I was dangling outside your window when you found me, fingers digging into the brick for dear life.
Inhale, try not to lose your grip, exhale
I glanced up and caught your eye, sighed in relief. “Yeah, hey. Mind giving me a hand?”
Once you’d pulled me into your room, we stood apart for a few awkward moments. I swung my arms in small circles, trying to ease the muscle tension as I avoided your eye. You openly stared at me, your eyes scanning me from head to toe as you assessed my getup. I wore dark clothing – black pants, black sweater, black shoes – hoping to achieve an inconspicuous look which ultimately failed due to the bright red scarf tied around my head.
This was meant to be a break in, after all.
I dropped my arms and looked up. “I need my soul back.”
“The piece I gave you last year,” I prompted, but you still stared at me with that blank expression. “Christ, man. The glowing-light-thing in the mason jar.”
“Oh. Right, yeah.” You turned to what must have been a desk hidden underneath an assortment of clothing and junk and proceeded to scavenge through it.
I placed a hand on my abdomen and closed my eyes, practising breathing exercises from the one yoga class I took five years ago. I could feel the pull to the jar, as though the remainder of my soul was pressed against my skin, trying to claw its way through and crying out to the missing piece.
The tug tightened.
“Have you lost it?” I asked.
“No, of course not, I just –” you paused and looked over your shoulder. “I have a lot of questions.”
Of course you did. It was the middle of the night and I had climbed through your window to steal my soul back. But to me, the answers were so clear. I wondered why you hadn’t expected this.
“Don’t you realise who’s died?”
I saw the hurt flash across your eyes. The news was everywhere, echoing from every television and radio, and the crowds gathered in the streets to honour his name and legacy. I could have been there, too, if it weren’t for the repulsive tug and your indifference.
I remember the first time – the only time – I saw him, with every inch of my being. I remember the taste of gin on my breath as I took a shot at the bar, and the feel of bodies pressing against mine as I moved back into the crowd to find you. I remember the dim lights of the club that hid you from me, and how I jumped when you came up from behind and slid your hand, sweaty but welcome, into mine. The light was focused on the stage, and we stood on tip-toe to peer over waves of heads to catch a glimpse of him, the musician, who in the artificial light seemed to own a thousand faces.
He sang the secrets of the universe to the overcrowded pub and we hung onto every word. The people beside me outstretched their arms, claiming that he spoke to them, and them alone. I leaned against you and watched, waiting for him to speak to me, too.
In your room I watched as you practically dismantled the corner of your desk. I stepped forward to help, thinking I’d be able to find it before you.
“I need to do this tonight,” I murmured.
“Do what?” you asked, stepping back to give me room.
I didn’t answer, because it was then that I found the jar, pulling it through the wreckage. The light inside was so faint that I thought you must have killed it, that you had killed this piece of me. It was so different from the gaseous universe, so glowing and bright, I had trapped in the mason jar over a year ago. The night after the musician’s concert.
As I laced my fingers around the glass, though, the light shone through and the pain within my abdomen faded. The tug stilled.
I wrapped the red scarf around the jar and placed it into my bag, shoving things aside to make room. You peered down into my backpack and frowned.
“What the fuck is that?”
I zipped the bag up and slung it over my shoulder.
“It’s a rocket,” I said. “I’m going to attach the jar to it and send it into space.”
I waited for you to ask more questions or tell me it was a stupid idea. After a moment you nodded and said, “Okay. I’ll grab a fire extinguisher.”
“Wait – what?”
“Well, I’m not going to let you do this by yourself El, fuck.”
Hearing my nickname slip so effortlessly out of your mouth made me flinch, but before the tension could last you had already left the room. I sat on the bed and waited.
We drove to the river in your car. Neither of us spoke, but out of the corner of my eye I could see you peering over at me every now and then. I wanted to tell you to keep your eyes on the damn road but instead I leant my head on the window and watched the pulsing lights outside, thinking back to that night.
The musician had given me the idea, approaching me at the bar as I bought more drinks for you and I. He eyed the glasses and asked if I had company. I jerked my head over to where you stood, on the other side of the dancefloor. He glanced over, as though he would be able to distinguish you from the crowd of avid dancers. “Pity,” he murmured.
He sat on a bar stool and I copied him, caught up in my pleasure and awe. I slid your drink over to him and he grinned. “What’s your name?”
Testing my name on his lips, he drew out the syllables like he could taste each vowel. I shivered and sipped my cider.
“Elara is one of Jupiter’s moons, you know.”
I nodded. My mother told me when I was young that I had been named for it. We used to go on weekend road trips through the country, and she would point out glittering bodies of fire in the sky as we sat in the boot of her station wagon.
The musician had dark eyes, which may have explained how he seemed to draw me in, how all the light was focused on him – he embodied it all, embracing everything through his gravitational pull.
The tug tightened.
“Have you ever considered it?” he asked. “Sending a piece of yourself into space? Truly becoming one of Jupiter’s moons?” His grin widened. “Or, more than that?”
He had done it in his youth, he said, ordering more drinks and detailing how he’d accomplished such a feat. I asked him if it had hurt – the pull, I thought, would be too strong. The rest of your soul could not possibly cope with such a separation.
He shook his head, leaning forward on his stool. “No, it’s not like a separation at all. Think of it more as returning some of the matter the universe sacrificed to make you. You still, wholly, feel connected.”
I wanted so badly to feel wholly connected with the universe.
At my request, you parked the car close to the river, and we found a clearing that was a decent distance away from any trees or signs of life. We sat down near the water.
You watched closely as I wound duct tape around the jar and rocket. “How did you even make this thing?”
You opened your mouth to say something else, but stopped. There was no use arguing, no use in me explaining that I didn’t even know if this would work, that I had only made it that afternoon, after I’d heard the news on the radio. But – he had died, and I was utterly determined to see this part of my soul, the part that you had neglected, launched into space to join him.
“Okay.” I pulled out a box of matches. “Be ready with the extinguisher. I’ll light it, and then we run.”
You glanced back and forth between me and the rocket. “This is really fucking dangerous.”
“You didn’t have to come.”
I gazed at the shimmering piece of my soul, and then closed my eyes.
Inhale, be ready with that fucking match, exhale
I struck the match against the box and leaned forward to light the rocket. You grabbed my hand and we both sprinted at a speed I think neither of us had ever reached before in our lives.
Our backs were turned when the rocket took off, and we spun around to see a trail of smoke rising thousands of feet above us. You stood gazing up at it with your jaw hanging open, your hand still clutching mine.
Of course the rocket didn’t make it into space – it was only made out of sugar and cat litter and a small, plastic tube, after all. We saw it hurtling down after a few seconds. I ignored what looked like remnants of a mason jar falling from the stars, and allowed myself to believe that a small piece of me had made it up there, amongst the moons, and the galaxies, and the musician.
“That wasn’t really your soul … was it?”
I let go of your hand and pressed my own against my abdomen. The tug was gone.
I turned around and walked back to the car. You stared up at the sky for a moment before running after me, and as you turned the jar fell into the river.