Midnight | Natalie Pak

Photo by steffi on Unsplash

00:00


The trembling figure stood to their feet.


Dazed eyes grazed over their surroundings. There was a fabric couch: white. A dusty clock adorned with an intricate wooden frame: white. An untouched wooden coffee table: white. And a withered, beaten journal that lied atop: blue. The color of the ocean, the color of the sky, the color of them. They felt blue.


Their surroundings grew more dearth as their extended hand reached for the journal. The torn faux-leather beneath their unknowing fingertips ignited a flame within them, the most torrid flames, displaying a peaceful shade of ruin.


They had never felt so warm.


They sat on top of the table, fingers clutching onto the journal. Each page brought them closer and closer to midnight.


Every midnight, the trembling figure stood to their feet.

11:03


I still remember our first meeting.


You may have already forgotten it, or maybe you only remember parts of it. I remember everything.


From the fluorescent lighting of the emergency room, to the dark blood dripping down your nose, to the pure and innocent smile you gave me when our gazes met; you looked so ethereal, even though your teeth were stained red with your blood.


I never asked how you got that nosebleed. I’m sorry.


Fifty-seven minutes remaining.

11:08


I didn’t say much to you when we first met.

I think my only words to you were, “I broke my index finger because I ran into a door… finger-first,” when you asked how I ended up in the emergency room. Still, you wanted us to swap numbers. To this day, I’m not sure why.


You called me just minutes after you left and we actually spoke. It was easier for me to form intelligible sentences when you weren’t there to make the air thicker and my throat tighter.


Our first conversation was you jokingly telling me the blatant dangers of running into doors. I think you should’ve told me about the dangers of loving you. Maybe then, I would’ve known what to expect and this wouldn’t be so hard.


Still, I want you to know that I don’t regret anything.


Fifty-two minutes remaining.

11:14

We always talked at night.


You constantly told me I sounded tired, but I always assured you that I wasn’t. You should know that your calls always woke me up and that I lied to you about it countless times. I just didn’t want you to feel guilty, even though I always fell asleep when things between us got quiet. Your sleeping schedule used to be so messed up that you never replied to my texts until the evening, but I think I fixed it for you. You’re upstairs sleeping right now and it’s almost a quarter past eleven.


And I’m the one who’s awake.


Like how you’re the one who’s supposed to be saying goodbye to the world soon, but I’m here writing this.

Forty-six minutes remaining.

11:21

I remember how happy I was to finally hang out with you.


Besides seeing each other when we first met, with you covered in blood and me drowning in pain that I was trying to play off, we had only heard each other’s voices over the phone. I wanted to ask if you planned on ever seeing me again, but you beat me to it when you called me and jokingly demanded that I meet you at a nearby park.


It was awkward at first. Everything was so much easier from a distance.


We were sitting on top of a picnic table. At first, you were just reading all of the things engraved onto the wood, but then I guess you noticed the time on the ticking clock adorning my veins because you suddenly asked why I only had fifty years remaining at age twenty-two.


I told you that I didn’t know, and then jokingly added that I would probably manage to get hit by a bus or choke on my food, of all things. I don’t even know how long we spent talking about all the ridiculous ways I could die.


All I know is that I didn’t see that your timer had mere months.


Thirty-nine minutes remaining.

11:26

The thing I immediately noticed when I first visited your house was the lack of home.


The way you roamed the house was awkward; you bumped into every possible piece of furniture and tripped over even the smallest things that lied in your way. You haltingly told me to sit on the couch and “make myself at home,” but even you weren’t at peace within the walls you couldn’t seem to call it your own.


We both wander the halls with much more ease now, but I’ll never forget the barren walls and the troublesome fumbling.


You spent five minutes simply looking for a jacket while I uncomfortably sat on your sofa, waiting for your soft voice to tell me it was time to go. You should know that I saw your jacket hanging on the coat rack beside the front door, and just didn’t have the heart to tell you.


I’m sorry.


But look how far we’ve come; I remember how awkward I was in your living room months ago, but now it’s the room I’m writing all of this in, and now you walk like you actually know what you’re doing.


When you walk, that is.


You haven’t left your bed in two days.

Thirty-four minutes remaining.

11:29


Your mom just called and asked for you.

I don’t think you know how hard it was to tell her you were sleeping (and leaving out that it’s all you’ve been doing for days), and how hard it was to answer the simple question of “how are things going?”


“Fine. Doing really good, actually.”


I’ve never seen someone so far from fine as you are tonight. But how am I supposed to tell a worried mother that her child is, yet again, at war with cancer and is on the very verge of being defeated?


I remember you telling me how happy she was to find out that the sickness retreated from the battle, and how you couldn’t bear to tell her when it came back for more.


I apologize. I’m putting this here to remind you to call your mom when you wake up.


Tell her the good news. Tell her I said goodbye and that I’m sorry for lying. Hopefully she’ll
understand.


Also, please make sure to go back home. Everyone will want to see you in good health. (I wish I could, but it’s okay.)

Thirty-one minutes remaining.

11:37

The first time I came over to your house to hang out, you had this elaborate plan for us to watch movies and basically just be ourselves. I remember you saying that you’d escort me around the house to make sure I didn’t break any bones.


We settled down to watch whatever film you’d picked for us (I think it was an animation), but then you sprang up and started rambling about a lost remote. You spent what must’ve been a good ten minutes pacing the house in search of it. You didn’t stop until I told you that it was okay, that I didn’t mind just sitting with you.


You were so on edge that day. Looking back, you must’ve had a doctor’s appointment that day, right? I know they made you really anxious and irritable, ultimately and unavoidably ruining your day.


We talked for a while. We laughed a lot, mostly at things that didn’t even make sense. I could tell you were still bothered, but you tried your hardest to rise to the occasion and make sure I had a good time. Thank you for that.


Right before I left, I told you this stupid chemistry joke that wasn’t even funny, but I heard you laugh for the first time. You did this thing where you laughed so hard that you didn’t make any sound at all as you stomped your feet on the ground.


As I stared at your eyes filled with tears of laughter, your flushed face, and your wide smile, my brain was set ablaze, and that fire spread throughout my entire body in a way I didn’t even think was possible. It was the purest of drugs, one that I became immediately dependent on. Even in that small, fleeting moment, I knew I’d live (and die) for that fire. For you.

Twenty-three minutes remaining.

11:42

I introduced you to my friends and expected you to do the same in return.


You had none. Instead, we went back to your place and spoke nothing of it.


The night I found out about your condition, weeks after this, you explained that you dropped everyone when the cancer returned. You gave them a reason to hate you so that they wouldn’t be as hurt when you took your final breath. I understood why you did it, but the faltering smile you tried to maintain spoke louder than you ever could, and I knew that you were lonelier than you could ever admit.


I asked why you bothered with me if that was the case.


You told me you were tired of not wanting to live. I guess thinking that you had no reason to live made dying less interesting; you were just counting down the days, marking months off the calendar.


You then told me that nothing about your illness felt real, and it’s only because you weren’t alive.


“How am I supposed to die if I’ve never actually lived?”

Then you apologized. For inviting me over. For even befriending me.


“It’s okay,” I whispered, my voice not as strong as I’d hoped it would be. It was all I could say. I didn’t know how to comfort you, I’m sorry.

It wasn’t okay. But it will be. I promise.

Eighteen minutes remaining.

11:50

You’re asleep again. You woke up for a few minutes, calling for me with what little strength you have left.


You asked for a glass of water, and even though all I could notice was how you were just a crumpling skeleton clad in chapped lips and damp skin, I returned promptly with what you asked for.


And then you asked me to stay. I sat down. You held onto my arm with bony fingers, clenching on for dear life, as if you’d suddenly become aware of how fleeting everything was. You were soon to be a ghost, just a memory haunting the minds of those who you swore didn’t care, and maybe it began to terrify you.


I’m still beside you. You’re snoring, mumbling about things I could never understand. The clock atop your veins only gets closer to 00:00 with each passing second.


I can’t even imagine what it’ll be like for you in the morning, seeing my fifty years where there should be a timeless counter.


You’ll be okay, though.

Ten minutes remaining.


11:59

Out of all the moments we spent together, the one where I found out about your impending demise is the most blurry in my head. I think I forgot portions of the memories as some sort of defense mechanism. I wish I knew.


We were at the park. We were running, or I was running, and kept encouraging you to catch up with me. Mere minutes in and your skin had already begun to dampen with sweat, fatigue engulfing you like a sunken boat in the middle of the ocean.


And then we were in the hospital. You collapsed, your nose and mouth stained with blood from the fall. We would’ve been right back in the beginning if I had somehow found a way to break my finger.


The nurse said the name of your killer. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.


And then, once the nurse left, you explained it all: from the previous battles, to your parents being unaware, to refusing treatment, to friends who you wouldn’t let worry about you.

You told me you were tired of giving into the cancer, and that’s why you befriended me. You thanked me for our months, for letting you love one last time. You told me it would be okay. And now we’re here in your bed.


You’ve been getting worse and worse. You said it would be okay, but it’s not. Nothing about you leaving this earth is okay. You deserve so much more than to be a victim of vicious sickness.


And you’ll get the chance you deserve. You can have my fifty years, you can get better, you can love again. Become the beloved sibling and child you once were. Call your friends and schedule a reunion. You can be you again.


I’m just asking that you don’t forget about me. I loved you even when my grave was being dug with each laugh, even when a knife was being pressed further and further into my throat with each moment we shared.


I wish I could say more. You’ll be a wreck in the morning, and I’m so sorry for that. But this is right. You can live for me. Any life you’ll ever build for yourself will be a thousand times more fulfilling than my own.


Please get the help you need. The chemo won’t make you any less beautiful.


Until we meet again.

One minute remaining.


00:00


The trembling figure stood to their feet.

Vacant eyes only took slight notice of their surroundings. A worn sofa: the color of puffy clouds on a sunny day. A neglected clock with a wooden frame: the color of pills, eager to provide relief. A slightly battered coffee table: the color of lightning, unleashing its anger in a single strike.


And a torn journal that lied atop the lightning-colored table: blue. The color of rapid tides, the color of untouched skies, the color of them. They felt blue.


Their environment grew more lifeless as they extended a shaking hand and reached for the journal. The beaten faux-leather beneath their unknowing fingertips ignited a flame within them, the most torrid of flames, displaying a peaceful shade of ruin.


They had never felt so warm.


They plopped down onto the table in one swift movement. Each page brought them closer and closer to midnight.


Every midnight, the trembling figure stood to their feet.

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