Chapter 1.

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Things I want to do.
1.


YouTube taught me it might help to make a list. Putting your wishes down on paper would help hold you in the present and prevent you from disappearing like everyone else; it was one of the less woolly recommendations appearing online today. (The most bizarre was a vlogger's suggestion to tighten the bond between your body and the earth's magnetic field by mixing iron filings in with your food.)

I've been staring at an empty sheet of paper for half an hour now, but nothing surfaces – not a thing.

I remember times when I wanted all sorts of things. In my sophomore year I wanted Janine, the girl with the prettiest mouth in the world: soft, pink lips she endlessly moistened with her tongue. For a few months I had an utter crush on that mouth, but someone else stuck their tongue inside it before could I gather the nerve to ask her out. And I wanted to travel after I graduated. A year-long break to explore the world, to proclaim my supposed independence by sharing daily selfies on Instagram – "view from the Chinese Wall #backpackerlife".

Those options have all been removed from the table. Janine is gone, they closed the school last week – ostensibly just temporarily, until they can replace the teachers who faded and vanished into thin air like so many others, without reason or logic. And even if I could muster up the courage to leave the house at all, I'm certainly not flying anywhere, since no airline is crazy enough to send a plane carrying five hundred passengers to Asia. What if the pilot were to disappear mid-flight? My my, hey hey, Neil Young would say.

If my parents were still around, they would have helped me compile my list. My father would have sat down beside me, the smell of cigars wafting from his beard and clothes, and in that deep, grumbling voice of his, said, "Jonas, you're a clever boy; all you need to do is go for it." I don't think he ever actually understood why it was so hard for me to go for something. He always referred to my depression as "dark moments", as if I were a nineteenth-century poet who would be capable of molding his misery into a prize-winning oeuvre. But he always tried very hard, in his own way.

My mother would probably have just put a warm hand on my back to let me know she was there for me. Somehow, she knew that was enough when I was going through one of my episodes. It never helped. But it was enough.

They both went at the same time – that's something, at least. When my mother started fading a few weeks ago, my father began a panicked search for anything that might help her: aromatic herb lore, a series of treatments with hot steam that went right through her, of course, and dozens of other new treatments that had been popping up in recent months. Almost none of which transcended the level of the vlogger with his magnetic field.

In the end she tried a therapy based on the premise that as long as the mind thought the body was still functioning, the body might solidify again. I called it "placebo therapy", but its official name was much more solemn; as was the therapist who came to our house for an hour each day, discreetly dressed in grey from head to toe. They did activities together to "train her body to recognize itself". When Mom wanted to work in the garden, the therapist held the hoe her hands went right through, and, following her directions, planted the seeds she could no longer pick up. If it was Mom's turn to make dinner, he would break the eggs for her while she copied his movements. My stomach turned every time he reached through her to do something for her, but it seemed to be working. She even regained enough solidity to sit on a chair and talk to us, though she was still unable to pick up a cup.

Two days ago, I was clearing out the dishwasher while Mom read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, a book she had chosen out of a sense of gallows humor and in which every character was equally unlikeable. She read out loud, so the therapist would know when to turn a page. "The night was clear and full of stars," she said, and the next thing I heard was a primal shout from my father. When I turned around, the therapist gently closed the book and got up from his seat next to the now empty chair, saying, "You have my deepest condolences."

Next to the chair stood my father, looking forlorn. "She's gone," he said. That was the last thing he ever said to me; after that there was nothing but thin air where he had been. I was alone in the room with a stranger, who repeated with well-rehearsed sympathy, "You have my deepest condolences."

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