The Third Stage
In the dream, you are given a chance to undo your cousin’s suicide. He killed himself on Wednesday. A day that is shockingly recent. You feel like everyone has aged eons since; you keep looking at calendars and realizing, with shock, that it is only Thursday. Only, somehow, Friday. You wish that time would hurry up and place more of itself between you and your cousin’s suicide, like a pillow. Like a cloud.
But instead there is no softness between you and the event: only the clear air of not-yet memory.
You were not close to your cousin. You had not talked to him in years. The thing that killed him created a wall between you, and you realize too late that it created a wall between him and the rest of the world, too. When you were little, you and your cousins used to pretend to be spies. These games could go on for hours: breathless and twisting, endless permutations of alliances made and broken in the hours while the Thanksgiving turkey was cooking downstairs. You do not know how he died. You do not ask. This is not the picture that you want in your mind.
In the dream, the angel gives you a choice. He casts the skein of your cousin’s life at your feet, the long, snarled miles of it bright and dark and tangled, the threads thick and rough and thin and shining. He says, if you can identify the moment—the one moment—that set him on this path, you may pluck it from his life like a splinter. But it will cost you one year of your life. You will lose everything from the last year, and you will feel it all go: each moment unpeeling from your skin like a plaster. A year of regurgitating whole each meal you’ve eaten. Of unsaying each right word you labored so hard over: watching the recognition fade from your loved ones’ eyes as you suck the words backward into your lips, leaving you a space further apart than before. You will feel it all go, says the angel again.
Can you choose? Can you choose?
You look down at the threads of your cousin’s life. You see, at your feet, how short they are, and how cleanly shorn the edges. But in the end, in the dream, it does not matter what you choose. Only one of you can wake up again.
Kendra Fortmeyer is the fiction editor for Broad! Magazine with an MFA in fiction from the New Writer's Project at UT Austin. Her work has appeared in One Story, Black Warrior Review, The Literary Review, The Toast, and elsewhere. You can find her at www.kendrafortmeyer.com or on Twitter @kendraffe.