All You’ve Heard Is True
This is the most alive I’ve ever felt, sun all dialed up to white and a breeze from the ocean leading me by the shoulders. The end of the country, California, the beginning of the Pacific. I follow the boy out to the pool.
JR, in his swim trunks, a pillar of towels stacked in his hands, leads the way down a bright hallway. The sun is everywhere. Lucille grabs my hand as her eyes tick-tock across his ass. A smile takes over her face. She makes a sound like she’s looking at a plate of oozy melted cheese. Tightening her grip she says I just want to fuck him. California is a place where mothers talk of their sons this way.
Cordless headphones muff JR’s ears; he surprises a song in a falsetto. The windows are everywhere. All the houses around the hills are like glass. You can feel the day from the radius around you. This is where you’re allowed to be so alive you can speak all your feelings. Everyone talks, nobody walks. Let me live this moment over and over again always alive.
I’m here and not back east with my sons. I miss seeing them, but when I hear their little spiderweb voices saying Mama, always as a question, I can never be sure if they’re really alive. I can hear the dead because I was once one of them.
When I was six, I died for two minutes. All that you’ve heard is true, except the bright light is made of sound. When you pass, you hear all the voices of those that have ever loved you all at once until the chorus turns into opaque alabaster. It’s like warm milk, slowly getting hotter, making your body burn until you realize you’re no longer a body. Above all the voices, I heard my mother’s. She died next to me after she saw why I was laid out on the carpet. I drank her medicines. Morphine, xanax, rohypnol, over-the-counter cough syrup. I’d seen her take them all the time. I didn’t know they could be poison. Too much of anything can kill you. Too much love, too many voices, too much white.
I woke up but my mother stayed gone. I could hear her all my life and when my sons learned to speak, I picked up that same tone. In their voices, the world flashed aglow of all the syllables bouncing off their tongues. Hearing them bleached out everything. My children speak to me and they sound like ghosts.
The deck is white and wraps around the in-ground pool. The water green, not the clear blue I expected, turns red like a shark attack then back to green again. I must look shocked and Lucille laughs at me. Honey, they’re Christmas lights. Slices of mango and pineapple sweat on snowflake dishes. Lucille sits on a chaise and tells me to watch JR on the diving board. He churns his hips and pumps his arms over his head, his weight dips the end of the board. The water is swamp green then red like a bloodbath. JR’s clasped hands pierce the water and Lucille, all creamy says, My son is a star. Lucille wants to hear my story, that’s why she flew me out. She runs a development company seeking out projects for JR. He eels through the water like his limbs are attached to his trunk. He swims through his core and the force of his head tears through the water. This mother will buy my life as a gift for her son.
After the pool, he takes me for a drive. JR just got his license and a 1978 Spider. We lean into curves on a highway that buffers the beach. The road slinks in and out towards the edge of the land daring the waves to come and get us. Reflecting all the sun offers back to us, the Pacific is an x-ray.
JR hands me his phone open to a filter app. Take some candids of me driving. And while he is beautiful, I can’t get a good picture of him. I’m finding the angles that don’t flatter. I’m catching the blink of his eyes, a squint even through his sunglasses. They’re all a blur.
I check my ex’s accounts. He posts pictures of the kids now, since I left. He wants me to see that life goes on even if I’m not there. He wants me to see them smiling and playing and visiting all the places you take children where you buy them fries and their mouths smile ketchup. The kind of places that come with milk boxes. Inside of the screen, in their silence, they’re alive. Without me, they’ll be free to live and they’ll hear me again when they die.
Switch the camera and it’s looking at me and the sun brings out my paleness and my hair is a crackling flame smacking my cheeks. I see in my eyes a life I have never seen before. I close out of the camera and the screen goes blank.
The song JR was singing earlier comes on the radio. It’s actually him singing the recorded version. Lucille did tell me he was a star. The IRL JR sings along, harmonizing with himself and the sound spills into the car, like we’re submerged in the ocean with no escape. I hear my mother singing too, a sort of apology. JR adjusts as if he hears her too, or maybe he can hear the voice of his mother, her love so extreme it verges on carnal. I can’t see anything over the brightness. I don’t know how he can see either. There’s not even a road. We’re just driving on paths of light. I close my eyes until I can see my own voice singing along. I hope my boys can hear me soon.
Melissa Ragsly’s work has appeared or forthcoming in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Iowa Review, Epiphany, Hobart, Joyland, Cosmonauts Avenue and other journals. She is an Associate Editor for A Public Space and a Program Coordinator at the Authors Guild. More can be found at melissaragsly.com.
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