“The body of light, sometimes called the astral body or the subtle body, is a quasi material aspect of the human body, neither solely physical nor solely spiritual… described as an ecstatic, mystical or out-of body experience, wherein the spiritual traveller leaves the physical body and travels in their body of light into higher realms…”
I am sleeping on the couch at my father’s house. The sun shines through the window across all the stuffed animals my sister Lala left behind in her room. A rabbit is sitting outside the window, staring at me. So skinny I can see its ribs through its fur. The ghost of my grandmother comes to visit me every morning around this time, but today it’s just the rabbit. I believe in science, but she comes anyway.
Science says if things move fast enough, they disappear. So – we don’t really exist. We’re just moving slow enough to see what’s going on around us.
I take Emma to dinner at the Russian restaurant down the street. We share pelmeni and vodka. After dinner we go to her apartment near St. Clair and the old presbyterian church. Her apartment is painted white. The walls, the ceiling, the windowsills. She lays on a bed with white sheets and looks up at me upside-down. Her arms crossed behind her head make a pillow as soft as the one lying beside her.
She is beautiful. Her hair split two-tone like yin and yang catches the light. Her silhouette is reflected against the glass. Coruscated light from the bedroom doorway shines like a halo around her head. She gives me her body, something she is willing to part with for the moment. She is a goddess and I tell her so. But she only laughs and tells me to shut up. To be called a goddess is to be lied to, she says. What a cliché! And it doesn’t make up for the empty parts in life –
You should know this, she says. You should know that physical touch, the physics of sound and movement, the physiology of fingers and hips and legs are the only things that matter here –
Her back is arched, knees bent, mouth open partway. She gasps from somewhere deep inside her chest or lower. The lights are off. Shadows pull from dark corners and turn her movements into something elegant against the wall. Her breath is warm. She is warm between her legs. When she comes the first time she has her fingers there. She holds me to her neck, mouth to my ear, fingernails in my back, her hips roiling like the seas until she is finished and me as well.
We lie still, silent and wet, her back now straight, her arms limp but her chest pushing into mine with each breath on my shoulder and our knees crossed together in a tangled mess with the sheets. The demons that watched us from the edges fade with the quiet of a complete and satisfied calm.
It is our bodies, the smell of skin. We are a feast, maybe – covered in oil and cooked in spice from the kitchen. In anise, cinnamon, cardamom, clove at the beginning of the night. And a sweetness like summer fruit. These smells turn to tainted cheese by morning. But we revel in them, before we shower and dress and remove all trace. This is how we impress the world: We hide these sentiments, these feelings, these smells. What if I were to talk this way in public? Outside on the sidewalk? Or sitting at a table at the romantic Russian restaurant down the street? In physics class or biology? We blush then and look away.
This frisson, the transonic power of touch, Emma asks if I understand the truth of it but if only she knew… Such masculine homily, over-sexed and hyper-charged, I am embarrassed by my thoughts. But for moments like these we live a little harder, bout to shine a little brighter, praying for five minutes more or just one final trice. Is this what the poet Thomas meant (is this what we should fight for) when he wrote against …the close of day?
Yes: Memento vivere maiorem quam memento mori. A thought of life will always be greater than the thought of death. Or dum spiro spero, maybe. These are the words to live by.
And with that we collapse to the bed, wet with sweat, the heat is on, steam whistling from steel radiators by the headboard built sometime around the turn of last century, to lay in breathless repose, stare at the ceiling, and sleep, finally, until morning.
The morning. A copy of Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread is sitting on the shelf. The front window is open facing the street, the sun is shining through with a breeze and the bright sounds of the street outside. City buses cough coal black on the street, spitting people out onto the curb and swallowing more. The 63, the 54, the 74, the 71, the 21. These are hybrid buses with pictures of blue earth drawn on the side meant to save the environment from their smog. We are told that buses are better than driving – for the environment, for the cityscape, bravo for public transportation! But we wish silently that we could live in (or through) the clean and happy future we were promised would be coming soon. Buses are all we get for now.
We see the wealthy and beautiful people of the street down below. Wearing sunglasses with expensive purses and their shoulders exposed. Pushing strollers, driving convertible cars, sitting with $22 cocktails on patios to hide the secrets in their hearts. They work in finance and insurance and marketing. I see them. And then I see the unsheltered population on the other side kicking dust and asking for change. Or a cigarette if no change to spare. They are divided by more than just sidewalks and tar. The difference between those who are outside to enjoy the weather and the luxuries of modern society and those who are outside simply because they have no place else to go…
The secret in the hearts of wealthy people – those good people who might support social programs at the polls and voting booths but only support themselves in their daily lives – the secret in their hearts is this: Unsheltered people in their neighborhood are not their neighbors, no, never! what a blight…
But also: Should all the homeless people die quietly in the night, the streets suddenly free of panhandlers, dope addicts, the mentally ill, and every other manner of down-and-out human beings who do not fit the mode of model society in the morning, these good and beautiful people would not only refrain from asking where their unsheltered neighbors had gone, they would breathe a deep sigh of relief, secretly grateful that they will never again have to see those people with their shopping carts and their bottles and their tents; secretly grateful that they will never again have to pat their pockets and shrug guiltily when they are asked for a dollar, change, or something to get a bite to eat.
Humans of the future will look back at our primitive time and laugh. They will look back at our violence, our pollution, our noise, our wage slaves and their love of work. They will laugh at us forced to live these primitive lives. Or they will pity us, perhaps, if they are generous. It is our mission then not to be cynical or complain, but to record a message of hope and hopefulness, a scribe of optimism or what the old folks called idealism before it died long ago, so when people look back at us from the future they will know at least – we did not go down without a fight.
A toddler laughs from their stroller, a dog barks at a rabbit hiding beneath the brush, a motorcycle revs its engine, doors open and close. We stand at the window in the light of the sun. The street moves on without us.
That night I have a dream. There is a chandelier. There is me in a suit and tie, looking clean in the fractured light. There is champagne in crystal glasses, caviar on tiered platters. I can smell it and the perfume of the people around me.
Emma is there beside me. Wearing a sweater and a dress and a necklace made of white gold I stole just for her with a pendant of the Virgo maiden, it swings from her neck. We smash the platters on the floor. We turn the tables over. We set the room on fire. The police arrive in their blue uniforms and break my jaw with their batons. I fall to the ground. If I am a bad person then this is a bad world.
I wake up. My head hurts as though I had been struck after all.
It’s raining outside. I’ve always liked the rain. My grandmother floats through the window. She isn’t wet because you don’t feel the rain when you look the way she does. She sits at the edge of the bed, watching me with eyes that no longer have any color.
It’s important to see your family when you can, Emma tells me. You never know how much time you have with them.
This is true. We watched our grandparents grow old in hospital beds. And soon our parents will suffer strokes and slow legs. Then someday it will be our turn. We will take their place on the couch with pops in our knees and endless sighs and groans. Our youth will look at us the way we look at them. This is hard to comprehend in the moment – we cannot predict the future, understand what it holds, or even picture it in the mind’s eye. We know it is coming, but we cannot know what it will look like. This is our curse.
Not really, Emma says and she smiles at me with her head cocked to the side. Her smile is wide and bright and sets her face alight. Things grow old and die, she says. This is a constant. This is rather easy to understand, as long as you aren’t afraid of the dark.
It’s all absurd anyway, she says. What is there to worry about?
I was melancholy before. Or rather depressed about the brief nature of our existence. I was not scared of non-existence (because there is no fear of that which we will not comprehend), just made sad by the prospect of loving only to say goodbye. But I am no longer depressed. I have come to embrace this fact, and finally understand what the weight of time, the sense of passing moments, and the feeling of being alive really means: I finally understand impermanence. And so too do I understand why I am happy with Emma in this moment here and now:
Place (here) and time (now) have come together to make it so. I am lucky.
And so I lay back, hands beneath my head, struck by the calm around me. The rain falling outside. The sound of it against the window, the smell of it in the air. I lay back. I know this moment is forever. And the next one. And the next.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adrian Daniel was born in Hackettstown, New Jersey in 1994. He graduated from Hamline University with an English degree in 2016. He has spent the years since as a journalist, editor, content writer, and author, as well as a painter, musician, chef, and photographer.