My feet pound the pavement, dogged step after step. My breath is harsh and brittle in my lungs, each inhale tearing at the membranes of my throat. I round the corner. There, coming into view behind leafy bushes and a gently sloping hill, lays a cool glade; beckoning. I crest the slope, my thighs and calves begging for release. And there it is, jutting against the dusky sky, its soft petals open in supplication to a sun swiftly sinking. The ground beneath it is smooth, a whorl of perfectly executed circles. The smell of the Bradford pear’s clustered flowers permeates the air.
I lay myself down. I feel as though I’m floating, the delicate tips of the grass blades cradling my weary body. Each deep breath brings with it the smell of flowers, sweet and smooth. It pours into my abused throat, a cool drink of water to my burning lungs, soothing the hurt.
And then I begin sinking, so slowly at first I’m lulled into compliance. Each breath pushes my body further into the ground, my limbs weighed down and sinking quickly. The tips of the grass, no longer so delicate, prick my skin like fiery ants marching along the exposed skin of my wrists and hands. The grass seems to entwine upon my hands and arms, slowly snaking past my sneakers, enveloping me in a thousand pinpricks of fire, growing steadily over my weighted body.
Now dirt, against my clothes yet felt through to my skin, its moist warmth pressing insistently against me, as though by sheer pressure alone it could contain me, hold me. It sifts across my skin, the loose upper layer first, drawing the lines of palms and fingers in vivid brown. Then the cool, cloying press of mud, hidden under the warmer layers, packing around me in a firm, unbreakable mold.
I lay fully covered now, silent except for the swift sureness of my breath and heart. The smell of the flowers and sweet grass, the gentle of breeze playing across my face, the feeling of sinking into the ground are all gone. And then my breath, painful at first and then sweet nourishment, stops.
The air is filled with the solitary thud of my heart, the reverberating pounding shaking loose the layer of dirt that covers me and causing miniscule cracks in the mold. It disturbs the silence, its thuds, defiantly loud. A few beats more and then, silence. Peaceful at first and then deafening, the end signaled not by a jarring beep but rather a pressing silence, so forceful and unnatural my eardrums ache and burn.
I come to – seconds, minutes later – jerking my arms forcefully off the ground. They come up, flying gracelessly through the air to flop back down, fallen, broken bones.
I get up, brush the dirt and grass off my pants, and jog home, my feet falling in rhythm to the reassuring beat of my heart.