SmokeLong Quarterly

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How to be Another Person in Five Days

Story by Rebecca Bernard (Read author interview) May 22, 2017

Art by Edward Traugott


You will begin by letting go. Lie down and open your mouth. Can you feel them? The air particles are moving in and out, alighting on your tongue and residing in your being. The secret is in the kind of particles. If you taste yellow, stand up. This yellow is sweet like the melancholy you felt as a small child on Sunday afternoons. If you can’t taste yellow, stand up. Move toward the nearest forest. Move toward it slowly. Make sure your legs aren’t moving faster than your heart or the time will escape you. The tops of the trees are green, but it’s not unpleasant. Do you see the birds’ nests? They are hidden. If you can hear God’s voice, ignore it. Go back to your apartment and lie with your feet in the kitchen and the rest of your body in the hallway that leads to the kitchen. The tiles feel cool beneath your ankles. Wait out the hours till midnight. You must wait a long time. Do you feel yourself beginning to dissolve?



This day begins with the seeking of a lover. Locate the third person to declare their love for you. Ask them to tell you your name. Is it Erin? Aaron? Good. Tell them you are moving far away. If they begin to weep, collect the tears in a cheesecloth. Keep this in your pocket.  If you have not been loved, reenter the forest. Do you see the animals? Each one projects an awareness of you. Find one that smiles. Hold this animal tightly. When it resists, head toward a place that has welcomed you in the past. Notice the air around you, its lack of color and its odor of commerce. You have found your way to the Gap. Do you like the way the button-down shirts feel when you rub them between your fingers? Do they remind you of your father? Your sister? A teacher who betrayed you? Take the things that have been done to you and write them in grease on the walls of the food court. They are ugly, as they are saturated in such cruelty. See how the walls are smeared with much pain. Not all of it is yours. Notice this. Take the free sample offered you from the Panda Express and savor the teriyaki chicken as you hold the delicate toothpick between your fingers. If you do not eat meat, return home and find a cane-backed chair. Sit until you feel the bones in your body. They have been there this whole time. They form the outline of your being. Now, you may rest.



Today, you are falling out of memory. Where once you saw orange, now there is a mealy blue. It drips off the walls and onto your shoes. Remove these shoes. Replace them with nothing. Walk barefoot to Columbus Circle. Be sure to avoid the glass and the looks of strangers. Do you see the young man smiling at you? He is asking to hold your hand. His tuxedo is pressed and the beads of sweat on his lower lip show you a kindness. Savor this. He does not know you. The ground here is woven with pine needles. They are brown beneath your feet. They make a carpet which is at once gentle and painful. Do not lie down. You are not yet a being who can withstand the pain and find only pleasure. This is yet to come. For now, eat a snow cone. Let it melt partially in your hands. Do not eat of the blue despite its raspberry flavor. There is already too much blue inside your bones, your blood. Relax. It is not your fault.



Today you will run out of words. There is nothing profound in this. It is simply the easiest way to become airborne. You are thinking balloon, eggplant, dishwasher. Take each one and let go. Collect the catalogues that have accumulated in your living room. Bundle them together in twine and walk to the closest Sears. Hide them in the lingerie department beneath the oldest mannequin. She is lonely, but do not stop to talk to her. Who is it you will become? Imagine them. The tongue? The tooth? The hair? Draw a picture of their heart and swallow it. Do not be afraid when you cannot find the words. You do not need them. You are tired. You will sleep. Sleep.



Time today runs double-wide. This is because you are dying. Last night you dreamed of a woman, a man, a human and how they desired nothing but to hold you close and place their mouth on yours. Today you awake and discover your body has no edges. You reach for water and you float to the ceiling and when the window is left open you are outside and inside both at once. All the blood that has ever leaked has made the earth alive. Find its center. You will not change until you find its center. When you have realized, for yourself, there is no center, you may return to the forest. Climb the shortest pine and pretend you are again a child. Listen for the woodpeckers. The finches. Now listen harder. They are telling you the way. See how all language becomes one sound. It swells in your ears but your ears will not burst. It is your heart that will explode. You are on the ocean. The waves are teal and flecked with the whites of eyes. Hurry captain, the pain of every creature has tapped your spine. You will not last much longer. Your fingers are shaking. The pinkies are missing, they have dissolved to aid the need of a child born without hands. Your tongue moves up and down. What is that wetness in your eyes? You are almost new, but you are powerless. Say goodbye to the grass, the sound of your mother’s hands smoothing her skirt, the taste of ketchup—these artifacts of your old self have left you. You must begin again.


Notes from Guest Reader Leslie Pietrzyk

This story struck me immediately, with its odd, imperative voice of instruction. We’re offered an immediate narrative drive—what will happen in five days?—and writerly authority, as we never question why we might want to be another person in five days. Of course we do. The language and rhythm are spot-on. Most of all, I was drawn into the mystery of this milieu, intrigued by this all-encompassing world that was both utterly familiar yet wholly fresh. I’m still not done with this story; I find something new to admire each time I read these words.

About the Author

Rebecca Bernard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, Southwest Review, Colorado Review, and North American Review among other places. Her debut collection of stories won the 2021 Non/Fiction Prize held by The Journal and is forthcoming from OSU’s press in fall 2022. She recently started as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Angelo State University, and serves as a Fiction Editor for The Boiler.

About the Artist

Edward Traugott is an artist, spending all of his time musing on his view from inside the aquarium.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Six

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