They are hard to spot at first. Our souls burn bright like fireflies, and the soulless are only the spaces between. Their absence is harder to impress against the background of stars in my vision.
I don’t always see them. Souls. Or lack of souls, either. It’s a gift that comes sporadically, usually after I experience some sort of low. It’s like when you close your eyes after you look at a bright light- you can still see the glow behind your eyelids, but it fades.
When I was young, I resolved to never let the opportunity pass me by. I’ve renewed, as I call it, firefighters, victims of abuse, people who witnessed out of order deaths, anything that causes seemingly irreversible trauma.
I can’t heal them. But I can give them a path forward.
Today seems like it should be no different. Yet I see no empty space where a soul should be, no darkness in the hearts of any passers-by.
I’m tired. The weight is a mountain pressed down into my chest, a snare restricting my lungs. The reviving trigger, the thing that causes my sight to reappear, had been brutal. I am thankful for a chance to help someone, but my own soul feels heavy from my experience.
I move away from the wall where I’d been holding myself steady along the sidewalk. I’d not been very aware of my surroundings when I leaned against the brick building, caught off guard by the sudden revival of my sight. Looking up at the sign, I see that it’s a bookstore. I take it as a hint, and walk through the doors, keeping my gaze soft to try to spot the black hole where a soul should be.
In this space it’s easier to spot individuals than it was on the sidewalk, and I count it in my favor. But it’s a large store, and my heartbeat slows at the seemingly endless rows of bookshelves. I’m drained, and the thought of going through row by row, even possibly missing someone on the other side of a bookshelf, of not finding the person I’m meant to help, all of it wears my resolve. I can already see the edges of my sight dimming, and I know I’m running out of time.
I try not to look suspicious as I walk alongside the rows of bookshelves, looking down each individual shelf to see if I can spot my target. Fortunately my search can be passed off as looking for a particular genre section, so there’s no employee coming towards me in suspicion of shoplifting.
Try as I might, I find no missing souls from any of the patrons of the store. Tired, cranky, and at my breaking point, I return to the store entryway.
It’s when my hand is hovering over the bar to open the glass door that I notice something strange. On the other side of the glass there’s a poster on dark paper, so I hadn’t seen my reflection coming in. But in my reflection on the glass, contrasting the back of the black sheet of paper like a black mirror, I see myself. I see the empty place where my soul should be.
I bite back a sob, and push the glass door open. I walk along the sidewalk, several blocks until I get to my apartment, in a complete daze. Numb. The crowd around me passes in a blur of colors and light, my vision dimming but still strong enough for each light to be burned on the inside of my eyelids.
When I get to my apartment, I fumble with the key with shaking hands. I drop my bag, kick off my shoes, all in a hurry before barging into the bathroom so I can see myself in the mirror over the sink.
The sight makes my breath catch in my throat. Where my soul should be is a black, sucking maw. Light bounces off, retracts, then the darkness encompasses it, leaving it blacker than the darkest black. It’s a space where things don’t die but live in stasis for an indeterminate amount of time.
How can I save myself?
I drop to the floor, lean my back against the side of the tub. I stretch out my legs below the sink, slouch into the tub, and rest my head on the porcelain lip.
I have no soul.
I wonder if I can pinpoint the moment when it happened. Oddly, I find that I can. It was the moment when she took her final breath, as if my soul left with hers.
My face is half numb, so I’m surprised to feel tears on my cheeks. I’m not sad per se, my emotions in a field of nothing, neither moving forward or backward. A liminal space between the life there was and the life I have now.
I know without checking the mirror that my sight has faded to nothing by the time I push myself up from the floor. I wonder how I’m supposed to know when my soul returns if there’s no sight to see it with.
But somehow, I have a feeling I’ll know.
It’s not because I think I’ll find joy, or happiness, or overcome the loss, make something of it, any of the platitudes and well wishes I’d heard at the funeral.
I’ll know because to have a soul is to feel. To hurt.
I both want it and dread it.
As much as the numbness protects the heart that still beats in my chest, she doesn’t deserve for our memories to remain gray and dull. She deserves color.
I grab a tissue, wipe at my eyes, and inhale to the bottom of my lungs.
A soul is meant to hurt.
The trick is to survive it.