I first thought the sound at the window was wind. They said a storm was coming—great swells in the water and gusts blowing through us as if we were nothing but faded leaves ready to dissolve. As I was in bed with no music or TV on, I tried not to think about the clichés that crowd empty minds late at night—new shadows dancing on the wall; the sheets cold and flat where your body is missing. I could hear the light, distant rumble of thunder and all I could think of was how everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. I wanted to fall asleep and wake up to have it be three years ago.
The sound came again, a light tap like a bird’s beak rapping softly for my attention. I turned in my bed to find no one there at first. Then suddenly a man appeared waving and motioning for me to let him in. Never mind that my apartment is on the sixth floor and the closest tree to my window is across the street. There was a man there I didn’t recognize, so naturally I let him in. There was a storm coming after all.
I opened the window and saw he was there as naturally as if he was standing on solid ground.
“Who are you?” I asked dubiously. I wouldn’t have bought any answer he gave me, but I would’ve accepted it.
“A genie,” he replied. He had a wide grin on his face as he propped his elbows on my windowsill, waiting to be invited in. At first glance I thought he looked like someone I maybe knew. Like in a dream when you see a familiar face you’re not meant to recognize.
“A genie.” There was a question hidden somewhere within my statement. I didn’t intend for it to sound so matter-of-fact.
“Why, what else would I be?” I didn’t know. Maybe that’s why he was there all of a sudden, standing on air. “I know you and I know what you want,” he added.
“And what is that?”
“Why to be free of course.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am free.” I felt myself growing anxious, tired of having a pointless conversation with a random man at my bedroom window. At this he shook his head, still smiling at my unsatisfactory response. His hand grabbed my wrist.
“If you want to stop lying, jump out,” he said with a small tug of my arm.
I felt my breath leave my body and surround me with enough power to lift me off the sill towards the pale stars; my skin felt like crepe paper, delicate and thin and I imagined myself to suddenly be a kite cut loose; I was simply euphoric as I joined the genie as another figure against the sky. I had quite suddenly become my own idea of freedom, drifting with direction to find you.
The clouds were thin wisps of white, glazed across the sky as if someone’s paint brush fell out of their hand and made contact with the black backdrop on its way down. I looked around curiously, seeing everything from that perspective for the first time. The highways beneath me looked like veins connecting different parts of the body together; foot to leg, leg to hip, hip to torso, torso to heart. I followed the mental map in my mind to the quadruple-lane I-95 spread beneath me like a still river in the night.
“And where can this take me?” I asked, my voice hollow; if wind had a voice I imagined it would’ve sounded like me then.
“Anywhere you’d like it to,” the genie said with a grin before he disappeared to fall behind in a fading mist that reminded me of the Cheshire cat’s magnificent exits. Suddenly there was just me, being swept one way then the other as I slowly edged closer to the downtown lights ofBaltimore.
Had it been three years ago, I would’ve spotted us below on a bench by the water; the only bodies out so late at night as I would’ve disregarded the possibility of gunshots happening somewhere in the distance. Stomping grounds, as we referred to the city back in the day, but this wasn’t why I came here. The bench, the water—they’re just mile markers on the ground on my way to that location in which I hoped to find you. But in that passing glance it had me running back to days when I’d hold hands with an actual being rather than a memory, or a ghost.
Every mop of dark black hair shining in the streetlights made me look down harder, willing myself to be pushed closer to the ground in between traffic in hopes that it would be your eyes I’d come face to face with. Then, just as a head would turn to look in my direction, a strong gust of wind pushed into my belly and thrust me back towards the dark sky.
I could feel the desire to want to be angry, a bubbling pressure that tingled around my frame and wanted to surge through me, and yet somehow couldn’t. I was a mass of molecules and atoms so thinly strung together that I barely seemed to exist, thus I figured making feelings an improbability. I wondered if at this state I was anything like a cloud and if I made love with one, if anything incredible like a Pegasus would come out of me. I really am the master of improbabilities.
I left behind the orange glow of streetlights alongPratt Streetto go deeper into the city you made me love. It’s like the highways were twisted tightly around my heart and slowly pulled me over the open spaces and forests towards the jungle of grit, glass, and concrete. Deeper in I went as if going through a time warp; you appeared to be everywhere around me, even this high up.
Fed Hill came into view with the cannons silently staring out towards the water, keeping guard. That’s where my journey came to a complicated halt. See, much like a kite and less like a cloud, I got stuck in a branch of a massive tree. Or rather, the branch got stuck in me. Ow! I thought to myself, though there wasn’t really an ounce of pain. I just imagined that it would’ve hurt had I felt it. The branch stuck through my arm and I became a flag. There was a little hole, a little piercing in my skin where the branch stuck through; but no blood.
I wonder how I can get out of here, I thought to myself. My other arm flew freely in the wind, flapping this way and that.
“Genie!” I cried out. “Genie!” There was no grin to greet me. Deafening silence and the groaning trees responded to me instead. In the distance, at the bottom of the hill, the water shone from the city lights. My body lurched in that direction with no success. My arm would not budge. How fancy, I thought to myself, to be stuck atop Fed Hill. How inconsiderate Fate was to leave me hanging there like an afterthought to a memory. Details of that day had slipped my mind; I remembered the beaded necklace tangled around my neck and the reflection of the world in your sunglasses as it all melted into the blanket we sat on. Another mile marker I thought to myself.
Free yourself a voice exclaimed. I was unsure of where it came from.
“I’m trying, you know,” I responded irritably, unsure of whether it was referring to my arm or my thoughts of you. The wind picked up suddenly and the branches began to sway. I began to flutter more violently towards the water until all of a sudden I heard what sounded like a loud rip. Then a pause followed by another rip. I looked up in enough time to see the branch ripping through my arm. The more the wind blew, the more I dangled by a thin strand of flesh before one final strong gust gave the finishing touch to the tear and made the branch wave au revoir to me as I dipped and drifted away once more.
“Stop me here! Stop me here!” I cried at the first sight of the roof. I hoped again for the genie to appear with a grin, to grab me by my wrist like a puppeteer and lead me down, down. He didn’t and I couldn’t seem to stop on my own. The rooftop decks stood dark and empty at different heights but the one I wanted stood out from the rest. The wind wouldn’t cease and for a moment I started going up higher in the sky instead of lower. Then I had a thought right as the voice wrapped its syllables around me for a second time: free yourself.
I could feel the tear in my arm flapping in the wind as I continued to go up higher. The stars hid behind clouds that I couldn’t seem to break through and I was suddenly in an obscure limbo. I threw my left hand over to the tear by my right shoulder and pulled on one side of my damaged arm. There was another loud rip, like fabric being split at the tightly sewn seams. My body seemed to falter for a bit and the wind suddenly felt less uniform; it was no longer strong gusts blowing from the side or from the bottom, but rather came from everywhere around me. I pulled harder until I heard another successful rip before continuing on to my legs and my waist, using my one good arm as a weapon. As thin as tissue discarded from a car window in a storm, I came apart bit by bit in the wind.
It blew through me instead of around me and whistled violently as it faded through my holes and splits. I began to descend, slowly at first and then more quickly until the roof came back into view and I drifted towards its center. Like a giant mouth ready to swallow me whole, I glided silently on its wooden landing. I caught my breath while lying there for a minute, stuck in silence between the past and the future. I wondered if you still lived there.
“What have you done?” said the genie, hovering above me. It was the first time I hadn’t seen his grin. It had begun to rain. I closed my eyes with my face pointing towards the sky. The drops came down sporadically at first, some missing me.
“What have you done?” the genie repeated again as he slowly faded against the black abyss above. Where had I seen his face?
“Trying to find him,” I said with eyes forced closed. I could feel the raindrops nailing me against the wooden boards. I felt heavier than I had felt all night; the rain soaked into me and I was like wet paper disintegrating in the night. The genie’s hand landed lightly on my shoulder where the original tear had happened. He tried to put the pulled pieces together but to no avail.
“You ruined my creation,” he said. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“It happened how it was supposed to happen.” I liked being there, your presence undeniable; the magnetic weight of the roof unavoidable. I only wished you were with me to hold what would’ve been my delicate hand melting into yours. I would’ve maybe been sewn together as one whole figure instead of a broken mess lying on the floor of an old memory.
I don’t remember what happened after that, only that the genie finally left shaking his head in regretful shame. “I wanted you to be free,” he said as he turned and fled off the roof, his voice a sad echo.
I don’t remember becoming obsolete, only that I wanted to be whatever you had become. If you were a ball of mass floating around, I wanted to join you. I wanted to be a question mark drifting from location to location until I found myself staring up at the constellation of your face. I decided with a smile to imagine that that’s where you had gone; above the rain clouds near the pale stars hanging over those mile markers far, far below.