We Are All at Risk
Chelsea Laine Wells
First understand: We are all at risk.
Anyone can go weightless at any time.
Anyone can be cored, anyone can turn bird-bone hollow. And lose their long-term relationship with gravity. It creeps into you silent as temperature changing degree by degree, until one day you find yourself pressed against the baby tooth–sharp pebbled texture of ceiling and the tops of heads are exposed below you in sudden undignified detail. Crooked parts, oil at the roots, bald spots. Vulnerable. Then you must choose whether to remain tethered and creep four-legged around the uppermost confines of life like a ghost spider, or slip the noose to rise beyond the thinnest layers of atmosphere until the pressure of receding thumbs deep into your eye sockets―
But this is suicide, why would anyone―
Be patient. We will get to that.
It happens like this. The change is not tectonic. It is glacial. A slow separation of self from surface.
The change is not tectonic. It is glacial. A slow separation of self from surface.
First a lightness to your gait. Could be interpreted as simple contentment. You move quick and efficient. Crisp. Maybe you notice your sole leaves less of an indent in the carpeting, scuffs lighter on the pavement, maybe not. At this point, you are still secure in the sameness of your life. Firmly rooted in the reality you have taken as your own.
From there it increases, your hand floating a few inches above the blankets in dream-like morning dark, the odd instinct to dig down and insist upon every step as though you are trying to convince your feet of their trajectory, your body skimming the chair like you are coiled to flee even though your muscles are relaxed. In your mind the idea of the weightlessness reluctantly gains strength, a filament warming. You have heard of this, of course. People talk of it. But with typical solid-rooted, full-weight arrogance, you did not believe it would happen to you.
Some confide their concerns to those they care about. Some don't. Follow your instincts. Regardless, it will continue.
People talk of it. But with typical solid-rooted, full-weight arrogance, you did not believe it would happen to you.
Over time it becomes problematic. When you sit down to dinner, you pitch forward like something weak-stemmed in the wind, your thighs tight against the bottom of the table. When you move down the hall, you knock pictures awry, groping for purchase. In bed, the covers drape across you and a cave of warm dark yawns between your body twitching for anchor and the mattress.
It becomes clear what is happening, your internal struggle revealed, you cannot hide it. You are exposed.
I don't understand it, you say, braced in the top of a door frame as if for earthquake safety. It's out of my control, you say. People avoid your eyes after handling you, the awkward bear hugs, your fingers cringing apologetic on their normal full-weight bodies, your feet paddling useless and infantile. Everyone is embarrassed. This is misbehavior.
I didn't want this, you say.
The idea that you could have done something to prevent this. Tried harder to stay rooted.
And they nod but you catch it potent as a smell. The idea that you could have done something to prevent this. Tried harder to stay rooted. Sharpened your focus on reality. Invested in what you'd chosen, like an adult. And you don't remember making these decisions, you thought you were present, you don't remember choosing to cleave from yourself.
But maybe. Maybe.
Once you are completely weightless, concessions must be made. Life changes. You have to be caretaken. Those who strive doggedly at the task of loving you, they complain of cricks in their necks, spilled food, inability to hear you. Loneliness. You are so far away. So you lift your voice, strident to be heard, to meet their effort with your own, but over time your throat grows sore and they don't appear to be listening anyway, so you fall quiet. Your back nestled into a corner of the ceiling, you look down and, good God, these curtains are dust laden at the top. Cobwebs in the seams of everything. The rooms look smaller, places you once loved and occupied honestly now recessed and dollhouse unreal. Shabby. You try to picture yourself down there and can't. You breathe in the dust rich with skin cells and sneeze and no one blesses you. Around the sounds of the television and dinner rising and people living, there is an elemental silence, clotting.
You struggle to remain alert, connected, but things are so different. Your mind wanders. You don't feel whatever you once felt that kept you down there next to them.
Some people live like this until they don't live anymore. And then their bodies are peeled from the ceiling and bundled into caskets. Charcoal-gray suits and church dresses lined with lead to hold them still. Weight created so they are compliant and present in death as they weren't in life. Sometimes during the service these methods fail and the body bumps up against the lid and wavers a little, a sideways fish tank fish rocking stiff and lifeless against the glass.
Sometimes during the service these methods fail and the body bumps up against the lid and wavers a little, a sideways fish tank fish rocking stiff and lifeless against the glass.
Other people choose to rise.
No one will open a window for you if you make this decision. You must open the window yourself. Crawl down the curtains. Fingertips bloodless on the glass. Hands shaking, prying hard at the frame, feet bobbing at the ceiling. Quickly, while those responsible for you are asleep or absent. Before you lose your nerve. Before you lose your certainty that this is right, that this house is a corpse your soul is late to slip. No matter the consequences, you have to leave. Go. Rise.
Then my God, my God, you are out. You spiral up, a soft rocket, your hair streaming down like fire bleeding the engines and your face hard, bright, determined, a nosecone cutting through sun and atmosphere toward infinity. Relief. The struggle to grasp and brace is gone.
No one will open a window for you if you make this decision. You must open the window yourself.
You skim up in a spell of inverse gravity, the universe taking you like an indrawn breath. Pressure crushing. This is open-air birth and you seek it instinctively, trusting, blind as a worm. Eye blue gives way to purple dark and the air thins and knife-winnows and you are collapsing, and this is the death they speak of, this is suicide, the shedding like skin everything that once kept you safe—though what you understand now is that you were never safe. Even when you were secure, you were never safe. Now you are miles away and you no are longer grateful, no longer lifting your voice to be heard, you are ascending by the power of your own hand, and that is safety.
The earth shrinks to nothing, you feel the distance split wide along the wake of you. Compression blooming in your eyes and skull and veins, the meat and bone and water of you, shuddering. You sparkle with nerves. In seconds you will burst and scatter like molecular confetti. This is it, this. This is the end.
Except maybe it isn't.
We only know what we choose to know. We hyperfocus and block possibilities, we are limited, we turn toward what is corporeal and tangible. In the ascent, you cease to exist to others, but do you cease to exist to yourself? And what follows?
Be patient. Perhaps you will find out.
Don't forget: We are all at risk.
Chelsea Laine Wells has appeared in Little Fiction, Black Candies, decomP, Hobart, New South, The Butter, Corium, The Collapsar, PANK, Third Point Press, The Other Stories, and Heavy Feather, among many others. She’s been nominated for multiple Pushcarts and Best of the Nets and subsequently won a 2015 Best of the Net. She is managing and fiction editor for Hypertext Magazine, fiction editor for (b)Oink Zine, and founding editor of Hypernova Lit, a journal publishing the work of teenagers. Chelsea lives in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, Texas, and is a high school librarian and creative writing teacher. Her work is represented by Maria Massie of Massie and McQuilken.
Illustrated by Meghan Irwin.