By: Douglas W. Nyback
For Paris. For the world.
“Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes…Tomorrow comes!”
“It’s a beautiful number.” she thinks as the curtain falls and the applause rolls through the theatre like thunder. “How here at the end, even the dead sing so beautifully.” And she knows, Katy does, that even now before the curtain call the air is alive with the buzzing and whirring of thousands of megabytes of data. The applause dies a bit more than it used to and just a bit faster because we say thank you differently now, don’t we? Not to the people in front of us, but to all the people that weren’t here.
She shakes her head, making her way into the wings, a small smile playing across her lips. A stage hand passes her phone to her and the screen is alive with hundreds of little blips and dings. She thinks, “How odd that they feel closer to me on this box than out there in that room.”
Suddenly, the applause dies, a little at first, then completely. All the actors around her look up, the sudden silence exposing their heavy breathing left over from the finale.
“What’s going on—?” She asks.
But all she has to do is look down and she knows.
“A hundred people in a theatre… My God.”
And the curtain rises, as curtains do, the cast laid bare to the audience than bore them. And nobody speaks, they just stare at each other, the beautiful relationship they shared moments ago hanging in the air in the no man’s land between what was and what is now. There exists between an audience and their cast an unspoken contract, it’s very simple.
The cast says, “Everything we put before you tonight is real.”
And the audience says, “Ok.”
So cleanly does this contract break, Katy swears she can hear the snap. “And now,” she thinks, “we’re just people in a room.” That’s when the tears come, first from her cast mates and then the audience. She stares out at them, deep in the throes of immense emotional shock, six hundred people with their souls laid bare, face to face with the absolute extreme of what humans can do to other humans. Six hundred people, their faces buried not in their hands but in their phones, tears dropping on touch screens like rain, blurring the billions of instant condolences from millions, millions of miles away.
“Oh…” she says, feeling her own face and finding it dry. And under her breath she says, “We are so far away from each other.”
So she speaks, her voice amplified by the stage microphones, echoing in this old hall like an angel, “Hey.”
But no one responds, their faces are still buried.
“Hey. Hello! Hey! LOOK UP!” And they do, because her voice has power, it resonates and something inside her has changed.
“Everything we put before you tonight is real.” She says.
And the audience says, “Ok.”
Katy looks over to her Marius, his young face flushed, his eyes red with sorrow and rage. “I’m a crier.” She says.
“I’m a crier, right? I cry all the time?”
“You guess? I cry at, like, everything. I cried at a video of a kitten scaring a tiger right before we went on tonight, like, literally right before we stepped onto the stage. I had to hand my phone off to our stage manager, didn’t I?” She looks over to Rebecca, the Stage Manager who nods through her tears. “I can’t go five minutes without tearing up, I am constantly moved.”
She pauses. “Why aren’t I crying?” She looks over at Eric, the beautiful father of two who plays Valjean, “Eric? Why can’t I cry?”
“I…I don’t know, love.”
Katy looks out over all those faces, her brilliant blue eyes shining, almost seeming to glow as she takes in all six hundred people, hanging on to her for dear life, hanging on because if, even for a few minutes she can be more real to them than the atrocities of the world then somehow they might be able to make it through the night.
And she speaks, as we must in such times, with no filter between her heart and her throat:
“I was in love with a man once— sorry, a boy— because we were young, maybe sixteen at the time…God, we were so young. How does that happen? How do fourteen years go by like that?” But though she holds the audience’s attention, they have no answers for her, only questions. “We were doing a show, it was a World War II play about kids going off to war and it wasn’t good, but it was good for what it was, you know? We all needed it, that show, I wouldn’t be here without it. We were all away from our parents, staying in college dorms, rehearsing all day and singing and falling in love all night. We were free, in the way only kids can be free, we were so…free. And there was Alex, playing this young kid and all he wants is adventure and a family but he has to go to war. And he does. Go to war, I mean. And he dies, as soldier do. And he comes back as a ghost, like a lot of us did tonight, and he sings about how he dreamed of adventure once but the world cared nothing for his dreams, not really, and now all he is is the shadow of a cause. And I used to sneak to the back of the theatre on matinees to watch him do that bit, because he looked so hollow, so empty, in his eyes was only darkness and it was because of that darkness that I loved him. Because how could such darkness exist in a boy so young if not for an ocean of light?”
She smiles and the theatre smiles with her.
“I loved him, with my whole heart and soul I loved him. We’d steal into each others rooms past lights out and we’d stay up all night kissing and talking of our lives, together and apart, all the shows we’d do, all the people we’d touch and we knew we’d caught it, lightning in a bottle. The greatest love our youths would allow, for once youth is gone, love changes, it grows and diminishes all at once.”
She pauses for a moment, bittersweet as she’s ever been.
“And all the while we knew we had a time limit. And time did what time does, it brought us steadily into the future and the future was goodbye.”
Realization dawns in her eyes, “And that was it,” she says, “the moment I became a crier.” Her lips spread into a smile and that smile is a glass of water in a desert, “I saw his face as he left me. He always had such an honest face, creased with thought and worry, but honest. I had never felt so truly loved, nor have I ever since.”
She shrugs, “It was just so pure,” she marvels, “how he loved me. Like he would love me forever. So I cried. I cried harder than I’d ever cried before because it is only our capacity to feel love that allows for our sorrows. So, you beautiful people, you lights, look up at each other and love each other, then hold each other in your sorrow and the more you hurt, the more you’ll love and then we can all leave here together.”
And with that she climbs down off the stage, breaking the contract and once again becoming human. And as a human, Katy holds on to the first human she can, and then that human holds another, and then another, and then another until the whole theatre is one human, one heart loving and hurting as one. It’s only then, for Katy, that the tears come, for now she’s not only herself crying, she’s this theatre, she’s the world, all that have ever been and all that will ever be.
And as her tears fall, she thinks, “Ever the dead sing so beautifully.”
Here is the truth:
Each life is a pebble,
breaching the water
when the ripples are strong.
How we impact each other,
the lives we touch.
It isn’t culture that does this
nor religion or belief.
For a dog isn’t a dog
when it’s rabid.
Darkness casts a shadow, doesn’t it?
To swallow up the light.
But shadow is
as it’s always been
growing to fade
and passing again
for light can exist without darkness
but darkness cannot without light.
And here is the truth:
Each life is a pebble,
some pebbles made great,
boulders that fall
not just for those that knew them
but greater to all.
Their ripples are oceans
connecting us all
that we should cry out
“I am you and you were me.”
for we were never one
but always all
and so, bound together,
may we never fall.
I have a recurring dream of you. Well, ‘dream’ isn’t quite the right word because it doesn’t come during sleep but rather right at the moment where sleep should overtake me but doesn’t. Every night you take up residence there, between dreams and wakefulness. It’s not your face I see, but a sunflower with only one petal left, right at the top, reaching endlessly to the sky.
You’re not here anymore, but I know what you’d say.
“How do you know it’s me?”
“How do I know rain is rain? Or that the sky is the sky? Or that the wind is wind?”
“Am I wind to you? Am I the sky?”
“No,” I say to the empty room room around me. “You are not the wind, you are not the sky.”
I don’t know how I know, but I do, that you’re smiling somewhere as I type this. Perhaps not even thinking of me but smiling all the same as some nameless warmth fills your heart.
“Because you are the sunflower.”
“With only one petal?”
“But why only one? Because I’m dying?”
You’d be silent for a moment, of this I’m sure.
“Am I dying?” You’d ask.
“Yes.” I’d reply. “And no.”
And you would just look at me, unsure anymore if I make you happy, or sad.
“A sunflower with one petal is hope, to me.” I’d explain. “It’s either limitless potential or imminent death. In growing the sunflower will bring great joy. Every person that gazes upon it will smile and carry summer in their hearts. But were it to be dying it would fall, crushed under it’s own weight, folding to the ground only to decompose and become, once again, of the earth.”
“And what joy is that?” You’d ask.
“It’s infinite. For to become a part of the earth is to become the earth as one. From a single plant to the foundation of billions. Of one to of everything. That is what you are to me, my sunflower, not the immediate or the infinite, but the moment between where all things are possible. That’s why you come to me when I’m neither asleep, nor awake.”
“And why must I leave you?”
“Because, my sunflower, you’re not really here. You must be gone before I’m either.”
By: Douglas W. Nyback
Swipe left, swipe left, swipe left, swipe right.
Even alone at 10:30 PM on Halloween Eric had a hard time figuring if this was effort or apathy.
“You have to put yourself out there.” He thought. “But I can’t help think of Nietzsche, can I?”
Swipe left, swipe left, swipe left, swipe right.
Having emerged on the wrong side of a bad breakup, Eric had slid all the way down the ladder of despair to the point of, what he called, “Utter Human Disgust”. See, if you looked at the end of any relationship closely enough, he reasoned, you could find fault on both sides. But more than that you found fundamental human flaws, cracks in not just the nature of the individuals, but in the nature of humanity itself. The bottom line being: We are simply the worst species. We consume, intellectualize, search for purpose, find it lacking, pair up, and procreate. Thus paving the way to start the whole thing again.
“Post hoc ergo, proctor hoc.” He thought. “After this, therefore because of this. A logical fallacy in every regard except when applied to the ugliness of humanity.”
“Still, sometimes you just want to be held, you know?”
YOU’VE MATCHED WITH ANASTASIA(3*222).
“Well look at that, you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back.”
“How the fuck do you start these things?” He asked aloud.
Backspace, backspace, backspace.
A quick Google of “how to Tinder” will tell you you should always open with a compliment, ideally calling a girl “cutie” or something equally non-threatening.
Eric: Hey cutie…
Backspace, backspace, backspace.
A quick Google of “how to Tinder” won’t tell you that if you type “Hey cutie…” to a complete stranger you will immediately want to kill yourself.
Eric: …Why 3222?
He hit send.
There is no darkness like the darkness of an empty loft on Halloween. The sporadic, violent clanging of radiators echoed from surrounding units, bleeding in and out of the laughter of children as they threaded the streets, trick or treating. Suddenly, his phone chimed, casting a eerie phosphorescent glow across the expanse of his living room. For a moment he stared at the wooden beams flanking his couch, aged, pock marked with nails from the days when his building was a shoe factory.
“How many shadows are there,” he pondered. “If I were to count?”
He picked up his phone, unlocking it with a simple 1111. “The password of champions.” Eric reckoned.
ANASTASIA(3*222): BEDMAS. ;D
“BEDMAS? What’s a Bedmas?”
As if reading his mind, his phone chimed again.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Multiply or Divide.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Add or Subtract.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Brackets = What’s last is first. What’s old is new again.
He thought, “BEDMAS. Do the math. 3 x 222 = 666.”
“Hmm…” he thought. “You can spruce up just about anything with a winky face.”
Eric: Cute. Nothing like Tinder on Halloween to evoke sentiments of the Devil.
ANASTASIA(3*222): My thoughts exactly ;D
Something about that winky face unsettled him but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He thought, “Am I doing this right? …Tindering? The hell do I say next? Is it like… the rules of improv, always end in a ‘Yes and?’ ”
Before he could move a finger his phone lit up again.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Whatchu doing alone on a night like this?
Eric: Depends. Truth or Interesting?
ANASTASIA(3*222): Hmm. Interesting.
Eric: Brain surgery on an impoverished baby while listening to Vivaldi.
Eric: Thai food alone after watching Cabin in the Woods for the sixth time.
“And now,” he thought, “we get to the question of the evening.”
Eric: What about you?
ANASTASIA(3*222): What is any self respecting human doing on Tinder?
Eric: Succumbing to their alcoholism?
ANASTASIA(3*222): ;D Looking for trouble.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Do you live alone? ;D
There it was again, the face with the too big mouth. Staring at him, one eye closed with a capital ‘D’elightful smile, so mischievous it needed to show teeth. The radiators kept going CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG as suddenly he thought again of Nietzsche. Nietzsche and his Abyss.
ANASTASIA(3*222): You still there, Cutie?
;D ;D ;D
ANASTASIA(3*222): …Do you have snapchat?
While the intellect of his greater brain was still tied in the horrifying depths of that Capital D smile—“Why does it have to show teeth? When has a person ever winked and shown teeth?”—the idiocy of his lesser brain (located just below his belt and somewhere above the knees) blinked awake at the mention of “snapchat”.
Eric: What’s a snapchat?
And although Eric didn’t know, he knew.
ANASTASIA(3*222): lol. Do you have a phone number?
While his greater brain screamed “NO!” it was quickly shouted down by the demons of just how long it had been since Eric’s lesser brain had been sated. For they had desires, his demons did.
“Fuck it.” He thought, “Welcome to the freak show.”
So preoccupied was he, so split between his desires and the gaping maw of that winking face, he didn’t even notice that his radiators had stopped clanging. As his fingers worked the keys of his iPhone he didn’t hear the twisting of the valves opening themselves. As he thought, “Oh yes. Yes. That D has teeth. IT HAS TEETH.” he didn’t even hear the valve rebounding off his concrete floor. He was oblivious to the sickening hiss of steam rushing into his apartment.
The image’s arrival was instant. Too instant. He clicked the picture, exposing a beauty below the neckline, clad in black lingerie and nothing else.
He stared as the snake in his radiator hissed and hissed and hissed…
ANASTASIA(3*222): Well? Well? Well? WELL? WELL?
His phone was relentless, a constant stream of light, like the unblinking eye of a devil.
ANASTASIA(3*222): ;D Want me to come over?
No. That was wrong. It wasn’t a constant stream of light. It was the only light. It was as if his phone were eating all other light in the room. Suddenly he was aware that he couldn’t see the posts beside his couch anymore, they were gone, so was the TV in front of him and the couch all around him. There was only the phone, the cushion he sat on and the radiator on the other side of the room whispering to him as a serpent.
“It is hot in here or is it just me?” the radiator seemed to hiss. But loneliness is a powerful drug isn’t it? It leaves a hole in you. If that hole is dug deep enough it starts to look like a grave.
His fingers worked as if on their own, as if possessed.
There was a pounding on the door immediately. Three sharp knocks. Suddenly the door existed again, Eric’s world was expanding. The couch cushion, the radiator, the door and the phone. Always the phone.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Aren’t you going to let me in?
His hands trembled, the phone nearly falling to the floor, but he clung to it the way we do, as though our lifelines are crashing to the ground. He rose on unsteady feet, moved by the unrelenting pull of inevitability.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Didn’t you see my picture?
His hand found the doorknob.
ANASTASIA(3*222): Don’t you want me. ;D
His last thought before throwing the lock and opening the door was:
The door opened and there she was, as promised, her body clad in the same lingerie as her picture, the harsh angles of her hips and collar bones doing desperate battle with the curves of her womanhood. As he traced his eyes from her bare feet to her long neck his phone slipped from his fingers and clattered to the ground. The screen shattered as it landed, face up, cutting the light with the veins of broken glass. A scream ripped from his body, but it too was swallowed by the light of the phone.
On top of the slender neck was not a human face, but rather a winking geisha mask, makeup smeared atop wax paper and pulled tight over human bones. One eye was perpetually closed, ripped from ear to nose and drenched in clotted mascara. Her mouth was a gaping maw, lips a bloody patchwork of cracks and sores, with lipstick applied as though by a seven year old playing dress up with mommy’s cosmetics.
She smiled and he screamed again, silent and helpless. She laughed and in her mouth were not teeth but razor blades, sideways, rusted and yellow.
“Hey, cutie,” Lady Geisha said. “How bout a kiss?”
Her mouth descended onto his and it was The Abyss.
His last thought was:
“Teeth. She has teeth.”
Do you ever feel like you’re sinking?
every choice you’re making
of how a drowning version of you
would live their last fifteen seconds
beneath the crushing depths
of the ocean
right before it gets so deep
all light vanishes?
Salt water and dying light,
like the bourbon rocks
beside my notepad,
maybe this is what
anxiety tastes like.
to miss you this way
the kind of longing
that uses pitchforks
to stack guilt
on top of things I
it has been
since I started trying to forget you.
I lie more now,
little blips and omissions
looking over my shoulder
searching for somebody bolder
because some part of me
still feels like I’m cheating.
deep in a cloud of
how I should be over it
I just can’t quit
any new cologne I find
so if you so desire
you can still inquire
and know how I smell.
That’s the score we settled on
what’s good is gone
And, “More’s the pity.”
beside this drink
lying to friends about how I have plans
thinking about what it is to drown
in the deep blue lonesome
all the way down
to those fifteen seconds
before the light
what it is to not be darkness.
how brutally unfair,
looking up to the air,
why punish the amber?
Caught in depths so dark,
could you prove it was there?
By: Douglas W. Nyback
“Imagine the ocean.”
I say to myself.
And I do,
it’s obscured by you
not as you are
as you were,
your sandy blond hair
blowing in the wind
an infinity of sand
so it’s not the beach the sea is crashing against,
And the sun hangs in the sky,
cloudless and perfect
framed at an angle
just impossible enough
for me to remember
and not reality.
I think that’s the reason
you won’t turn around
no matter how much I call to you
how earnestly I beg,
you just walk steadily
the white dress, just above your ankles,
skimmed by the spray.
I try to follow
but I can’t.
For the sadness of dreaming,
is not the waking
behind my eyes,
the gentle picking of a guitar
floats between the closing curtains of my consciousness;
as a young man sings of love,
the sea breeze brings the smell of lavender
and ballet leather
you to me
as I am
that none of this is real.
And you keep on walking
one graceful step at a time
the color of your hair
from what it was
to what it is
the water cascading all around you,
the fading day behind you
lighting the world on fire
and surrounding you in a deep red halo
you’re no longer who you were,
you’re who you are now,
and so far away from me.
You smile and the ocean swallows you.
Then it crashes against the shore
until it’s not the shore anymore.
It never was, really.
It’s only ever been the back of my eyelids.
By: Douglas W. Nyback
It’s a quiet thing. This anniversary.
A year that didn’t begin
on January First,
that Mistress being usurped
It knew not of.
You are so much more than a chapter to me.
A whole edition,
hand bound off the presses
smelling clean, of paper
And now it has come,
a brutal month
by all accounts
hopeful despite it all,
the two of us
beginning to see
that a period
simply a semicolon
if you add a comma to it.
It’s a quiet thing; we begin again.