All It Ever Was
By Charlotte Kay
When she breathes in, the air chills her bones as it carries the weight of the world’s destiny into her throat, choking her. Pulled by the force of her lungs, tides move swiftly to shore but, instead of waning, they push onward until millions are drowning in the salt waters. Drawn in by the same current, an asteroid is torn from its original trajectory and dragged towards earth on an unstoppable collision course.
When she breathes out, she feels the force of it snapping power lines, plunging the city into darkness. It fells the river gums that grew outside her childhood home. They crash into terracotta slates, breaking them into dagger-like shards. The wind bellows a flame into a bushfire that crackles and paints the terrain ashen with a charcoal brush.
When she steps, the earth quakes. Fresh fault lines form under her toes, and rip apart to greedily gobble up skyscrapers. Volcanoes, awoken from centuries of dormancy, begin to swell, lava biting into the landscape until it hardens and the terror of civilizations is fossilised.
When she speaks, the universe listens. It hears her words and follows her commands. She asks whoever is listening (God? Buddha? Zeus?) to have mercy and spare humanity from desolation. The power of her voice eases the tides, calms the winds, heals the earth. She presses her hands together in prayer until the colour leaves her knuckles and repeats the mantra twice more for good measure.
When she closes her eyes, images spring out from the darkness. She sees herself, skin soaked with blood, a fervent grin splitting her face. She opens her eyes and winces away from the image that has stained her iris. She can’t escape from it, as it hovers, ghost-like, in the air, haunting her conscience. She closes the blinds until her bedroom is free of light and sits in silence with the figure. With herself. She shields the world outside from the monster that lies within her.
When she eats, she nourishes a body she fears. Food turns to cardboard when it passes her lips. Eventually, she can no longer bring herself to chew. She swallows and it slides into her belly to sit there, heavy and strange. She doesn’t feel the satisfaction of sating hunger, instead she just feels ashamed. She isn’t worthy of food, so she stops pretending she is.
When she exists, she creates chaos with her every move and thought. She wills herself to disappear but her magic doesn’t extend to herself, she is immune. She tears at her nail beds, her lips, her scalp, trying to relieve the torment, the burden, that accompanies the limitless nature of her power.
When she breaks apart, she crumbles into rubble. The remnants of something once great are now littered about, destined to be kicked by careless boots and buried by time. Her pieces sit in the cold, the damp, the dark, trying desperately to forget the feeling of being whole. But, she cannot forget and something begins to sprout from the roots beneath her fragments. Vines emerge and weave around her, pulling her, piece by piece, into the blinding sunlight.
When I rebuild, I am myself again. No longer an observer, as deft hands join my own to help me press the pieces back together. The warmth returns to my blood and it travels through my body as my heart thrums with gratitude. I am reborn into the world, unchanged yet different all the same. When I squint, I see the places where I was once broken, hairline fractures almost invisible to the naked eye. They ripple out from the point of impact as if I were an unfortunate, fine china teacup. Despite my inner scrutiny, I feel free for the first time in years.
When I breathe in, it is only a breath. That is all it ever was.