From the extinction museum: exhibit #67 (stack of diaries, some written on papyrus, some on onionskin paper, many on moldering rag linen, one on blue-lined recycled sheets bound in a transformers folder)
BY TINA MAY HALL
Why did we write it all down? As children, we faithfully reported on our families and pets in our spiral-bound notebooks. Our teacher was hired by the government to collect these accounts. When the neighbors vanished, we said they moved to Arizona. When the curfew was imposed, we were told it was a bad year for West Nile Virus.
But we got wiser. Even before paper was no longer available, it became obsolete. We paid for our first house by coding apps that deleted any correspondence after thirty minutes. We tested it on ourselves like some primitive inoculation. I sent you all my bits and pieces, nostalgically filtered. You claimed you were telling me things you’d never said before. The beginning of the story disappeared before you could get to the end. We aimed for blankness, the empty icon.
At dinner parties, everyone spoke in whispers. At home, the flat screen broadcast seven varieties of resolution, calibrated to the level of reality of the program. We watched on mute, flipping through the spectrum. Some things still managed to amaze us. That old story about the light from dead stars. Our son texted it to us a few times a year, usually on holidays. We loved getting messages from him. We loved how the words faded like kisses. So balletic, so much more artful than we had ever imagined.
Our therapist gave us an exercise to do at home. It was meant to improve our communication, lower our cholesterol, and prevent dementia. Every time we parted, whether it was to take out the trash or shuttle the cat to the vet or just to go out back to pump the sludge out of the water filter, we tried to move slowly. We chewed mindfully. We built a cushion of silence through hours of regulating our breathing. All in hopes of happening upon grace, of learning to pull as gently from the world as those letters thinning into air.
Tina May Hall teaches and writes in upstate New York. Her collection of short stories, The Physics of Imaginary Objects, won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She was awarded the NEA literature fellowship in 2014 and has done residencies at Yaddo and Vermont Studio Center. Her stories have appeared in 3rd Bed, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, Descant, The Collagist, and other journals.
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