Solipsism (sol’ip siz’em Latin: solus, alone + ipse, self), n.
Philos. The theory that only the self exists or can be proven to exist.
Chapter OneThe dark rippled. An object, lines and edges blurred in a violent spin, dropped on a golden chain.
The shadows pulled in, undulating slowly in the wave of the spin like hot wax in a revolving bowl. The object whirled, swinging ever more desperately against the encroaching black.
“Try to stop it.”
Something sparked up the golden chain, eliciting a yelp from deep inside the darkness.
Ripples surged, curling around the gold, enclosing it with deadly curtain; snuffing out the sparkle with a muffled tinkle of bells.
Muted sunlight filtered down from orange trees canopying the iron gate. Esther watched the light play in the branches, trimming the leaves with gold; the veins dark against the glowing the autumn colors. She lifted her hand to the shafts of light, but could only feel the icy touch of the cement below her and the chill in the wind above her scarf.
The door opened and she heard high heels click against the cement.
“It’s okay, you know,” a voice said behind her. “You’ve come a long way. You don’t have to push yourself, Esther.”
“I know.” Her hand dropped to her satchel, picking up a fur lined hat, the thick flaps a bright aqua, matching two teddy bear ears sticking out on top.
“Don’t get frustrated. It’ll take time.” There was a pause, then, “I think it’s very brave to go back so soon. But don’t think you have to. We all grieve at our own pace.”
Esther stood, brushing off the back of her skirt.
“Are you good on refills?”
“Yes.” She pushed open the gate, flipping the hat over her brown hair.
“I am glad you decided to come this morning. Call me if you need anything."
“See you next week Dr. Belane.” Esther hopped down the steps and out onto the side walk.
Mozart’s Concerto Number 3 disrupted the descent to the subway. Esther ducked under the sign jutting over the street and dug her phone out of her pocket as the sky let out a burst of icy rain. Two small lucky cats jingled as she flipped it open to check the ID. The screen flashed blue. She smiled.
She pressed talk and pushed the phone under the hat’s ear flap.
“Sup, Es? You done with that thing?”
Esther plugged an ear as the subway entrance threw out a mob of people.
“You at the Underground?”
“Kay! I’ll see you in a bit then. Don’t get lost!”
The wool gently scratched the back of her hand as Esther pulled the phone out from under the flap. She watched the screen blink Call Ended.
“Hasn’t been that long…”
The subway station reeked with the hot, sticky smell of too many people. Esther let the crowd push her towards the East Bound track and the automatic card readers that activated the turnstiles. Getting in line, she pulled her satchel over her shoulder and unzipped the top. She dug through, searching for her wallet. Her line moved up. She unzipped two pockets. The line moved up again. She opened her pencil holder, pushed aside a few pens and her library card, then tried to dump its entire contents out in her hand.
The lined moved. People muttered. One pushed and she bumped into the card reader. And she still couldn’t find her pass.
“Come on, kid!”
“We’ll miss the damn train!”
“Sorry. Just a second, please! I know it’s here somewhere….”
A women in an embroidered leather coat stepped in front of her.
“I don’t have time for this.”
She slid her card into the reader and passed Esther. Others followed the example.
“If you’re not getting on, get out of the way!”
Someone knocked her arm, sending the pencil holder and everything in her hand flying. With a pained sigh Esther abandoned the line.
She darted between people, snatching up rolling pencils, grabbing at pens. One last number two bounced towards the bathroom pillars. With a bounce she stomped down to stop it and felt an unmistakable snap under her oxfords. Squatting, Esther picked the pencil up by its eraser. It hung together, one splitter of wood still intact, then snapped in half and fell at her feet.
Esther gripped the half of pencil in her hand and swallowed down the blistering flutter trying to encase her chest. She tossed the pencil aside, teddy bear ears sliding towards her forehead, and pulled her satchel into her lap. She yanked open the flap again and dug. English grammar book, slim physics workbook, notes from her aunt and doctor…
Esther felt the frustration melting into tears. She sat back on her heels, one hand still inside the satchel. It had been on the table. Right by the door.
Then why didn’t you pick it up? You remembered to go by Dr. Belane’s, but can’t remember a stupid subway pass? Her hands gripped the side of the satchel so hard the zipper bit into her skin. She shuddered at the thought of throwing the whole thing against the pillars and going home. Monica would never know. She could watch cartoons then go to bed and sleep and her aunt would never suspect—
Her head jerked up so fast she pitched backwards off her heels and fell to the dirty subway tiles. A boy, Westin Academy blazer under a military coat, was standing over her. He knelt.
Esther scooted away from him; felt the sudden chill of floor against her thighs, rocked forward, hands pressing down between her legs, pinning her skirt to the tiles. Staring down at her fingers she was sure she could hear muffled laughter behind her, sending a wave of reddened embarrassment over her cheeks.
She looked up. The boy was glaring over her shoulder. As if feeling her gaze, his eyes came back to her.
“You’re going to catch something just sitting there like that.” He offered his hand.
Esther didn’t move, her fingers digging into the fabric of her skirt. But under her ebbing fright there was a disquieting since of familiarity.
“I didn’t see anything. Come on, get up.”
Esther bit her lip. She reached forward, one hand on her bag in case he tried to snatch it. Her hand slid into his, his bare fingers warm and rough against hers.
Something snapped, right by her eye; a black throb that pulsed over her vision. Darkness spread out around her, in waves of deep indigo and royal purple. A sparkle; a round, golden object spinning on a chain with—
Esther started as the hand jerked away. The subway, the noise, the people… rushed back. She was standing, the satchel hanging loosely from her fingers. The boy was staring at her, eye brows knitted. Esther took a breath, eyes on the floor, heart thumping in her ears.
“Thanks…” She forced her fingers to close more firmly over the satchel’s strap.
“You looking for something?”
“My pass…I lost it…or…” She glanced up. The boy, half framed in the fur of her hat, was scanning the terminal, his head moving slowly from side to side. “What’re you—”
His hand darted into his coat pocket then pressed something to her sweater, making Esther yelp.
Esther’s bag slid up her arm, bunching her thick sleeve to scrape her skin as she fumbled to grasp a small slip of plastic.
“A…ride pass? I can’t take—” She looked up. “Hey! Wait a—” The boy was gone. She looked down the terminal to see if he jumped turnstiles, then up towards the entrance. He was nowhere to be seen.
The crowd pushed in, jostling her as she tried to stand still in her search. An old man knocked her shoulder, spinning her around to face the turnstiles. Esther frowned at the pass, pulled her satchel over her shoulder, and stepped into the crowd. She slipped the card into the reader. The light turned green. She passed through.
***Esther found a seat in the corner on the last car and sat with her bag in her lap. Lifting the pass up to the subways’ flickering light, she squinted at the name printed below the public transportation emblem. Her head leaned against the tattered seat.