Free Short Story: Cliff Hanging

My lover leaves in one of those spectaularly dramatic, painful flurries of shouting and loving and self-loathing. Takes my intestines and pleasure along for the ride. I used to doubt that people really “didn’t see it coming.” I didn’t. That morning we cuddle before work, nuzzle and say love yous. And no joke, two hours after the door snicks shut behind him, my sister calls to say our mom died. It feels like a hangover: I don’t know where I am, and my head throbs in waves, as though my brain literally grows inside my skull. Things aren’t going too well.

I go to work at the greenhouse. It is the day we let loose the Sterlings to eat the Japanese beetles that came in during a fresh air cycle. I am certain to go home with bird shit in my hair, stomping and clutching my fists in organic hatred.

My boss, Geri the Hippie, rolls up on his Vespa and eyes my Subaru.

“When are you going to lose the gas hog?”

“When it quits running.”

He smirks, “I’ll buy you a Prius if you come to dinner with me.”

“Let it never be said that organic farmers are as evolved as their pesticide practices.”

“So that’s a yes?”

“That’s an aphid eating no, Geri.”

“Why do you want to work here if you hate Earth?”

“I hate everything.”

“No you don’t. You love your car.”

“My car does not talk or demand anything from me.” I say, and think a minute, “Also, my car goes harder than it really should after 250,000 miles.”

“That’s what she said.”

“Pig.”

“You’re lucky I’m a forward-thinking feminist. No other boss would let his environmental savages of employees talk to him like that.”

“No other boss would call himself a feminist, then call a woman who works for him an environmental savage.”

I always liked the idea of killing myself. I thought it would be really hard. I never really thought too much about trying, because it seemed certain to fail. I thought that the human spirit would always well up to buoyancy or vomit at the last minute. That the soul would not be snuffed so easily. I liked thinking about the bits of me—the bits that want to die and to live—warring over this cause of life.

I imagined them personified in spandex unitards. Death wore orange, Life wore blue. They pushed each other and wrestled across wood planks by water. A deck, maybe? A pier? I never panned out in my imaginings, only went in for the detail shots, like the way Death’s spandex bunched up in the space where his hip met his thigh as he wrapped one leg around Life to hold her still, squeezing her neck with both his bony, veined hands. And the fine hairs on Life’s cheek as she ground her blushing jaw against the strangling.

I always gave Death the masculine body and Life the feminine. Obvious, but still. Shouldn’t life and death be genderless?

I wake up that morning and look up at the water stains on the ceiling above my bed. One of them looks like a pig blowing smoke out of his face. Maybe, though, it is his silhouette, and he is bleeding from his mouth. A pig death by bludgeoning.

Could I bludgeon myself? It seems unlikely. What if I make a machine? There’s that movie, Taxidermia, where a guy partially Taxidermies himself, then sets up a machine to remove his head at a certain point.

It never occurs to me that feeling nothing is bad. I suspect people who are suicidal must feel the hell out of their feelings. The sadness preceding suicide must be physically painful. It must feel like appendicitis or a urinary tract infection. It must feel unbearably.

I feel nothing. I feel nothing so hard that I think it won’t be possible for me to feel it if my lover returns and my mom comes back to life. I feel superfluous. I am not especially good at my job or especially interesting, and when my mom lived, at least I felt like I provided some joy to her, and at least my lover got half our rent and some orgasms.

So without any real ceremony, I decide to end it. I choose a day that is bleak and gray and humid. I decide that I’ll take a drive after work and find a place, and then I will do it. I will throw myself into traffic, or into the misted river.

There is a bridge that separates north and south halves of the town. The top of the bridge is probably 50 feet from water. The water is gray and choppy. I was never fond of heights, but since I haven’t felt anything in several months, climbing up lacks some of the usual gut churning. I get halfway up, and the hem of my khakis snags at the vee of the wire lattice I’m climbing, I recall that this is a truss bridge from my environmental design course in college. I think fuck it and I let go.

I instantly regret my choice. For the first moment I feel like I’m not going to fall, like gravity is going to just give me this one back. The water below me is this hyper plane of bobbing, cotton clusters. The wind pushes into my sinuses and in the second moment I get that ear flood of roller coaster adrenaline excitement. I feel my skin flush and my hair lift at the exact same moment.

I crack a smile, or maybe a grimace, and that is when the fall starts in earnest. I am high enough up, though, that I have time to remember how to fall into water at high speed without hurting myself.

I point my toes and imagine myself as a pencil. Suddenly I am erect and getting sucked into water that is much colder than I expect in late June. The water’s surface scrapes my cheeks, but I don’t make it to the bottom of the river. I curse my mom’s ghost for insisting on swimming lessons. This totally would’ve worked if I hadn’t had swimming lessons.

I do the crawl stroke to the bank that’s only about 10 yards away and hope I don’t trouble any eels, and I get on the bank and suddenly I have this crystal chill of aliveness. It starts at my toes and radiates up to my forehead and I can’t stop grinning. I laugh. I laugh so hard my right ribs feel like they’re under compression. I look down and notice I’m wearing a pink shirt and shoes and I can’t remember buying them, and I hate pink, so I laugh some more.

A girl on roller skates stops for a second and says, “Fall in?”

I contain my guffaws enough to give her a palsied nod. My chest is full and I feel large and I want to go have a beer with a stranger, apologize to the guy who loved me in college who I didn’t love back, then go get a new lover.

Of those things the most feasible is a beer with a stranger, so I escort myself and my swollen soul and my wet, pink clothes to my favorite dive. I order a Newcastle draft and I scan the bar for strangers.

I notice my pants are so wet they’re dripping onto the floor and there’s this tiny puddle beneath me, and so I don’t start to laugh again, I try to imagine a tiny war hostage undergoing drip torture beneath my pink shoe. That sobers up my mood, and I suck down my Newcastle and order another.

There’s a guy a few seats down who I don’t recognize, so I slide off the stool with a wet-clothes-on-varnish groan and move over next to him.

“Fall in?” he asks.

“Yup.”

“On purpose?”

I blink. I didn’t anticipate that question. “No. Yes. Whatever.”

“I survived one, too.”

“You what? Seriously? What are the odds, man? I mean, I got this Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas feeling right now, and I just wanted to have a beer with a stranger. You’re the stranger and you’re telling me you lived through this, too?”

“Weird”

“Yeah.”

So then I think maybe this guy is just expressing empathy the way some people do, and he’s actually a lunatic, and I think how I need no lunatics or psychopaths, and I pay for my second beer which I suck down to generate some beer warmth for my dripping self, and I slide off my second stool and head for the door.

“Hey wait!” he calls.

I hold up my hand like I’m signaling a cab, and I hit the street.

When I get home, I Google “how to overdose.”

(c) 2011 April Line, April Line Writing

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Author: April Line Writing

Writing about whatever the f*ck I want.

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