999 by Laura McPherson


The year that I died, I started learning origami. My fingers dulled the folds with nervous perspiration and my jaw ached from clenching my teeth in concentration, pointed cusps mocking the doughy aborted cranes on my table. I dreamed of mirror-surfaced lakes infinitely refracting snowy birds as I struggled to birth a single recognizable orizuru, the same folds you had once made effortlessly in sixth-grade art class. The TV hummed in the background of my aviary, static shocking the increasingly crane-like birds into life between my fingers. Nature documentaries made my living room a crane sanctuary as I moved up to Tant paper, then Yuzen. I strung the cranes together with fishing line to make curtains that danced with serene joy in the draft from the floor registers.

The summer that I died, I joined the gym, like you had thought of doing. You thought making time for it would be hard, and you were right, but after the first weeks, workouts were just part of the day. Once my lungs caught up to my ambition, I envisioned running the streets of Rome at sunrise, the alleys of Kyiv at sunset. I started saving money for a tour of Europe, one like you sometimes talked about taking. I would quit my job, holding up two middle fingers to my shrew boss Sandy as I walked out of the revolving door to catch my taxi to the airport. I was envisioning it the moment you got fired, your shrew boss—in a jarring symmetry, also named Sandy—giving you the middle finger as security walked you out to your shitty Honda Civic. While you wondered what next, I traced my route; something like the original Grand Tour, but the budget-class economies: Greece-Bulgaria-Romania-Ukraine-Belarus-Poland.

The month that I died, I decided that after Europe, I would buy a house, the inner-ring suburbs still affordable in a daunting, just-barely way. While you spontaneously rented an apartment in a manic phase, hoping things would get better, I walked open houses, visiting a squat witch’s cottage with snaggle-toothed windows and a Victorian with stained-glass eyes squinting below a roof that leaked affably into the attic. I dreamed of two beds/two baths, a backyard patio, a basement with a bar—maybe even room for a pool table. I would have friends over for game nights, as you would have done if you hadn’t erased your contacts and thrown away your phone. I dreamed of running up the walk to my house, the paper cranes in the windows.

The week that I died, I adopted a cat. Her name was Twix, and in my lap she purred and meowed at the same time: purr-ow, purr-ow, purr-ow. She kneaded her tiny orange and black paws into everything, mittens testing every surface for doneness. I was prepared to take down my aviary, but Twix respected the birds in a way that did not extend to shoelaces or loose napkins. When I left the apartment, she would jump onto the kitchen windowsill and watch until I was gone. She would be waiting inside the door when I came back, weaving between my legs before I took off my shoes: purr-ow, purr-ow, purr-ow.

The day that you killed me, I woke up before the alarm, sunlight breaking across the sheets. Twix napped in the sun-sliced rectangles, softly waiting for breakfast. As I locked Twix and my 999 cranes safely in the apartment, the sun played with the trees, casting puzzle pieces cut from shadows on the sidewalk. I considered playing hooky from work. I imagined reliving a summer day from adolescence, with kites and ice cream and, as the afternoon wound to a close, court TV. I tried to remember how my mom would make that fairy liquid that turned into bubbles on the wind, a long-lost magic summoned with dish soap and an old hanger. But I decided to go into work and that is the second-to-last thing I decided, second only to deciding to take the highway like you did.

You were going the wrong way, speeding, drunk, looking for the way out of your problems, and you pushed both of us out of the world where you can breathe life into paper cranes and blow bubbles of dish soap in the warm summer sun. I did not know you yet. Now, through this formless grey, I see you in my mind: living your last year at weird angles to mine, both of us with cranes left unfolded.

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