Dead Man Walking

A phantom fog encircled the bottom of the bridge, cloaking the river below in a mysterious intrigue that turned her insides cold. She’d contemplated what it’d be like to fall before, but she’d never thought what it would be to jump -until now. It was the first time they’d visited the bridge since…

He asked her why she wore a face borrowed from someone far away. Annoyed at the intrusion of her thoughts, she told him she’d rather not talk and turned toward the ice steel rail, sliding off a red shoe. He told her to stop being so grim, gripped her sides from behind with fingers, too smooth for a man, and blew a breath of bad air into her ear. She recoiled in disgust, forced herself not to vomit. A Redtail Hawk came darting up through the mist, running from some unseen danger. It startled them both, and he kicked her shoe. It went soaring off the side, first straight, then dropped downward and disappeared. A crimson bullet into the abyss. She cocked her head and listened, for the descent, for the landing, for her heart. But there was only silence and somewhere above the cries of the hawk.

Unlike the previous year, this one had been dry. The river must be nearly empty now. More a meandering path of rocks and twigs that stumbled along dog eared and tired, sniffing for traces of what used to be, and eventually finding its way to join the vast and writhing sea.

Last year, people said the sky had dropped all its rain in a torrent of shapeless tears. Within the confines of just a few months it had rained more than it had in thirty two years. The river ran full and swift, swelled, as if ready to give birth. It flooded the valley with sad memories, left devastation and questions in its path. They blamed her. As if she controlled the heaven’s. As if the choice had been hers.

She hadn’t wept. Instead she lived suspended in some altered state of the past, tried to find happiness in distorting the facts. Friends who came to mourn, were greeted with confusion, with yellow balloons, and small patched bears. She’d serve lukewarm peppermint from teacups whose bottom was stamped, Hasbro. For those who had been closest, there were cookies from an Easy Bake oven scarred with purple crayon, scratch and sniffs and a garage sale tag that read five dollars.

When she passed pushing an empty praam, or jump roped in the yard, neighbors spoke in shocked whispers, their fear drifted over white picket fences fresh with paint and she’d turn her head away. Hushed judgements jagged and course, infected the air, pulled on it like wet cement, and landed on her roses, whose vibrant petals refused to fall. She knew what people said, but what did she care? No one understood the weight she carried in her shoes, the endless searches for her heart, for justice, for just one clue. Nor did they hear the sing song laughter of the ghost that filled their house at night and left her clinging to the sheets for fear she too -would disappear.

The word breakdown was nothing new around these parts, in this land of fiscal fallout, marital doom, and rusted cars. This however, was different. This was something new. It was twisted with horror and wrapped in blankets crocheted by hidden hands. It sat unanswered for one to ponder behind closed curtains at night, like a bite of steak one chewed and chewed, but couldn’t quite swallow.

In the beginning, no one knew what to do, and granted they did try. Before the vicious rumors of a mind gone wrong, there were casseroles and movie dates and probing questions of ‘are you alright’ and ‘wasn’t this her favorite song?’. He ate the food, despite the heaviness of the air, despite her vacant look. He forced her to watch the movies, sit through the humors and pains of other peoples lives, all the while ignoring their own. At first, she didn’t understand how or why.

Then the moment came, the one laced with ‘ah ha!’ and followed with desperate despair. It came in form of a single word he’d uttered, while in the confines of some ghoulish nightmare or memory flitting through his sheets. Innocently, it landed on her pillow like a lost flake of snow.

It’d been a struggle not to run from him then and there, not to kill him in his sleep. But her feet were frozen, her fingers too scared, her mind cluttered. 

No she was not alright.

Nighttime found her roaming the halls clumsy in dream, drunken from bottles filled with denial she kept in the fridge next to his peanut butter. Pulled by some sick joke glazed on the floors, she’d find herself in the room, the one with walls that had once been papered in joy. Lying on the rug, she’d marvel at how this place, more than any other, shone like the silver breaths of wolves in the light of the full moon. The wall now peeling and torn, part vintage 60‘s of someone else’s life, part devastated Hundred Acre Wood. Chopped and hacked into piles of lies, left to decay under a baffled blue sky, with no mouth to utter what it had seen.

Now on the bridge, with him and the fog and the cries of the hawk, she wanted to run. From the incessant nerve driven chatter that fell from his hideous lips, from the mean town that now lay covered in the veil of cloud somewhere to the East, from the vacant beats of her heart. Her bare toes, nails yellowed with neglect, pushed through a link in the fence, looking for the lost shoe, that by now would be turning pointless circles in some shallow eddy, like a ballerina who’d missed her cue. Still her toes stretched and  pondered the other half of the pair, that together used to carry her off to the simple delight of ice cream parlors, birthday parties and swings in the park.

“I just don’t know how I can help, what I can do?” His voice was far off, swimming in the past of a foreign day, muffled and distorted through the waters of time. She wanted to strangle him, push him down, hold him under.

“Bring her back. Bastard. Bring her back.”

Stunned, he took a step, withdrew his arms from her waist, studied her figure, then her face.

“You know that’s impossible. Silly girl. Just snap out of this! Look at yourself, you’re a mess!”

She turned from him as he walked down the the bridge, heading away. And thought of the long road before her. Of court dates, doctors and testimonies. Of death threats and handcuffs and misunderstood words. Of reliving it all again.

Only inches below her the thick fog swirled like mothers milk, strong and loving enough to support this bridge of pain and deceit. She could just jump. If what others said was true, there was a place where her child now was. Perhaps they were right?  Perhaps she was waiting for her? Perhaps she could reunite with her sweet baby girl, smell the soft locks of her hair and the sweetness of her breath. It had always reminded her of a fine spring rain. She would take her hand and never let go, she would sing to her, her favorite song, and they’d sleep in each others arms under pretty pink skies and marshmallow moons. There would be no bad dreams, no sickness -no serrated knives. Together they would greet the bright and glorious dawn. She would live just to see her tiny yawn, breathe in her breath, make her laugh -help her forget.

But she was the only one, the only one who knew. She had to make them see, had to make him pay. She watched him now, his slow retreat, on this path amongst the clouds. His shoes barely touched, as if he had no guilt at all, nothing to confide. He held his shoulders back, his head high, he was untouchable, the son of a God -he’d done nothing wrong.

But she knew. If she narrowed her eyes just so, she could see it. The vague outline of a word, perhaps maybe three, right there! At about the middle of his back, between the wrinkled suede and tough leather of some cow long deceased, it had started to take on a sickly recognizable shape. He turned and cupped his hands, lit a cigarette, as he stared at her across the small gap of vast space between them. She managed a smile. Surprised, he smiled back. The dead man walking smiled.


For artwork inspired by my short stories please visit my artist page on Redbubble.

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