She leaves the house in the morning, surrounded by the completeness, the simple fullness of summer. And everything is as it should be; the dependable sound of her shoes hitting the path into the woods, the deliberate crunching of stones and dirt underfoot, correspond perfectly to the tightening of the muscles in her legs as she walks. The sun hits the side of her face and she feels warmth spread over the skin until it meets shadow. She smiles; this is as it should be. The birds call to her from the trees lining the path, their songs elated and triumphant from behind gleaming green leaves still fresh with dew, and she knows that they share in her contentedness at finding herself irrevocably actual, undeniably in existence. Her hand is in her pocket, and within this protective cocoon she runs her thumb over her fingers, the roughness of the knuckles, the smoothness of the nails, the inescapable knowledge that here is flesh and bone and nerves and blood. The knowledge that she is. She absolutely is.
A breeze runs through her hair, whipping it away from her neck, and she is surprised at its force, but she leans into it, savouring the sound as it whistles past her ears. She walks on, aware now that the fingers in her pocket feel cold. She curls them into a fist. The breeze picks up and she delights in the way it seems to swirl around her, persistent and affectionate. Looking up she smiles into the weak morning sunlight, which has grown paler, somehow. She notices that, though she can see the beams of yellow light flooding the fields beyond the line of trees, though she knows she is walking through pools of it, she cannot feel it on her face anymore. She takes her hand from her pocket, unfurls the fingers, places them on her cheek. Cold skin on cold skin. A flicker of panic, of disbelief. Still, she walks. She focuses on the ground beneath her feet, the wind in her hair, the sounds of the birds, all things she can cling to. Sunlight is fickle, she tells herself, it means nothing.
She enters the woods, and here in the shade of the trees she relaxes: the sunlight wouldn’t reach her here, anyway. And ‘it’s the strangest feeling’, she thinks; ‘my feet hardly feel like they’re touching the ground’. The comforting crunching and scraping are so soft now, as though far away, as though the mass of her body has halved since she left the house. She feels as though she is not walking on stones and earth and leaves at all, but on air. A semi-solid version of air. Somehow. She turns her attention to the leaves, tilting her chin upward to admire the broad canopies of the trees. It falls slowly, a single green leaf, past her eyes, spinning languidly in the wind, finally resting on the ground behind her, and she walks on. Then another, and another, and another. One clings to her shoulder and she sweeps it away carelessly, but as she does she feels not the softness and vitality she had expected but an unhealthy crispness. Brittle and brown, the leaf crumbles where her fingers brush it and it falls to the floor in fragments. The leaves fall around her as she continues down the winding path through the wood, thicker and thicker the further she walks, and before her eyes they turn from green to yellow to orange to brown.
A lightness rises in her stomach, so strong for something that feels so much like empty nothingness. And the hand in her pocket no longer feels cold, but numb, her skin all of a sudden unfamiliar and strange. She raises a hand to the skin of her face, uncertain of what she will find, hoping it will be the well-known warmth of her cheek, her nose, her mouth, but there is no feeling to assess, as if her hand were suspended in mid-air. She looks up again, trusting the green canopies of the trees to comfort her, but they are no longer there; instead she finds battle-torn skeletons of trees, their branches reaching out, twisted and wistful, towards a sunless sky that has turned from blue to a greyish white the colour of sickness. Dead leaves cover the ground, but she cannot hear them crunching beneath her feet, and still the lightness, the emptiness in her stomach grows, flooding through her limbs, turning flesh and tissue to dust. And still, she walks on.
She senses the world grow darker around her, night-time approaching impossibly early, and she hears the unmistakable rumble of thunder above her. The first drop of rain is silent and solitary. It splashes against her cheek. The second fat drop lands on her nose, the third on the arm of her jacket, the fourth on the top of her head, and she shivers wildly. She steps forward once more and she falls, the ground or her own legs giving way, she does not know which. She lies on her back on the ground, fat droplets of rain continuing to fall around her, and she realises that she will not get back up. The earth cannot be trusted. Her own body cannot be relied upon; it is not solid enough, not present enough, to carry her. A raindrop falls onto her face, exploding on the plane of her cheek, and she feels it disintegrate. She does not feel the pain of her skin melting away, her flesh dissolving, but she knows it from the absence that remains afterwards, the terrible emptiness finally consuming her shell. She is the dead leaf, crumbling instantly at a single touch.
The rain falls harder now, and she stares up at the black sky, barely able to identify the silhouettes of the trees through the swirling mist that has crept in around her. The rain beats and batters the earth, and with every touch her skin fades away, her flesh turned to vapour, her bones to dust that flies away on the wind. And her thoughts dwindle, the mist that seeps in through the holes in her body clouding it, eating away at it, until there is no ‘her’ for the body to hold. She only has time to think once more of the glorious sunshine as she left that morning, the glorious summer day she had set out to enjoy, to bask in. She thinks, ‘I have been betrayed’. She thinks, ‘I was promised beauty. I was promised life and joy and health’. She thinks, ‘I wish I were solid, strong, heavy. I wish I was alive. I wish I was real’.
The rain mingles with the mist, the earth, the air, and washes her away.