dark in there, which is kinda sad.”
I could almost hear her frown.
“I feel bad for the rest of them, still cooped up in that noggin of your’s,” she continued, attempting a joke, but melancholy drowned it out. “It doesn’t… it doesn’t get dark in there like it does here.”
Scchwipe! Scritch scritch!
“It just gets ashy, here. You can still see the colors, it’s just harder. And the world just goes to sleep. But then it wakes up, and so does the sun. It’s nice, like that—I think it is, anyway. I-In there”—she lightly tapped my head—“there’s just an… an abyss. Light can’t get in. Nothing can get in or out, so it’s just… a giant, living vacuum…”
Her voice trailed off, and I picked up the soft sounds of her re-adjusting on the sill, mixed with gasping, ghostly voices crawling in and around my ears.
“This world is nice. I think I want to stay here as long as possible, if that’s okay with you.”
Her voice was soft and low, thoughtfully uncalculated.
“I like your world,” she continued. “Your brain isn’t like this world, which sucks. Your brain is…” She paused. “…Bad.”
My hand halted and grasped the pencil, now grimey with sweat.
“I mean, you’re not bad!” she jumped in quickly, her voice skipping an octave.
I re-adjusted my gasp and continued the sketch, shutting my eyes tighter, until all I could see was red.
“I just mean that your head is a sucky place to be. The dark… it doesn’t go away. I-It’s not even dark, really. It’s just… an infinite pit full of quicksand and monsters.”
Her jeans zzzzkted! I couldn’t see her, but somehow I knew she was shuddering—rubbing her arms like she couldn’t get warm and digging her nails into smooth skin.
The voices by my ears became louder, more insistent, murmuring words I couldn’t make out.
My arms stung, as if electric pins and needles were digging into them.
“I-I hate that place,” she whimpered, her voice trembling and burrowing inside itself. “I hate it so, so much.”
I quietly flipped the pencil and erased a line, then continued assisting in the pencil’s pursuit.
By now the voices were rabid, frenzied—persistent.
“You don’t understand what it’s like to be there, Gavin. You don’t understand! It’s like there’s nothing there… you’re not even by yourself, because you’re not there eithe—b-but here I am drowning in quicksand and I can’t even bring myself to care!”
Her voice fizzled and popped, like a dying fire.
“I-I can’t go back there! There’s nothing there, Gavin! I-It’s despair and—and—emptiness!” Her voice gained volume, desperate and shrill. “How can you live with something so corrosive in your head? How can you live like this?”
And just like that, she was gone.
“Lia?” My eyes slammed open and I rocketed out of my chair.
Something was missing. Something wasn’t right.
She was gone—gone gone.
What happened? Where’d she go? Was she okay? Was she back in my brain again?
Was she back in my brain again?
“Lia!” I wretched and roared, looking around. The only answer I got was the stares of mortified students and a frozen teacher.
She’s in my brain. In my horrible, horrible brain.
Agonizing hollowness ricocheted inside my skin. Something animal in me fought free.
Maybe I could get her out.
Before I could think better of it, I sprinted to the nearest wall, tearing away the desks, and slammed my head against it.