Ether

Vigorously I curse the chill, hoping it will make it beyond me to settle into the ether. Ivory innocence flecked with gold my curse will reach it and mar it.
Perhaps the gods will remember us.
Will remember me.
I ignore the squeal of the brakes as the car squeaks to a stop, pretend I don’t hear the insistent beep of the fuel indicator. I ignore the freezing ache that has settled into my joints, too, rolling the window up until it closes me in with a snap.
I hold the letter–once crisp, succinct, razor sharp–tightly in my fist.
Rejection.
Somehow the words, “your project has merit” sting more than, “we must unfortunately pass at this time.”
I’d rather my rejection kill me instantly. Don’t linger. A bullet to my brain, a dagger to my heart and straight through. Don’t bleed me.
This, the merit, it lingers. Do they say that to all of us? Does it have merit? Do I?

My cheeks burn and it is nothing to do with wind. I crumble the letter and drag out my phone. An executioner its presence in my palm is enough to still my heart.
I dial her, my mother, then I lose my nerve.
She’ll sic her god on me first. It isn’t so bad, and her prayers are melodic and sweet.
Her pride is what burns. Her voice, cool and comforting, becomes acrid in its sweetness.
“I’m so proud of you,” she’ll say. I’ll burn the letter hearing her words, wanting to blame her. She believes even now.
She believes in me even as much as she believes her prayers reach something, reach a place beyond even ether.
Why did you let me think I could do it, I want to blame her. Why did you let this goddamn dream linger?
I don’t say those things. Her voice salves my wounds and I come to her in voice a child.
“What now? What can I be now?” Her script must be tattered and torn, but she reads from it believably.
“I’m proud of you. You can be anything you want.”
When I go to the schoolhouse in the morning and break myself into pieces that they can devour, I believe her.
When I press pen to paper and submit again, the heart-stopping euphoria just like the first time giving me a pause I believe her.
When I make them dinner imagining those words, those worlds that I created validated, present beyond she and I I believe her.
I tell her I love her and she says have faith.
I feel foolish standing at my front door, key in hand. I feel like a fool whispering this under my breath like somewhere it will reach ears that are partial to me.
If you are there–
If–
Just once. I only ask once. Remember me.

I am home before them and I begin the dishes but they are only partially complete. He sighs before he greets me, taking the cloth from my hands, now pruned enough to dull the ache.
George asks about my day without meeting my eyes. I smile and the words passed to him are dulled. “Fine. I got another rejection. This place was garbage, though.” He smiles, too, barely glances up from the fish he’s bathing in milk as he says,
“It’ll happen honey.”
I should ask, what if? What if I’m always here? In the in between? What if we never arrive? What if this is the most I am?
But I don’t. His voice is confident and world wise.
And I believe him.

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