Sometimes the darkness and I walk on empty streets under streetlights that shine yellow cold.
The pig is still oinking, somewhere behind us. The darkness says, why’d you bark for, you idiot, and it says that now the pig will oink until the end of this universe.
I notice how it says “this universe”. So this is not Reality.
But I am beginning to think that maybe that’s the point.
I want to talk to the darkness. I want to ask if the point is that everything is a skin, that it’s skins all the way down, but I am afraid that it will say yes and that then the streetlights will go out, one by one, and I will go dark.
I look at my skin, at the freckles and the hairs and the tiny wrinkles. What is inside my skin? Blood. Muscles. Bones. Lots of water. Me.
I look at the darkness, at its smooth hard bones. If those bones had been inside the gatorskin, it would have fallen from the tree, maybe. But they weren’t, and it didn’t.
The trees in this place wear a different skin than those trees did. Or the trees that came later, the ones that waved goodbye. I looked at my skin then too. But I don’t think it was the same skin as the one I have now.
I look up at the streetlights.
One of them goes out.
Sometimes the darkness and I consist of pain and beauty.
I am the pain, and the darkness is the beauty.
I sit on a wall and dangle my legs down towards the water below. In the distance, beyond a fence, stacks of red freight containers shimmer in the sun. I wonder what is in them.
“All your hopes and dreams,” the darkness answers. It sits on the wall beside me.
I ask it if there are winged kittens here. It says no, that they are not in this iteration of the universe.
I swing my legs a bit. I look at them, trying to decide if they are my legs. They seem familiar, but there is something a little bit off.
What are my hopes and dreams?
Considering the question frightens me, and I decide to not think about that right now. I think about the fence instead.
I ask the darkness, “Have you ever worn a fenceskin?”
It looks at me. Its bones are clearly gray in this light. It reaches out with a skeletal arm, and I feel its finger bones against my forehead.
“I’m not sick,” I say.
Its hand drops. It kicks its feet, and I watch the turquoise water swirl around the gray bones.
It says that it has never worn a fenceskin. I think I hear a sadness in its voice, a grief for the forms of existence that it has not yet experienced.
Or maybe that’s just me.
A sudden breeze carries a whiff of barbecue with it, and I wonder how the giant blue pig is doing. I am sorry that I barked at it and so now it has to oink until the end of this universe.
If my hopes and dreams are in the red containers, I think maybe the white warehouse next to them holds my regrets.
I am very glad for the existence of the fence.
Sometimes the darkness and I pretend to be something other than what we are.
I say that I want to be a bird, that I want to be free and to fly and to eat worms and to not have to worry about human things like barbed wire fences and smokestacks and hate.
The darkness says that it wore a birdskin once, and that worms don’t actually taste very good.
I don’t care. I still want to be a bird.
The darkness says that it wants to be human, that it wants to feel the pricking of barbed wire against its humanskin, to glow red with hate, to send the ashes of its enemies curling upwards into the sky. It says that it wants to know blood and spit and sweat and pain.
I look at it, at the expression in its eyes, and I cross my arms in front of myself.
I just want to be a bird.
Sometimes the darkness and I go to the town garden at night. We discuss the value of knowledge and death, and the taste of apples.
The darkness says that it is better to be ignorant and to live forever than to know Reality and to die, and that apples are too sweet for its taste.
I say, “You know Reality, and you live forever.”
The darkness looks at me. I cannot read the depths of its glowing red eyes. It hisses, “Do you think that I am alive?”
I look at the apple tree, at the yellow light from the streetlight falling through its leaves. The apples look ripe and juicy, and I have always liked sweet things. My stomach rumbles.
I don’t know anything, and I am dying anyway.
Sometimes the darkness and I are still sitting in the garden when the sun rises.
I stand up and turn around. I look out across the road, at the trees and the houses and, far off in the distance, the empty flat skyscrapers.
If I went over to the apple tree and pulled off an apple and ate it, would I become like the darkness? A void that has to wear the skins of other lives?
Would it be worth it to know Reality?
I am so hungry.
The darkness says that its bones are weary. I wonder if it means that it’s tired of wearing its boneskin, and if it will find a new skin soon. Maybe if you know everything it is easy to get tired of skins, to become bored with all the lives that you try.
I ask, “What is it like to know Reality?”
The darkness sits on the bench, which does look rather uncomfortable when all you are is bones, and it does not reply. Not for a long time. I turn back towards the garden, and I sit back down next to it.
Finally, it hisses an answer.
“It is like being a skeleton sitting on a wooden bench. There is no comfort, no support, and you are utterly alone in the emptiness.”
I say, “Oh, is that all? I’ve been through that already,” and I reach for an apple.
Sometimes the darkness and I walk through the garden of knowledge and ignorance.
I eat the apple from the apple tree as we walk. Its juice dribbles down my chin. I wonder when the knowledge of all Reality is going to hit. How will it feel? Like an icepick to the eye, maybe, or like an ulcer eating into a vein. I am looking forward to it.
The darkness is still wearing the bones. Its calcaneus bones and metatarsals click on the sidewalk. Its red eyes burn and burn and burn.
It says, “The apples are meaningless. They hold no power. You wish for knowledge, but your humanskin cannot handle it. It would destroy you.”
It says, “You are innocent. You make up illusions because you cannot handle Reality, and you believe in your illusions so much. Like your illusion that an apple has meaning, that an apple can show you the secrets of Reality.”
It says, “I have taken you to Reality, and you still cannot see it. Because you are not meant to see it. You see streetlights and a stream and wild long grass and a meandering walk. You do not see the howling emptiness.”
It says, “I like you as you are.”
It says, “Give me the apple.”
I answer “Too late,” and I swallow the last bite.
The icepick drives right through my eye into my brain, the ulcer eats into my vein, the streetlights and the stream and the wild long grass and the meandering walk disappear, and I howl and howl into the emptiness.