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She slips forward, an opaque shadow coasting along the bridge, her black coat trailing slick spirals of dust and hair. Traipsing boots splash grime into the air as smog floats through her clothes and sticks to her skin. She shudders at the air’s touch. Its heat-seeking breeze wraps around her and bites through her jacket like a hungry parasite.
Placing her hands on the grimy metal siderail, she breathes deeply; thick salty air siphons into her lungs through slightly parted pale lips. Her eyes drift along the horizon, then pause. Pupils dilate as her eyes adjust to the mocking sun, and she’s blinded for a second before averting her eyes from its light. For all its bright shine, the winter sun shares no warmth. Her jacket twists in the wind and valiantly tries to hide her shaking back. Ragged breaths become shorter, adrenaline flashing through her veins as she slaps back tears. Gravely white knuckles shake at the sight of thick metal struts standing firm and strict around her, like surgeons bending over a gurney. She sees bolts and rust form faces in the metal, their mouths opened in scornful laughter.
A truck screams past. Its slucked debris spatters her coat in a wet blotch. She doesn’t notice. Instead she watches a feather float down from the sky, a trace sign of the gulls above twisting lazily in the wind. Twirling and teasing, it comes almost in reach only to be blown from the siderail and off of the bridge. Innocently disappearing over the water, the feather dips straight down, plunging to the sea.
Behind her eyes the feather fuzzes into a different image, a different day. Practically a different age.
She was in a grocery store parking lot and there on the ground sat a gray shaft, also from a gull. The gull had, only moments before, been irritated out of its crumb-littered parking space by the approach of a compact white car. The car was grungy and creaked discontent as the girl lifted herself out and shut the door. Her hand rested on the car for a second, as if the strength of the metal would in some way prepare her for what was ahead.
Eventually she turned, adjusted her musician’s black jacket, and proceeded from the parking lot to a small green patch to the right. Rubber soles kissing over the concrete in a soundless vapid gesture, she concealed under her easy guise and dress a cloaking tiredness. The girl wiped her hair out of her face and ignored the gull’s her shoes’ lifeless journey to the grass. Reaching the oasis with its soft grass and sleeping cherry trees, she sat. The ground sloped down before her and created a gentle stadium perfect for contemplation. Her legs crossed and she tried to appear calm and untailored.
She didn’t succeed. Eyes darting continually, she fingered a slight hole in the knee of her pants while keeping a vigilant watch on the highway across the park.
Around her, flickering petals trickled through the air, weightless slips of pastel paper sauntering to the ground. Cherry blossoms above clung to slim-barked twigs, their open flowers almost sentient to the atmosphere, like guardians of the peace.
Within her mind was a replaying conversation, one that never ended but always splintered out on the same line.
“Will you come?” she asks.
“I can’t. I have to-” The man’s sentence crinkles out as the girl interrupts, her quick demand overriding his answer.
“No, I need you. I need you to come!” The phone line sits silently for a second.
“I don’t know. I’ve got stuff to do, and if this internship-”
“Please.” The woman’s voice is cracked and breaks off as she takes a purposeful breath, quickly regaining control. “I have to talk to you. If you-If you ever even still care. Come. ” The lowered, unique voice is distinct and strong again. “James…you have to at least listen.”
“I don’t wanna hear it. You’re tryin to act like this is all my fault-”
“I’m not doing that! I just-I need to be able to-”
“Forget it. We’re over. I told you we’re over, you told me we’re over. Why can’t you just drop it!?”
Yet again. And again. And again. The voice haunts her, screaming in her mind even as the wind whispers in her ear. Outside of the oasis, cars flashed by, their bright blurs of commerce weaving an uncolored buzz of sound into the gentle grassy area.
Numbly, she watched another petal fall.
He isn’t coming.
She imagined a man, young and wonderful, holding her. His caring smile, protective gesture as he pushed aside her too-short hair and leaned in to kiss. “I’ll always be here for you”, he’d say.
Instead she saw lonely vagrants wander past, their hair stringy and offensive to her never-happening dream.
The gull from the parking lot drifted above, its eyes scanning the figure of this girl, a soiled raindrop on the land below, as her hope leaked out and smeared everything around her with a sordid black stain of despair.
She is alone.
Alarmed by a passing taxi, the girl steps back from the road and winces at the car’s blaring horn. Her long black coat shrouds her figure and she pulls it tight to cover the thin shirt underneath. Bumping into the safety railing, she extends a hand to protect herself. She stares vacantly over the water and her knuckles white with intensity as she latches onto the rail. Inadvertently, she chews at her lip, shifting the silver stud below her mouth so it catches the sun in a sparkle.
A splat of excrement falls from a laughing bird above, hitting the rail beside her in a wasted wet splotch. It spreads and oozes, reflecting the dark notion now dancing in her mind. Her grip tightens; she prepares to mount the railing. Swaying, slim and shaking, she rises in vacuous ignorance of newly spitting rain. Her frame creates an unsteady silhouette buffeted by ocean winds. Creaks of the metal cry out the pain of her spirit, understood by none but the tearing wind as it screams the same.
She closes her eyes and sees a white room, doctors, sliding glass doors that open to eat her whole. She remembers walking. In through the doors, she hovers; the dumpling receptionist looks up and waves her over. The fear, the spikes and shocks of her stomach as she speaks and asks and decides, never goes away. The anxiety lives and builds roost in her gut, traveling with her through more doors, down hallways, to a room: white, always white.
“It’ll be quick”
“Easy and simple”
“You made the right choice”
Voices echo as the nurses leave, come, leave. Her doctor, the one she chose to trust, the one she spoke to and asked and believed, he smiles and says it’ll be alright. A needle inserts and what happens after, she forgets.
Leaning forward, ponderously shifting her feet higher onto the crusted red rail, she is apart from the world, emotions fleeing her as she lords over the sea, casting dire glance at the toy boats idling in the child’s bathtub below. Power is hers.
This life tilts forward, atoms crashing against their boundaries, every bolt of the bridge cheering her on, this woman, as she trepidates over the edge. Burning at the flecks of salty rain, her face contorts and she tries to smile, lips quirking in an asymmetrical twitch to the left. She lowers her head and her hair flips out of style, front bangs flattening onto her forehead while the curling side pieces dance and sing in the wind. A harsh cry from the street awakens her and she opens her eyes to see bathtub water transform into a tsunami clamoring for her heart. The bridge snickers, its bolts clenching onto wire braces in disdainful mimicry of her grinding teeth.
She races time to think.
Every memory, every voice, every thought and instance of her life she tries to bring up, to memorize and bottle inside her before the drop. She recalls the laughter of a little girl, her innocent eyes shining and open with trust. She quickly shoves the image away.
She recalls the voice of her mother, winces, and races past. Guilt and despair spark a self-consuming fire. Remembering her father, her stuttering, protective dad, she bites her lip again. His face grins at her from past conversations until suddenly she swats it away. Numbness and coldhearted decision rises with flames inside of her.
More memories are thrown into the furnace, to burn and rage as she methodically demolishes everything she ever was, ever knew. Her boyfriend, there and then not. She sees his hands reaching for her and shudders, tries to fling them away. She bobbles dangerously over the edge and has to grab a wire to keep from falling.
She remembers her laughing and careless friends. They don’t understand. Blinking and raising her eyes to the clouds, she takes a jagged breath and starts letting go.
Then she hears her sister. Young, trembling, and blonde, the little girl touches her shoulder and whispers in her ear. Softly speaking forgotten secrets, the innocent child caresses her sister’s heart with memories and laughter.
But soon the uneven figure on the bridge sees not the young face of her sibling, or the living color of her eyes, but only a dead, swaddled package, white and helpless and held by two hands as it falls.
The package slips into the trash, sending ripples and consequences and results flitting into the air like floating butterflies. More tears leak from her eyes and she gasps for breath, fighting sobs and clinging to the wire beside her to keep from falling. So far, so very far down.
Her feet wobble and shake and she doesn’t trust them to hold her anymore; she feels them wanting to leap, to betray her and join the fish below.
Very, very far below.
But even as snakes writhe off the butterflies in her mind, dripping death into closing hands, she remembers something else.
That boy from college that she had disliked, with his curly black hair and his crooked square glasses. He was always smiling and studious. She had hated him for his good grades and geekiness and wished him away simply because he was there.
A feather twists off the butterfly’s wing, and she remembers the one time he spoke to her. It was weeks after the clinic, after her grades had gone down and she rarely showed up on time. That day she had argued with her biology professor for calling the fetus a baby. Screamed and argued and when he wouldn’t shut up, she’d torn out of the room, almost hitting someone on the way out with her swinging book bag.
The boy had followed her out of the classroom and awkwardly stood behind her shaking back. Minutes passed before he spoke.
“Hey, I don’t…I don’t really know what went on in there, or, or what sparked all that. But-”
Here he had paused, as if he could somehow find “the right words to say”.
Instead he had rambled on, words scurrying out of his mouth like a flock of wild birds that he was terrified to let out.
The whole time she had never turned around, never acknowledged that she heard him. She had almost laughed in disdain at that boy, at his audacity that he thought he could have any understanding of what she was going through.
She doesn’t laugh now. She is too spent, too empty, too emotionless in her shell of loss. She remembers the last thing he said, while her back was turned and her eyes fought the onslaught of fiercely loathed tears. Hot tears of frustration and misery that gave way to anger as she heard his next words. The words she couldn’t believe, the ones she rejected but needed and didn’t deserve but desired.
“Even if you’re guilty…there’s still hope.”
Anguish tears through her, fear felt for the first moment since that dumbing numbness settled over her. The glass doors had closed months ago and sealed her shut but now they break. Sounds of shattering glass echo from the street where a car rips past, springing loose a cascade of littered bottles from the curb.
Far below, the bay water chops at salty air and the derisive laughter of seagulls clouds the sky. Lifting her head, the girl gasps as slicing inadequacy tears through her heart and she realizes she cannot jump. Easterly winds ease her down, smack gulls screeching encouragement as she melts from the edge and kneels on the ground to cry. Oil, rain, and dirt slip over the tarmac to wash into her tears, salt shipping down the concrete into a gutter where sickness is a green slime cloaking the underworld of a city and her tears are the only beautiful thing left.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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