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Thicker Than Water, Red as a Rose
Two strangers meet at the edge of the city.
One walked ten blocks and the other took the bus twelve blocks and walked one. The chances that they would ever meet would be slim if not for the fact they both like the view from the old bridge that arches over the frozen river.
It’s winter. December, to be precise, and the holidays have just begun. All over the city, families and friends are getting together in heated apartments or bars where they laugh loudly over the holiday music and exchange early gifts.
The strangers stand side by side on the bridge where it is silent. Their breath frosts in the air in front of them. It’s deathly cold and every time they inhale, it’s like they’re breathing in splinters of ice. Their cheeks have gone beyond rosy to just plain white. One stranger wears a white t-shirt, sweat pants, and a thin, blood red scarf. The other wears a thick black coat, ear muffs, and a hat.
‘What’s your excuse?’ the man with the scarf asks.
‘My list is far too long.’ The woman replies. ‘You?’
‘Same. The usual.’
‘I heard the new usual was drugs.’
‘Is it? I haven’t been paying much attention, then.’
The man leans over the bridge to peer down at the ice.
‘Why aren’t you dressed?’ the woman asks.
‘I want to feel everything.’ He replies. He isn’t shivering one bit as he looks over to her. ‘What, are you scared?’
‘It’s getting dark; of course I am.’ She says indignantly, ‘Aren’t you scared? Don’t you doubt yourself sometimes?’
The corner of the man’s mouth quirks upward. ‘Yes, yes, of course I do.’ He says, shaking his head in disbelief, ‘I’ve got half the mind to turn around now and go home.’ He smiles. It looks nice. He seems like a nice man.
The woman shivers from the cold. ‘Well why don’t you?’
‘They would lock me up again.’ He tells her calmly. He leans over the side of the bridge again and she half-reaches out to steady him. It’s icy.
‘Your family would lock you up?’
‘It’s for my own safety.’ He turns to look at her full in the face for the first time, and she notices a single teardrop tattoo next to the corner of his eye. Now she’s from the city, and she’s been on the streets, lived in one or two projects over the years to know what that teardrop means. Traditionally, when someone dies, someone might get a tattoo of a tear next to their eye. But she knows what it really means. In the first project she lived in, some of the people who lived there were from a chapter of the Disciples gang. When a member had killed someone, they got a teardrop tattoo.
White gang names flash through her mind and her heartbeat quickens. ‘Where are you from?’ she asks fearfully.
‘South Dakota.’ He says, raising an eyebrow.
Her body relaxes at his reply. ‘Oh.’ She says, ‘Sorry, you just –there’s” she pointed to his face, “-and I thought… sorry.” She looked down in shame.
‘That’s alright.’ He says, ‘Like I said. I was locked up.’
She tenses once more. Her heart rate picks up once more and a sheen of sweat forms on her forward. She reaches up and pulls her hat down a bit more to hide any evidence of her fear. Her hands are trembling, and she can’t decide whether it’s from the cold or not.
‘But you’re nice.’ He tells her. ‘I don’t think you would lock me up. Would you?’
‘N-no, of course not. No.’ she says immediately. Panicky thoughts fill her head. She wants to leave –get away –but how? The man does not seem so nice after all, and she is no longer interested in his company at all.
‘Good.’ He says, ‘Good.’
She wants to leave.
She’s going to leave. She says so.
‘Aw, stay for a little bit.’ The man says, ‘It’s a beautiful day.’
It’s not a beautiful day. It’s freezing and she wants to go home now. She misses her apartment, her stupid, miserable apartment.
‘No.’ she says bluntly.
‘Take my hand.’ He says, reaching out to grab her, ‘I’m cold.’
‘Maybe,’ she replies, attempting to shake him off, ‘You should have stayed at home,’ she kicks him hard with one foot and lands the blow to his shins.
He growls with rage and pulls her back. His face is so close to hers she can see the hairs on his face, prickling from the cold. She screams in his ear as loud as she can, but her voice gets caught in her throat. It does the trick, nevertheless; his hold on her arm loosens as he cringes from the noise.
Her scream echoes in the winter air while blood pounds though her ears. She yanks herself out of her coat –her zipper rips apart –and she’s free.
For a moment.
He’s coming at her again, teeth barred, a wild expression in his eyes.
‘Don’t touch me!’ she screeches with a frightened, high-pitched voice.
Maniacs don’t listen to reason. They can become immune to the sound of any voice but the one in their head. The man throws himself at her. She steps aside but he grabs her anyway. They’ve moved dangerously close to a patch of black ice, but neither of them notices.
She’s losing this fight quickly. In a last attempt of strength, the woman manages to push the man away. He starts to grab her once more, but as he acts out, his foot comes down on a slippery bit of ice, and his unbalanced weight causes him to lurch sideways and miss his victim.
She watches as his eyes widen and his arms flail. The natural reactions of a human being during situations like this are to either step clear, or reach out. Her automatic instinct is to catch, but no sooner do her frozen fingers find something to hold on to, then he is already falling backwards. He tumbles off the old wooden bridge and is held for a moment, suspended just over the rail. The woman has a tight grip of one end of his scarf, but the other end breaks his neck before the fabric rips apart and the man’s corpse free-falls downward.
He lands in a twisted heap on the frozen black river.
The thin layer of snow coating the ice turns crimson and begins to melt under the still fresh, warm blood that oozes from a crushed skull.
A few yards up in the air, the woman stares down with horrified eyes. She’s still poised with her arms out in front of her. Her hands clutch part of a blood red scarf, and her breath is hitched with surprise.
Slowly, she begins to comprehend the events, and she lets out a heaving sigh of release. She straightens up, averting her gaze, and rests one had on the rail of the wooden bridge and the other on her hip after letting the scarf in her hand drop to the ground. The woman has just barely escaped a death on the hands of a psychotic man. She makes up her mind right then to go straight home and try and forget everything that just happened. Maybe she’ll call the police. Maybe she won’t. Man, but her hands are getting cold. She looks up; night is falling like an anvil. She’d better head back into the city. She lets go of the rail, puts one hand in her pocket, and shifts to unzip the other pocket so she can get her other hand into some warmth.
That’s all it takes.
Her boot finds the same spot of black ice –now much more slippery because of its recent encounter with another shoe –and she staggers backwards…over, and…
The crack of ice is amplified loudly in the silent winter sky.