You can’t sink into the carpet listening to “cellophane” forever. One day, the algorithm will cease its calculated shuffle and the gel tablet melting behind your tongue will enter and exit your bloodstream. The ceiling will stop shifting and the faces made from exposed wood grain and old, sickly knots will lose their features. You’ll exit the ark, and the air will sit hot and heavy on your shoulders until you’re buried under the mountains. In the Appalachians, the terrain feels expansive yet impossibly close to home. Breathing is a labor of sweet, wet motions led by the expanding chest that wraps around your ribs. In each hand, you’ll hold an insect that sips sweat from your pores, and you’ll wonder if maybe their stinger is more than decoration. You don’t care. You won’t care. You don’t. Know. Exactly what time it is anymore, so you step back inside where the air is cool and the floor is carpeted and you’re all wrapped in cellophane.
And then you ask yourself: What hit first? The back of my head into the shag carpet or the song’s opening lines? It makes for a better story if both happened in tandem — one note after the other. But before you can find the answer, a question is posed in mock-stereo and you feel yourself falling. When the last two words become the song’s first notes, your head cracks open and the contents of your skull spills onto the floor. You’ve been crying; collecting water amidst marrow. And all you remember is looking up into the forever space of the ceiling and watching 17 seconds of chorus turn into 27 years of lost time. You suddenly become aware of your adult body. There is blood below the skin of a stranger and it makes you sick. You can’t remember being born and you’ve never known death, and in two months you’ll be closer to 30 than you’ve ever been. So why can’t you remember what happened in between?
“cellophane” seems too obvious a turning point. Too melancholic to be moving; too gut wrenching to be felt below the surface. What a clumsy and stupid awakening to experience on the cabin floor of an Appalachian Airbnb. You’re embarrassed by the cliché of vulnerable women inspiring other women to be vulnerable. You hate hearing your own sadness reflected back at you in lyrics that never had you in mind. And most of all, you hate that this intimate moment of release has been scored so delicately and played out in the form of a piano ballad.
You think all of this in the moment and then, sinking, you let go.
You haven’t sank into carpet since you were young. You’re sure that’s true, but you know it’s not. You are an unreliable narrator with no one in your way, so you sink straight to the bottom of a filthy, woven sea. You look up. Planks of wood make up the helm of a massive wooden ark with its hull tipped upside down to the sky. You become lost in wood grain and find yourself pausing on patterns that shift angrily. You are drawn to these spaces, knowing full well how easy it is to fall. They warned you about this moment, but they never told you it would sound like this.
When you first pressed play, you came face to face with Him. You were drawn to lowercase letters and saturated skin while three and a half eyes stared back at you. You can’t remember what song played, but you know it sounded nothing like the crinkle of plastic on a drawn blade. You were struck instead by electronic synthesizers dreamt up in Jersey bedrooms and lyrics meant for teenagers. You put all of your faith into an auto-generated playlist that could never be captured for more than a day. With your ear tuned to Him, you pressed play and found Her.
So why “cellophane”? At what point did the algorithm go rogue in order to orchestrate such melodrama? You laugh it off and press your hands into the rug until you’re overwhelmed with the realization that each fibre is entering your skin by degrees. Where are you? Whose carpet is this? How did you end up in an Appalachian farmer’s backyard, tucked under so much empty, wooden space? Were your nails always long? Your veins varicose? Your skin is still scarred from teenaged anxiety and picked pores, but something tells you that you are no longer young. Youth resides in the angry knots of the ceiling, but it also lays belly-first on the floor of your childhood home. You choose to stay where you are, only the choice is not yours to make.
And still, they’re waiting. They’re watching. They’re hoping you’re not enough. You can’t remember if you are, so you let tears run over like a thin layer of plastic. You’re preserved in this moment, paralyzed by a drug that threatens to open you up from the inside out and serenade you with a bluetooth speaker. Your eyes are fixed squarely on the dark spaces in the ceiling and in the reverb of an ancient piano. And then you ask yourself: Why shouldn’t I listen?
The cellophane stretches, but does not break.
Why shouldn’t I listen?
Three seconds of silence, and then the next song starts.
You can’t sink into the carpet listening to “cellophane” forever. One day, you’ll realize that it’s better to fall than to stand your ground in the face of great art, but for now you are simply catching your breath. You peel back layers of synthesized translucence until you’ve stripped muscle from bone. Carpet fibres fall away as you shake off the algorithm’s imprint and prop yourself up on arms that can’t possibly be yours. In this moment you are a little girl and an old woman and it’s time to go outside where the air is hot and heavy and silent. Your bones crack and your muscles grow and you forget the ceiling. You leave behind a plastic pile that approximates your form. You can’t remember what song plays as you trade the vastness of the ark for the vastness of the mountains. All you can hear are the wings of a sweat bee as it kisses your fingertips, leaving behind a thin film of cellophane.