She did not jump, but fell.
She was pushed. I’m sure of it! There was a man with her. They were arguing, fighting.
Where did he go?
I’m not sure. He vanished. We all had our eyes on the girl.
She met Gregory on a Tuesday, as the sun leeched the color from the day. Here’s the thing: He was charming. She was teaching and he wanted to be taught.
Hands in his pockets, jaw thrust at the world. That was how he approached her, eyes cast sideways under a fringe of hair.
I heard you know something about Davidoff’s “Virtues.”
He painted them while he was a student of mine.
I came here to meet inspiration.
I was hardly the inspiration for his work.
I didn’t say you were.
Isaac “Deep” Bowles was a fisherman who settled his longing by attaching a line to the sea. He sat on a folding chair and gave a coin the color of a fish scale to every kid who passed on the pier. Sure he’d seen her. How could he miss her? She wandered tip to tail of the pier for two days straight wearing that same white dress. If she had stayed longer they might have nicknamed her, ‘The White Lady,’ ‘Ghost,’ or maybe ‘Lacy.’ The dress was—improbably—lace, he mused.
Terrence “Terrier” McGee remarked to Deep that the gentle rounding of her belly suggested she was waiting for someone, something. They nudged each other, cast their lines, sucked the insides of their cheeks and watched her with a combination of fatherly protection and shame over their desire. She drifted, toward them and away.
What are you looking for?
The meaning of something.
Just a notion that keeps repeating in my mind. A question of impressions. I wonder at the ones I’ve made and the ones I’ve received. It makes me question the things I think I know.
You impress me.
Ha! That’s the point isn’t it? We’ve been meeting for weeks now.
Every morning, the view from her window led to another sunrise over the water. She ran on the treadmill like test-driving a fast car; like Icarus flying into the sun. She was going nowhere quick.
Behind the house there was a path through the corn she wore down to bare earth. He met her there. At the bottom of the cliff was a little cave they could get to if the tide was out. She vocalized the remainder of her reservations and he put out a hand to touch her, pointing at the horizon with the other. There, he said. There is the balance you seek. There is the meaninglessness of everything.
The eastern shore, she decided, left her feeling jagged.
She was staring again at the cornfield, the cave and the sea.
You’re much too young for me. With the luxury of being faithless.
She was alone in the house, holding the phone to her ear. Waiting for his breath to tell her that she was alive.
Age is nothing. Nothing but a number.
Age is a year. A year is months, weeks, days. What is this then, if all of that means nothing?
This is the line. This is the line we drew in the sand. The path we cut through the corn.
Even then she was thinking she would have to pull the old suitcase out of the closet, choose clothes, fold and piece together some semblance of a temporary life because she could not stay here, divided. All of that would take time and there was never enough of it to begin with. So she packed nothing at all but the pictures.
She began counting seconds like so many blessings. Like counting telephone poles and thinking of swimming through them; the pilings of a pier. She drove to California. All the way to the Pacific, just to see the sun sink ripe into the sea.
The telephone poles raced by her window like shadows raced along a cornfield. She used to chase them, heart-sure, feet pounding the dirt.
She drove for seven days and all seven nights she dreamed of water.
She rented out a little cottage the size of her regret. After a night alone with nothing but the breeze from the ocean, she was ready to crawl from one shell to another with more room.
She paced the pier, waiting like she had on another coast. For whoever came for her first. Colored ropes like a crayon rainbow hung from the rail of the pier. The sun came up hot behind her, bleaching the color of everything and she trailed her hand across the weathered wood, stopping at the spider-webs that stretched their skein between the boards. She marveled at the irony of caught things, the uncompromising nature of traps. The silken lengths we go to when we’re caught.
In the cottage she spread the pictures on the table: herself and Gregory on the beach by their cave, driving in the car, smiling on the grass at the park. Photographic memories of their day in the sun.
Of course I didn’t push her! I didn’t vanish so much as went to find help. I didn’t know what to do. I threw my arms out as she fell. I couldn’t catch her. It must have been this that they saw.
There was a lifetime in those photographs.
He would go back to that always, her husband. To the cottage room with his back pressed against a wall. Where he asked her what it meant and all he could see were the faces in the photographs stirred by the breeze through the window. Taking on a life of their own.
It meant one of any number of things. It meant that when they found her there was nothing but a white line on her finger where his ring had been.