W A R R E N
Warren woke to the blue of the tent. He felt with his fingers, or tried to——nylon rustle of a sleeping bag, but his fingers were numb. Warren licked his teeth. Grime. Blinked through the dry haze. Dawn.
Warren, at the fact of another day, puked.
Warren spat twice, trying to break the arc of drool that hung from his mouth, open and panting. He looked at the thin puddle of bile on the dark gray tarp while realizing that he already felt nothing again. His throat relaxed. He wished for rope.
He knew someone would visit to make him move. Daniel had made his days predictable, careful. Warren wanted to greet this regularity with explosive mutilation. Though he wouldn’t. He could not break his promise to Daniel. Though he did leave his puke there, thinking it might move a visitor to hate him more and therefore abandon him, skip a watch.
Daniel didn’t use that term——watch——but Warren knew well the rooms with no possible exits. This time there were trees, though.
Warren damned himself for wanting trees to be his accomplices.
Hey, she said. Warren flinched. He didn’t know who was with him, and if he’d been sleeping. Someone had cleaned up the bile. He felt food rattle in acid in his stomach. His mouth was dry. Light through the blue was blown out, forcing a migraine. His hands shook through their clench. Warren wanted others to see his cells screaming for death. He wanted to pound his pain into them but knew they wouldn’t change; he was forceless. A dumb skin forbidden to break.
Hey, she said. How are you feeling?
He was lead to a tree for some reason. After he’d been fed another sandwich. He picked at his lower lip and thought about being flayed.
She stood beside him, watching. Daniel had said to be there but not restrain him. Daniel had asked her to say aloud that he was able and able to listen. She thought he, Warren, looked like shit. She felt bad for feeling afraid of him.
What are we doing, Warren said.
I’m just here to be with you, she said.
Warren felt coddled, weak, able to choke on his own protest. He said nothing.
Crows battered the trees with their posturing. Warren watched them without seeing anything. He wondered when he could find the time to lie down in a muggy shade and let his liver be pecked and plucked out of him.
Daniel put his hand on Warren’s shoulder.
What did he say to you? She was in his tent and asking.
Warren said I don’t know. He shook his head, eyes heating. He saw himself crying at a remove, briefly, receding away from a vision of himself as if he had jumped face-up off a bridge. Warren felt warm while watched, but yearned to have money again so he could securely destroy himself with it.
Weeks of walks, of talks with him near trees, and regular feeding. He could only think that, as Daniel had promised, he had waited it out. Outlasted it, is what Daniel had said. Warren thought his renewed desire to live miraculous, and the feeling of miracle itself proved to Warren that he was better.
Gradually, Warren rejoined the group. Sat back before the evening fires. He kept alert for differences: softened characters, shallower conversation. Like all the times before during which he freshly declaimed suicide, Warren treated himself like an open wound. He guarded himself against sensitive measures in some strangely guilty dance of compensation. Warren knew to watch, and to feel.
On the group’s third night in full attendance, Daniel asked this opening question: Why must we kill ourselves from a place of tranquility?
Daniel invited Warren for talks. These talks were always private, though open to guests——those allowed to walk beside the talkers and to listen. No one had yet been a guest. They thought Daniel most valued time either with all or with one. As he had said to them many times: Be open or closed to the world. Half measures are for those who haven’t allowed themselves to think.
They’d been strolling through the woods around their camp every day for a week. This time——the first yellow leaves new on the ground yet still pliable as flesh——Daniel hadn’t said a word for miles. Warren waited, knowing again——no: remembering——that silence is always profound if we let it be. Warren had felt well for weeks, running water and cooking in between conversations. He’d volunteered for the solo town run, but Daniel recommended against. He had a good argument for Warren staying close, but Warren couldn’t quite remember. Though he knew that it was good.
What do you want, Warren?
Daniel stared ahead, walking.
Warren waited for the next question, but it didn’t come. Warren only realized this after many minutes——too long to keep a response waiting between them.
I want to stay with everyone until we’re all ready.
What will you do if that doesn’t happen, Daniel asked.
Warren sped up. Daniel was taking long strides ahead. I’ll——Warren tripped on a storm-rent branch, caught his pace again. He felt dumb for starting to speak before knowing where he’d end up. He didn’t want to waste this time.
I’m sorry. I’ll go when I’m ready, then.
Daniel stopped walking, looked up at the canopy, inhaled.
Warren stopped beside him and looked out. He had nothing to look at, so he picked a point. Some tree with a gouge in its bark, stunted.
Daniel slowly turned toward Warren and opened his arms. He laughed.
Warren laughed too, dry and low. He felt Daniel’s quick and strong hug, and returned it. Daniel stepped away and looked down while Warren tried to banish the bristle against touch he always felt light up through his skin.
I’m so glad you’re back with us, Daniel said. After all that time in the hands of the preservation industry. With no dignified curiosity in your beliefs and aims. Punishing your body with unnatural stasis. I hate to think about all that pain, Warren.
Daniel looked into Warren’s eyes.
I do, Daniel said, nodding.
Warren felt through weeks fat with scrutiny. Daniel appeared more often, touched more often, gazed at them until they realized their errors, which were correctible. He felt the lift of potential in his body——Warren knew it was now totally gone, what the unseeing folks called depression. He repeated to himself often the ward that Daniel had passed to him on his first day: The concept is meant to hide its origin.
Daniel felt strong——nearly strong enough to let himself die.
Warren, Daniel, and the two women stood backlit by sundown. The rest of the group had been asked to leave until the trees became obscured by night; Daniel and the rest standing here wanted space for their talk and their decisions.
A knife lay on a tree stump. Amber sunlight seemed to seal it.
Daniel spoke: What it is that’s in front of you is a tool.
Yes, Warren said.
Yes, Amay said.
Yes, said Rose.
Daniel stepped forward and placed his palm over the blade.
The reason we choose to use this tool——if this is the tool we think best——is to save ourselves from the danger, from the true and final threat.
Yes, they said. Their affirmations necessary to proceed.
The true and final threat being that of a true and final death. An eradication. A self-conscious burning of all possibility.
Rose, Daniel said. He held out his hand.
Rose stepped forward. Warren noticed that, next to him, Amay was sweating. He wanted to laugh. He knew his laughter’s disaster. He kept closed.
Daniel placed Rose’s hand on the knife.
Who do you respect, Rose?
No one, she said. And so everyone yet to come.
Do you respect yourself, Rose?
A finger of wind found its way through the trees, birds cackling awake.
Rose looked back at Amay. Warren watched Rose look, look for something else in what she saw, try to look past what was there. Which was just some body.
I do, Rose said, returning to Daniel.
Ready… Ready, Warren whispered. He felt very full of many things.
Would you like to act now, Rose?
Warren stepped forward, impelled. I am, Warren said. I’m here and completely present. Aimed. Aware of the weight. I——
Warren. Daniel still knelt with her, begging someone to fulfill his wishes, to be voluptuous and defined by speed.
It’s all here——the air——Warren jumped for the knife——
Daniel pulled it back, Rose shouting, Daniel thrusting it out, out, a talisman.
Don’t you fucking move, Daniel said, facing Warren.
But it’s too late, Warren whispered. He looked at the knife, at Daniel’s admiration, at this pointed offering. He giggled.
Daniel stepped back, arm locked. He looked into the copse.
Quick footsteps through the woods——Warren had already felt them fly away, leap into the trees, become indefinite.
I couldn’t be more here, Warren said, offering up his wrists.