We begin: Slow, at first, like a stroll in the park. A sunny summer day. No, spring, with powder blue skies and a bright sun, a warm sun, a sun that burns the chill off the early March day—or April, maybe May. Whatever the month, it’s warm but cool—a light breeze rustles your clothes just so. And there’s a dog—a puppy. It’s brown, or black. No, it’s spotted. A dalmatian puppy, white and beginning to earn its spots. It runs up to you, tail wagging and tongue lobbing out of the side of its mouth. It’s a good boy. A child calls out to the puppy; they are a pair. Ready to grow up together. Or wait, no. The puppy belongs to this young couple, still new and forever in love. The puppy is their first child. He gave it to her as a Christmas present, with a big red bow. No, no. A rescue. They rescued it together. At their wedding, it will be their ring bearer with a little, purple, velvet pillow affixed to its bow-tie collar.
But things to a bumpy. bit a more And
then start get bit A faster bit intense.
The sun dips behind the clouds that weren’t there
just a few seconds ago You can’t see the puppy or
the couple The grass beneath your feet is crispy
brown It crunches when you take a step and you
cringe because people turn to look at you You can
feel their eyes on your skin and you sweat, the
droplets of condensation forming and then
trickling into body cervices This makes you think
of words moist clavicle fingering noodle fungi slit
masticate abscess discharge You want
now but the tunnel is closing
in and it’s getting darker and darker so
dark that you can’t see your
own nose and your own
hand when you hold it up to
your face you speed up and
realize you are no longer in
the park You are in an
elementary school after
hours and the lights are off
and you are standing in the
hallway All the doors are
shut and you walk but you
don’t know which way to go
and you keep thinking you
hear a sound but you can’t
tell which direction it came from
things are different, flipped.
Where once there was sunlight, now it is night.
The grass beneath your feet has been paved over and it’s cracked with weeds attempting to grow but failing.
The puppy, the good boy, is dead.
The couple broke up a short time after.
The little child grew up without a companion to be you, and now you work at a library dusting books that no one ever reads.
You get papercuts on your fingers and carpal tunnel in your wrists.
The doctor doesn’t find the cancer until it’s too late and when you look back over your life, you can’t remember things.
You can’t remember when you went outside to play for the last time.
You can’t remember what your grandmother’s face looked like, or the last time you mother carried you on her hip.
You can’t remember the last toy you wanted so bad, or what happened to that best friend
you had in middle school, the one you promised to be best friends with forever.
Nothing is okay.
You feel deep despair, like you have never felt before.
Like someone borrowed your favorite book and dog-eared the pages,
like your favorite TV-show, the one that always ends in a cliffhanger, gets cancelled and you’re left without closure.
like you find out your partner, your lover, your before-anyone-else, spend every waking moment away from you chasing others.
like your mattress is lumpy and the room is always either too hot or too cold to sleep and you spend every night tossing and turning and never sleeping.
like you buy a new, expensive sweater and when you put it on it is rough and scratchy inside.
like you worked really hard for something—to graduate high school or college or a doctorate program or to reach the championship tournament or to get married or travel the world or start a new business—and then an outbreak. A disease. A global pandemic covers the world like a blanket and that thing you achieved is still earned but the moment is tarnished, erased. It is still there, imprinted on the paper, but never the same as it once was, it could have been.
like an eraser is moving back and forth across your skin trying to erase you from the world.
And then, just when you think you
cannot take anymore, you return to where you started. The end is the beginning, and you’re home now. You feel giddy, like biting the ends off Twizzlers and using them as a straw for your Dr. Pepper, like multi-colored pens all built into one, like browsing book fairs and winding up the music box and playing Super Mario Bros., like checking the back of your closet for the door to Narnia and the stumbling sound of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in middle C, and the smell of White Diamonds, like sipping Juicy Juice in the back of the bus on the way home from the field trip to the amusement park, where you rode a rollercoaster for the first time.
Sam Campbell is a writer and teacher from Tennessee. She earned her English M.A. from East Tennessee State University, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of The Mockingbird. When she isn't reading her tarot cards, she serves Arkansas International as Social Media Editor, and holds editorial positions at Orison and The Great Lakes Review. She is the fiction editor and co-founder of Black Moon Magazine. Her favorite word processor is wine, and it helps her publish across all genres; her work appears or is forthcoming in October Hill, MORIA, Tennessee's Emerging Poets Anthology, and E.ratio Postmodern Poetry, among others. She's not one to do things halfway, which is why her awards include, but are not limited to, the 2019 James Still Prize for Short Fiction and 2019 Jesse Stuart Prize for Young Adult Writing. She has been trying to learn to play the piano for about twelve years now and refuses to give up. She is currently a first-year fiction MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas, living in Fayetteville with her favorite person (her mom) and her 47 houseplants.