She doesn’t mind being hollow. She has shallow friends and transparent friends and winged friends whose feathers are easily ruffled. Being hollow never seemed that bad, compared to some.
When the hollow girl and the boy who’s always falling first meet, he breathes into her orange hair and a whistling sound bounces back, the echo of her insides or his outside he can’t be sure.
No one ever taught him to ask, please could you direct me to a soft patch of ground? Or, please teach me how to fly instead of fall? Or, please won’t you catch me, though I’m terrified of stasis.
How did she get to be so perfectly concave? One morning she woke hungry and began to carve out her insides with an ice-cream scooper until her stomach hung empty as a jack-o-lantern. Or perhaps her wounds weren’t self-inflicted. Perhaps in her hometown they once grew gourds fat and happy, until famine, heartache, seven plagues and five apocalypses hollowed out her internal organs, left them to roast in the sun, brittle as hope.
How’d he begin to fall? He was pushed.
He wants to fill her hollowness with his falling, fall into her, collapse her collapsible body with his own. He wants to pour water inside her and let it run out the cracks; he wants to fish in the bowels of her belly, cast lures to draw up pearls. He wants to crack her dry ribs and fashion them into a staircase he could climb to ever higher heights from which to fall.
She keeps finding him destroyed on impact. She mends him with glue, patches him back up with needle and thread. Like Humpty Dumpty, she tries ships and ceiling wax, and cabbages, and kings. There are so many ways to shatter. Almost as many ways to land soft as there are ways to break yourself. Almost as many ways of falling as there are liquids to fill a hollow girl’s emptiness up to the brim. But a man in motion, flung downward toward the earth at speed, the wind pressing the hair back from his temples—her kind of boy? He can’t fill anything. Water seeps from between his cupped fingers.
She consumes immodestly, trying to fill herself up by her lonesome. Meatpies and quinces, cherries and rhododendrons, milquetoast, conquistadors, eluvial deposits–all go down the hatch, and still there’s nothing inside but the rustling of her husked interior. In despair, she roots herself deep in the soil of a community garden left untended, as if new dirt might force her to put forth green tendrils. She’ll come back whole, with her insides gooey, warm, and sustaining. Then, and only then, will she seek him out: once she’s pumpkin as pie.
He finds her, tries to dig her up, his nails scrabbling in the mud, but she’s buried fast, face slack, limbs motionless as prayer.
He abandons her rather than hold still himself. Stillness would mean landing forever, one endless impact. But he does want her back, wants to hold his ear to her chest and hear the wind rush through her seashell torso. He knows he must teach himself how not to fall.
So he seeks out the opposite of falling.
He climbs atop a chair and hurls himself at the carpet, but it’s no use; he can’t fall more than he’s already fallen. He cliff-jumps; he hang-glides and lets go; he bungees and cuts the cord, and each time there’s no one there to put him together again. Landing can’t possibly be the opposite of falling.
The boy hires a man who asks no questions to come to his house and tie him down to the ground with thick ropes run through thick rings inset into cement. He cocoons himself in sheets, then clothes, then tarpaulins. His mouth is stuffed with wads of paper, his phone left on silent. The man he’s hired leaves him like this, shaking his head as he shuts the door behind him. At first the boy thinks he’s won. He’s stopped falling at last. He’s not moving, that’s for certain. But then he closes his eyes and the roar of wind fills his ears and his body’s gone weightless, suspended in gauzy air. Stillness can’t possibly be the opposite of falling.
He makes Icarus/Daedalus wings, one set meant to succeed and the other fated to fail. He looks forward to the warmth of sunlight on his feathers. But flight can’t possibly be the opposite of falling.
He judges it precisely, the exact moment when the wax will melt and send him careening toward her patch of green. When he hits her, he hits hard, expecting her to be there for him like she’s always been. His weight crushes her on impact—no surprise, as he’s been falling for years; he hit critical mass long before they ever met. He splits her wide, exposing her warm, gooey interior, her once-hollow body ripened on the vine. Opens his mouth and fills it with her milky orange flesh, its taste of pearl-drenched sky.
Brooke Wonders‘ fiction has been published by Clarkesworld, Electric Velocipede, and Monkeybicycle, among others.
Artwork: Lara Zankoul, “Get Me Out.”