At the Precipice of Infinity

by Michael Phillips

Preface

Jay tries to deal with the struggles in his life with a walk in the forest but encounters a mysterious presence.


            Infinity. A word that floats through my mind and sends me soaring into the endless space that surrounds me in my isolation. When I close my eyes, I see billions of stars fly past me-the infinity of space overtaking me and showing just how insignificant I truly am. I watch as stars form, and others die; towers of light and energy shoot from their core and fly into infinity. There it is again-infinity. A word so vast it loses its meaning. All the endless wonder that surrounds me and all I can see now when I ponder the word is sandy blonde hair, a smile as bright as a dying star, and emerald eyes.

*

            The warm embrace of the forest begins to melt the worries from my mind and send them deep into the soil beneath my feet as the residents of the forest sing to me their new song as they do each week. The morning sun gleams in thin rays of light through the tops of the trees that surround me and a cool breeze flows past my face with a gentle touch. Today is Sunday; the day where I don't have to contemplate how I will end the tedious life that I lead. The day where I can clear my mind without enough pills to put a horse into an early death or having an anxiety attack. Well, at least try to anyway. The gorgeous view at the end of this trail that I've heard so much about still eludes me. Some days I think I'll make it only to have my stomach twist into a knot that sends me running back to my car in a state of panic. Today will be different. I tell myself that every time, but something about today makes me believe that this will finally be the one.

            "It's been a while, big guy," a voice faintly whispers into my ear.

            So much for that, "Who said that?" I keep my pace into the forest but shoot a glance all around me to put a body to the voice. "Is someone here?"

            "Have you forgotten about me already, Jay?" The voice moves to my other ear and sends a chill quickly down the length of my spine. "Not a day goes by where you don't cross my mind."

            "Hilarious, kid," I answer to nobody. "I'm actually in a good mood today, could you just leave me alone?"

            "So, I'm nobody to you now, huh?"

            "Considering you are the result of me skipping my medicine this morning, yes."

            "They told me this might happen. Just calm down and listen to me, Jay, it will all make sense in a second."

            "Calm down?" I almost scream. "Excellent input, Sherlock, I hadn't considered that."

            "Shh, shh. I have to think of a way to do this. You just have to trust me."

            "Don't you 'shh' me!" I clench my fists and feel my stomach start to twist into that familiar knot as my pace into the forest starts to slow to a crawl. I'm starting to hyperventilate, and I feel like I'm going to faint.

            "I definitely screwed this up. Just listen to my voice and you'll know who I am, big guy."

            The song of the forest starts to leave my ears and the surrounding trees spin violently around me. Leave it to me to try something stupid like skipping all of my pills and trying to have a normal day. My arms begin to feel heavy and I can't control my breath as the light of the morning sun starts to dim. There is a loud ringing that deafens my ears and my vision fades to black.

*

            "Hello?" Fingers snap near my face followed by a sharp whistle that sends my eyes flying open to the gentle blue of the sky above me that peaks through the top of the trees. "Jesus, man, you really got yourself worked up there, didn't you?"

            I lift myself from the ground, patting away the dirt that remains on my jeans and brushing off what was gathered in my hair. I rub my eyes hard in a desperate attempt to possibly be returned to my bed and away from the nightmare I'm probably having. Instead, the sun beams into my eyes as I open them to the forest that has betrayed me in my trust for it to clear my head today. Its beauty now encapsulates an eeriness even in the light of the morning sun.

            "Ooh, that's a fancy word, Jay. Someone must have gotten their hands on a thesaurus."

            "What do you want with me?"

            "I just wanted to spend one last day with my best good friend. Do you really not remember me?"

            "No." I shake my head and start to think about turning back and calling my voyage early. "But I've now discovered my new ability of losing my shit in less than five minutes."

            "Well it's not my fault that they didn't give me any instructions on how to do this," it says with an odd frustration for a voice in my head. "I should've just started out with this. It's me, Diana Green."

            "Bullshit." I shake my head and decide to try and push through whatever this is and make it to the end today. Maybe if I ignore it for long enough it will just go away.

            "I'm afraid you're stuck with me today, big guy. I'm not going anywhere."

            "It's not cool to mess with someone like this, you know that?"

            "Well, seeing as you haven't run back to your car yet, you must believe that some part of this is real," it says. "I've been waiting for this day a long time, Jay. It gets really boring up there sometimes."

            "And where exactly would that be?"

            "I can't really tell you. I was told to keep quiet about the who's, the how's, the where's and the what's."

            I shake my head and shrug, "Okay, then. If this is real, which it isn't, and you really are Diana, which you aren't, why would you visit me on today of all days?"

            "I wanted a day where I had you all to myself with no distractions. Wouldn't want you to look crazy talking to yourself around other people, would we?"

            "How thoughtful of you."

            "I can understand if you don't fully believe me yet, but if you just allow me to prove it to you, I can do that."

            "Doesn't seem like I have much of a choice. I'll play along I guess."

            "Thank you." The voice becomes gentle and sighs in relief. "Just focus on the trail before you and clear your mind. Listen only to the sounds of your feet as you walk and close your eyes."

            I shake my head, but do as it says, staring intently at the ground just in front of my feet. I focus on the crunch of the September leaves beneath my feet until it is all that I hear. The cool breeze of the forest continues to flow past my face as I close my eyes and take a deep breath in through my nose and out through my mouth.

            My eyes open to a hospital room; the sound of the leaves crunching beneath my feet replaced by the steady beat of a heart monitor that echoes slowly into the room. Three get well balloons float above the foot of the bed. A boy, maybe seventeen, sits next to it with his head down and studies his shoes beneath him. On the bed rests a girl around his age with an I.V. coming from her arm and another host of wires connected to her body. She breathes slowly to the rhythm of the heart monitor-her head completely free of hair. She wakes and opens her eyes that are a vibrant emerald green I could recognize like I just saw them yesterday. I start to shake as the room suddenly becomes familiar, along with the boy who now sits up toward the girl.

            "You're still here." The girl looks to the boy with a smirk. "You didn't have to wait for me."

            "I think I've decided to call this chair home for now." He smiles and scoots his chair closer to the bed. "If that's okay with you."

            "Thank you."

            "For what?" He plants an elbow on the bed and leans his head closer to her.

            "Spare me, big guy." She smiles. "For being here. For always being here."

            "Nowhere else I'd rather be."

            "It's odd to see yourself from the outside, huh?" A hand rests on my shoulder and squeezes lightly. "The first time I saw myself I didn't recognize her either."

            The hand taps my shoulder as if to tell me to turn around, but I stay focused on the boy's shoes just as he was. The hand moves to my face and I feel a few fingers pull my head to the left. Diana's emerald eyes meet mine through sandy blonde hair and my throat becomes thick enough to stop a bullet. Her dimples rest at the edge of her wide smile that shines brightly into the grey room that surrounds us as I study her face. I try to speak but I know if I open my mouth I will break down and start sobbing.

            "There he is." She embraces me and plants her head on my chest. "It's okay, Jay. This is always hard for me to watch, too."

            "Diana."

            She pulls away from me and looks deeply into my eyes again, "So, do you believe me now?"

            I swallow hard as I try to speak, "I'm so sorry." I get choked up again and allow a few tears to run down my face as I try to push through. "I've been so busy feeling sorry for myself that I forgot what your voice sounded like."

            "It's been a long time, Jay." She looks back to the hospital room where I find an empty room other than the three balloons that remain above the hospital bed. "I'm sorry you had to see that again. I don't have much time and I needed you to believe that this is real."

            She grabs my shoulder and motions for me to close my eyes again. I feel the cool breeze return to my face and hear the crunching of dirt and leaves under my feet once again. A second pair of footsteps approaches from behind me and Diana says, "To be honest, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be." She appears on my left as I turn to see her looking back at me. She takes in the views of the forest and takes a deep breath. "I think I made the right decision."

            "I can see you?" I reach out and poke her in the arm as she matches my pace into the forest beside me to make sure she is truly there. "This is amazing, Diana, I can really see you!"

            "I sure hope so." She laughs and brushes her hair behind one of her ears and looks around us again with such a gaze it's like it's the first time she has ever seen a tree. "That would have been an awful lot of trouble for nothing if you couldn't."

            "Why couldn't I see you before?"

            "Well, you just walked into the woods and a ghastly voice started to torment you. You needed to believe that I was really talking to you and that you weren't hallucinating or something."

            "How long will this last?" I nearly trip on an exposed root because I can't stop staring at her walking next to me.

            "I get one last day with my best friend." She returns her gaze to me and away from the forest. "Now that's enough questions from you, mister. It's my turn."

            "But I have so much to tell you." I start to run through the endless amount of questions I want to ask her. "I'm not sure one day is long enough."

            "There will be plenty of time for questions later. Now, tell me, what's been going on with Jay lately?"

            "Nothing worth talking about." I look to the furthest point in the trail that I can see. "I'm a high school janitor with enough debt from school to collapse a small nation."

            "Any new lady friends?" She punches my arm. "How's my dashing boy been doing there?"

            "I haven't exactly been the easiest person to be around for a while."

            "What do you mean?" She raises an eyebrow.

            "Well after you, you know." I try to answer but can't even bring myself to saying the word.

            "Died?" She laughs, and run a hand through her hair again. "It's not like I'll be offended if you say it, Jay."

            "Yeah. After you, you know, I kind of gave up on the world for a while. To be honest I never really forgave it. I thought that if I found someone else or just stopped thinking about what happened that I could get past losing you. As you can see that obviously didn't play out."

            "You seem to be doing okay today."

            "Some days are better than others." I smile at her. "I'm usually able to clear my head on this trail without a ghost pestering me in my head. Though I do find myself always leaving early for one reason or another."

            "Well, now you have someone to talk to." She looks down at our feet for a moment and then deep into the trail before us. "That should make it easier, yeah?"

            "I think so," I answer, still trying to wrap my head around the fact that she is walking next to me. "There is supposed to be a view of town at the end of this trail that is spectacular."

            "I can't wait to see it." She smiles and jumps a few feet ahead of me and spins around a few times to take in the view of the forest around us once again. "The edge of the world awaits us, Jay, and we don't have a moment to waste!"

*

            We continued down the trail for the next few hours as Diana squeezed all she could out of me as far as how my life was going lately. She wouldn't answer any questions about what she's been up to ever since that last day at the hospital. I guess they all fell into the who's, how's and what's she's sword secrecy to. Eventually I forgot she ever left me as we laugh about our old adventures. Her favorite one was when we let three pigs loose into our high school labeled 1, 2 and 4. Everyone was searching for pig number three well after the final bell rang before they realized that it simply didn't exist. She loses herself in laughter at our stunt as well as the two weeks of detention we spent together after school making fun of Mr. Peters who always fell asleep in his chair after the first ten minutes. Eventually we reach the end of my trail and the start of the climb to the peak of the forest that overlooks the town-the thing I've found impossible for the last few months that I've been walking on this trail.

            We quickly walk up the short trail with a frail wooden fence that rests at its peak and are overtaken by the sight before us. The sun sets behind the water tower in the distance and the cool breeze grows more powerful as we lean on the wooden fence to take it all in. Just beyond the fence is a hefty drop into the forest below that gives me chills as I glance at the ground far beneath us. The view more than makes up for the fear of falling, though, and I sit before the lower board of the fence and hang my feet over the edge of the cliff. Diana sits next to me and rests her arms on the board like mine, taking in the orange glow that covers the town with wide eyes and a smile.

            "I'd say the walk was more than worth it."

            I turn and look at her; still not fully in belief that she is really sitting next to me. Her gaze is glued to the furthest reaches of the horizon. "Hard to disagree with you there."

            She turns to me and locks her emerald eyes onto mine and raises an eyebrow, "So, here we are at the edge of the world. Now what?"

            "Not sure, to be honest. I never thought I would make it this far."

            "You never were very good at thinking ahead, Jay." She leans her head onto my shoulder and returns her gaze into the scene in front of us. "Nothing wrong with just sitting her and enjoying the view for a while."

            "So, what can you tell me?" My mind desperately races to find questions outside the realm of who's, what's and how's.

            She leans up from my shoulder and looks to me, "I can tell you that even with your constant worry and fear of failure that you still haven't lost that smile." She runs her hand down my cheek and follows it closely with her eyes. "I can also tell you that after they gave me my hair back I cried for almost a week."

            "You were never any less beautiful without it." I try to laugh but am only reminded that she won't be with me for very much longer. "Cancer is still a bitch, though."

            "You're goddamn right." She laughs and runs her hands through her that flows behind her head in graceful waves in the wind from the peak. "Take my life all you want, but do not mess with a girl's hair."

             "I missed you so much, Diana."

            Her smile fades and her eyes dig into me as she rests her head back onto my shoulder, "I missed you too, big guy."

            "I could have done more." I swallow hard after my words are faint from the thickness of my throat. "You might have made it if I had just-"

            "Jay." She grabs my left hand and squeezes hard. "Nobody did more for me than you did."

             "And what good did that do? You were all I had, all that I cared about, and I-"

            "You gave me a reason to keep fighting. You have to stop blaming yourself for what happened to me. Not everything was meant to be fixed, Jay."

            "You can't leave after just one day." I look deeply into her hand that rests within mine and feel a sudden emptiness in my stomach. "Can you get an extra day and just stay here with me?"

            "As much as I want to, Jay, I only get one day. This is the day that I chose."

            "How about you take me back with you?"

            She leans from my shoulder again and shoots me a scowl, "Take you with me?"

            "Yeah. Take me with you back to wherever you came from."

            "You do realize that I'm dead, right?" She shakes her head. "I came here to help you get over that, not to bring you back with me."

            "What if I can't get over it?"

            "You have to, Jay. We like to think that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes shit just happens and people die. Sometimes those people mattered a lot to us and we owe it to them to move on. That's one of the hard parts of living."

            "Not everything happens for a reason, Diana, but some things do." I stand and take in the sight before us as I lean over the railing and gaze at the ground far beneath me. "What if you were supposed to take me back with you? What if you were supposed to save me from the emptiness that I feel without you?"

            "You're serious?" She stands next to me and pulls my head toward her. "Things can get better, you know. It's the hardships we face in life that help mold us into the people we become."

            "Tell me, Diana, what exactly have I become?" I pull away and look to the pink evening sky above us. "I waste away in this God damned town feeling sorry for myself like an asshole."

            "Just because you hold yourself back doesn't mean that it will never happen for you." She tugs at my shirt and pulls me close to her. He arms wrap tightly around me and she buries her face into my chest. "Never, ever, let yourself believe that you are nothing, Jay."

            I find myself unable to form words and end up just sobbing into her shirt. She pulls me in tighter and I'm brought back to the last day at the hospital. The way her eyes held a hopeful gaze upon me as I held her hand tightly from my chair next to her bed. The sound of her heart monitor when its beat into the room fell flat and her hand fell lifelessly from mine. My hysterical cries to the nurse passing her room and the flood of tears and anger that escaped me when the one thing I cared about ceased to be. It's overwhelming, terrifying even, as I hold her tightly in my arms wanting only to stay here with her for the rest of my days. I start to think about her leaving me again soon and my heart shatters and my body stats to ache.

            "You were my rock, too, big guy," she says into my shoulder to break my quiet sobbing into her shirt. "I never got to tell you that before I-"

            "Don't say it." I pull away from her and look down upon her face riddled with a mess of tears as I'm sure mine is right now. I rest my forehead on hers and take a long look into her eyes while I still can. "I can't hear you say it again."

            "Did I make a mistake coming back?" She pulls her head back slightly. "I knew I should have ju-"

            I stop her as I meet my lips to hers. Her eyes stay open for a moment and close as she pulls me close, resting her hands on the sides of my head and kissing me back harder. The sadness inside me erodes in an instant and I'm brought back to the first time I saw her. The way she looked at me every day before school that made me feel like I was on top of the world. That same feeling shoots through my body and I know that I can't lose her again. She pulls away slowly and our eyes lock; her emerald eyes digging deep into my soul and sending my heart on a path of destruction within my chest.

            "Jay." She whispers as tears pour from her eyes and looking to the setting sun that begins its descent behind the horizon.

            "I refuse to let you leave me again, Diana." I look to the setting sun and down to the ground at the bottom of the peak. I look back to her again and climb over the railing, holding my arms tightly around the frail board of the wooden fence.

            "What are you doing?" She grabs a tight hold of my shoulder and looks to me with a worried expression. "Jay, this isn't what you want. You're not thinking straight."

            "You're not leaving without me this time."

            I look down upon the town that has held me prisoner since that last day at the hospital. The wind from the peak now powerfully flowing past me and sending my hair into a disheveled mess. My toes go over the edge slightly and I take another long look at the immense drop before me. Diana climbs over the railing and stands next to me, arms locked around the top board just as mine are, and holds her right hand toward me. Not the last, I think to myself as I grasp her hand and now am only separated from falling by one arm.

            "Are you sure this is what you want?" She looks to me with a worried expression. "There is no going back after this, Jay. You have to promise me that this is what you want."

            "I've been searching for something on these walks every week. I wasn't sure what I was looking for until now."

            "And what is that, Jay?"

            "My infinity." I pause and ponder the word again. "A reason to wake up in the morning and deal with this bullshit experiment we call life."

            "And you've found it?"

            "It found me," I answer. "You. You found me. I've been trying to piece myself back together again for these last few years and you've done it in one day."

            "Jay-"

            "What is waiting for me on the other side?"

            She pauses, squeezing my hand one last time and looks up to me, "Only a new beginning."

            I let go of the railing and send myself over the edge of the cliff and turn to watch as the peak bids me farewell as I fall. The air runs over my body like water and take one last breath in. I feel Diana's grip on my hand fade away as tears flow out of my eyes and fly quickly into the air above me. I close my eyes and see her waiting for me before a blinding white light and holding out her hand for me with a smile. Just as the ground catches my body I let in the last image of the orange sky as it quickly fades to black. She holds her hand out and looks to me with those emerald eyes and her smile as she starts toward the light and pulls me closely behind her. A smile comes to my face as she leads me forward and that's when I feel it. What I've been searching for ever since that last day at the hospital.

I have found my infinity.

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