Obsidian

female hands holding a black heart shaped gua sha massager on a marble background, top view

By Charlotte Razzino,

Jay spent his walk home counting. Not cracks in the sidewalk, nor the numerous dog walkers and stroller shunters that often patrolled his neighborhood, but the hours (4), minutes (12), and seconds (22, 21, 20…) that remained until his application was due.

The act of submitting it would be effortless, click a link, upload a file, pray. But the crux of its creation (horrible essay, horrible) had clamped down over his shoulders, a heavy and taloned thing. He had the rest of this Thursday afternoon mapped to the millisecond, the agenda was this: check if Callum was home from work, his parents from the vet, if they needed anything from him (it would have to be unavoidable). Then he could safely bolt himself in his room until the 9pm deadline.

He took the front steps two at a time. His family’s apartment consisted of three floors, each smaller than the last, stacked up like a wedding cake, connected by one long spindly staircase.

Jay found his brother in the largest, one big part-kitchen-part-sitting-room, slumped on his side against the aging tile. He seemed to have stopped halfway from crawling under the kitchen table.

“Callum-” Jay nearly tripped in his subconscious haste- but caught himself. With controlled ease, he shed his school bag and coat onto the back of a chair, and slowly melted into a pool around his brother.  “Callum.” The younger boy tucked himself away, rolling up like a startled pill bug. Jay began to pry apart the shell with practiced hands. “It’s just me, it’s Jason.”

Callum allowed himself to be steadily unwound, yet consistently pulled away from Jay’s hands when they tried to turn his face. “I need to see your eyes,” Jay repeated, “Your eyes.”

Callum’s chest hitched as he turned.

The surface of his eyes had been eaten up from lid to lid by a sheet of black crystal- obsidian, at a guess. It blossomed out from the dark hull of the iris, pressing out from corner to corner so he was unable to blink, let alone see. Spare growth leaked out towards his hairline, like tear tracks turned to stone. He was crying, and the water was pressed out between the seam where crystal met the bridge of his nose.

The obsidian was Callum’s cross to bear. Their father called Callum’s crystals ‘special’, their mother ‘all natural.’ In previous years, Jay had often investigated his own gaze in the mirror, wondering if his eyes were at all capable of the same startling creation. He’d long since learned that even on his worst days, he’d never view the world through the same crystal-tinted screen his brother did.

(Of course, of all the fucking afternoons…)

“Alright,” Jay assured, gentle and smooth, “It’s going to be alright. I’m gonna lift you, ready-” And he swept his brother up into his arms, adjusting until he felt hands fasten behind his neck and ankles around his waist. At sixteen and eighteen, they made quite the impressive tangle. Callum remained silent up two flights of stairs and while Jay propped him like a doll on a closed toilet seat. As they went, Jay poked his head through every doorway, searching for the distracted form of one of his parents- but the boys were alone.

(The second they were home, he’d have them take over.)

Jay tipped his brother’s head all the way back, so the obsidian in his eyes flashed white against the blaring overhead lamp. From the medicine cabinet he procured a pair of strong tweezers- not the delicate needle-type reserved for plucking hair, but ones with a hard blunted edge, like a carpenter’s tool. He filled a beaker exactly halfway with clear water and set it on the side of the sink.

“Head back.” He wiped away stray tears with a damp cloth and reminded Callum to calm the rhythm of his breath. Then he set to work on his brother’s eyes.

(There was no margin of error in which to rush, but his clock was fucking ticking; 3 hours, 34 minutes, 19, 18, 17 seconds…)

He began with the right eye, starting at the outer corner where streaks of crystal blossomed out across Callum’s cheek. He delicately eased one of the tweezer prongs under the lip of crystal growth. It broke away in chips, like hard candy under teeth. Jay dropped the bits of black stone into the beaker as he went, one jagged sliver at a time, and they melted into dark clouds, staining the water the color of ash.

When he had cleared away enough to see a large white patch of his brother’s eye, but the crying had yet to diminish, Jay asked, “Would you like to tell me what happened?”

Though the bouts of crystal growth were by no means a regular occurrence, they’d been increasing in frequency as Callum got older. Sometimes there was a trigger, sometimes not. It was the best place Jay knew to start.

Callum’s voice had been whittled down to a brittle line. After several tries, he managed, “I can’t go back to work.”

Jay kept his tone level, “You were fired?”

“Well, not technically. But probably soon.”
“Did Michael tell you that?” Michael- Callum’s boss at the bakery. (A stocky man with much more voice than he had neck to contain.)

“No. But Prissy hates me- she yelled at me in front of customers.” Priscilla was the front of house. Stern, but adoring of all the part-time students employed around her. (She preferred nanny-ing them on the clock over attending to her customers.)

“I’m sure she didn’t mean it to be yelling.” Jay no longer worked at the bakery but had volunteered his brother has his replacement when he left.

Chip chip chip went the tweezers- a sliver of Callum’s blue-hazel pupil was coming into sight, fluttering beneath its dark crystal shell.

“No, she hates me- I put everything in the wrong place. I mixed up the days and it all went out wrong. She said it could be cross contamination and everything would be thrown away.”

Jay furrowed his brow. “Wait, they threw out all the bread and pastry?”

“Well, no, but they were going too.”

“So, everything ended up alright?” Without halting his progress, Jay stepped forward so he could squeeze Callum’s knees between his own.  “Hold still.”

“No, it’s- I’ve ruined everything.” He spat the word ruin- Jay felt it on the inside of his wrist. Fresh tears welled in the corner of the half-cleared eye and Callum’s eyelashes convulsed, pinned in place by the obsidian, powerless to fight the ensuing currant.

The crying made for slippery terrain- slowing the excavation. Jay bit his tongue, dead-bolting a curse to the back of his throat from which it tried to escape. (3 hours, 31 minutes, 16, 15, 14 seconds-) “You did not. Focus- you need to relax your breath.”

Callum did no such thing. His chest wrestled with oxygen it didn’t know how to trap. His lungs fought to maintain their shape, feeling smaller by the moment.

Jay was nearly finished with the right eye- its borders crimson and swollen, littered with crystal dust and fragments so small the tweezers had no hope of grabbing them; those would have to be brushed away with a makeup brush or rinsed away in the shower. Jay turned to deposit a shard of crystal into the beaker -the largest and near final piece- but when he refocused on his brother’s eye, he found his progress had mysteriously waned. With his free hand, he gripped Callum’s jaw as gently as he dared, watching as fresh crystal bloomed up from under his eyelid. As it grew, the obsidian cracked, branched and glittered as it might in the center of a geode.

“Callum-”

But his brother seemed to be slipping away from the edges of his body-shaped shell, retreating to where neither Jay’s voice nor touch could register with him. “I do horrible at my job.”

“That’s ridiculous, you do not.” Over half the eye Jay had excavated was being blotted out by new black crystal- a solar eclipse up close. He went back in with the tweezers, but as soon as he carefully chipped some obsidian away, a new hunk of black was already rising up to take its place. Jay scrunched up his face as much as it would go -pressed lips, flared nostrils, aggressive squint- until his skull was shaking on his neck. (No parents, no essay, no time-) “Listen to me, you need to relax your breath.” His words stapled the air, harsher than he’d intended them.

Callum shook his head, tipping it forward to hide his eyes from view. “I’m trying- stop yelling.”

Instinct was overtaking the brothers- the younger once again attempting to curl himself into an unravel-able ball, the older letting out an intensely frustrated sigh, one that only fueled Callum’s distress.

(Where were his parents? This was their job. Why had Michael and Prissy let Callum walk home alone- didn’t they know better? How much longer-)

Jay recovered first. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that- I promise I wasn’t trying to yell. Prissy probably wasn’t either, she just wanted to help, to help you know for next time. She didn’t mean you were bad.”

“You don’t know that.”

Jay sunk to his knees, bracing himself against his brother’s front so their foreheads where nearly touching. He pressed soothing fingers into the tense wire of Callum’s shoulders. “Callum, what can you see?”

“Nothing- there’s- nothing.”

“There’s never nothing. What do you see?”

Callum’s eyelids strained to close against the crystal, so hard his cheeks turned red. Jay diligently smoothed away stray tears. Eventually, “It’s… dark, but theres you, and you’re a fuzzy blue sorta light.”

“Just me?”

“You and Prissy.”

Jay pulled a silly face, though Callum’s couldn’t see it. “What’s Prissy doing here?”

“She’s holding Rex-” (Their Callum-named, very much not dinosaur looking cat)     “-And he’s purring but because he’s scared and wants to get down. But she can’t put him down because the floor is black and sooty, and he’d get sick.”

“Well, it’s a good thing he’s at the vet.”

Callum tried to summon a ghost of his usual smile- which tugged at his eyes. Pain flickered through his features, drumming out from the crystal. “It still sorta looks like nothing though. And I can’t do- I can’t relax. I can’t breathe.”

“Take it slow. We’ve got time,” Jay said, (3 hours, 15 minutes, 13, 12, 11 seconds) “I promise.”

He promised and he soothed, and he promised some more.

They sat this way for nearly an hour (53 minutes) before Callum worried himself out of steam and opened himself up to his brother’s comforts. As they lapsed into well-earned silence, Callum tipped his head back, gazing -unseeing- at the water-stained ceiling tile, and Jay hunched over him, falling back into his task with renewed vigor. Occasionally the tweezers would slip, and he’d jab himself in in the hand- which he preferred to his brother’s face. Little slivers of obsidian caught underneath his nails, some pushing in deep enough to draw blood. Jay just rinsed it all away.

After he finished, Callum couldn’t stop blinking. The skin around his eyes was cracked and dry, eyelids swollen into little plums. He’d have a seriously un-fun crick in his neck tomorrow. He staggered when he finally rose to his feet, and Jay’s arms shot out to steady him.

“Take this off and go clean up,” Jay said, tugging at his brother’s shirt. Callum didn’t take a full shower, merely tipped his head and shoulders under the spray. When he emerged, Jay met him with towel clad arms, all but attacking the sodden hair on his brother’s head.

Callum tried to laugh under the barrage, but it held only a sliver of its full potential. He shivered and seemed to whither under the mean artificial light. What he breathed was tainted, circulating, hyperventilation air. He needed what he always needed: To get out and mentally reset. Jay could see the question forming, falling, and re-building between his brother’s teeth.

(There was an agenda: write the essay, attach the recommendation forms, fill out the questionnaire and send in the application. Was 2 hours, 9 minutes and 10, 9, 8 seconds enough to write an essay? If he hunkered down and started right now-)

“Everything alright?” Jay asked, having scrubbed the shower flush from Callum’s face and torso.

For a moment, Callum groped about for his words. “Can we go for a walk? Maybe we can, uh, dump that further away…” He gestured vaguely toward the sink.

“Then the usual back garden?” (Would Callum agree to go by himself? He never had before. But he also never asked when he needed help. But surely that wasn’t worth-) “Yeah. Let’s go.”

Callum nodded and ducked out of the room to get dressed. Jay grabbed the beaker and its make-do rubber lid before following suit. The liquid in the beaker had turned dark as ink, thick as blood. They knew better than to dispose of it in any of the sinks in the house- it stained even the metal kitchen basin pitch black and had to be rigorously scrubbed away with steel wool.

For where they went, the term “beach” was slightly inaccurate. The nearest walk-able stretch of coast had a pile of large, sea weathered rocks, and then it had the sea, with no sand buffer between them. The boys climbed carefully over a low wooden fence and picked their way from boulder to boulder until they were kneeling just above the surf.

Callum perched on a smooth stretch of rock, tucking his knees under his chin. Jay busied himself with washing out their beaker, twisting it over and over in the weak current, trying to rid the glass of its new black shell. The ocean bit at his hands- he’d nicked himself more than he’d realized, the tiny cuts and abrasions immune to the human eye but certainly not the sting of salt water.

It startled him sometimes, how quickly the wonderous crystals melted into nothing, washed away like footprints on a beach. He knew, because he’d asked, that Callum carried those prints with him wherever he went, as if they were tattooed upon his skin- he had for so long that very often he forgot they were there, and likely would continue to do so for the rest of his life.

Once his skin pruned over and the beaker was back to its translucent self, Jay settled next to his brother and counted. His previous equations had lost their legs, tripping over themselves to please him with pretty lies- plenty of hours and minutes they said, inconceivable seconds.

When the sky bruised over nice and dark, Callum started up a conversation that was comfortable and light, and that was their cue to go home.

Though, his easy grin was prone to wither and crease. After they’d climbed back over the fence, “I’m really sorry about today, it’s not fair that-”

Jay cut him off, rather efficiently if unconventionally, with a hand smothering his brother’s face, the heel of his palm knocking Callum’s front teeth. “Don’t worry about it. Seriously, it’s fine.”

Callum ducked out of his grip. “Can I ask a question?”

“Shoot.”

“When you close your eyes, what do you see?”

Jay hummed. (Technically nothing. Never nothing. A ticking clock (1 hour, 2 minutes, 7, 6, 5 seconds…), himself in a cage, the cage growing big enough to fit their hometown inside but leaving him still trapped, Callum hugging the bars because they kept him safe, a ravine filled with several metric tons of black crystal build-up, his family: loving and lovely and usually happy…)

“You, the bakery, high school graduation- boring cheesy stuff. Which reminds me, do you have work tomorrow?”

Callum shrugged. “Nope. But I might stop by after school for like… a muffin or something.”

“Do you want me to go with you? I can if…”

“No no,” his little brother assured, “I’ll be fine. I think I just needed to get it out of my system, you know? Besides, you’re busy tomorrow.”

“Busy?” Jay echoed, nearly dropping the beaker after pretending he was going to throw it for Callum to catch.

“You have that big deadline thing, right?”

(His last chance to get out of this goddamned town-)

Jay’s smile was lazy. “Yeah. Tomorrow.”

Many things were in the works when they stepped back into the apartment- dinner was bubbling away thanks to their mother, the TV was chattering away courtesy of their father, and their fluffy tiger kitten was home from the vet, desperate for Callum’s undivided attention.

When Callum was suitably distracted with the cat, Jay crept up to the bathroom, settling down on the closed toilet seat with the tweezers. He had over half a dozen black crystal splinters that had not been washed away by the tide- they blinked up at him like innocent new freckles, but Jay had done this dance often enough to learn the natural spots on his hands by heart.

So, he sat and dug for splinters, having to carve out some of the more persistently burrowed shards. His blood, at least, was not potent enough to stain their bathroom sink, and did not require a special beaker. It was simply red.

He’d gone through half a box of band-aids when Callum called him for a nice long sit-down family dinner, and Jay went.

(0 hours, 16 minutes, 4, 3, 2 seconds…)

 

Charlotte Razzino hails from Newtown Connecticut. She is 2nd year student at Falmouth University in the United Kingdom, studying on the Creative Writing BA (Hons). She writes primarily teen fiction and magical realism. Aside from writing, she spends her time reading comic books and chasing down theater tickets. This is her first time entering the submission process.

 

 

 

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