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Heart Done Beating, Eyes Done Seeing
“The store was bathed in green light, as if venom were seeping through its old foundations. The air flickered in annoyance at the brutality of the heat. Irritated beyond words, I blew a strand of ebony hair from my drowsy eyes just as the rectangle of light finally gave up and died. I’d been rooted to the same spot for quite a while, giving me an insurmountable amount of time to contemplate my life, the dullness of it, how I should have gone into a major involving children rather than long hours at an office and even longer hours driving back home. My eyes narrowed on the light above me as it palpitated rapidly like a feeble heart fighting to stay alive.
The middle-aged woman in front of me was buying an incredible amount of milk, I noted with frustration. She fished carton after carton from the depths her cart and handed them to the cashier. Honestly, who needs that much milk?
Shrouded in a square of black, I turned my seething glare at the blonde’s back hoping to bore a hole through it. Just as the woman did a 180 and inadvertently met my eyes…
The muffled sound of shattering glass reached our ears. The stifling hot air froze. The woman’s eyes went wide with genuine terror as she clutched the glittering cross at her neck and dropped to the ground, praying to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The clerk, whose more prominent facial features were the purple bags under his eyes, iced over, the sixth carton of milk leaking from where his fingers clutched it tightly. I glanced back and noticed an old man at the freezers raptly concentrating on a pack of Heineken beers that would not budge from between the Newcastle Brown Ales and Corona Extras. Heart ready to leap from my quivering mouth, I waited and didn’t even notice I’d dropped down to the ground.
Happy Cow Mart’s Joshua Morison quickly dashed the last two cartons across the scanner and sighed a sigh of relieve upon seeing that my only purchases would be two Starbucks Mocha Frapuccinos and a bag of Lay’s Barbecue Flavored Chips. Not the healthiest dinner, I know, but I was tight on cash. The glass door slammed as Miss Nine-Bottles-of-Milk ran out of the store, in panic perhaps, or her twenty cats just could not wait any longer.
‘Do you have a membership card with us?’
‘Would you like to-?’
‘No,’ I curtly replied.
‘Total is $6.66.’
‘Are you serious?’
I wiped the many beads of sweat that had spread across my brow then flipped open my light blue wallet revealing missing money and credit cards. Unbelievable. This is what I get for having a roommate who spends her time dancing at clubs and bumming around the house! I should have known better than to let Jenna stay with me. I rummaged in vain through the purse, but saw no sign of Lincoln or Hamilton amidst my car keys and makeup bag. ‘The total is six dollars and ninety cents,’ clerk boy drawled.
‘Thought it was six sixty-six?’ I muttered irately under my breath. I couldn’t wait to get away from that out-of-a-horror-movie store. Maybe if I flirted with him a little he’d let it slide. As my eyes met his dead gaze a put on my most charming smile and said, in what I believe to be a sexy and sultry voice, ‘I only have a five.’ I batted my lashes for an added affect.
‘Sorry. Total is $6.90. Next!’ I glanced at the empty air at my back. Clerk Boys’ eyes begin to scour the empty store only to settle back on his raw fingertips.
‘Whatever. I’ll just take a frapuccino.’
‘You’re total is $3.50.’
‘Yeah, right,’ I scoffed, threw the five at him, snatched the cold bottle from his thin hands, and slammed the door in between ‘Thank you. Please come again.’
The night air was pleasantly refreshing. I wasted no time getting to my navy ’99 Chrysler. The moonlight lingered on my eyelids as I drove off the vacant parking lot and watched Ha p Cow art grow smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. Illuminated by the lights of my car, the road was a single forlorn line amidst fields of stoic corn stalks. It would be a year tomorrow night that I’d been making this same trip in the hours of darkness, including nights in which I wasn’t required to work at the law firm, but like I said before, I needed the money.
The mud was up to my chest, almost touching my chin, and I couldn’t help being afraid that I would be stuck living this murky routine of mine indefinitely. The first few nights had been terrible; I look back on them now with the type of amusement that a great deal of experience brings. What my nerve-wracked head imagined ranged from my headlights suddenly illuminating the silhouette of killer to a dead body in a duffle bag. Colorful, right?
The lyrics of Hell by Squirrel Nut Zippers filled the empty space in my car. Despitethis dangerous drive back to my apartment, an overpowering sense of calm governed me, so that I was blissfully unaware, if you will, of an ominous car in the middle of a field of tall grass, until its glaring white headlights flashed across my face. By reflex, I flinched and my hands pulled on the steering wheel. In doing so I crashed my vehicle into the wooden fence separating the corn field from the road.
To my disbelief the air bags did not deploy left and right like they should have. My face did, however, continue forward until its abrupt collision with the steering wheel. Stars, dots, squares, etc; they all clouded vision. ‘Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh dear God, what do I do?’ I repeated these words until they no longer sounded like words to my ears. My upper lip felt wet, but I ignored it, something I wasn’t capable of doing to the lonesome car in the field. Snippets of conversations, flashes of faces and childhood memories, trains of thoughts all smashed together in my mind.
In this moment of clear, raw panic a torrential rain the likes of which I had never had the misfortune of being caught in slammed down from the angry heavens. Its goal, I’m sure, was to obliterate life as we know it. The engine still ran. It was a relatively minor crash, I reasoned. Therefore there was no need for me to get out and assess the damage. In actuality, I had no desire to meet whoever was parked in the middle of the field.
I drove too fast, and I like to think the vicious rain tried to stop me by obscuring my vision, but I couldn’t knock the car from my head, or the man inside. Urgency, mixed with so much fear, squashed all rationality from my mind. I stood no chance against adrenaline. I stood no chance against the bridge.
It took a while for the dashboard to come into focus, and an even longer time for me to realize what had happened. The beat of broken static spewed forth from my car stereo for a couple of seconds before the song came back ten times louder than before, trying to tell me something, I’m sure.
‘This is a place where eternally,
Fire is applied to the body,
Teeth are extruded and bones are ground,
Then baked into cakes which are passed around.”
When the body floated up to the windshield in a glowing light, I looked up. The Judas River, so black and hungry as it tumbled down on the frail wooden bridge, was rather peaceful underneath the surface. Even she looked peaceful. My car lurched forward, and I began to claw at my seatbelt. I didn’t feel the stream of blood running down the contours of my face, or bothered to ask myself what a dead body was doing floating in the dark of the river.
The passenger window cracked. Her face was pressed against it now. The seatbelt clicked just as my breathing sped up. Why was she looking at me like that?
‘In the afterlife,
You could be headed for the serious strife,
Now you make the scene all day,
But tomorrow there’ll be hell to pay.’
The song had started over, such a happy tune despite the lyrics. It was the lack of oxygen, the trauma to my head, the shock of the corpse, but mostly the fear that I would end up like her that made me pass out. I was splayed out on the river bend when I came to, the flowing water soothing my bare feet. I heard a voice above my lips. Felt a pair of hands take the pressure off my chest. I only caught a flash of his face, when I blinked he was gone.
You’ll never believe this, but he left me there. Not before calling 911 of course. He saved my life, I don’t know how, and then left me to die. Oh, the irony! The doctors told me I suffered most of my injuries after the impact, mental injuries. I have a fractured skull, a broken nose, bruised ribs; suffered major loss of blood, the list goes on. As far as I’m concerned I’m perfectly sane. So…why are you looking at me like that?’”
Sofia raised an eyebrow at her hospital roommate. It was past midnight, but neither of them could sleep. Johnny, thirty and hospitalized because he decided to ride his motorcycle off the roof of a two story building, took a deep breath, “Well, I mean, you’re story would be unbelievable if it wasn’t for the fact that I heard on the news that the body of a dead girl washed into a lake this morning near where they found you, but, its just, there’s no road or bridge that cross over the Judas River. It isn’t even a river anymore, barely a creek if anything,” Sofia opened her mouth but Johnny held his hand up, “look; I’ve been living in this town all my life. That Happy Cow Mart you’re talking about burned down when I was seventeen.”
“So you don’t believe me?” Sofia asked incredulous; first the police, the doctors, and now Johnny.
“Sorry,” he muttered, turned over, and in a matter of seconds was fast asleep. Sofia pulled the green hospital blanket to her chin, stared at the bland white ceiling, and contemplated the past year for a very long time. Her last thought repeated itself until it spilled over into her dreams: who was he?