Wednesdays, I stare into the Abyss, i.e. staring into a mirror until my face doesn’t look like a face anymore but rather a swirling concoction of lumpy flesh, and then exfoliate until I recognize myself again. Artists call it a void, scientists say an absence, poets say white space: I call it Aby. See, nobody can actually see Aby; rather, Aby holds an alluring energy that is only felt in the chest and by phantom tingles across the skin. I feel bad after multiple days of not seeing Aby—I know we could spend more time together, perhaps even the once-a-day Surgeon General’s recommendation, yet I resist such a taxing commitment. I find comfort by acknowledging that Aby will always be there for me. After all, it never responded to my announcement of studying English the way my parents had with job postings for restaurant hosts and waiters.
While Aby never stands me up and is always there when I need it, it never texts back nor invites me to hang out and walk around the local Walmart at 11 PM, where we might hide in clothes racks before jumping out to condemn random nocturnal customers to forever wander the eternal wasteland: a type of casual jest I had concocted one night as we sat on the couch staring at the black TV screen, Aby’s favorite program. I guess I shouldn’t complain since our friendship has lasted longer than the typical two months of a utility friendship and longer than the ten years of an obligatory one.
We often sit in silence. Occasionally, I’ll read, or put music on, since nothing breaks Aby’s dedicated meditation. I admire its loyalty and reliability. We all know what it’s like standing in the check-out lane at the grocery when suddenly we wish we could simply slip into a different dimension, or—and I know it sounds kitschy—when we hope to feel the glorious numbness of being suspended in a vacuum of Lovecraftian spacetime, but of course this sort of dissociation never pans out. It’s then that Aby comforts me. It whispers truths to me, like the pointlessness of formal attire and how road lanes are the only artificial authority that keep us from driving in herds, and that when the dead-eyed cashier and I lock eyes, we recognize the futility of the atelic workplace. Work never ends, but Aby helps me forget that.
Although I can never touch Aby’s infinite, non-corporeal etherealness, knowing that it’s there doing its own thing like a floppy-eared basset, tongue flattened and hanging out of its mouth with each pant, without a care in eternia, makes my day ever so joyous. All the things in my tiny living room look sad, and it’s in all the between-spaces that Aby sits. There is some great intangible beauty in how all that we claim to know will someday converge in a spectacular end when the universe, which is currently expanding, slows to the point where the pull of all matter speeds back to the epicenter, combining into an impossible density that will then result in the next big bang!
Damn, here I am tearing up again.
I like to think of it as a sexy twist on nihilism: while life as we know it is ipso facto meaningless, and we are essentially intergalactic oops children, we still get to experiment under self-governed regimes and arbitrary factions as a part of the cosmic journey. And it’s from all this that I feel a certain kinship with Aby, which led me to inquire a tattoo parlor for getting a tattoo reading “Aby” in invisible ink, which apparently they don’t have; so I paid $20 for the artist to stab my arm for thirty minutes with an inkless needle.
While I first met Aby in junior-high, it wasn’t until high school that I realized it had been around since before I could comprehend reality and even before my conception, a time which I am skeptical to believe exists. Despite the years that we’ve been practically inseparable, there was a time when I hated and bemoaned any interaction with Aby. This was, of course, before I came to value stability over comfort. Luckily, our companionship persisted.
It sounds silly, I know, but I love flipping through our photos from time to time. Here we are on the elementary school’s playground swings, me trying to rocket into the sky as Aby’s swing sits incredibly motionless. Here’s me, at the top of the abandoned, rusty radio tower, looking out across Glas Lake during a beautifully putrid sunset, with Aby patiently waiting at the bottom to catch me should I fall.
While I can remember all of this, my memory, like most animals’, isn’t too great; however, Aby never forgets. It holds onto everything like my mother used to beg me to save my first-grade crayon drawings, claiming that they’d be worth thousands once I was famous, but unlike my mother, Aby isn’t self-indulgently delusional: it knows those drawings will never contribute to the change jar. Aby is the ultimate curator, cataloging every atom, every postulate, every quadratic equation, every awkward first kiss ruined by eating garlic shrimp at dinner before, and every dumb edit and re-edit. And since it exists outside the big bang, it records each instance of the universe.
On those days when I can’t get out of bed and my chest becomes a dank cavern prone to echoes, it’s nice knowing that Aby has collected all the passing thoughts and dreams I never acted upon while I stare at the glowing red numbers on my bedside alarm clock. With everything that we’ve been through, there is no way Aby couldn’t be my best friend.
Image Credit: Hand with Reflecting Sphere, Maurits Cornelis Escher (1935)
In 2017, Silas Coghill was a Fiction Finalist for New Millennium Writings and the 44th Literary Awards Competition. He has recently served as a Poetry and a Fiction editor for Water~Stone Review. He acted as the first Poetry Chair for Indiana Review Online in 2015. Currently, he is working on a collection of stories that explore the metaphysical limits and implications of Language. When he’s not writing or working as a writing tutor, he can be found at a local used bookstore. He aspires to teach and to engender a passion for writing. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.