White. That was all she could see.
The colour of purity, of virtue, of chastity. The colour of infinity, of renewal, of a clean slate; of newly fallen snow and of a blank canvas left unpainted. The colour of beauty and of youth, and sometimes, of love: the colour of a bride’s dress, of the veil concealing her face. The colour of the feathers of a dove, flying free into the cloudless blue sky, perhaps never to be seen again. The colour of freedom, of choice, of independence, of light against dark and good against evil. The colour of possibilities, of hope, a prospect in what was otherwise oblivion. Such a beautiful colour, white, so serene and harmonious – and yet it could just as easily go the other way.
It was the colour of hydrangeas, the flowers of a withdrawn, hard-hearted, frigid disposition. It was not only the other half, the contrasting associate, of black, but its companion, its cohort, its partner in crime. It was the colour of mourning, of loss, of a body left vacant. It was the colour of void, of emptiness, of doubt and insecurity. It was the blank spaces in between, the questions left unanswered. It was the answer just out of reach, the riddle unsolved. It was whole, it was united, but still… it was not. Too empty to be full and too full to be empty, included yet excepted. No one could really understand it.
No one can really understand me.
She blinked, and suddenly there were brown lines criss-crossing against the whiteness she had once believed to be infinite. It was infinite no longer, for those were tiles – tiles on a ceiling. A ceiling meant that she was inside. How did she get inside? What was she doing inside? Her head hurt. It hurt so much. She closed her eyes, and now all she could see was red. Or was it pink? It didn’t matter that much, because there was a pang in her chest. That hurt too. Why did everything hurt?
I want the pain to go away.
She flipped over onto her side and opened her eyes again. Now she could see a green wall. There was furniture up against the wall – a wooden table and two chairs. There were flowers on the table. Several bundles of nice, colourful flowers wrapped up in pattered plastic, adorned with bows and ribbons. They weren’t white, fortunately. She was fed up with white. Were the flowers for her? Who would give her flowers, besides… besides him?
Memories tugged at the corners of her consciousness, vying for her attention. They hurt her brain. She couldn’t let them win. She couldn’t concede. Flipping back onto her back, the white ceiling with its myriad of paradoxes greeted her once again. The lines started to blur into the white once again, rendering the puzzle whole, as her breathing quickened and the throbbing in her head worsened. The pills… where were they? They kept the memories suppressed. They made her feel better. They made the agony withdraw, numbing her mind into a subdued state.
They stop me from thinking about what happened to him.
But there were no pills. There were no doctors. She was fed up of them, too. Fed up of relying on people she didn’t know, of nameless strangers. Her wish may have been their command, but still they bent and twisted those wishes, climbing through the loopholes and tearing the biddings apart into strips of paper. She couldn’t rely on anyone – not even herself. The only person she could truly depend on was gone. He was gone and she couldn’t fix that.
Instead, she let the memories carry her away like a leaf in the breeze, like a current in the ocean. She let them take her away into the deepest, darkest recesses of her mind, the places she had left unexplored for what seemed like eons. Maybe then she could find the solution to the problem, join the gaps, colour in the white.
Maybe then we can be reunited.
It had been raining.
The downpour slashed against glass windows, as sharp and vicious as knives, the intent to kill heavy in the action itself. The clouds hung low and imposing, the grey sky overcast and gloomy, domineering over the entirety of the small town. The rumble of thunder sounded in the distance as lightning scissored across the heavens, creating a rip in the fabric of the clouds. Wind blew, strong and insistent in its force, sending leaves, twigs and even elements of man-made structures – sign posts, roofing, wooden fencing – skidding and flying across the streets. Trees inclined to the side, their seemingly robust trunks and resilient braches now nothing more than insignificant disturbances to the profound gale force.
In short, it was the worst thunderstorm Australia had seen all year. It had come out of the blue, completely unexpected, startling street-wandering citizens out of their reveries and sending them running for the shelters of their homes. Just as abruptly as the storm had arrived, the streets began to flood, rainwater streaming and snaking down the paved surfaces like water over a riverbed. In a matter of seconds, the water was already waist level and rising fast. They had certainly experienced storms like this before, but at least there had been fair warning. Emergency supplies were dug up out of cupboards and safety equipment was prepared as people attempted to stay as far above ground level as possible.
She was perched on the bed in her bedroom on the second storey of her house. Resting her elbow on the windowsill and placing her chin in her hand, she stared out the large glass window, brow furrowed in concern. She couldn’t make out much, not with the rain being as turbulent and riotous as it was, but it was enough to see that the storm had wrecked more damage than necessary. Undoubtedly, it would have a radius spanning kilometres beyond the town, which, in fact, was her main point of apprehension.
He had left early this morning for a business trip far outside of town. He had been unaware of the potential storm – they all had, really – so he bid her farewell with not even an umbrella as protection. The weather this morning had been as clear as weather could come during winter: perhaps a few clouds, the vibrant cerulean hue of the sky slightly muted. There was not the slightest indication of a lethal thunderstorm. If anything, it had been one of the best days since autumn. However, the weather was a deceitful and temperamental thing, a system as fragile as the ice of a snowflake, prone to the winds of change – quite literally.
The storm was probably not as widespread as to reach his destination – if it was, it was truly a monster of the weather – but there would certainly be risks on the way back. She bit her lip nervously as she contemplated this. Her own job did not require her to leave town, ensuring her safety, but that meant his was compromised instead. The scales of fortune were tipped in her favour, but of course they required compensation. Everything had to be balanced. Push and pull, up and down, matter and antimatter, a death for a life. It was a law that governed the basic principles of nature and extended to something as complex as human life – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Simple physics that could cost someone their existence.
She withdrew her arm from the windowsill and lifted her legs up onto the bed, wrapping her arms around them. She hoped nothing had happened to him. She hoped he was safe, that maybe the storm would die down before it could grasp him in its greedy little arms. She hoped for his sake, and for hers. Why mine? she thought, cocking her head. Why my sake as well? It was a pointless question, for the answer was already clear to her, but she liked to ask it anyway. From the moment they met, as two high school students cramming for a biology test in the stuffy school library, until now, as two successful adults with respectable careers, it was clear that they were meant to be. She smiled to herself, because as corny as that may sound, it was true.
He was the other piece of the puzzle, the yin to the yang. His needs were hers and her needs were his. They were two separate halves yet one in unison at the same time. They were friends, they were lovers, they were soul mates. Through the years of their relationship, a sense of trust had grown between them, a sense of belonging and of acceptance that could not be found elsewhere. They were inseparable, and as a result she could not imagine life without him; it was indubitable that he felt the same way.
As if on cue, the phone sitting beside her started to ring, the melody echoing almost eerily in the silence. She picked it up and glanced at the name on the screen, a small smile curving her lips.
Lightly tapping the answer button, she brought the phone up to her ear. She was met with poor sound quality, the harsh buzz of static blending in with the rush of the rain. No surprise there.
“Jett,” she chastised. They had known each other long enough to not require proper greetings. “You shouldn’t be calling while driving.”
She could almost hear the smile in his voice, see the sparkle in his light green eyes. “It’s fine. I’ve got earphones in.”
“That’s no excuse,” she said sternly, but let it slide. Jett was a responsible driver. He could handle a mere distraction.
“The rain’s picked up a lot on the way back. Is something going on there?”
“Yeah.” She pursed her lips into a thin line, casting a glance out the window. The storm had not shown any signs of yielding. “Big cyclone. Probably the worst we’ve had all year.”
Jett whistled in awe. “That bad, huh?”
She nodded, forgetting that he couldn’t see her. Realising what she had just done, she cleared her throat, and amended, “Mm-hm.”
“Well, I’ll be back soon, okay?”
She frowned. “It’s flooding here. Be careful. I don’t think you can make it into town.”
“I’ll keep an eye out,” he reassured her. “I’ll stop as soon as I see anything dangerous, maybe give you a call. See you soon.”
“Bye,” she said just as he hung up.
Sighing, she swung her feet off the bed and stood up, walking over to turn on the radio on her bedside table. Sitting down on the edge of the bed next to it, she flicked through a couple of stations – the latest hits, cheesy ‘90s boy bands, country and rock ‘n’ roll – before finally settling on one with a weather broadcast. She sat back and tried to decipher the weatherman’s speech through the crackle of static.
“—one of the worst cyclones we’ve had in the past fifty years. Winds are reaching over two hundred kilometres per hour. Several car crashes have already occurred – fortunately with no casualties – and flights are being cancelled all over the country. The cyclone, currently unnamed, is fast intensifying to a category three and is expected to potentially reach category five. It’s currently centred in Queensland but is slowly progressing southward. Warnings have been sent out to prevent people from approaching beaches and coastline areas due to high tide, and evacuation preparations have been made. Stay tuned for more news as we switch over to sports—”
She switched the radio off. That was all the information that she needed. If it was severe enough to warrant evacuations, they were going to be in for one hell of a storm. Not that she wasn’t fascinated by it – she had always taken an interest in storms and the processes that contributed to their creation. Her friends had often teased her, saying that she would be far more suited to a job in meteorology than what she had chosen to pursue, but it was not really the science that interested her. It was more of the act of creation, of the spawning of such a seemingly small thing that could grow so large and intense in a short time span. The formation of a force so formidable that it could pave a path of destruction wherever it chose to go, a mass killing machine that started from something as simple as the basic cycle of evaporation and condensation.
Nature was strange that way.
The phone’s shrill ringtone cut through the silence, interrupting her train of thought. Picking it up from its position face-down on her bed, she looked briefly at the caller ID before a twinge of concern rushed over her.
“Hello?” This time, she believed a proper greeting was required.
“Hey,” said Jett’s voice. His normally carefree tone was unaffected, jubilant as ever. “I don’t think I can get through. The water levels are rising and it seems my windscreen wipers are losing the battle against the rain.”
She smiled half-heartedly at the joke before reverting back to a serious manner. “Jett, don’t panic. I think they’re sending out rescue teams right now.”
“Panic? Rescue teams?” He chuckled. “It’s not that bad, is it? I’m sure it can’t get that much worse than this.”
She shuddered as she glimpsed out the window. The trees looked like they were going to be uprooted and unless her eyes were deceiving her, large segments of rooftops had already been pulled off of houses. It was a miracle that the phone lines had not yet been cut off. “Believe me when I say it can.”
“Look, the only thing I’m worried about is the obscuring of my vision,” he reassured her. In her mind’s eye, she could see him craning his neck to get a better view. “I’ll be fine, I promise.”
That did not diminish her worry. “I know, but…” She hesitated. “Promise me you’ll call again as soon as it gets too bad, okay? Just stay where you are, and—”
“Stay where I am?”
Her blood ran cold in her veins, her breath hitching in her throat. “Jett – you’re still driving?”
“Um, yeah.” She could hear the frown in his voice. “Why? Is that bad?”
“Stop. Stop right now.”
“__________, I’m sure it’ll be f—”
“Jett, please. Use the emergency lane if you have to. I’ll call for help right now.”
There was a moment’s pause, and then she heard him sigh. “Fine. I’ll pull over in a sec.” His tone was exasperated. “I can’t see very well, though. Hang on…”
“Okay, I’m doing it. My God, I can’t see anything in this weather.”
“Call me again later, okay?”
“Sure. I’ll—” There was a flash of silence, an instant of suspension, before Jett’s voice returned, its tone urgent and panicked. “Oh, sh—”
There was a loud crash, and the line went dead.
“Jett?” she asked, her heart thudding in her chest. A bead of sweat ran down her forehead and her breathing quickened in anxiety. “Jett, are you there?”
“Jett!” she yelled, and then clapped her hand over her mouth. She was shaking all over, tremors running through her body. “Jett, talk to me, dammit! Stop joking around, I know you’re there!”
Still no response.
“Jett,” she whispered this time. Her breath was ragged, tears welling in the corners of her eyes. She knew she wasn’t jumping to conclusions. It was true. He was gone. “Oh my God, Jett, you idiot. Why didn’t you listen to me? W-why… Talk to me… Please…”
Her efforts were futile. She knew they were, but that didn’t stop her from trying – trying to hear his voice one last time. It was no use. The line was dead, and- and…
… and so was he.
She clutched at the bed-sheets, a bitter smile twisting her lips. So that was what happened. No wonder it drove her insane. No wonder the doctors tried to help her keep those memories repressed, buried deep within the alcoves of her mind. What they didn’t know was that they weren’t helping her at all. They were simply making it worse, as every time the memory returned, it returned sharper, more defined, more clarified in detail. Soon, neither they nor the little white pills could make her forget any longer. She hoped that day would come soon.
Flipping over once again to stare at the wooden furniture, she delved deep into another memory – the only other reminiscence she associated with him that she could remember as precise as this one. It had been almost a week until his body had been recovered from the wreckage of his car. The storm had subsided to meek drizzles and the media was already issuing statements of cost, of damage, of casualties. She had paid special attention to that last one. There were six casualties. Six – such a small number for such a large storm, but to those who knew the deceased, it did not seem so small after all. Six lives lost – six families, six circles of friends, six groups of colleagues, six bodies left unoccupied. So little yet so much had changed at the same time.
They’d asked her if she wanted to see the body – not his body, but the body. She couldn’t remember who ‘they’ were. Probably just another shadowy, faceless entity with little regard to her issues. She had entered the room, fists clenched tight. Had she already been admitted to hospital at this point? She wasn’t sure. This part was fuzzy, but as soon as she laid eyes on him, it all came into clear focus. It was too traumatising to describe, but one aspect stuck in her mind, inerasable. The worst part was his eyes, those light green orbs, the window to his soul. They had been so bright, so full of life and of joy, looking upon the world – and upon her – with an unbound love; now they were lifeless, pallid, the colour drained out of them. She had been the one to close his eyelids.
That was the last thing she remembered.
Life is a fragile thing, she mused to herself, fingering the covers. Existence was like a feather in the wind, tossing and turning in the breeze. One push, one intervention, it could end up somewhere completely different from the intended destination. If it were snatched out of the air, its course would be ended, its quest to achieve disrupted, no longer to be pursued. It could be torn, it could be trampled on, it could flutter away, never to be seen again – so many potentials, so many prospects. Like everything else, its destiny depended on those ominous scales of balance. One small adjustment could cause a chain reaction, a domino effect.
She felt as though that was what had happened to Jett’s life – it was the feather, the petal, one of many others. Nothing significant in the grand scheme of things, although it was to her. Their fates were tied, their providences connected. Their positions could have been reversed, and it would be her out there in the wake of destruction and him inside, sheltered from harm. She was one side of the scale and he was the other; to be inclined towards her would require reimbursement on his behalf, just as she had realised months ago. Why she did not do anything to prevent the consequences she did not know – selfishness perhaps, maybe negligence and overconfidence.
Jett was a responsible driver. He could handle a mere distraction.
It turned out she had been wrong – but then again, was anyone always right? Was there really anyone so perfect, so flawless and unadulterated in their knowledge? Would they have known that the one day would have costed Jett his life? Would they have seen the storm coming, have the prudence to persuade him to stay home instead of travelling all that way? If there really was, she hated them – hated them because they had not been around, had not decided to associate themselves with her and Jett, had not really cared.
But what was done was done. It was irreversible, unfixable, irrevocably unalterable – the storm, his death, her admittance to hospital, all of it. That was the nature of life. It was the beginning, it was the end. It was the little things, like a feather, subjected to the will of greater forces, like the gale force winds of a storm. It was gentle and considerate, but it was also harsh and unforgiving. It gave and it replenished and yet it stole what did not rightfully belong to it – a childhood love, a partner, a life. It was multi-faceted, layered with meaning. It was limited… and it was infinite.