After he dies, he wakes as a tree.
He feels bugs burrowing into him, can feel squirrels fucking in his trunk. His branches fall and fungus disintegrates everything inside of him.
He remembers how when he was boy and not bark that he had learned that some trees lived for hundreds of years, thousands, maybe millions. He thinks he had seen that on television. Yeah; he had been sitting on the carpet, picking at scabs, squeezing a juice box.
A cursing child stabs his bark with a pocketknife repeatedly. He doesn’t feel it.
Death is sleep. He can’t remember how exactly it happens or when, but it’s exhaustion and then sudden unconsciousness.
He never makes it to a million because winter comes and he’s been so exhausted.
He wakes as the crust in the corner of someone’s mouth.
The man and woman sitting in the chairs opposite of the wheelchair he is confined to don’t say a word. They don’t even make eye contact.
They keep looking at their shoes, their laps, to the wall.
He remembers how he would lay under the sofa in the dark for hours and try to make out faces in the irregularities of the wall. The young couple ahead of him are looking at the plaster with the same kind of inquisitive gaze he remembers having.
The air conditioning blows cold. It smells of urine here. He feels awkward at the corner of the lips of a man whose brain has gone full of holes in his ninety years.
A nurse in white scrubs steps into the room. Her hair is tied up in a bun. There’s a forced smile on her face. He can hear her heartbeat as she wipes drool from the man’s chin, cheeks, the corner of his mouth.
He’s gone in a soft, cold pressure from the attentive hand of a stranger.
He wakes and he is an impacted wisdom tooth.
The flesh that holds him is swollen and tender. It feels like the wettest, darkest hug, which makes it the best he has ever experienced.
This is the closest he’s felt to being human again.
Buried under tissue and blood, he can pretend he’s a fetus deep in the womb of someone’s jaw, all bone and snuggly.
It’s getting hard to remember what arms around him feel like. He thinks his mother did at one point, wait, yes, of course she did. His father, maybe. There might have been others, surely there were others.
Remembering is hard.
There’s a scratch of steel against his top and the tingle of a sedative tickling at the twisted roots of his existence. He tries to nestle deeper, butting up against the neighboring tooth without any regard of its well being because he needs the comfort.
The chunk of flesh above him is peeled back with gloved hands and sharp tools, bloody and inquisitive. He shies away from the bright light and falls asleep in the last of the darkness.
When he wakes, he is the last hole on a mini golf course.
The fake grass around him is wet with the leaking of a nearby fountain, of which depicts an elephant spraying water from its nose. Throughout the day, game after game, it becomes wet with tears.
The end comes as a surprise to children swinging colorful putters. Their joy shatters into the deepest anguish as their golf ball is gone without warning. They fall on the ground and claw at him, tears in their eyes.
He watches as parents grab their upper arms and yank them back up to standing. A father snarls and hisses something barbed through gritted teeth. Maybe they’ve lost a lot lately, maybe that’s why they’re so upset with each other.
He thinks he remembers crying once, losing something and being punished for mourning over it.
He can’t remember.
At the end of the day, there is no prize, just an abrupt, unexpected end. A small shoe owned by a still sniffling child stomps over him and all goes dark.
He wakes and he is a dream.
He can remember being younger, but just barely. It’s all falling away from him. There are shreds of memory played out in poorly lit projections against the dark screen of nothingness. There are women in dresses holding their squirming sons and daughters. There are fathers exiting cars and waving to the neighbors.
There are boys climbing trees and breaking their arms. There are memories of watching television in dark rooms and pressing his cheek up against the glass of his window during winter. There are memories of burning sidewalks and dog bites and falling in rose bushes.
He drifts and flips and floats through a collective subconscious, each move conjuring something that is familiar and that is not, but that is still somehow him.
He has woken as so many others but he will never wake as the little boy held by his mother and father, shuffling his feet in rain puddles and riding his tricycle across gravel.
Death is like falling asleep. He can’t remember how or when it happens but he’s dreaming, always dreaming.
He falls asleep. He wakes.
James Ezra lives in Texas. Her work has been featured in Show Your Skin, Occulum and Faded Out.