You are watching a life.
Maybe it’s cupped in the palm of your hand- or perhaps it is emblazoned across the extent of the sky, curved round the clouds. Maybe the life is boring, the same colour as your tea when it’s left overnight and curdles by the morning. Possibly the life is pretty, with bright hisses of pastel happiness surrounded by an endless transparent oblivion.
Whichever. Whatever. You watch the life all the same.
Right at the life’s beginning, it was different to how it is now. In the life’s future, perhaps it will also be different. You don’t know. You can’t see the life so far ahead yet- that is not how this works.
You hope, in the future, that the life will be different again.
Let us say, you are watching the life in a lab environment. You are a scientist. You wear a pristine coat and keep your skin so pristine clean that your hands sport bright red scuffs across their backs. Often, you think it is a pity that your insides are not quite so spotless. You fantasise, sometimes, about your skull cracking open like a bird cracks a seed. You’d wear your clear plastic gloves and scoop out all your insides, until your body was hollow and your head no longer hurt.
You think about this sometimes, but not often.
Now, of course, you do not fantasise.
Now, you are watching a life.
Under the lab’s fluorescent lighting, it squirms beneath its microscopic slide. It seems uncomfortable with all your focused attention, but at the same time it craves it. The longer you look at the life, the bigger it grows and the more it squirms. It’s almost as if it’s dancing- although, you know, this is not the type of life to dance. This is the type of life that doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
You wonder whether you know the person who this life belongs to.
You will return the life to them in the morning, and then you will know.
You flick a switch on the microscope, and the lower-right of the life is illuminated. It stills, as if it’s thinking.
At first glance, the life looks just like your average bog-standard heartbreak. Lots of lives are like that, these days. Only, you peer in closer, and you realise that heartbreak is never quite so simple.
Here, you see silver strands of something that might be talent or might be hope or might be both. You focus the microscope, and the strands are the same colour as lightning and just as volatile, sputtering to life almost as quickly as they slip out of view.
Interwoven, the colour green is mixed like paint. It’s thick like tar in the middle, at its core. To the left and right, though, it’s fraying and tangled up in its own threads. If you lean in close, the colour green appears as if it once rhymed with friendship, only now is more akin to the feeling after a long, relentless summer.
The silver and the green fluctuate in stabs of colour that skewer through your brain and dull your thoughts. They pulse like misunderstanding’s heartbeat, which you think is apt because you don’t seem to understand this life at all.
You shake your head. Not understanding is nothing out of the ordinary because though lives are fascinating, you are very bad at your job. This is your job, and always has been. You have always been bad at it. You have always analysed lives, because you have always wanted to understand people, and that understanding has never failed to catch like dust against the back of your throat.
So, this life is no different.
Somehow though, for some reason, you figured that you’d be able to understand it better than others.
Your brow lines up in corrugated cardboard discontent, using your clean, clean hands to move the microscope over another section of the life. This part is covered in a thick black mist, at parts receding into grey. Though you struggle, you cannot reach this part of the life under all this fog, and you cannot tell what it means or what story it tells.
You shrug. Possibly, it is better off this way. Probably, you would not have liked what you’d have found under all that mist.
You move on.
This new section of the life is the colour red, which is the colour that hurting takes. When you first started this job, you equated hurting with pain- but with this life, it is not the case. This life is not in pain, and it has never known any real suffering. It hurts, sure, but it hurts without reason. It is an irrational life- although, then again, most lives are.
The hurt is not separate- rather, it has tentacles that snake like those whispered words that you’ve always yearned to hear. These tentacles latch onto every other colour that makes up the life- you can see they’ve wrapped around the edge of the green, which leans against it as a grudging support. It’s almost completely smothered a section of royal blue wisp.
The hurt could not exist without the rest of the life, but in its current state it seems that the rest of the life could also not exist without the hurt.
You look away.
As you turn, your bare foot catches against the leg of your stool and you stumble down down down down down. Your hand splays and hits uselessly against the lab bench, the side of your arm grazing the same scratchy red as the back of your hands.
It is a shock.
Your heart beats faster in your chest. So fast you can almost hear it. It’s too loud. It’s distracting. You want it to stop. You want to crack open your skull and pull out all your insides so your heart stops beating and the noise stops and the distraction stops and you can get on with your job in peace.
Right. Your job.
You take a deep breath, and re-emerge from where you fell beneath the lab bench.
The life you are watching has changed. Something is different.
It is shifting wildly under the lens again, pulsing in and out like the end of the world at the edge of time. Or maybe something else. The way the life is convulsing seems more familiar than the end of the world, somehow.
In. Out. In. Out.
You put your hand to your chest, almost absentmindedly.
The life has the same pulse as your heartbeat.
You swallow. You blink. You drum your fingers against the bench-top and wonder what to do next.
Maybe you should just do nothing. Maybe you should get on with your job and study the life and pretend that none of this is real and none of this is happening.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you should…
You take a knife, and it is produced from nowhere. Knives are not kept in laboratories. With scientific precision, you run the blade down the side of your left hand’s fourth finger. It bleeds slowly- just a drop of crimson, like a misshapen rose petal. Wouldn’t even satisfy a baby vampire, if vampires and creatures of that kind existed.
It’s still painful, though. Your heart beats faster, and it’s with exhilaration more produced from horror than anything else that you watch the life pulsate in time to its thrum. Then- slowly, slowly.
The life weeps one solitary drop of red, like a tear.
You press harder with the knife against your finger, like you’re pushing as far as you can go without a reprieve. A reprieve, you know, will never come. You are absolutely alone here, in the lab. Sometimes you like it this way, but now you are scared.
As your fingers drips blood like secrets, the life secretes its red, red pus.
It’s funny, because the blood and the pus and the hurting that made up so makes up so much of the life- they’re all the same colour, and the life bleeds when you bleed.
You dig too deep with the knife and cry out, but no one is there to hear it. You wonder whether, if no one heard it, the cry ever even sounded at all.
In all your months of working in the lab, you have never heard of anyone being given their own life to analyse. Perhaps this is all a mistake, then, because you are not wrong in assuming that the life you are staring at is your own.
With the finger that you cut and is bleeding, you reach out gently and press the pad to the pus seeping from the life.
You scream. No one hears it.
You scream again.
The pus mixes with your blood, and now you understand the life so well, so well that your jaw stiffens and numbs and your voice spills out a shriek and your eyes glaze over and wet with tears and you’re hurting you’re hurting you’re hurting all over like your limbs have been split open by hot pokers and your skin is shifting and writhing and convulsing as if it’s yearning to rip apart from your body and set you free and your bones are popping out from underneath your flesh and your eyeballs are rolling and squishing in their sockets like peeled grapes and you're all inside out with your organs skewered on top of your fingertips and
The pain disappears, but not really.
It’s still there, but it’s not in your body anymore. You’ve trapped it, confined it, and it’s all in your mind. Safe. Locked away. Part of you, but you don’t have to show it to anyone.
You wonder why you’d ever be given something as horrible as your own life to analyse. You think about quitting your job, but not seriously. You are only sometimes serious.
If you quit your job, you’d have nothing else left.
There is no life to watch now, though, now that it’s part of you and kept in the part of your mind where the only chance of seeing it would be to crack your skull open like a seed. Though you’d still like to crack open (and pull your intestines out, and your liver, and all your organs, and be hollow and empty and perfect and dead) you don’t think you could handle the pain.
Not right now, anyway. Not for a long while.
You are shaken, and your heart beats like hummingbird wings. You imagine the life, encased in your mind, does the same.
You cross to the sink and wash your hands, not caring when the tap spurts too fast and your skin is soaked. When that is finished, you walk back to your lab bench and your microscope and sit down at your stool.
There is nothing to watch anymore, and so you watch nothing.
You sit. And you watch. And you try not to think.
It is easy not to think when there is nothing.
Sometimes you scream, as well. On the odd occasion. No one hears it, so no one minds. No one reprimands. You cover your ears, and then not even you can hear its ache.
You throw your head back and you look at the lab’s fluorescent lighting that seems to have replaced the stars. The scream shakes through your body and reminds you what it felt like when you first touched the life, before you confined it to your mind.
You pretend not to feel alone, but you are just as bad at pretending as you are at your job.