When you die, you will open your eyes with your bare feet resting on ground they’ve never touched before. You will feel the grass between your toes, softer than strips of terry cloth. At first, there is nothing but thick grey fog. But then, a ray of light, not sunlight but perhaps the gleam of some distant, foreign moon, shines down, and you will start to see.
You are standing on a path lined with flowers and smooth, white rocks that remind you of opals or polished skulls. The petals of each flower seem to be an impossible shade between pink and violet, and every time you look away, they change just enough so that you can’t pin them down.
Behind you is a stone wall that stretches farther up than can be measured. There is no cement between the pale, yellow boulders. They fit together in a precise, calculated manner, the way you’ve always imagined the pyramids might look. You reach out to touch them. It’s like pressing your palm against sand. The stone moves, enveloping your fingers in its earthy warmth. You get the feeling you could push your entire body into the wall and stay there forever, become a part of its constant, noble structure.
You know without asking that this is the wall between the life you left behind and what lies beyond. Though you could stay here, you cannot go back. So you turn away and begin to walk down the grassy path.
You are wearing a dress from your childhood. It’s white cotton that flows to your knees, with a pink ribbon around the waist. It’s the dress you wore to your aunt Matilda’s wedding. But even as the memory of her face tries to surface, you feel it slip away into the fog. Your hair is long again. The blonde curls rest halfway down your back. The further you walk down the path, the more you forget.
The first memories to go are of distant relatives and acquaintances. You forget your grandfather’s lopsided smile. It slips away on an exhalation of mist. Next to go are the birthdays of your various coworkers, nights spent at bars with strangers, and your second kiss, which happened by a lake in Rhode Island, when you were just fifteen. It was around then that you began to suspect you didn’t like kissing boys at all.
Far ahead, you can see a shape attempting to form — a building, or a forest, or perhaps another wall. You can’t tell from this distance, but you keep walking, because there doesn’t seem to be a better choice.
When the memory of your first pet — Jubee, the black Labrador — surfaces, there’s a twinge of discomfort in your chest. You realize you will never see Jubee again, not even in your mind’s eye, and it sends a lurch of melancholy through you. But you take another step. You breathe the memory out. Suddenly you’re sad and you don’t know why.
Your house is next. The house you bought with Eloise. The garden the two of you planted. The swing set she built for your little girl with her own calloused hands. It’s like you’re standing at the gate, looking at the powder blue front door, and the bay window that lets you glimpse the living room. The stucco walls and red-shingled roof have never been as beautiful as they are in this moment. The stretch of grass in the front yard is where little Lucy took her first steps. The worn leather couch, on the far left side of the living room, is where you first sat Eloise down to tell her about The Tumor, Your Tumor, Your Inoperable Brain Tumor.
With a breath, it’s all gone. There’s a sharp throb of pain in your lungs, and you stop walking for a moment. You feel as if you’ve lost something irreplaceable, but you don’t know what.
The flowers oscillate from red to green. The mists ahead grow a little thinner. You take another step, because it seems like the thing to do.
You start to forget all the places you’ve ever been. They leave you with varying degrees of discomfort at the moment of separation. You forget the Chicago skyline, the coffee shop on Wabash that Eloise used to work at, your mother’s house with the pink curtains and hardwood floors, the RV your father used to drive, your childhood bedroom, your bed covered in stuffed animals, and the hospital room that smelled like bleach where Eloise would stroke your hair as monitors beeped and hours slipped by.
You forget both of your parents at the same time. Their faces surface, smiling, wrinkled around the eyes, still full of life. Your mother’s frizzy red hair seems close enough to touch. You smell your father’s spicy cologne, and you start to cry. You don’t want to lose them. Not again.
But they disappear all the same. It feels like you’ve been stabbed in the gut. You scream. The pain slips away with the memory.
Your hands are smooth and soft, they way they haven’t been since you were much younger.
You keep walking.
Then you see Eloise, as if she’s standing in front of you, with her caramel skin and eyes as vast as space. Her hair is black again, not the wiry grey you’re used to. She’s young. Like she’s still in college. She’s wearing that red, polka-dotted skirt she had on the first day you met her. She holds her arms out and your run to her embrace. She pulls you close against her pillowy chest and you fall for her all over again.
“Don’t leave,” you whisper.
“Darling heart, you’re the one that’s going away.” Her voice is warm and raspy as the whiskey she used to drink. It’s comforting and distressing in a strange duality. “I love you. I always will.” She smiles.
You repeat that you love her too, over and over, hoping it will change something.
But then she dissolves into the fog. Your heart feels as if it has been ripped from your chest. You crumple to the ground and sob. A minute later, you don’t know why your cheeks are wet.
You stand up, and you’re shorter. It’s a sense you get, that your face is rounder with baby fat. Instead of walking, you skip in zigzags down the path towards the great unknown.
Ahead of you, the scene starts to slip into focus. There is a small house, with one brown door and two windows. The walls are wooden, whitewashed. The roof comes to a perfect triangle with a small brick chimney towards the back. On either side of the house stand tall, thick trees with purple trunks and black leaves.
The last thing you forget is Lucy. She starts to skip along the path with you, holding your chubby hand in hers. You’re both only five years old, with your curls up in ponytails and songs on your lips. Her wide brown eyes are full of laughter.
“Don’t be nervous,” she says. “We’re almost there.”
The two of you approach the door. She slips away right before you reach it, but it doesn’t hurt. If anything, you feel relieved. Your mind is empty for the first time since you were born. It’s an incredible sort of peace.
The door opens. A woman is standing there, draped in a piece of cloth that matches the trees. Her skin is so pale, there’s almost a blue tint to it. But she smiles. You smile back at her.
“Come in, child. We’ve been expecting you,” she says in a tongue you’ve never heard before, but recognize just the same. Just behind her, you see other people moving within the house, murmuring to each other. They all look familiar, but you can’t place them.
You step over the threshold. The woman closes the door behind you. The air is warm, humid and comforting. You don’t mind the total darkness. This is where you’re supposed to be.
TAYLOR PUTORTI graduated with honors from Columbia College Chicago, summa cum laude. He is a regular contributor to Hair Trigger Magazine and has a column that reviews television shows on a popular geek culture website. He is both an editor and a website-designer for an award-winning literature anthology. He has worked as a Fiction tutor for three years and is fluent in American Sign Language. His current project, besides the various novels and short stories, is a linguistic research paper, studying how the Internet has changed the way we communicate and inflect emotion through text-based exchanges.