This is a short fiction piece that I wrote a couple of months ago in the office when I should probably have been working. Sometimes I have a very hard time letting go when the words want to fall in the right order as they did for this one. My publisher does this thing where authors are encouraged to contribute writing to the blog, or for the website or whatever, and they have a monthly prompt, usually just a single word. This one was for July and the word was "Edge."
I am nine years old. I look at my feet on the edge of the roof, the toes of my shoes poking out over the gutter. Below is my brother, older, and the architect of this plan. I look behind me at the homemade parachute, cobbled together from an old bed sheet and clothesline, and beyond that the open window that I had climbed out. I am hoping for my mother’s head to appear there, shout at me to come inside, what the hell am I thinking, but the window stays empty. It looks nice inside. Warm. Safe.
I am thirteen. I stand at the door of my bedroom, my hand resting on the knob. I can hear them out there, him and his harsh grating voice, rising and falling in volume erratically, hateful poison words spilling out, her quiet weeping, pleading. I turn and look at my bed, simultaneously wishing I hadn’t woken up, and hating my own cringing cowardice for wishing that. Out there lies madness and pain. All I have to do is go back to bed, all I have to do is clamp my pillow over my head, try and fail to sleep. All I have to do is- and out there in the light and hate comes a sound, too familiar, a quiet meaty thump, then a breathy whimpering wheeze. My left hand closes on the knob of the door. The right, into a fist.
I am twenty-two. Resting in my palm is a small unmarked pill, a little bigger than a tic-tac, the effects of which haven’t been made entirely clear to me. I look at the guys standing in the circle around the campfire. They all are looking at me, expectantly, having already swallowed their own pills. Behind them, lit sometimes by the orange flickering light, is the forest, dark and cool.
I am nine. On the ground below, my brother shouts up at me to just jump, don’t be a little pussy, it’s not going to hurt, that’s what the parachute is for. My toes are sticking over the edge, and I focus on them, not looking at the impossibly long distance between them and the back lawn. I look at my brother. I trust him. I believe that the parachute will work. I don’t know it yet, but one day he will be gone, and this is how I will remember him, his upturned face angry and impatient, calling me a pussy, telling me its OK to jump, it’s not going to hurt. I don’t know it yet, but I will tell this story years and years later at his wake, drunk in my ill-fitting suit, his few friends standing around me laughing and saying yep that’s just him, I can see it now. And standing on the roof at nine years old, more than faith that it won’t hurt, more than believing that the parachute will open, is my overwhelming desire to not be a disappointment to him, for him to not think of me as a little pussy. I look back at the window, at the safety and warm light in there. I close my eyes, bend my scabby scrawny knees, and I jump.
I am thirteen, and I rush out into the light, where he is standing over her, his face contorted in rage, shouting at her why do you do this to yourself, his monster’s mouth spilling poison and lies. I don’t know it yet, but he will die, much as I wished him to, alone and unloved, bloated in an anonymous motel room, found by the housekeeper, collected by the county, but this is how I will remember him, standing over her, shouting. She is on her knees on the carpet, doubled over making hitching gasping sounds, her face streaked, her eye makeup sliding down her cheeks, one arm cradled around her stomach, the other holding her weight off of the floor. She looks small and broken, pathetic, a sick animal. As I rush, he turns to me, he knew I was coming, and he steps back out of the way, and as I pass he shoves me on the back of my neck, and I crash through the glass top coffee table. I land in the shattered fragments, my heroic moment over before it even started. I bleed from a dozen places, from my head and my arms and hands. I sit there dazed and he comes over, he squats down, rests his elbows on his knees. He looks almost sad. His face is right there, an arm's reach away, I could hit him, just once get a shot in, but I don’t, I can’t. He tells me that I have no more balls than that dumb cunt over there. Worthless, he says, the both of you. He stands up, and walks over to her. He toes her with his boot. Get your shit together he tells her, Fuckface is going to need stitches. Fuckface. That’s me.
I’m twenty-two. At first there’s nothing. We wait, we shuffle around the campfire. The guys talk, joke, lie. The fire flickers and dances and casts strange elongated shadows on the trees behind us, and still nothing happens. Then, something, a little something around the edges of my vision, the dancing shadows somehow sharper, the voices clearer in some undefinable way, and then a rush of everything, an overload, a wave that rises and pours through me, and my breath flies in and out, too long between exhale and inhale, the heat from the fire washing over me, through me, like warm water, like love, and still the rush comes and the hairs on my arms stand up and the swelling in my chest filling with every breath, and I look at my companions and they are inexplicably beautiful, angels, the orange light shining on them, illuminating them, and I realize that we are all beautiful like this, all the time. I open my mouth to speak, to tell them this important discovery, and I find that words have left me, and all that comes out is a sound of marvel, a wordless question, just consonants, and still the rush comes crashing through me and it is then that I become afraid that I might die, and I remember the cool quiet dark of the forest, the safety of being alone, and I turn and I walk into the dark. Behind me is laughter and warm orange light and companionship and I turn my back and walk into the silent darkness and the voices of my friends fall away and it is only then that the rush levels off. I look around and everything is black and blue and silver, the lines of trees and branches too sharp, too real, and I feel something crack open inside myself and I fall, and it pours out, everything, and I can feel the tears tracking down my cheeks, and I turn my face to the sky, and the silver light of the moon envelopes me and I cry, openly and without shame, and for the first time that I can remember, since I was a child, for the first time I feel loved. Somewhere inside I secretly recognize the artificiality of this, somewhere deep I know I will awake from this dream and nothing will have changed, but even still I know I will want to feel this again.
I am nine. The earth rushes up and crushes my legs into my chest, knocking the breath out of me so I can’t even cry out, my teeth crash together and everything goes grey and quiet for a moment, and then pain comes rushing in, I taste the hot penny taste of blood, and finally I start to breathe in great gasps. I don’t want to, but I start to cry, the tears coming, shameful, unwanted. My vision clears and I see my big brother standing over me, looking disappointed. You didn’t spread your stupid arms, he tells me, that’s why it didn’t work. He shakes his head, and leaves me there with a bloody mouth and little breath with which to cry.
I am thirteen. I’m sitting on the clinic table as the cuts in my hands and arms are cleaned and stitched, my mother saying over and over that it was an accident, that I was horsing around and fell. I sit. I don’t hiss when they clean my wounds, the sharp alcohol sting, the soft voice of the nurse saying that’s it, you’re going to feel a little pressure, almost done here, and the pinch and pull of the suturing, all the time my mother elaborating on the imaginary incident. I keep my mouth shut, just listen to her over and over, the word accident over and over, an empty echo, and that is when I begin to hate her.
I am twenty-two. I wake up damp and bone cold and completely alone. I remember feeling overwhelmed and walking into the dark, I remember kneeling and crying, I remember everything, but what I can’t understand is how could they let me go? How could they not come looking for me? The sky is white and painful and my clothes are heavy and uncomfortable. I feel grey, washed out, used up. I stand up and start to walk, away from the people I thought I could call friends. I don’t know it yet, but I will find a road, will make it back to town. They will call, say they looked for me, and maybe that is true, but I will never find out. I will never give them the chance to apologize.
It is my twenty-eighth birthday. I walk away from the funeral home, I will let them bury my mother alone, and, still in my suit, I walk straight to the bus station. I buy a ticket to a city where I don’t know anybody, where nobody knows me, far away from my hometown with the ghosts and memories and unwelcome triggers. The bus pulls up, the door opens. I stand on the edge of the curb, look at my shoes, toes poking over the edge. I am leaving, and I swear it, this time I will never come back. The bus driver speaks, but his words mean nothing. I look up from my shoes and see that his face is kind, if not a little impatient. Are you coming, he says, are you ready to go? I look down again, take the step off the edge. Yes, I say to the kind-faced bus driver. Yes, I say. I think I am ready to go.
I had this idea that there are moments in our lives where you get to decide whether or not to jump, distinct from events happening to us when we have to either take it or adapt. It doesn't always happen, and it isn't always clear at the time, but we find ourselves on edges sometimes, and we get to decide.
In my own life there have been a few that I can identify, and sometimes I jumped, and sometimes I didn't.
Mostly when I didn't I wish I had. But I can be forgiven, right, for a little cowardice? I'm scared of heights.
Thanks for reading my stuff, whoever you are. If you like what I do, please share it with your friends and neighbors that also might like it. That kind of thing helps us indies a lot; in fact, we are counting on it for our success. If you want to, please feel free to comment here, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter @RDPullins, or email me dissent dot within @ gmail dot com. I am always super glad to hear from anyone. Thanks again. Bless.