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Beautiful Fools & Apotheosis by Olivia Chen





Beautiful Fools

The 4 a.m. train rattles your windowsill and sends the little ceramic flower pot crashing to the floor. It’s alright, it was precariously balanced, and ugly, and nothing ever grew in it, not that you were growing anything in the first place.

It’s a long sound, and normally you wouldn't mind but you're exhausted and there is no point in sleeping for 3 hours. Two, technically. Old makeup cakes your skin and your face is tacky with dried sweat. It’ll take too long to shower (you don't want to blow dry your hair because it hurts your arms, and you don’t want to sleep with wet hair because your mama said that your scalp would rot - you were never your mother’s daughter but you do quite like your hair. You also don't want to wait for it to air dry while the wet tendrils hang limply down your back and soak through your shirt.) You can feel the smudged lipstick on your chin. Your clothes are not comfortable, so tight that they melt into your body like a second skin.

You shiver, even though there is duct tape between the crack of the window. Your eyes burn and your teeth clench and you ride out the pain that laces through your body like a vice.

You’re behind on rent again, but your landlord is kind, he lets you make it up to him. It’s girl math, you go up to his place - all the places are ‘his’ place, he lets you know that - and make up the last 500$ in a couple of hours. Beats having to break your back at a shitty retail job for the entire day just to earn half that much.

But that was last week, and thus, out of your mind. You came home an hour ago and immediately sat down. Your heels are kicked under your desk. There’s a video playing on your laptop, something sweet and soft, but it’s dimmed and muted because you can’t handle much of anything right now. 

You’re fucking great at self-care. You feel your mind start to grow fuzzy so you drag out a nail polish kit to occupy your hands. To keep yourself grounded.

Don’t mind the smoke in your lungs or the taste of leaves and ash on your tongue. Don’t mind the pills -little and white, there were 3 left in the little plastic bag you were given- nor the way your skin still burns after taking them last night. 

But you're a smart girl, an independent girl. You’re a girl who knows her worth - party hard, study hard. You’re the type of girl who has some nice features, natural dimples, long lashes, silky hair; the type to cover up cleavage but leave the midriff open. Sexy, but not slutty. Innocent, not prudish. 

You’re a girl who can dry swallow 3 mystery white pills from a guy you met a month ago, but still keep mace in your purse. You’re a girl who dances with guys, with girls, with anyone willing to put their hands around your waist and twirl you about. You’re a girl who’s responsible enough to ditch before the peak dies down and guys start looking to take leftovers home. 

You’re a girl who ties her hair back before she leaves her apartment.

So it doesn’t get pulled on.

So it doesn’t fall into your face when no one is there to comb it back and you’re hunched over the toilet with exploded pupils.

Be careful. You don’t realize you spilled the polish across your desk until you dip a finger into the darkness and it comes back wet. The scent of it stings your nose.

Cherry Wine Lipstick: that’s the shade. The label’s long been peeled off, but this is your favorite color. You’ve got it memorized.

You scrape at the puddle with the brush and try to finish your left hand. It’s no use, your whole body is offbeat, recalibrating on a different frequency. Polish floods your nailbed, your fingertips stained with artificial red. Rest your hands on the desk and try not to cry.

Do you look beautiful? Your shirt is half pulled off your shoulder, seams ripped. Your mascara is dripping, black tears under your eyes. But do you still look beautiful? Ethereal in your tragedy, painted muse-like in your agony? Is the blue moon shining into your room with cinematic light?

If someone broke in, a man with cruel malicious intent, would he be stunned by the beauty of you? Will you be the girl to look at him, standing in your doorway with a knife in his hand, and smile, and treat him with kindness? Push back your chair and walk up to him, bold, take his hands in yours and clasp them tight, ask, are you alright? And perhaps he’d sob, so overwhelmed by the sweetness of you that he’d forget that he’d ever want to hurt you, you're the one, he’d say, you're not like any of the other whores on the street, you’re the perfect girl. 

Then, he’d look at you, but not at you, at the way your hair shines in the darkness and the sharpness of your face and the gauntness of your limbs, he’d say, you’re beautiful. You’re more beautiful than any other human I’ve ever met. Maybe he’d even thank you.

What a bore, what a fucking bore. Everything hurts, liquid sadness in your veins. You want to smoke a joint, maybe pop an Adderall or two, but even the thought is exhausting. The autoplay on your laptop has switched the video to some aesthetic cooking channel, you shut your laptop with a click because the very idea of food makes you sick to your stomach. 

Cherry Wine Lipstick. You love this color, a shame you can’t wear it on your lips.  You want to blast your brain with weed and smoke, anything to take you from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. in the blink of an eye. The pills were fun, for a bit, they made the buzz of the night pleasant, made his arm around your waist comforting.

What are you doing? The polish has dried on your nails, but the color is streaky, the consequence of the haphazard effort you put into doing them. You’re staring into nothingness at your bedroom table at 4 in the morning, tethered to reality by the deadline of classes.







Apotheosis


Across a salt-razed battlefield, two boys pull themselves out of a ditch. The sky is black with smoke, heavy with the sun’s relentless rays pounding down on the earth. For a moment, they can only hear the scraping of worn metal and bodies dragging in the dirt. Rowan shivers, despite the sweat drying tacky against the back of his neck.

Next to him, Solei raises his arms to stretch, fingers extended as if to palm the sun into his hand. He is life personified; rolling on the balls of his feet and shifting his shoulders with crackling energy. Rowan grimaces, dry tongue swiping dust from his own chapped lips.

Solei grins at him, blonde curls still gilded despite both of them lying frozen in a ditch the previous night. Rowan knows that he looks haggard enough for both of them, grime rubbed into the lines of his own dark skin.

“All good?” Solei asks him, leaning forward to help brush debris from his dark hair. Rowan can only nod blearily, trailing after his friend as Solei leads them back to the camps.

“Thank you.” He rasps out. His fingers press against his stomach, against the shirt stained brown with dried blood. Against skin stitched together through whatever divine power Solei possesses.

He watches the steady rise and fall of Solei’s shoulders as his friend shrugs, a wordless don’t mention it.

Rowan swallows the bitter rise of guilt and tries not to look too sad when Solei turns to link their arms together.

In all honesty, the signs were all there. Solei had always been larger than life, his very presence electric and magnetic. He seemed to radiate health and life and happiness. When talk of a rising war reached their little village, everyone mourned the loss of him, for he was the epitome of a shining national martyr.

Even back in the village, when they were both still boys who ran wild in the streets without responsibility, it was Solei who everyone liked. It was Solei who crossed schoolrooms to dance with the girls; it was Solei who fended off the older boys with nothing but his words; it was Solei who the bakers snuck fresh sweet rolls to.

Rowan was always stunned at the fortune that Solei chose him to be best friends with.

As they got older, their once-crowded room in the orphanage saw the other boys sent off, and before long it was just Solei and Rowan. He should have thought it strange that Solei was never chosen. Should have thought it strange the way most of the adults at the orphanage seemed to look through his friend, their gazes sliding off him like water glancing off a duck’s back.

Perhaps he was blind, perhaps he didn’t want to consider that his friend was not as perfectly ordinary as him. Perhaps he wanted to attribute the apples Solei snuck to him on the nights the orphanage’s pantry ran bare as mere luck or thievery. Perhaps he wanted to blame his childhood isolation on the fact that he hardly ever got sick, even when the village ran rampant with disease, never mind that Solei’s palm on his feverish forehead felt better than any medicine the village elders could give.

The end of the bonfire season found Solei and Rowan atop a deserted hill. It had been abandoned, deemed useless by the humans of their village, and was now overrun with wildflowers and overgrowth. Rowan pulls his sweater tighter around himself, watching the village bonfires blaze like candlelight. The wind picks up and Rowan stumbles to his feet in search of his friend.

“Solei!” His words echo back at him.

“It’s freezing, can we go back yet?”

The wind blows a strand of his dark hair into his face, before pounding against his back with surprising force. Rowan nearly trips with the momentum, cursing under his breath. Still, Solei doesn’t appear.

Eventually, after his fingertips are frozen numb and he can hear the chattering of his teeth, he decides to just follow the current of the wind instead of fighting it. At least this way, he can see instead of squinting against the onslaught of the breeze.

“Solei!” He calls again, not expecting a reply. Instead, the wind carries him a faded Rowan!

“Solei!” He shouts again, following his voice. He doesn’t pay mind about the roots he’s tripping over, or the overgrown branches leaning down to smack him in the face.

“Hey! Hey, there you are!” Solei grins down at him from a clearing just before the bordering forest. “Careful getting down.”

It’s a small cliff of boulders that Rowan climbs down, nowhere near as graceful as he is sure Solei was able to manage. When he gets closer, he makes out the rock formation that Solei must have been working on: a small structure of pillars and circles.

“Are you almost done? It’s cold and I want to head back before the sky gets dark.”

Solei grins at him, sunlit eyes softened with unclear emotion.

“You don’t want to stay and watch the stars? Stargaze?!”

And any other day, Rowan would be quick to indulge him, quick to agree and sprawl out of the soft grass. Now though, his limbs feel numb and heavy, he just wants to rest.

“It’s cold man, can we go?” He repeats, bumping into Solei’s shoulder. His friend smells warm.

Solei laughs, the sound like hot tea in his stomach. He pulls Rowan closer, tight against his chest so that Rowan can tuck his face into the crook of Solei’s neck. He is unreasonably warm. Outside of them, the wind stills.

“What’re you doing here.” Rowan mumbles, staring vaguely past Solei’s shoulder. Gold glints in the corner of his periphery - they need to cut his hair soon. The orphanage masters don't like it when it gets long, but Solei often acts like it physically hurts him to get it cut.

He can practically hear Solei’s smile. “I’m making an altar.”

“For?” That’s not odd, there are numerous gods that the village worships. Rowan didn’t think Solei was much for religion, but it doesn’t really matter either way.

“For me. Cause I think I’ve got to go soon.”

Rowan pulls back, blinking. Solei chases him a bit, twining their hands together. Rowan stares blankly at the contrast of the skin tones.

“You gotta go?” Solei nods.

For all the village elders are so assured, Rowan had never truly believed that Solei would enlist.

“You’re going off to war?” He feels ridiculous, with his hand still linked between Solei’s. Their fingers are intertwined, pale skin, dark skin, pale skin, dark skin. It’s like those photos of old-timey couples he finds in the library archives, of teary-eyed women waving kerchiefs to empty roads, empty oceans, empty skies.

“What?” Solei squints at him, confused. “Dude, no, what?” He releases Rowan’s hand to place them both on his shoulders, “are you crying?!”

“Where are you going then?” He swipes at his own tears before Solei can, using the movement to hide his face. Ridiculous.

“Please don’t cry. Rowan, hey, I’ll explain, here, do you want to sit down?” Firm hands push him into the earth, tugging his palms away from raw eyes. Solei stares at him for a moment, expression unreadable. Rowan glares back.

“Rowan, listen to me. This is important, okay?”

Rowan nods. He knows. He fears he knows all too well.

“Rowan, this is my Apotheosis.”

Apotheosis.

The word sits heavy in his gut, even though he doesn’t understand. What he does understand is that humans don’t have wildflower buds blooming in their hair or eyes that shift like water.

“What are you?” He breathes, staring up at his best friend. And with sunlight and wind and wildfires thrumming through his veins, Solei answers, “a god.”

It is not the godhood Rowan imagines, it is not the godhood the stories warned him about. He spends countless hours in the village library, in the archives, and in the church to no avail. This is no godhood that he will lose Solei too.

Instead, he makes his own stories, creates his own myths, and tells his own folklore. The tale of Solei goes like this:

The deity walks among humans and, talks with them and, loves them and, promises to stay with them.

The deity is growing, his soul is finding his roots and his ascension into godhood comes at the price of his physical body merging into the earth and the water and the sky.

The deity was going to melt into the world and he was going to leave his only friend alone and he would never see his face again and what the fuck Solei what the fuck what the fuck why would you do that-

Solei tugs the pen from his fingers easily, pulling the book Rowan was staring vacantly at away and snapping it shut.

“You’ve been shut in here since last night man, it’s midday already,” Solei says. His smile is easy, soft and warm, and bright and Rowan hates him.

“I hate you.” He tells him, watches the smile falter. His eyes ache from crying and his voice is thick with agony. Solei just leans forward to brush the hair from his eyes, tucking dark strands carefully behind his ears.

“Sorry.” His lips quirk up.

“I don’t want you to go.”

“I’m not going anywhere. Besides, you’ll have the altar, won’t you?” Rowan chooses to ignore that.

“I don’t want you to disappear. I’ll miss you.”

He watches as Solei comes around, and pulls out the chair from next to him. Rowan kind of hates it because he can’t see Solei’s eyes like this unless he cranes his neck, but he doesn’t really want to move.

When Solei speaks, his voice is steady. “Rowan…” he starts. “I’m not like, dying, or anything. I’m just- growing up a bit! You’ll still see me everywhere you go, yeah? I’m like, I’ll be like your god! When the breeze blows warm air in the winter, when the apples from the neighbor's yard land just over the fence into your hands. When the storm brings a rainbow over the village, when the snow is crunchy enough that you can pick it off your clothes and not have it soak your socks. That sorta thing, yeah?”

His eyes burn. He feels angry and sad and bitter and sick and a million other things he wants to throw at Solei’s feet to make him stay.

“That’s so fucking stupid. I can’t talk to you if you’re the ground!”

Solei just laughs like the wind rustling through dry leaves and waterfalls crashing onto moss-slick rocks.

Rowan joins the army first, to get out of the village and see if there is anything else outside his tiny world that could stall Solei’s Apotheosis. He should have known that Solei would follow.

He should have known that he would be the one to kill him.

The enemy soldier had struck him deep, sword embedded clean through his fragile tin armor. Rowan hadn’t even noticed until the pull-out brought him crashing to his knees, heaving and gasping in shock. The soldier moved on and Rowan prepared to die.

He was almost glad that he would go before Solei did.

Hands grab at the nape of his neck, half-pulling and half-dragging him over to a ditch. Rowan hopes Solei makes it through the battle.

“I got you, I got you. I’ll keep you safe.” A familiar voice washes over him as a warm palm presses on his wound. Rowan feels betrayed.

Rowan wakes up to an empty camp bunker and a new earth that sings at the steps of his feet. The wind blows around his face, freezing tears before they can fall, and quiets the world around him. If he closes his eyes, he can almost pretend warm hands are brushing away his tears. For the first time, Rowan is a religious man.

 


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