One day, Emmy wanted to stick a knife into the alley wall, yank down, and watch the paint tear away. She wanted to see how thick the paint had become, with all her graffiti stacked on top of each other, night after night after night. She had never had a good count of how many paintings she had sketched on the wall in loud dashes of neon colors over quick splashes of white or black or blue to destroy the last one. But it had been every night. Every night for the last year.
Or two years.
She hadn’t recorded the first time.
And sometimes, at midnight, as she pulled on her spattered hoodie and worn out shoes, she considered bringing a knife with her so she could cut back down to the wall she had started with. She might have done it already, except every time, she imagined the knife breaking in her hands. It was not a satisfying feeling, and the cool hiss of the spray paint cans was, so she gathered them up instead.
She hadn’t slept a night through in a long time. Much longer than two years. That date was so buried under memory of sheets twisted off the bed and television watched in a haze, she couldn’t have dug it up without a shovel and a lie. And waking in the dark had never been comfortable – like flinching away from something sharp onto to burst into a softer world that felt false, like tasting something sour on the inside of her teeth while her stomach had been empty for hours – but it was getting easier.
Easier when the chill of midnight bit a little against her cheeks, and chased flavors out of the air.
Easier when she gave herself permission to get out of bed, to walk around, to break the hush, to do something mad. Rather than lie back down, force her eyes shut, and try to tell her lungs that even they were moving too much when she should have been deep asleep.
Easier when, every night, she painted what had dragged her back up to waking in brassy colors.
And erased them without even trying the next night, burying them under some other bright thing that would pass away.
Emmy wondered if they still counted as nightmares, when even in her sleep, she changed them to fit the colors she had left.