Vibration before sound, that’s how it starts. You could be at school, at home, anytime, anywhere. You hear mumbling and feel your lips twitch as you mouth words. Keep on your noise-cancelling earphones, never go anywhere without them. Listen to The Weeknd on continuous loop, I Would Die for You, and sing along with him.
Even though we’re going through it
And it makes you feel alone
Just know that I would die for you
Baby I would die for you, yeah
Beneath, around his voice are other voices, talking just to you. They whisper, then hiss through clenched teeth. You will die for you, you will die, yeah, baby yeah. Don’t listen. They crank up the volume and play tricks until you can’t hear The Weeknd, only horns beeping, children whispering and weeping.
You’re failing several of your courses in Grade 11 because so much is flooding in through eyes, ears, nose, mouth, every pore in your skin, so you can’t concentrate on your teachers. Take Math.
Open your text and read.
Make connections between the numeric, graphical and algebraic representations of quadratic relations and use the connections to solve problems.
Construct tables of values and graph quadratic relations arising from real-world applications (e.g., dropping a ball from a given height.)
The words are too black and the space white blinds. You snap shut the text and see every grain and scratch in the cover.
Soon school’s out for summer and maybe you’ll be well again. Drawing like mad, he he. Making new cartoons. You have an idea for a graphic memoir, a joint project with Collier, a day in the life sort of thing. If you can only hold out till summer. So far, you hide, hope to appear normal.
Parents ask about your day, well, what can you say? When mom hugs you, it’s electroshock. You see how you hurt her but you can’t help it. Colours make sounds. Yellow is a beep, beep, beep. Blue, waves rolling in, crashing shore. Red, a scream, which is why they call it bloodcurdling. Mom’s voice is silvery. Dad’s hard, geologic. Sleep is out of the question. There is an old doll’s head with red glowing eyes, she spooks you.
Time is the abyss, sad, weary.
You hear a black feral cat, skinny, yowling, like an ambulance coming. There are more wild stray cats in a pack, pack-cats. Coming for you.
They try to woo you to their side. We love you, Morgan. Listen and you will survive. They threaten and terrorize you. We will turn your vagina black.
You text Collier from the girl’s washroom at school and then go into the yard for a cig. This is one of your worst days ever. You’re scared. Your mind’s going.
It’s happening again.
Meet me out front.
“Coll, Coll, Coll!” You rejoice when you see them and put away your earphones into your backpack. They’re not helping today. “Thoughts out loud, too many thoughts. Being born, it hurt to come into the light.
“We’ll walk it off,” Coll tells you.
“I’m scared,” you say. They are the only one you can trust.
You head to the Lachine Canal, the day so hot you know the sun is alive and will peel off your skin and scorch your heart.
At last you’re alongside the river and feel the breeze off the water. Collier sweeps his arm around you and their touch is different from anyone else’s – it calms you – a little. You glance over to them and see a feral cat on their left shoulder. Its gem-green eyes.
“Coll, there’s a black cat on your shoulder? Do you see it too?”
They tap both shoulders, shrug, then shake their head no.
But you still see the creature. When the light hits its eyes, they glimmer like emeralds. Now it yowls.
“Coll, hear that?”
The cat leaps to Collier’s other shoulder.
“Sometimes my mom pretends she’s a bird,” Coll says, apropos of nothing. “A wild, weird, scavenging bird, picking at garbage. She likes being this bird, calls it the haw-craw. I told you all about that and it got inside your head, Mor.”
Maybe she put the feral cat into your head to torture you. Your cats will eat her birds.
You pass by the sculpture garden and there are families gathering to barbecue, kids kicking a ball around and you feel outside of all normal life on this radiant spring day with the buttery sun and cerulean sky. You like the sound of that word, cerulean.
Then you think of the doll’s head nightlight, your math book, classmates. “Everyone is trash-talking me behind and in front of my back.”
Collier pulls you in close to their chest.
A wind picks up off the water, the sun hiding behind a puffy cloud. You know the earth is laid waste. Fear makes you ill.
“C’mon Mor, let’s break into a clip.”
In no time or all time, you reach the rocky beach and your whole being is filled with light and loveliness. The wind goes wild, but you don’t care because the sun beats down in waves that match the ones washing toward shore. You both strip off your clothes and slide down the rocks into the lapping frigid river and gasp in one moment. Together. You cut the back of your thighs sliding down and it feels good, that sting.
“Mor, you drawing lately?”
“A bit.” What you see and hear and know.
Collier splashes you and the river water is frigid against your cheeks, burns your eyes, spurts up your nose. You splash Collier back and get into a water fight like you did as kids. Now a clear blue sky of the mind and warm dazzling sunlight.
You stay in the water a second, a minute, an hour. Shivering when you climb up those sharp rocks, Collier gives you a hand. They are so agile and move with a grace you can never muster. You both scramble into your heaped up clothes, which drag on wet, clammy skin. Part of you awake now, which had been dormant. Bringing you back to the quiet of before. Where are the voices now?