By Natalie Rogers
I was just a speck of dust on the wall. I’ve lived here for 1,752 days, but what did I really know? I had no central nervous system. I had no brain. I didn’t even have a body. I was a mass of tangled long hairs and dead skin cells; so very human but without any of the good stuff. I just was.
I drifted to this spot during my fifth year, approximately .0029 inches in size and started to collect whatever happened to float my way. Comprised mainly of infinitesimal bits, I didn’t feel much of a purpose in my lasting existence. I had a longer life than actual living creatures: the fruit fly, a garden shrew, even most Blue Jays, so I figured there had to be some reason for my presence.
Every day I grew, microscopically in size, but welcomed each new addition without judgment. I could tell when a new fleck of filth didn’t feel as though they deserved to become such a lowly worth of life, but in time, they learned that we were not only a result of mess and disorder, but part of something bigger that we once were, and could become again. Some bits came with memories. These quick bursts of light and movement never played out long enough to really amount to anything, but each one felt just as familiar as the last.
This corner of the room got good light. I could hardly wait each morning for the sun to dip its rays into the smudged kitchen window, casting a glow for the other dust to dance within. Particles and fibers and bits of dead bugs caught in a slow-motion waltz until their time ran out for the day and they once again became invisible to the human eye. I watched, high from my corner, among the cobwebs and tops of picture frames, and remembered my days of freely dancing about.
Not much had changed in that room in those 1,752 days. The once white walls showed off their layer of secondhand smoke and left ghostly outlines where concert posters and faded Polaroid’s once hung. The cat-scratched khaki couch continued to sink in the middle, straining from years of TV binging, lack of cushion rotating, and aggressive foreplay, and now it just resembled a downcast dirty blonde unibrow, much like the one on the human who sat alone, right in the middle of the sinkhole, furiously thumbing away at his phone while another episode of some workplace environment show played on mute from the, new-to-us, but old-to-everyone-else, flat screen across the room. A half-smoked cigarette sat teetering on the edge of a dirty plate, slowly turning to ash and releasing a small stream of smoke that curled up into the air.
Not many humans had come into this home since the arrival of this man, except I saw that as a good thing. Even though I was, in fact, dust, the common enemy of housewives and asthmatics, I knew when a place started to become uninhabitable. Uninviting. Unsanitary. Because, of course, I was not the only speck of dust on this wall. Many others observed from similar views. Just watching. Judging from their respective spots where they had settled in after days, months, years of accumulating their clumps of miniscule debris and bits until they clung onto a surface, anticipating the random cleaning sprees and gusty winds on Springtime-windows- open days, where they’re carried to their new destinations.
The man, like the rest of us, had a basic daily routine, consisting of light groaning, over- eating, heavy sighing, and the occasional silent crying. It wasn’t always like that. In the beginning, different women would often come over at night, back when the man smiled and laughed, but eventually, nobody came at all.
But lately it had gotten worse. Stacks of dishes competed for balance in the shallow stainless sink and a trail of dirty laundry snaked throughout the small one-bedroom apartment, radiating a subtle stink that seemed to go unnoticed by the man.
He didn’t do much with his time, and even as a piece of dust I understood just how valuable time was. Time controlled the light in this room, manipulated how I viewed its contents and lack thereof. It changed the positions of the human; where he rested, how he rested, what position he rested in, and lately, his resting time had increased tenfold.
He seemed to enjoy his home of filth; often he just sat and stared blankly at my wall, appreciating my hard work of maintaining my status as dirtiest corner of the room. Sometimes he even cried, big blubbering droplets that diffused in the air and attached themselves to meandering molecules. The weight from this liquid could be catastrophic. Weaker dust particles didn’t stand a chance if a drop attached itself to their mass. They would sink to the floor, to the stained carpet or warped hardwood, straining from the molecular pressure. It could be minutes, hours, or years until they finally resumed a life of floating through the air.
That day felt different. I didn’t know if I felt it in my fibers or lack of bones, but he hadn’t sat in his special sagging spot yet today, and even though sunrays poured in through the kitchen window, the door to his room remained closed. The silence that accompanied the usual morning noises added a stark contrast to the day’s routine.
Outside, a rhythmic knocking sounded throughout the entire home and harmonized with the occasional singing of the man’s phone. I wondered how a being with such sensitivities to sounds could rest unbothered for such a long period of time.
Eventually, the sounds ceased altogether. I watched the same smut-filled slow dance as I did most days and gained some new specks as they drifted towards me, actively defying the laws of gravity.
Often, I tried to remember how I felt when I sailed alone through the open air. Did I miss my freedom to fly? Did I pine for the feeling of the unknown and uncertain, never knowing where you could end up, whether it was a spot on a wall or a trip through a vacuum chamber, joining forgotten crumbs and unwanted cat hair. The microscopic life may have had its perks, but it remained a lonely one.
I recognized the sound of a door opening, but it was not the one to the man’s room. I watched a pair of different men—men I’d never seen within these walls—enter the kitchen warily. One made a face that matched the face of the man with the unibrow and he shook his head as he looked around at the glorious mess surrounding him. The other picked up one of the empty orange prescription bottles that littered the floor. The two exchanged some words and finally entered the man’s room.
That day the sun never made an appearance beyond the thick dark clouds outside, so it proved more difficult to track the passing time. Soon after the first two men showed up, another set of men wearing matching uniforms that read EMT on their backs and carrying a long board with sunrise colored straps soon arrived through the same main entrance and headed straight into the man’s room. A series of sounds echoed through that doorway and they all sounded unfamiliar to me.
Darkness had settled outside, but the chaos in the house remained. Those strangers kicked up more dust and debris than this man had disturbed in all his time living there. I seemed to multiply in size within minutes, clutching on to any piece of lint or dirt that came my way. As each piece connected to me, I started to feel more and more complete. Originally just a speck, I began to feel an upgrade to a full-on dust bunny become more than just a pipe dream.
An older woman with ocean eyes, twice the man’s age and four times a stranger to me
showed up at the house, her cheeks lined with wet streaks. She made noises that put the man’s lament to shame. An emotion I had yet to experience—on the face of the man or anyone else— poured out from the woman. One of the men rested his hand on her shoulder. Her whole body shook, the tremors traveling from her through the man’s hand, causing his arm to tremble in unison.
“How long?” The woman asked. “How long was he like this?”
“It’s hard to tell, ma’am,” one EMT responded. “At least a few days, but an autopsy will
confirm any questions you may have.”
She fell to her knees and bowed her head to the floor, her frail hands in tight fists tugging at her short gray hair. Her knees crunched down on crumbs and empty pizza boxes and a waft of stale trash smell diffused through the air.
I don’t know what it was, but I felt something in that moment. It accompanied a flood of memories that somehow, I was once a part of; a soothing rhythmic beat, a calming hushed tone, a series of praise and applause, and a familiar pair of electric blue eyes, all leading me to here and now. This wall, this cluster of flecks and specks, and this moment in time, I felt more connected with the dust that had settled again ever since the man left with all the new visitors, for the last time, through the front door. One hand hanging limp as the woman grasped on to his other.
Natalie Rogers graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a Bachelor’s in English with a focus in Creative Writing. At Southern she was the Editor-in-Chief for the art and literary magazine, Folio. Her work has been published in Folio as well as presented at the 2019 CSU Undergraduate English Conference in New Britain, CT. She completed an honors thesis her senior year, which was a collection of short stories titled “Sprouted”.