These Words

In the calm gray of the afterlife, Shay discovers all the words she has not said in her lifetime hovering after her like the train of the wedding dress she will not wear.

These words, which she’d have thought would be all bad, are not. They are not only those she kept inside her when she wanted to speak so dearly that her tongue itched from the effort of keeping them inside. They are not only those nasty truths held at bay with white lies taught to her by her mother, which her mother learned from her own mother, and on and on through the generations until whenever it was that tact or manners or politeness were invented.

These words are there, the bad words, the sentences strung together with malice and caprice. But there are others too. Softer words. Words of praise that were never uttered out of laziness or forgetfulness. Words of love stoppered inside Shay’s body due to shyness or fear.

Shay can feel and hear the susurrus of these words following her, a reminder not only of what was never said but of what was never written. She wishes she were in a dream so that she could wake up and make it all up to the universe, but even if she weren’t dead due to a bullet to the brain in a bank, a bullet slow enough somehow to make her think of the famous story she’d studied in college; even if she were to wake up in a sweat in the bed she once slept in; even if, in fact, the entire thing were the effect of a drug taken at a party where she was feeling particularly ambitious; even if, if, if, Shay knows it wouldn’t matter. Words unspoken are rarely uttered without disastrous consequences. Words unwritten are only works of genius until they are penned.

She walks into the grey and hopes that this is the afterlife’s own little white lie: that all these words are worth something now, in death, even if they weren’t before.

Never Has She Ever

1. She never listened to her father’s absence of breath.
2. She never said No when it really mattered.
3. She never said Yes when it didn’t.
4. She never watched her mother cry in the mornings.
5. She never learned how to prevent everyone else’s pain.
6. She never learned how to prevent her own.
7. She never dove in headfirst knowing what was waiting on the other side.
8. She never clarified the terms of her contract.
9. She never bothered to create legally binding contracts for her clients.
10. She never paid her taxes without someone else’s help.
11. She never corrected her own grammar if she thought she could get away with it.
12. She never became a ballerina.
13. Or an actress.
14. Or a dishwasher.
15. She never stopped loving anyone.
16. She never liked someone in the same way as they liked her because she believed that it was a human impossibility to like and be equally liked in return.
17. She never learned how to hate.
18. She never learned how to avoid jealousy.
19. Or envy (which is different).
20. Or schadenfreude.
21. Or guilt.
22. She never learned how to horseback ride.
23. She never took a step off a twenty-five story high building.
24. She never shot herself full of things she wished she could, even for the story.
25. She never felt entirely sure.