Alison Phang had a mind that had expired shortly after her sixteenth birthday. The sun had groaned, and then sank. The horizon was no great limitation and the sun did not notice it. The mind began to rot. Alison did not want to know why.
During the day she looked for replacements, leaning over counters in the stores and explaining as well as she knew how. "I left it out in the sun too long. It went too fast," she said. She had. It had not shriveled, but when the spring and summer were gone she knew it had been left bleached and different. She found it almost unbearable. She would have felt something completely; she could not remember.
She ran her fingers through the dust in the window fronts and rearranged the spices on their little shelves. Store owners watched her without interest, smearing grease on every surface with their worn rags and thick, creased fingers. She stood in their lines of sight, but her eyes had been painted over from the inside out. She felt less jaded than she did blind.
Before, when her hair had been white and new, her eyelashes crossed only for the dreams that travelled down to her knuckles and curled in her spine. In the mornings, she rolled to her feet slowly, one vertebra at a time. The window in her bedroom had had no curtains, but as she had grown taller, so had grown the trees, and all the time she watched their branches biting out the sun and moon. She had hoarded the stars when it first started, but without the moon she was hopeless, and simply forgot to retain them one day. This is what she wanted to tell her mother, who wept once, with casual syllables and lightly blushing cheeks.
When perfectly content, this starless Alison walked in circles. She left the shop on the corner on a Saturday morning, feet smoking and crumbling like ashtrays. The cement waited. She stared at it; it was a giant's flesh that burned in the sun. Alison, atop it, hairs raised, looked down and then up once more. The sun seemed to wave. A stout man waddled past her on the strip of sidewalk. They nearly crashed. It would have been her fault because she had been blinded by the sun. It would have been his fault because he had been preoccupied with the straightening of his tie, briefcase handle shoved tightly over his first two fingers. They turned purple and enormous. As he passed, they resembled sausages. Alison exhaled, but did not inhale. Her eyes focused. It would have been her fault, she thought, because she could not stop walking in those circles. Her eyes slanted toward the sun for an instant, and in that moment her breathing resumed without celebration. The trash cans sagged in her peripherals. There was dirt on her fingers that matched the streaks which ran down the edges of her face.
She went home on a Monday after school. She had not sent word. There were no words she knew that did not drag themselves from her mouth with little white hands and rough polyester gloves. All words tore up the sides of her mouth and crawled, sloth-like and carefully, back into her ears and down her spine. She did not try very hard to package and send them.
However, she remembered her feet and skin. Someone had once told her to step into them every day. She did now. It helped.
She still dreamed, perhaps too much. This was what she knew. She dreamed and dreamed until she slept, and then she could remember no more. Her feet stepped in time with the loose control of her stilled head. When she wanted something in her dreams, and she hardly did, she thought of getting it. She was always surprised when it did not appear. She wished for a glass of water, walking west down the street after the sinking sun, and blinked slowly waiting for it. She thought she could control dreams. When she could no longer manipulate them as before, she realized she had been confused.
She told this to the people passing her on the street who blew smoke into the air and fancied suffocating her with it. "It wasn't a dream or a star I walked upon. This is your life and I am just a passerby." She told this to her mother, who did not understand it. She said she was only experimenting. These words got out. The rest did not.
She did not dream to experience her life through others.
She did not dream at all.
On Sunday, when she was not there, and was not at home, she was at church. The doors were not as heavy as she had remembered, and the ceiling not as high, but it was church just the same. There were people inside who did and did not know her name. They all prayed. Alison prayed too. She wanted to wake. The knowledge of how to do so had sunken into some shallow of her mind. It could not return, for her head was merely a resting place for lost thoughts and quicksand. In church, she said, "I don't know," when a man turned to ask her a question. Perhaps, the man thought, she did not.
The sun shone through the stained glass. There was something there; it was almost an idea. She looked away and the urge to believe was gone. The doors were heavier on the way out of the church. She did not return there. There was no wedding in her mind that would lead her back there. The realities in her head stopped at twenty. She was not quite there, though. She could not remember what had not yet happened.
She ambled around on sidewalks and streets as she tried to return home. The circles she walked grew wider and thicker with her worn feet. The man from church paused as he approached her, and then continued walking. She paused too, but there was no need for it. Another man paused, then another, then a woman with the newspaper. All of their feet stalled in different places. Alison looked at the map of road on which she stood, but she was terrible with directions.
She asked the newspaper woman where she was, but the woman's hair flew into her face and obscured her answer. There was no clarification. The woman left the road with most of her answers still intact. Alison could not remember what she had asked. It seemed most pressing that she should discover the meaning of paradox; she seemed to be in one.
The man who first paused was far ahead of her by that point, his hair thinning and shiny upon his damaged head. She did not think to ask any more of him. She had already asked for him to forgive her. He had not heard her, but she did not think it important to try again. It was doubtful that the words would come across anyway.
There was a boy beside her. "Do you know what a paradox is? What paradoxes are? Paradoxi?" she asked, "Paradise?" The boy looked afraid. He turned from her, toward the sun, and continued on his way.
The wrong words kept escaping, leaving none that she wanted. She did not speak until she remembered where she was. She did not speak any more.
The door to her house was small and difficult for her to see. She entered it anyway, having no key, but an open lock regardless. She had memorized the footsteps she took inside. She sunk into them again and strayed from the window. The sun was sinking for the night. She closed her eyes and tried to wake.
Her bed did not sink as she did.
Her eyes did not close as well as she might have wanted.
She left a store on a Saturday, having not found the replacement mind that she had wanted. She returned on a Monday evening, before sundown, having forgotten what she went to find in the first place. She might have remembered, if she had not filled her mind with big numbers and old skin.
She had made all kinds of room for the stars, but then let them escape. She watched now as they fled from her mouth one or two at a time, with little white hands cloaked in polyester gloves. She did not want to know why.