The first thing he noticed when he came around was the awful, suffocating sterility surrounding him. It was as though he were wrapped in new sheets, too far away from his mouth for his breath to warm his cheeks, empty and lacking any comfort. His actual sheets scratched against his legs. When he breathed, the slight movement tickled against his shins, the coarse material offering no tenderness. Judas didn't dare to open his eyes. He knew from the red shadows cast against his eyelids that the room would give him no gift but acute, accusing sunlight. He wasn't ready for that yet.


           Sleep shed from him as easily as a second skin. One minute, he was deep in a dream he had no memory of (the memory clung to him subtly in an unidentifiable emotion lingering at the back of his neck) the next minute, he was stuck with the sharp needle of consciousness. It was neither a gift he asked for nor welcomed. His body was devoid of life, weighted and too heavy to move with intention. It wasn't his own. Certainly, this couldn't be his body. Certainly, his mind was merely a visitor. Certainly, Judas was gifted a brief and limited visit to another person's life. He should rapidly skip between bodies of strangers, fleetingly experiencing what they would. His soul was light, but his body was so, so heavy.


            Even if he wanted to, he couldn't open his eyes. And so, he laid, tuning his senses to his room as detached as he could muster.


            Did his body hurt or was it the discomfort from his bed? The sensation from his abrasive sheets was burning him--too much. Too much. He wished for sleep, but his mind remained lively while his body hung lifeless, depleted from the exhaustion his sleep couldn't solve for him. Birds tweeting punctuated the immaculate air, followed by the faint tickle of hair moving against his forehead. Oh, that's nice. Someone opened the window. Window to the right of his body, pushing crisp (probably morning?) air over his cheeks. The moisture carried from the outdoors stuffed like cotton into his lungs.


           The urge to cough washed over him quickly. Not like he could. His body ignored everything other than the necessary beating of his heart and the in-and-out of his chest. Emotions felt faded, like the sun streaming through the open window bleached them to only barely resembled what they could be. Here on the right, hung proudly, is the faded t-shirt of early morning tranquility. Somebody clearly wore it too often, cause' it no longer fits my body. Judas knew he should feel something akin to grateful repose upon hearing the distant whispering of the breeze through the treetops, but he found himself observing it with indifferent emptiness.


           Psithurism—he read about it once, defined as the sound of the wind through the trees. Feeling that word on his tongue felt like he was speaking a language only understood by the forest. He yearned for that connection. It felt like a piece to a puzzle he was missing. But that was when any little creak of a floorboard or notable person felt like a hint of some grand conspiracy to him. He laid until the scratching on his shins and the murmur of life gave way to blank, forgettable dreams.


           "Ah, don't move!" A gentle gasp of a whisper brought him back. The sound of someone talking under their breath while working, that 'okay let's-' and 'hm, maybe' that accompanied mothers washing dishes and occupied tradesmen. The voice was carried too much by the breeze from the window to discern a gender or a mood.


           Immediately after his eyes opened, Judas flinched. The room was too white, too bright. It attacked him from all angles, a swarm of bees he couldn't run from. His eyes didn't stay shut though. He felt like a visitor yet again, lone observer, in someone's head while their body worked. This is the body of Judas. Watch him flinch and turn under the white sheets in the white room under the billowing white drapes. I had white sheets at home. I wonder if they're white anymore.


            With the source of the voice no longer concerning him, Judas's eyes opened and faced the white barrage. His eyes focused to the hues, rolling back into his head momentarily as his body found the strength to keep his eyelids from closing. He was on his back, facing the window as though his subconscious craved the fresh air rolling through it.


           Judas in the white room. If he concentrated hard enough, he could see the undulating waves pushing air through the window, crashing against objects around the room and filling up the room like an untended bathtub would fill up a room. Up and up, leaking out the bottom of the door. (The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai, 1829-1833) (Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt, 1633) ("The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall." The Waves, Virginia Woolf, 1931).


           His mind fell rapidly to images and words that didn't belong to him, filling his head with paintings and poems before resting somewhere he couldn't reach, blocked by his numbness and empty mind. Flicking his eyes from detail to detail, Judas took each moment to memorize the crevasses in the plumage of the chairs under the windows and the way the clouds seemed delicate and puffy amidst the morning sky.


           He imagined how he’d describe it in a book. He would say they were still, frozen in time. Sickeningly sweet blue raspberry ice cream sky with tufts of whipped cream sitting on top like a castle. Princess and prince speaking only in tweets of finches or mockingbirds. In the corner of his eye, something sliced him deeper than the harsh color of the room. The bright colors of an army of flowers at his bedside table. He didn't take the time to inspect them. He closed his eyes tightly.


           They ruined the room, they hurt him. If only he could convince his eyes not to see and resume his daydream about the clouds. He'd much rather fill his head with that then spare another glance to the cacophonous upset of color. He lolled his head to his other side and groaned, sucking in air (the morning air, flooding the room) and holding it. He let the air out from between his teeth, willing his eyes to open again. His eyelids fought him momentarily before he focused on the sight before him. No obnoxious color filled his vision this time. He willed himself to relax. His muscles felt sore, worn, and heavy. Looking up at the ceiling, Judas absorbed the way the leaves nervously flickered their shadows across this side of the room.


           All at once, a pain jerked his arm upward. Although devoid of energy, his body acted on his own. The pain didn't bother him-- the interruption bothered him. Judas lazily turned his attention toward the offending limb, only to be reminded of the other presence beside him. There, kneeling beside the bed in scrubs of white, a figure tended to the white bandages wrapped like serpents around his forearm. He paid no attention to the person, instead, inspecting their work with deep criticism. They let out small noises, gasps, and hums as they carefully pinched the fabric and lifted the arm, methodically and rhythmically undoing the careful wraps.


           Slowly, white gave way to crimson and ill yellow, and then to the offending flesh underneath. It was hard to look at, swollen and infected, oozing and nearly pulsing with every heartbeat. Judas choked momentarily and took in the ghostly fissures in his skin. They weren't bleeding but leaking. They probably put all sorts of alcohol and antiseptics over it. Judas probably smelled like the room smelled. He felt like he hadn't showered in weeks, though.

           "That looks bad." His voice croaked, reverberating down to his feet and back up again. The words passed over him. Ouch. It hurt his throat to speak. The figure tensed momentarily before flicking their nervous gaze upward to meet Judas's. It was miraculous, the clash, the color meeting against a backdrop of white. They were clothed in uncomfortable, floating, white hospital clothing. The white that covered the entire room. Their skin was pale, slightly dotted with freckles that passed underneath the collar of their scrubs.


           White, white, white. White drapes pulled the white from the whipped-cream clouds and painted the room, but it didn't paint the Monet- Cezanne- Degas- the beautiful eyes of Judas's nurse. Judas was captivated by the type of color of ripe pears in the late summer.


           Judas imagined that color as the smooth, wistful piano whispering out of gramophones. It was the color that covered everything when grandmothers washed the lacy bedsheets in their guest bedrooms and let it hang in their yards on ropes. The elegant mix of yellow flakes onto a surface of dazed green put something Judas. The feeling caught in his throat like water.


           "Uh. Yeah." The boy said awkwardly- although he probably shouldn't call him a boy. The nurse seemed a little younger than Judas, but not by too much. He was probably right out of college, probably still studying too. Judas grunted in agreement, readjusting where his head rested on the pillow. The nurse's actions from then on seemed stunted, rigid. He very clearly didn't like to be watched. He observed the nurse like he observed everything else in the room, like something out of a book, outside of his life, a phenomenon meant for observing.


           "I'm gonna put alcohol around it." He warned without looking up, fishing a clear bottle and cotton swabs from beside Judas's bed, "So it's gonna hurt a little." He tilted the top of the bottle over the cotton, quickly, nervously. Some of the alcohol dribbled from his fingers down to his elbow. Judas couldn't find it in himself to brace for the sting of the alcohol. And it stung. The nurse's hand shook slightly as he cleaned the skin around the cuts. Judas's skin screamed at him, but he floated above his body like a visitor. This person is hurting tremendously. This person whose body I inhabit.


           When the nurse was finished, the cotton looked a grotesque yellow. The nurse gently fumbled with the ends of the bandages before securing them tightly. Judas felt the pain shoot up to his elbow (where a needle stuck out of him and trailed up to an IV drip), but he didn't cringe or flinch. The nurse cleared his throat and looked nervously, expectantly up at Judas. That green, that green. He's seen in before. In the undergrowth of his mother's under-tended garden. They enraptured him, his eyes widening, and his body filled with a sudden spike of energy. Is he expecting me to say something?


           "I don't want them here." Judas mustered, groggy. The energy left him as his head throbbed. The nurse seemed confused. Judas tried again, "The flowers. They hurt to look at." He flicked his pupils towards the flowers to make his point.


           "Oh." The nurse stood, clenching his hands at his sides and unclenching them. "Do you want me to get rid of them?" He sounded so unsure, so hesitant in his wording.


           "Please." Judas was exhausted, every word draining his awareness from his body, seeping underneath the door like the air from the window. The air seemed to thicken as the nurse moved past him and blocked the sun to take the bundles of flowers. Clumsily, he glanced toward Judas for approval. Judas merely breathed out heavily. The other nodded too quickly, and left the room, swinging the door and closing it with just enough force to send a gust of air toward Judas, moving the strands of hair resting on his forehead.


           The next time Judas woke up, he was sitting up, another nurse he didn't recognize holding strongly onto his back and hoisting a lap table over his stagnant frame. Sleep was still pulling at him, his eyes rolling back into his head as he fell forward slightly. The nurse said something to him, nothing that retained against the throbbing in his head. I've been stabbed, I've been shot. This is the part of the play where Oedipus, having gouged his eyes out, finally feels the shock of having no sight and the terrifying agony running from his eye sockets to his fingertips.


           His head swam, his body trembled, and his mind fell back into his body. Judas was acutely aware of the stabbing, unbearable sensation in his stomach. It hurt. The room was so small, Judas with the window pushing spring air all over, it was too small and white. As he blinked his sleep away, Judas's emotions finally hit him. His numbness, the nights- he didn't know how many- spent dreaming with indiscernible emotions finally passed. Judas was thrown into a freezing swimming pool by people larger than him. The shock caught in his throat. It didn't work it didn't work it didn't work


           The pain in his stomach rebelled immediately. Judas shivered with sickness, his throat feeling swollen and raw, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. No amount of glorification, imagining, or fantasizing could tear him from his body. He was slammed back into his reality, like a child feeling the rush of the first large precipitous fall on a roller coaster.


           "I'm gonna throw up-" He choked out, before coughing wetly, knocking the lap table onto the floor. "Help, it hurts I-" His knees spasmed as he coughed and vomited in his lap, the acidic retch falling out of his mouth in shades of black, like coffee grounds. His fingernails climbed up his throat as he rolled onto his side miserably. The nurse quickly rushed to the door yelling out in a distinct voice that echoed around his room before Judas passed out again.


           Judas was back, mentally. He looked down at his hands and pinched the scratchy sheets; they were his hands. His eyes no longer rolled around lazily when he opened them, his thoughts no longer scattered between thoughts and images. He was back mentally but his body still felt as though he were carrying a backpack of bricks. When the doctors noticed he was around again, he felt as though he were in a prison. They brought back in his belongings- apparently what he was wearing when he arrived- including his sweatshirt and dirty clothes.


           They evacuated the sweatshirt ("Alright, Judas, we have your things. We just want you to know what you can keep in here while you recover."), took out his headphones (could strangle himself), pencils (could stab himself), and pencil sharpener (could take out the blades and hurt himself), while allowing him to keep his phone and rubber eraser.


           "What am I supposed to do with this?" He held up the used, graphite stained eraser. His voice broke
when he spoke, but none of them flinched or answered him, simply shuffling out of the room with the
quarantine items.


           Judas was an eclectic, exciting person. When things bored him, he would search for adventure and
entertainment, oftentimes in the most unlikely of places. When he was younger, he would collect insects,
rocks, and leaves from his mother's garden and feel accomplished with his discoveries. The world was a
treasure box meant for him, and everything- every sight, every person, every crack in the pavement- was a
coin buried with it. His brain was drained of this. The room contained no treasure for him. As he sat
mercilessly in his bed, day after day, he felt no urge to pace or explore. Where there was a bright, active mind,
there was instead an abyss.


           It felt like he was submerged in water, bubbles rising past his head and running through his hair. The only objective when you're miles below the surface is to hold your breath and pray for a submarine. Gather round, I'll tell you the story of the pirate named Judas, who could no longer search for the x on his map, cause' his captain tied ropes around his ankles and dragged him to Challenger Deep. And when you're long past praying, you just wait until your oxygen runs out and hope you pass out before you drown. And if you wake up when you're drowning, you're fucked. Judas felt like he was on his last leg of life before he finally let his body die.


           Nurses helped him to the bathroom and monitored him with accusing eyes. Don't look at me. It was humiliating. He told them as much.


           "This is humiliating." He spat to his nurse after she forced him out of his gown. His voice was frail, and he hated it. He wanted them to know how much he loathed them and this place and himself. She was the same one who called out for help when he vomited in his lap. Placing a container of banana yogurt on his bedside table, she gave him an indiscernible look, eyebrows turning downward in a challenge to him. She wasn't terrible, she was more tolerable than the other nurses. Her name tag spelled out her name in bold written letters S-A-R-A. She didn't try and talk to him, which he appreciated, so he didn't know whether he should like her or find her annoying.


           "Mmm." Sara hummed, sitting beside him again and demanded his attention silently. Don't look at me. Judas scoffed, looking out the window, limp, "What's humiliating, Judas?" No response. "You can't expect me to change anything without you telling me." Her words sank into Judas slowly until he gave into them.


           "This whole--" He cleared his throat, "This whole game you guys are playing. Like, 'who can look the most like they're being held and gunpoint when they have to change the bandages.'" While his voice was monotone, matter-of-factly, and void of life as she seemed to nod him forward encouragingly. "And- and what the hell. Are y'all fucking stupid? I'm not gonna snap and bite my fingers off if they hurt me while checking on my IV." Her dark eyes bore into him. Don't look at me. "And frankly it's insulting. How do psychos," Stuttering when her face darkened, Judas set his jaw as his voice gained in volume, "re- recover! When they're treated, they're treated, they're treated, they're treated, they're treat-"


           Finding his words circling uselessly in his head, Judas blushed deeply. Stuck in a loop of anxiety, he exhaled shakily. He pinched his sheets. These are his hands, they're his. He's in his body. The grounding worked momentarily.


           "I'm listening, Judas." Her face was calm. She held her hands in her lap. Her voice was deceptively sweet for someone looking at him like he was cooking through the glass window in an oven.


           "I know. I just don't get why everybody acts like I'm clueless. Like it's a secret who put me in this bed. I know it was me. They know it was me. I did this. I bled all over my clothes over there. They tried to clean the stains out, but they're still there.


           "They stuck me in this white room, with these white clothes, thinking it'll sooth whatever crazy I have left in me. I know! I'm not dumb! I did this and they know it and I know it! Stop acting like it's some big secret! The elephant in the room is big enough for both of us! Fuck! Stop fucking looking at me, Sara! I swear to God!" Momentarily, her body twitched as Judas said her name, shocked. Her mouth gaped open in a gasp. Judas clenched his eyes so tight he thought they would turn to mush in his skull.


           When he opened them, Sara had covered her eyes with the cloth of her hijab, "Better?"


           "Yeah." Judas exhaled, embarrassed and thankful. The room was suddenly brighter, he noticed, tracing the edges of the ceiling in an embarrassing stupor. "Thank you. I... I can't take that right now."


           "What can't you take?"


           "Being watched."


           "Why?"


           Cause' it's hard being in this body that rejects me. Because I'm so ugly and disgusting in this bed. I'm not supposed to be in this body anymore. I'm not supposed to be before you. don't need your eyes trained on me like I’m a bad dog.


           "Cause’ it hurts me. It'll kill me."


           "Is that what you said about the flowers?" He could imagine the skeptical gleam in her eyes. It hurt almost as much as facing it. Something about knowing what was under the white of her hijab strangled him.

           "Is that a problem, Sara?" He spat, turning on his side away from her.


           For the next week, nurses tended to him with their eyes cast downward and words mouthed toward their laps. Judas was grateful. It was much easier to stay in his head and retain the small amount of energy he had when people ignored he was there. While Judas found his body, fitful, dreadful lethargy washed over him for hours at a time.


           Sleep became his closest friend. They shared secrets, he curled into it like a child to a parent's side. The pale, sterile pillowcase cradled his head until the tweeting of birds brought him back to life. They gifted him a natural alarm, so early, when the wind pouring over the room felt more like icy tides than the usual invisible flood. Judas rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, groaning into them. His miserable body turned under the covers, omitting small murmurs ("shhh") as the fabric scratched the hair on his shins. The bed finally molded to his shape, more comfortable with each silent and passing night.


           Summoning the strength in his agonized frame, Judas pulled his chest up into a sit, and swung his legsover the edge of the bed. The breeze made goosebumps break out all over his body. The covers fell from his shoulders, revealing only a slightly-wrinkled hospital gown and the numerous constellations of freckles trickling down to the bandages around his forearms. He didn't know what urged him, but a silent voice behind his hair, somewhere deep in the cavernous and flayed corpse of his brain, there was a voice urging him, saying 'the birds would look lovely in this low morning light.' Saying, 'get some air, freshen up, get dressed, take a shower.' Saying, 'see where you are, grab onto yourself, hoist yourself from this water.' Saying, 'my hands are pruned, and even this deep, I can see a whale that can swallow me whole and take me to shore.'


           Miraculously, swallowed by the fish in the depths. Three days and three nights. It opens its mouth,
thorny teeth spread so he could step out, stretch his arms, reach into the blue sky (so, so different from the
suffocating darkness of the Mariana Trench), and sink your toes into the sand. Pinocchio’s there too. At home,
face glued to the window, he prays on the star that takes the form of a woman. Only wish: make me a real boy.
Give me this real body. Cricket on his shoulder, Judas would face the whale time and time again if it meant he
could change his body from wood to flesh.


           Maybe then you could excuse the damage you did on being carved into a paperweight.


           Please stop. It's a beautiful day.


           Judas tugged his IV over next to him, willing himself into a stand, using the aluminum frame as support. The blood rushed from his head, filling his vision with black swirling spots. The floor froze over his bare feet, chilling him to the bone.


           The chill was welcome, though. His body accumulated heat that stripped from his skin and radiated against the floor. He could feel it bounce off everything in the room. If he looked hard enough, he could see it mingle and thread into the walls and curtains. If he looked hard enough, he could see his body produce infrared and see the way it canceled the terrifying sterility of his surroundings.


           Dragging his IV with him, Judas staggered over to the window, nudging the chairs underneath it aside. The brisk early morning mist hit him first. As he glanced out the open window, the air seemed to surround him and fill his lungs, making them feel new. Like Pinocchio's father fitted him with new parts when he rusted, the earth graced Judas with new lungs. The freshness passed over every cell on the skin off his face. Like suddenly downing a glass of ice water, the flittering of birds and rustling of leaves permeated a wakeful serenity into his very core.


           (Morning on the Seine near Giverny, Claude Monet, 1897.) The purity of the morning spilled images into his head. Monet searched for perfect views, then fashioned a boat that he used as a floating studio. Monet bobbed on the water and painted what he saw. Judas could understand that pressure, that urge to capture something, so deeply it ached in his very bone marrow. Judas could imagine himself then: industrial-looking suspenders plastered on top of a white, billowy shirt tucked into too-short scratchy spring trousers. Moving up-and-down, up-and-down, to the mercy of the current while he desperate mixed hues together to find the color of the undertones in the trees.

           The violet-blue of the trees and lawn outside of his window stuck in his chest. His breath stuttered. Behind him, the door to his room creaked open and shut gently. A nurse was expecting him to lay down and take a sponge bath, or stomach more bland rice and mint tea. He refused to let his brief reverie go so quickly.


           "The mist has left the greening plain,
The dew-drops shine like fairy rain,
The coquette rose awakes again
her lovely self adorning."


 Judas paused and coughed the sleep from his throat. His voice was growing stronger as his stomach and
throat healed. He recalled the next verse.


 "The wind is hiding in the trees,
A sighing, soothing, laughing tease,
Until the rose says 'Kiss me, please,’
'Tis morning, 'tis morning."


He breathed in deeply, letting the frigid air fill him deeply once more.


"With staff in hand and careless-free,
the wanderer fares right jauntily,
For towns and houses are, thinks he,
For scorning, for scorning.
My soul is swift upon the wing,
And in its deeps a song I bring;
Come, Love, and we together sing,
‘'tis morning, 'tis morning.'"

​​
Silence followed. Judas imagined Sara behind him smirking at his sudden mood shift. He wasn't elated, but he could tolerate being awake. Baby steps.


           "Someone's feeling better." A male voice hit him teasingly, hesitantly. Judas glanced over his shoulder, eyes widening. He didn't have any male nurses, as far as he remembered. "That's nice, though, did you just come up with that?" Hunched over Judas's bed, against the darker, warmer side of the room, straightening the scratchy blanket on his bed, a boy wearing white scrubs and a small smile appeared hauntingly. It was like seeing a ghost, something out of this world and eerily familiar.


           "No." Judas murmured slowly, his confusion radiating from him, "It's a poem. Paul Laurence Dunbar." He couldn't Judas blink, afraid the boy- if he could call him that- would disappear from existence entirely.


           "Is he an American? I don't have a clue about literature." The boy said, huffing under his breath with hushed laughter. "Yeah. It's nice. It's nice." The boy finally glanced upward, stilling as their eyes met. Gramophone music, the sound of muted tones and brass jazz. Summer pears, walking through gardens and stopping underneath the shade for a bite. Sheets hung up, swaying in the wind, lace casting shadows on each other. Judas could sit there for hours. Please never stop looking at me. The boy opened his mouth to say something and then shut it, looking away like someone said his name. He looked bashful, almost as if he was called on during class and said the wrong answer.


           "Are you new?" Judas asked, taking note of the relief passing through the boy's face.


           "I'm- what?" He immediately put himself to work, stretching the blanket out and averting his gaze to it. He reset the smushed pillow at the top of the bed while laughing incredulously.


           "So, you're new?" The sun started peeking out from the horizon. Judas could tell from the way the boy's light hair glowed hallowed at its edges.


           "What are you asking?" The boy, although Judas could hardly call him a boy, furrowed his eyebrows, nervous energy filling his hands as he finished making the bed. "Like, am I new? In the hospital? To nursing?" Judas looked out the window and then back at the boy. He was probably only 20. How was he a nurse already? Judas hadn't even graduated with his bachelor's yet, but he supposed that was his own fault.


           "Are you one of... my new... nurses?" Judas said slowly, "Did you replace someone?" The nurse stayed silent, smoothing out the blanket Judas though the bed was made.


           "Are you mad at me or something?" He said boldly, Judas could sense no nerves in his voice now, "I know I can be a dick sometimes, but I also know that you make better jokes than this." The nurse busied himself with a clipboard hooked to the end of the bed, facing the wall. His voice was strong, but he was still hiding in it. Judas could nearly see a child in the other, hiding underneath a heavy comforter from monsters. Judas didn't know what to say, taking in the way the scrubs on the nurse's body crinkled at his hips and near his sneakers. The nurse looked over his shoulder expectantly at Judas. The crisp air turned into something bitter.

           "I'm Chase." He offered, smile poking at his cheeks but not reaching his eyes, "I take the flowers out of your room when people leave them here." His voice was lighthearted and joking. Judas sensed something behind those words, a tinge of melancholy, a flavor of bitter woodiness on his tongue.


           "I'm Judas." Cringing, Judas felt his face heat up at his automatic response and he looked at the tiled floor, "Just in case you forgot."


           "I didn't." Chase's face shone with something akin to fondness. A beat passed between them, filling the space between them with something thick. They were talking through miles and miles of honey. The same color and amber luminescence as the way the sun shone through Chase's hair, creating a halo of disheveled waves curling at his nape and tickling his ears. Judas could nearly feel how warm and inviting Chase's cheeks were under the sunrise's embrace. They were probably soft. They probably would heat his cold, long fingers so quickly. Judas wanted to brush his knuckles against Chase's cheekbones. Chase cleared his throat, face cheerful if forced. He shook the clipboard for emphasis, "I have to change your wraps." Judas took far too long to register the words, caught up in the way Chase's voice hummed knowingly. He's probably very smart. No wonder he's a nurse so young.


           Judas nodded, grabbing onto the cold neck of his IV and wheeling over to his bed. He propped himself up on top of the blankets, heels scraping against the fabric. They shared an apprehensive look. Chase pulled a stool from underneath the bed and demanded Judas's arm with a nod of his head. Every move the nurse made, Judas was fine-tuned to feel. It was like Chase's movements let off sounds and Judas had perfect pitch. He never felt so restless by the feathery grazing of someone's fingers against his elbow or hand. Chase probably feels this too. He's doing it on purpose. Am I drugged?


           A few agonizingly slow moments passed before the deep cuts in Judas's skin felt the breeze passing through the room from the window. They weren't infected, only swollen around the deep blue stitches. His body was slowly recovering alongside his mind.


           "Looks good." Judas heard Chase mumble, deep in thought. In the corner of his eye, he saw him unraveling a new spool of white, clean bandages and starting the process over. Pulls his arm up slightly, wraps the bandage under, pushes it down. Pulls it up, wraps under, pushes it down. The other arm now.

           "Last time you did this, you were nervous." Judas recalled, the words passing through his teeth before he had a chance to stop them. Was it true? He had no idea. It sounded right.


           "Yeah, well. Y'know." Chase breathed out and shrugged his shoulders, body suddenly rigid, "It looked really gnarly. I was afraid of hurting you." The words came out quick, too quick. Judas wasn't sure if Chase was lying or if he was forcing himself to say the truth. He hummed in acknowledgment anyway, adjusting where his head fell on the back of the bed, eyes focused, trained on the micro expressions of Chase's face.


           "It's weird how fast it healed. I was worried I'd be stuck here for a month or so." Judas laughed hoarsely.


           "It's-" Chase's eyes shot up to Judas's before avoiding it completely. An awkward beat passed. "Some people heal faster than others" Judas could win an award with his overanalyzing of Chase's every action, with how he moved backward in his chair a little bit. What did he do wrong? Did he say something? Chase finished the wraps and stood up abruptly, knocking one of the legs of his stool against the floor. His flinch would have gone undetected, but everything about Chase was readable to Judas.


           "Did I say so-"


           "Uh." Chase coughed clumsily, pushing the stool underneath the bed again, "There's um. I have. Other patients." His words were forced out like he was shoving them from a rooftop.


           "Naturally." Judas said coldly, turning his head to look out the window. He couldn't help it. Suddenly the chill of the morning turned into something deeper, something the Titanic could've sunk on. He felt his energy slowly leave his body and all the heat the fostered between them dissipated into the walls.


           Chase stood there, shifting between feet. In his periphery, Judas could see his face move, but no words came out. This repeated, like a VHS stuck on a loop. Rewind. See the static fill the edges of the screen. Play. Rewind. Chase turned abruptly and left the room just as someone else was entering. Judas could hear them exchanging words, murmured in the bustle of the hallway.


           Sara replaced the space where Chase once was.


           "Alright, Judas, month two! Let's replace your bandages."


           Judas’s older sister was seventeen when he was born; his parents were young when they had her, though, so he was their chance to try again, but this time we're more prepared, we know what we're doing, we're not in school. Her hair was thin, curling around the feminine curve of her shoulders like a cape that danced through the air when she rushed through the house- that much he remembered before she shaved it off during her third year. Mercy’s age lent to him a third parent. She scolded him when he picked the dehydrated marshmallows out of the cereal box when he was three and signed papers in his mother's names for daycare. In an old portrait of her, one among many hung crookedly in the hallway of his childhood home, she looked almost like his twin from another era.


           He knew that as she grew up, her complexion became lighter. Her hair brought on a dull blonde tint and her eyes mirrored that of a brook. Cheeks with a landscape of acne scar craters. The one thing that remained the same was the way they pushed against her eyes into a squint when she laughed. In that way, they still looked like twins. Beside that hallway portrait was one taken on her nineteenth birthday, set against the backdrop of the fences in his backyard. She rested her chin on a hand, a woven yarn bracelet hung lifelessly in age at her bony wrist. Her smile suggested something mischievous, looking over the photographer. With hair grown out, strands poked under her cheeks almost impishly.


           Mercy played the trumpet in her high school band and dabbled in computer coding. The family's first computer was in her bedroom. The fitted sheet on her bed popped from underneath the mattress when he sat down. She had a large jar of coins on her windowsill where any change rattling in the washing machine would go by family law. Evidence of her scattered over his personality. Her musical inclination traveled over to him, and every time she played on her trumpet Judas would watch or cover his ears in annoyance. Her cluttered closet overflowed with an eclectic taste and Judas found himself growing into that same sized shoe.


           One afternoon, they were at some sort of gathering (birthday, holiday, or maybe a graduation party?) where she dressed in all white, gleaming against the low sun.


           "Who are you getting married to?" He asked her, his voice high and light, tripping over his words as he would trip over uneven concrete in a sidewalk. He didn't remember this, but the video footage on VHS tapes showed him there, comically dressed in khakis and plaid cotton buttoned all the way up to his chin, chocolate smeared across his chin. In that video, she shone- the old camcorder couldn't focus against the way she glowed. In the corner of the frame, when the camera would focus on people sitting at long tables and eating from fruit dishes, she forced the frame into a dizzy focus. The sun was jealous, he could tell by the way its rage poured in orange and yellow over the horizon.


           Mercy was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer when she was twenty-one. Judas was only four. He didn't recall much from that time, only that he was jettisoned away like a spaceman from a shuttle almost instantly, thrown into another life with his great-aunt living in a small, cramped house, filled with knickknacks and smelling strongly of expired perfume. His parents would call him, and he'd talk on the rotary for a couple of minutes before getting distracted with his crayon drawings or Lego masterpieces strewn in front of the large brick of a television. It crackled when he changed the channel and if it stormed particularly badly, the scene would be torn into ribbons.

           When his hospital psychiatrist handed him a brand-new set of Crayola brand crayons, Judas found himself inundated in nostalgia. It ripped him to shreds like his great-aunt's television set, only this time Judas was available in all colors, and not painted in a vague yellow. Judas live on TV. The cathode ray tube would screech and turn until Judas stood on-screen, fuzzy around the edges but complete. Every few seconds, lines would streak at the tips of his hair, the screen showing the pale spiral of the rotary phone snaking across the floor from where it was tucked under his chin.


           He'd be on his stomach, ankles crossed, mouth running a million miles per hour as he talked about fleeting topics to his parents as they sat in the hospital tenderly caring for his sick sister.


           Hospitals and Crayola. Judas in veined Technicolor. Great-aunt's old house swirling, swirling, swirling mid-air. Landing: 'oh!' Watch him walk amidst the comical flowers with his blue dress and bows in his pigtails and his fluffy white blouse. Watch him tiptoe over yellow bricks while the violin's swell. Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow!


           "Judas?" His psychiatrist's words felt like they were spoken by a witch descending in a bubble, "Judas, come back to me." Give the kids a colorful start this year with a bright new variety of school supplies from Crayola. Every child's camera of life. He wondered if that camera would focus on his sister in white or if her luminescence was too brilliant.


           "Come on, you can do it." I don't want to. I don't like being here. I want to be in Oz. I want to be with the
ruby slippers. Paint me green so the audience can gasp and murmur how they've never seen anything like me on the big screen before
. And again: "Judas." His eyes shot up to meet hers. She looked patient, dressed formally underneath her perfect and soft white coat, and as he looked at her face, he saw every muscle in her body relax. "Thought I lost you there." She joked and then gestured towards the new box of crayons on the low table in front of him, "Let's do something I haven't done in a while. I hear you're an artist, right? Let's draw."


           "You're not the one drawing, though." He said, picking at his fingernails in his lap. She tilted her head, confused. "It's not 'let's draw, it’s ‘you draw.’'"


           "Fair enough. You feel up to drawing?" She offered instead, pushing a strand of curly hair behind her ear. Judas merely shrugged. Her demeanor was rotting him, he could feel it at the pit of his stomach. She was sickeningly sweet. Any other person would look at her and admire her sensitivity, the way her voice melodically washed over people, its calm cadence, its underlying cheerfulness. Her gaze felt like seventeen thousand pins. He pulled the dry cardboard tab from the top of the box and emptied the crayons on to the table. The clink of the new crayons on the surface and the slight rustling of his clothes seemed too loud for such a small room.


           "Any requests?" He said dryly, rolling his fingers over the crayons.


           "Anything you want to do." That's not what he wanted to hear. With his energy seeped from his bones, the only type of creativity he could muster is what other people wanted. He didn't have the strength to modify sketches or swipe the eraser debris from a page or to even use his head without getting lost. Taking cavernous turn after cavernous turn, deep within the system, bats hanging from the deep emptiness of his skull. The type of cavern you'd yell into to. ‘Echo!’ Echo! Echo. (Echo.) (Echo...) "Alright, don't give me that look. Draw..." Her eyes glanced up in thought, "Draw- who's your favorite artist?"


           On his way home from class, he'd pass underneath a bridge. The familiar shriek of the train passing overhead invaded the walls of the bus. It'd shake, molten rage filling the back of the bus with fumes that Judas was too afraid to take in. He felt that if the bridge was slightly longer, if he had to spend a second longer underneath its chilling shadow, that the bus would combust from the fury. As lights flickered with each passing train car overhead, light danced over the gallery of graffiti. The graffiti lined the walls, stretching from the gravelly concrete covered in broken bottles and cigarette buts to the rusted bolts holding the bridge together.


           Alongside the elaborate tags and stencils, there was a crude drawing, above everything, of two watching eyes with the words painted underneath, the paint dripped and dried: "I'm taking everyone with me."


           Looking upon the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, Judas found himself surrounded in the notion of being visited by God each time he passed the mural. On the way there, he felt the skin prick at the back of his neck. On the way back, he was enraptured, caught in the moment for decades. He wouldn't say that was his favorite artist, though. Judas played with the black crayon, flipping it through his fingers like a coin.


           "I dunno." He said, "Maybe Goya?" There was, after all, something eerily similar between the way Saturn looked primally vacant while slipping into his mouth the elbow of his son. "I like Saturn Devouring His Son. I think he painted it on the walls of his house." Judas also knew Goya painted it when he went deaf and isolated himself in his house. He gained great acclaim through his lighthearted and colorful masterpieces. After the painter's death, people walked in and found fourteen grotesque and terrifying paintings painted in secret on the very walls where we lived. Saturn was in his dining room.


           The painting sucked Judas in so easily. By just glimpsing at the repugnant knuckles of Saturn sinking his claws into his child's spine, Judas felt those knuckles. As the face of Saturn became illuminated by what seemed to be torchlight, Judas felt the heat of it on his cheeks. He could feel Goya. Sitting down at the head of a long table, illuminated by antique lanterns huddled at the top of the walls, greedily holding in their lights. In the flicker: there is the face of Saturn. When passing through the room: there is the blood running like mucus down the limp body. Infecting his brain: there is the crunch of his son's skull in between his teeth. He could imagine how the body fought.


           Maybe it was a symptom, too. Being so engrossed by a painting couldn't have been healthy. But Judas knew something about being surrounded by reminders. Though the white walls of the hospital drove him crazy, they were also a source of comfort. He started slowly moving the crayon back and forth on the page, no form coming to mind, just doing it for the sake of moving his hands. His psychiatrist crinkled her nose, turning to her laptop and typing rhythmically.


           "Oh, I've seen this. It looks scary." A few clicks of her mouse echoed off of the walls. Click! Click. (Click.) "What do you like about it?"


           "I like the colors." He sighed into his words. Her words caused an itch to break out across his body. I think I'm allergic to her. "I like Edvard Munch, too." A few clicks and taps followed.


           "Mmm. He sorta looks like you. Edvard Munch, I mean-- again with the glaring! I wasn't insulting you. He does self-portraits. Look." She turned her laptop. Judas intentionally looked down at his paper. Drawing suddenly seemed incredibly enticing. The black crayon skidded over the page, little bumps of texture rolling off as he blew them across the table.


           "He did The Scream! I know him." She paused, moving her fingertips from her laptop to the thin, silky fabric of her skirt, "Are you drawing me something?" Judas didn't know what he was drawing, really, letting the crayon take him somewhere.


           "I don't know if this is coherent, but I feel like I'm on a slide." He scratched the skin around where his IV stuck into his elbow and trailed up to the drip and continued sketching, "I think about something, say, uh. Say I think about crayons. Suddenly I'm eight feet down and accelerating. The slide just keeps going." Glancing up, unsure, her gaze struck him almost painfully. He had requested her to sit back facing him, to avoid the eyes prodding every inch of him, but she seemed to intentionally forget after a few minutes. Willing himself to continue, he forced himself to continue sketching. "It goes crayons to this commercial I saw when I was four to ruby slippers. I'd blame it on my imagination, but I'm in the hospital talking to a psychiatrist. So probably not my imagination and instead my crazy." On the short table before him, his hands scratched out the last line of his sketch. It wasn’t finished, but he was done nonetheless.

           "Can I see?" She offered gently, hand out, eyes cutting into his face. Without waiting for the answer Judas couldn't give, she turned the page around. Short brown-blond hair. A smile the crinkled the eyes. "Is this your mom?"


           "No." Judas felt a sudden weakness pull at him. The rooms white walls shrieked like an enraged sun on a VHS tape, "No. No, that's my sister. She died when I was little. I don't know why I drew her."



           One night, he woke up in a cold sweat, the air around him constricting and constricting until the only thing he felt was the heavy pounding in his ears. Light streamed into the room, people rushing in. They filled the room to the walls, yet they kept filling in. Their faces curled and morphed until they became dogs, barking, pulling the sheets around him. He frantically yelled out, curling against the headboard, knees hitting his chest. Pushing desperately, he kicked against them, wary of the knives jutting from their jaws and the gnashing, flailing heads.


           "Get off of me! Fuck!" Breaths passed through his skin but didn't seem to fill his lungs or nourish his blood. The dogs taunted him, the whole pack howling with laughter. Ten million sets of claws bore into him as frantically as a blind cat. Ten hundred thousand sets of eyes refused to free him. Morphing back into clinical people, the dogs' chains rattled against his wrists as he struggled to kick them away. They jumped on top of him and lunged forward to bite his throat. It broke under his skin and he died, and died, and died.


           When his stomach started healing, so that nurses could shove more complex foods down his throat, he started feeling energy zap around his body. Maybe it was the medicine they were sneaking into his applesauce, but the urge to move overwhelmed him. Fighting through the pain in his body, he would visit the window of his room more often. The sounds of life rocketing through the window became a new friend, replacing the spot where sleep once was. Judas would wake up to the tapping of dog's claws on the pavement and open his eyes without a hesitating moment of remorse.


           I'm caught on a leash, too. This one's heavy and metal and for streaming sedatives into me. I've got one though. I don't have nails that click against the floor, but I've got callouses on my foot scrape against these glossy floors. A symphony of wildlife and people became his alarm clock.


           His phone stood lifeless at his bedside- he wasn't sure if he could handle the stimulation. Bright lights, dings and chimes, the bombardment of people asking if he was okay. The bombardment of people asking him why he doesn't take visitors. It was fine, he enjoyed the simplicity that enveloped his life lovingly like an old quilt. Nobody spoke to him and he spoke to nobody. His head was growing lighter by the minute, no longer weighed with contact and priorities.


           Feeling aging skin slipping off his body like wet clothes, Judas allowed himself to connect to the essential sensation of his heartbeat clandestinely moving the bed on its wheels. With each breeze sweeping through his window, new breath soared in and out and in and out of his lungs. Freeing, unweighted. Thoughts roaming free with no responsibility but to open his eyes in the morning. He told himself he was lucky to be there. That the birds sang just for him and the trees danced so that he could dance with them. Every movement of seething storm clouds was meant to be memorized. Deep in the pale gradient of the sky was a melody, faint and resonant, that if he listened hard enough, could grant him some inevitable, omniscient knowledge.


           A few days after his session with his psychiatrist, Judas sat crisscross on his bed, phone pulling down on his fingertips rested in his lap like it was made of ten billion stones. He held the button on the side and felt it vibrate, jolted quickly to life, and the screen glow with the Apple logo. The tingle overwhelmed him, preparing him for the bombardment of messages and missed calls. Clicking the switch on the side, he left it on his bed and looked out the window, as if the trees outside would mold and shape to answer his silent question.

           He slowly unfolded his legs from under him, imprinted the way they chilled immediately with contact to the breeze to memory, and let them gently touch the floor. Not able to physically run from his phone and his responsibility was easily overcome. Although lacking the energy, Judas could still adjust the hairs falling over his forehead and drag his IV with him to the window. The creak of his bed as he lifted his weight mingled with the sound of the door creaking open. Judas flitted his attention to the curious eyes asking the silent question 'can I come in.' Noticing Judas's placidity, Chase closed the door behind him.


           "No dramatic window poetry this time?” Chase teased, causing memories of their last encounter to stir in Judas's head. He felt his cheeks pull with a smile, but it quickly fell into something of a grimace. Chase hadn't shown up since their last stiff farewell.


           "Actually, I was on my way over." Judas's laugh sounded terse, "It's been a bit. Where've you been?"


           "I wasn't off sulking if that's what you think." Offering no proper response, Chase wandered to Judas's place near the window. His body seemed like dark charcoal on a white canvas, the light from the window glowing around his shoulders and head. Chase's arms crossed over his chest and his eyes narrowed slightly to the adjustment of the light. He, too, seemed captivated by the life outside. "You wanna go outside with me? It's nice out." Judas tightened up, grabbing onto his knees, his bare feet still stealing the heat from the tiled floor.


           "Is that allowed?"


           "Judas, you're a patient, not a prisoner." Chase looked over his shoulder, green eyes gleaming with an
indiscernible emotion. Tell that to the tranquilizer they gave me last night. "Have you not gone outside yet?" Chase offered instead, his harshness billowing off him like sheets swept out of a space station airlock.


           "Are you trying to embarrass me, Chase?" Judas felt Chase warm up and thought he should as well. Chase gleamed. "I'm prisoner zero of this place, didn't you know? You're probably not high up enough to even be in this room with me right now." Chase hesitated, opening his mouth but shutting it quickly. Judas couldn't place why. "I could be leaking top secret information to you."


           "I'm feeling a national crisis, then." Chase's voice was lighthearted, but he spoke his words out the

window, not looking at Judas. It felt almost like their previous encounter. Chase shut off from Judas so easily, "What do you think?" Chase flipped around, leaning on the windowsill as he tilted his head and smiled. Although his body was darkened against the backdrop of the light, Judas could see the glow of playfulness in the way Chase's smile spread to his eyes. Judas hadn't seen much of the hospital at all, merely fleeting glances through windows of locked rooms as he made his way to his psychiatrist's office. One hallway was hardly enough to make assumptions of a whole hospital, but Judas still imagined the place to be white-walled, geometric, and sterile. The type of place where the further you walked, the thicker the atmosphere became and the more hostile the staff behaved.


           Chase patiently held his head up high and loosely held his wrists behind his back while Judas, whose body trembled with each step, shoved his IV pole along, breath staggering with each transparent and judging side-eye of the staff. Their steps seemed amplified, everybody turning and quieting as they passed. As if sensing Judas's equivocation, Chase lagged his own steps to stay beside him. The ride through the elevator was quiet, Judas standing as a soldier while Chase leaned against the metal bar on the side.


           "Have you ever been outside of your room?" Chase avoided his eyes, pressing a button that glowed a stark fluorescent green under his nail. Although his voice was welcoming, Judas's ears rang with tinnitus like a bombshell crackled behind him.

           "Kinda." Judas answered, looking down to pick at his thumbnail. Chase hummed in understanding, turning as if to speak, but then let out an exasperated, dry chuckle. Ding.


           "Come on-" Chase's hand softly grazed Judas's shoulder to ease him out of the elevator. "Ah." His hand shot back to his side, Judas's skin fiery to the touch. Or so it would seem. He could imagine Chase hissing in pain from the simple touch. I'm not that disgusting, am I? He took a bath a few days ago, his hair matted uncomfortably around his head. Or maybe it was Chase, weird about contact with another man, even if that man was his patient. Flesh burning and white heat billowing from every surface of his body. The white gown hanging from his bony shoulders would smolder and float like ash. Hair raised from the steam. Fingertips globing down as molten glass. Volcano craves welting from his skin and pouring out onto the floor, suffocating, smoking, choking, choking, get me out of here. Get me out of this disgusting body.


           Of course, nobody would want to touch his igneous fringe. He'd rather dissolve into ash and float away through the desolate and cold hallways. Chase didn't seem to notice, tilting his head down the hallway to say, 'this way.' The further from his room they wandered, the more beautiful the hospital became. It started with higher ceilings, the air opening. Judas's skin still smoldered. The higher ceilings gave way to elaborate, intricate hanging lights and art hung proudly on the walls. Hallways opened and converged into open spaces, filled with aquariums in pillars reaching high to touch the ceilings. Large windows boasted stained glass onto pallid statues going about their baroque mannerisms. Judas's skin cooled as he lost himself to the labyrinth.


           "I don't remember it being so nice here." Judas remarked as they fell back into a comfortable sidestep, the tense heat radiating from Judas's core cooling into islands in his ocean. Chase quirked his eyebrow in question, but Judas pretended not to notice.


           "Ah, right here." Rushing to a nearby door, he opened it politely to Judas. "After you." He felt the sun strike every inch of his body when he walked out the door. Light hit him with pleasant warmth, yet his body broke out in goosebumps. Millions and millions of points on his body tingled, and every one of them breathed in when he did, breathed out when he did. The flowing aid that swept the trees swept through him, too, and the sun held him like a child. On the concrete sidewalk of the hospital courtyard, in front of large windows and an unreadable Chase, Judas spread his arms out and closed his eyes. Red shadows stretched over his eyelids. He filled his lungs with infinite and pure air, the color of yellow.


           (73 Poems, e. e. cummings, 1963.) (Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889-1890.) ("What motion of the sun or stream or eyelid shot the gleam that pierced my body through? What made me live like these that seem self-born, born anew?" The Winding Star, Yeats, 1933.)


           Images poured from his stomach, only to be smothered by the shaky exhale pouring tons of air from Judas's lips. The sun coated him in a fresh layer of paint, left to dry out on the front porch of an old farmhouse. Creaking like a rocking chair, Judas's mind fell somewhere into a wheat field. Overwhelming yellow cutting his shins. Earthy scent dirtying the socks sticking out of his shoes. Judas turned to Chase and beamed with his eyes. Chase nervously held his gaze, closing the door behind him.


           "What was that for?" A hesitant chuckle filled his words.


           "What do you mean?" The sun cast rays onto Chase's eyes, shadows from his long eyelashes falling onto his cheeks.


           "The whole-" Chase stopped to loosely mimic Judas’s open-armed pose, “This thing.” He looked uncomfortable like he was facing a fear. Chase on a roller coaster, headed to the top of the first drop. Chase with a scorpion in his palm. Chase bravely conquering. Chase shoved his hands into the pockets of his scrubs and leaned back on his heels, pulling his shoulders to his ears in a shrug. Judas dragged his eyes away from him, looking out on the courtyard. A few other patients dotted the benches near the concrete walls.

           "I just missed being outside. I forgot how much I missed it." Grass around a central tree shuddered and cotton flecks of pollen raced above them. "I will take the sun in my mouth and leap into the ripe air, alive, with closed eyes, to dash against darkness.” Judas sighed. Chase moved in his periphery.


          "The American again?"


           "E.E Cummings."


           "I think I know who that is." Chase started moving, Judas following, the IV's wheels stuttering against the bumps in the concrete. Chase settled at a metal bench, sliding to make space for Judas. Judas struggled into a sit. “That last name though.” He put on an exaggerated face, with his eyes wide and mouth agape, “Wow.” Judas burst at the seams, a bubble of laughter rising from the bottom of his throat like a ribbit. The choked on it at first, but let it dissolve into giggles as Chase smiled and ducked his head into his chin.


           "Yeah?" Judas pulled his hair out of his face. Chase tilted his head in a nod, staring on.


           "Yeah," Chase said quietly at Judas's side.


           When time slipped from them and the sun moved to entrench them in shadow. Chase pulled the IV from Judas's elbow as gently as he could, hissing encouraging words ("Ah, okay, slowly. Shit. Ah-h. Alright there.") Ghastly indents above Judas's wrist, on the rivets of the back of his hand, stood fiercely against his skin as Chase worked, soon patching up the lazy bleeding at the elbow with a band-aid in his breast pocket.


           "Did you bite yourself?" He urged Judas forward with a beckoning wrist. He settled on a patch of grass, smoothing his scrubs out and picking a leaf off his pants. Judas's heart hammered heavily in his chest- it shook his loose gown. Chase seemed curious but not pressing, like he was asking how school was or how Judas's day was.


           "Uh." Judas's arm throbbed and swelled underneath the band-aid. "No. I mean. Yeah, but I didn't mean to." The courtyard deserted after the lunch rush, leaving them alone.


           "Didn't mean to bite yourself?" Chase shrugged, tugging on wildflowers. Hair fell into his face. Grass folded under him, glowing golden. Everything about Chase seemed to glow in the sun.


           "I guess." When the sun hit his face again, Judas sighed. Despite his worry, Judas found solace in the drifting clouds. Settling a few paces from Chase, he folded his knees towards his chest and tilted his head up in the air. "I kinda freaked out last night." He brushed his thumb over the fissures. In and out. In the cracks of his molars, there were raw circles developing scabs. Chase continues to pick at the ground, eyes downcast as Judas looked up. Relief washed over him, not a single gaze unnerving him as he spoke.


           "They had to tranquilize me." Judas said casually, face wrinkling. "I didn't even realize there were doctors in my room." Chase nodded in the corner of his eye. An exasperated sigh filled the air as Judas rolled onto his back. Chase still didn't look over as Judas's hair rolled into the grass. A faint yellow, the color of the dust sprung up from a car running through a desert, graced Chase's skin under the sun. Judas felt warm but Chase probably felt heat differently than he did- stronger. What Judas would give to step into his flesh and see things from his perspective.


           "I was there too." Chase's eye shot up in acknowledgment before flickering back down to the pale wildflowers. "Scary. I didn't see you bite your hand, though."

           I was freaky or the sight was scary? To watch Judas struggle and combust was scary? "I don't mean you were scary." He said as though he could read Judas's mind. "I just didn't know what I was doing. Everyone was moving and I was just standing there." Chase caught Judas's eye again and held it. Judas could read his mind this time: I wish I could have done something. Judas let himself get lost in the intimacy.


           “I’m sure you did exactly what you needed to.” Judas asserted, eyes hard when Chase’s glance flicked upward. “I kinda like that you were there. I like having someone care from a distance, anyway. Sympathizing instead of doing. I don’t need it, don’t get me wrong. It just feels warm.”


           “I like warm.” Chase agreed, and for a moment they both closed their eyes and held their faces towards the sun.


           “Can I tell you something?” Judas asked, the petals of the clovers and the small red berries in the grass filling him with courage, camaraderie, and compassion. Chase only held his gaze. “I have an older sister who died. Not that I need comforting for that- I’m over the grieving. I just feel like I killed her sometimes.” They breathed together. “Cause’ it’s like. I used to be a girl, actually. That didn’t suit me too well, so I changed it. And while I’m doing what I have to do to survive myself, I feel like I killed my parent’s daughter. Now both of them are dead and I don’t know what to do."


           Chase reached his hand over, the dark hairs on his forearm tickling the grass, and offered it to Judas. Judas choked, reached his out too. They embraced in the grass while Judas spoke.


           “I tried to kill myself. First I messed up my arm and then I tried to drink bleach.” Judas spoke the
words and felt them fly away, up to the sun. He thought that maybe they should feel harder, stuck in traffic
somewhere in the vocal chords, but they were flying out ninety miles per hour on route 66. Free, free. “I know
I’m not schizophrenic, but it feels like I am sometimes. My thoughts get all jumbled and clothe me, and after a
while I’m stuck in like seventeen pairs of sweaters that I don’t need and can’t get out of.”


           “That’s a lot of sweaters.” Chase said clearly, sweetly.


           “I know.” Judas smiled back at him. “It sucks. It gets really sweaty.” He laughed out, feeling Chase
squeeze his hand. They kept looking at the clouds, drifting over the tall peaking rooftop of the hospital. They
smoothly cruised, no care, sipping up each of their words like lemonade.


           “Can I tell you something?” Chase’s brow furrowed, gulping down courage as he turned to lay on his side toward Judas. Judas nodded him on. “I saw you, the day they brought you in.” He paused, his eyes looking around wildly, “I saw how much you were hurting. You looked at me, and your face was covered in vomit and blood, and so I went over to you, followed you to your room. They pumped your stomach and gave you all sorts of medicines and I was right there, watching. I don’t know. I’m not even your nurse. I wanted so badly to take care of you, to show you love because, God, you were so sad. You were so, so sad. I wanted to show you love while I could. I’m sorry if that’s creepy. I don’t know.” Chase tried hard to keep composed, but Judas read through that. Page after page, he saw Chase try, and page after page, Judas read how Chase’s muscles tightened and jaw clenched.


           Judas froze up. His elbows felt cold against the dirt. He willed it away, turning to his side to face Chase with a hard expression on his face. Them, together. Judas just arrived on the sand dune, filthy and covered in salt water, riding on the back of a humpback whale. Chase is there, feet caked in white sand, waving, waving, elated. ‘How was your trip? I missed you. I’m so proud of you for making it back alive.’ Judas grasped Chase’s hand with his life.


           “I think you did a good job.” Judas choked out, a desperate laugh filling up his words. He leaned his head towards Chase’s on the ground and pressed his temple to the cool grass, “I think you did a good job.” He said again. Chase let out an equally relieved laugh, pressing his forehead against Judas’s. Pears on a Sunday morning, muted jazz. Pale ocean waves you can dip your feet in. He was sucked into his body, this beautiful body of his that shone in the light of the sun above him. “You did a real good job.”

​​​

East Fork:

A Journal of the Arts​​


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​By: Ben Freudenberg