Lettie — by Kelsey Lapping

Pain. There is pain. An amorphous collective of nerves, nearly dissolved and rocking in the waves. There is no I, just agony. An enormous crash of water carries it deeper, down into the infinite depths of the ocean. Deep, encompassing agony, rocking in the ancient rhythm of the ocean.


I am fighting to open my eyes. Fighting against the pain pulsing through this body, filling my being to volume. I can feel some boundary of myself, a membrane meeting the water, where my being ends and the ocean begins. A muffled rhythm undulates through the currents, the eighty-billion-year heartbeat of the universe. My attention drifts to my chest and sharper pain begins to drown out the constant throbbing, a new trill over the slow, pulsing agony of existence. Salt. The salt is cleansing the wounds in my heart, meaning that I still have a heart, that I am still a being. Not a scatter of nerve cells drifting in the ocean, but a being. A rush of images begins to surface in my mind, trying to remember, to garner my consciousness. I’m still fighting to open my eyes, struggling against the deep throbbing and the sharp stabbing in my chest. My mind settles into this new pain and there is a flash of wings, a flash of wings and sharp, hungry beaks, my heart erupting in searing, shredding torment. My eyes roll back and I am pulled down again into the depths again, the memory drowning once more in the water as I rock in the salty drifts.


The boy. What happened with the boy? I come back to consciousness and it hurts, but I saved the boy, the one with the hole in his heart. I open my eyes, struggling against the weight of centuries. The light of dozens of tiny moons refracts in the water around me and I remember my grandmother, my Gran who was there when the moons were made. Who carried this ocean from the really old country, the one that had blown up. Gran’s face appears before my eyes, warning me that things might go wobbly, warning me against taking the boy to find the flea. The boy with the hole in his heart, almost ripped to pieces by the hunger birds. For a moment, I let myself remember. I remember the flea, threatening to turn him inside out with his own sadness, how the sadness nearly overcame him. I see the boy running, ripping his hand from mine, furious at what those monsters had done to his world. I see the boy run at them and then freeze, and then before I know it

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I’m running too, because he is my friend and he doesn’t understand what it means to die. And I dive and we’re on the ground and for two heartbeats we just breathe. “Idiot! Don’t move!” I hear myself whisper sharply, and then the shadows descend, all flapping wings and sharp beaks and talons. I can feel the boy freeze as they crash into me, one after another. And then pain, nothing but searing agony as they relentlessly tear at my heart, shredding and scavenging. The boy is screaming and I’m screaming and they’re digging deeper, trying to devour everything that I hold hidden inside. I’m screaming in pain and I can feel my frantic, grasping heartbeat before the whole world shudders and everything goes dark.


The next thing I know I am drifting in the undercurrents, the healing water diffusing into the deep wounds left by the hunger birds. The light from the moons breaks through the water around me, and I am regaining some of my own light, like tiny candle flames flickering in the water. For a moment I sense myself as the boy saw me in the ocean that day, before the hunger birds came, all silken-sheets the color of ice flowing in the waves and pouring light into the ocean. We knew everything then. We saw the universe, how fragile it is, made up of dark matter and that infinite crinkling blossom of space and time. I saw him, and he saw me, and we sang in the language of dreams, felt what it means to be whole. Not now, though. Now, I’m barely an I, a shattered being held together by memories. All because he let go of my hand. But they were going to tear out his heart, the one that already had a hole in it. He didn’t understand what it means to die, to dissolve into nothing but a handful of dust sprinkled throughout the universe. I couldn’t let him die. Now I’m rocking in the water with a shredded heart, waiting for the ocean to heal me. Hundreds of years of wisdom distilled into each drop of salty water, an ancient eau-de-vie drawn from the universe itself. I’ve been given to my ocean, and in it’s own time, it will give me back.


I’m calling to him, the boy—now a man—with the hole in his heart, drawing him to the shore, where the barriers between life and death are thin. I want to know if it was worth it, what he’s done with my pain. And how his heart is healing, because a story only matters to the extent that the people in the story change. Most of all, I want to know that when he looks inside himself he sees something of me and my ocean, that we help him grow whole.

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