The first meeting they discussed the schedule.
Once a week wouldn’t work.
Anything could happen in between, and they had material to cover.
Someone in the back, I think it was Vida, suggested three meetings a week. But there were other obligations. They had to see everyone beforehand; they couldn’t just disappear for hours on end like that. And the lawyers had questions. They asked questions like they expected you to know the answers. Weren’t they getting paid to give answers? Fuck. How about meetings at night, when the others would be sleeping? In the middle of the fucking night? I’m done with this charade, Dave said. Maybe you should fuck someone, Tess said. Maybe you should just go fuck yourself, Paul said, barking like a dog when you break them.
Someone chuckled in the back. That was pretty funny, a voice that was porous and thin said. Enough with the cursing, Jesus, another voice that was unrecognizable, unaffected, common said. You just can’t wait, can you? was tossed across the room like a plate thrown at a lover, obliquely, obscurely, by someone as cold as a sidewalk at four in the morning. You’ve been waiting for this your whole fucking life, haven’t you? Well, yes, I suppose I have. Someone chuckled again. I think at night sounds best, Colleen said. It’s fair to them. Colleen, at sixteen, commanded a certain respect from the group. So it was. Twice a week from that day on.
Nobody expected anything from them.
So they would expect things from each other.
The second meeting they practiced breathing in the darkness.
Dave didn’t come.
The third meeting they discussed the results of their research. There was no consensus. Some brought in scientific experiments. Others testimonials. Others yet brought poems. Dave wasn’t there either. Has someone seen Dave, Tess asked. I think he’s out, Paul said. Good fucking riddance, the unrecognizable voice said. I thought we weren’t cursing, the cold sidewalk voice said. Someone should get Dave, Tess said. There’s enough to worry about like that, Paul said. I’m not going to fucking babysit him as well.
The fourth meeting a woman who rarely spoke, her name was Mary, told them how she had taken her first flying lesson. Allah-O-Akbar is the first thing I said when I stepped onto the plane. What? said Tess. Yes, said Mary, you know, to scare the instructor. Someone chuckled. That’s fucking racist. No, it’s not, Paul said. Yes, it is, you moron, Tess answered. God, who are you people? I didn’t mean anything by it, Mary said. I was just being silly. Tess looked up through some gemstone eyes. She looked left. She looked right. She crossed her arms. A tear hustled along the slightly uneven spine of her nose. She got up and left. Paul sat back and watched her go. Well, at least Mary is following the rules over here. What did she ever do?
The fifth meeting someone brought a dog. They say they can sense that stuff, the morning sidewalk voice said. He’s be more riled up than usual, for sure.
The meetings continued into the spring with no change. Tess came sometimes. Dave didn’t. Mary surprised everyone — how well she was following the plan. Though her life was getting odder, she said. Little things mostly. That pair of keys in the wrong place. That strange dream. That song that came on out of nowhere. You’d think He was talking to you directly.
The penultimate meeting they held hands and held their breath for a full minute.
Dave came, but Tess didn’t. Tess was gone. Dave had seen her just a week prior. She had vanished like a spark. Such a pain, every day he’d known her since the start of these meetings, how poorly she handled it, handled herself, how she’d never just shut the fuck up. And then, bam! Just ripped from the fabric of the world like that. You’d barely know she was. She left nothing at all. Had loved a bit: badly, selfishly. Mary had grown a lot through the meetings. Had made changes for the better. Her daughters now took her places, helped her plan, promised her her memory would live on. One of them gave her a granddaughter, named her Mary too. It was like looking into a pool of crystalline water, she said. My reflection staring back at me. Dave knew though. He knew he would vanish, like Tess. What’s the point? he had asked in the first meeting. You can’t learn to die. It’s to try and grow, to try and make a difference, to meet others, the cold sidewalk voice had argued. Dave had stayed on the way people stay in jobs they dislike. Because he hadn’t figured a better course in the short time he’d had. And when it came, he faced it the way he’d faced everything — with equal measure of idleness, resentment, and blame. He was the mirror of the world, the cold sidewalk voice said.
E.C. Belli is a writer and translator. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, Antioch Review, and Caketrain, among others. A selected volume of her translations of French poet Pierre Peuchmaurd, The Nothing Bird, was recently released by Oberlin College Press (2013), and her translation of Emmanuelle Guattari’s short novel I, Little Asylum has just been released by Semiotext(e) as part of an exhibit for the Whitney Museum’s 2014 Biennial. She is an editor at Argos Books.