I originally wrote this as a descriptive narrative essay for my college English class.
Conversations always started like this: boring, uneducated, longing, all in guesses and moments to gain some insight on our future. She walked up to my front door like it was a mile long, slow paces, and in my mind I could hear each footstep crunch and crack as if one foot were lightning and the other, thunder. Crack, boom. Crack, boom. Maybe it was the stones…or maybe it was the sunset we were about to watch together at the end of the town, standing on a bridge that cascaded over the highway like a fragile noose to hold us up above the roar of traffic; the cars like demons, the concrete, hell.
Her blonde hair looked like fire, made brighter and flickering with highlights in the sun. The heat was rising from the pavement, distorting things on the other side of the street as if there were some invisible field blanketing the earth that was now clearly able to be seen. I remember she looked like a flame walking toward me, that hair, the way she moved through the haze.
When she took my hand, it was somehow ice-cold even though the day was burning because it was July and anyone insane enough to come outside would find themselves sweating within minutes. The heat of the sun, that awful stinging heat you can almost feel through your skin; it ignites a fire that turns you red as you continue to burn and itch day and night until you can’t stand it anymore.
People around here all come out of their comfort zones at that point for some reason. I guess the heat goes to their brain, screwing up their mental functions and natural inclinations to stay home in the comfort of air conditioning. They feel the need to talk to each other.
But her hand was cold as she took mine, even in my perception. We could have blasted the air at temperatures lower than zero in the house and still her hand would have felt cold. After a few seconds of us standing in utter silence, it began the return to normal. This was almost funny to me, a brief observation in the song of her that so captivated me, but I couldn’t laugh. I think the heat infected me that day the moment I opened the door to stand on the step, and I began to think of all the things in my life that were wrong and what was to come.
The heat makes you itch, makes you irritable, like there’s so much wrong with the world that you can feel it crawling beneath your skin. The sun wants you to feel it, wants you to consider how mundane life is, what purpose you serve, whether anything you do makes a difference.
It’s funny I felt that way, because it was all too soon to be summed up in the question that she would ask me. We made our way down the sidewalk, cracking a couple leaves along the way and dragging our shoes like sandpaper on the ground. This is what wears us down.
Then there it was, the sound of her sweet voice that somehow made me breathe easier, though the air was ragged. Her voice was like a cool waterfall to dispel the aggravation and dryness of the day, yet the question came just as blunt; a knife to cut through any other worlds I might have disappeared to and bring me back to her reality.
“Where do you think we’ll be in ten years?”
I felt like it was a thought that had subconsciously sprung from my mind into hers and was now given a voice. Nevertheless, it eluded me. For a few seconds I stared down the hill and noticed it was breathing. Yeah…breathing with the distortion of heat like a heart we were somehow walking on. Looking to the ground, I saw cracks and weeds adorning the sidewalk as if they were veins, pumping and throbbing to the beat of our footsteps as we connected, still subconsciously. Another gracious world was smashed out of existence as she tore through and asked the question again.
“Devon…where do you think we’ll be in ten years?”
I should have told her I didn’t know, as that would have been more accurate to the truth. I looked to the houses up on that hill we’d just descended, a classic image meant to demean the lower class of society by sticking the nose of the wealthy in the air. I could almost smell the fresh paint and smooth wood, feel the soft carpeting. No one believes me, but those houses talk. For a moment, I felt so far beneath my class.
“Living under a bridge, maybe?”
She laughed, which felt like a taunting gesture. I was serious. When she looked at me again, her smile disappeared and the flame I had seen earlier was snuffed out. Then again, it could have just been the shadows of the trees we were passing by. I could never be quite certain on days like this. We remained silent for the longest time until we passed the middle class homes, their dying gardens and slightly stained exteriors, the humble stature of the architecture.
“It’s like they’re praying and we’re flaunting our power.”
Everyone wants stability in their lives, yet it’s the most difficult factor to control. Not everyone is built on the strongest ground. That day, I believe there was beauty in noticing the humble, in leaving the tree of wealth and fatality for the winds of uncertainty and potential in the chaos. We jumped and danced like flames at random moments. We walked with no particular direction but somehow arrived at a common destination.
You have to understand, we were burning. Sometimes you shine and sometimes the spotlight buries you. That day, we experienced both ends of the spectrum. We were so alive, we could have been brighter than the sun. She would twirl around, I would laugh. At the same time, her makeup was melting off her face like wax and it was funny because usually she cares about that sort of thing. But sure enough, she just wiped it on her sleeve like a streak of mud, a bit of blue glitter catching my eye with the sun’s reflection that blinded me for a moment. She really was so beautiful.
When I opened my eyes I noticed the overpass, beaten up and weathered down by acid rain and the many years of elements. It was one of those small types where you’re lucky if you see a car driving over it within ten minutes. And maybe a lot more passed than usual on that particular day, because the heat was getting everywhere; there could have been one car, there could have been a thousand. In all seriousness, I don’t think it would have mattered. Destiny would still have led us both here.
She walked to the fence almost as slowly as she had walked to my doorstep with the same crack, boom, crack, boom. Like thunder and lightning, the perfect complement to one another. She raised her hands, grasping the wires and letting her head rest against it.
“Come here and look.”
I took the same position, falling against that fence. It felt like we were gazing into the highway as if it were a crystal ball, still asking the same questions to ourselves, still looking for some answers about the future. This moment was paradise like none other. Maybe it was that I was sweating too much, maybe it was the distortion, but the colors, the heat…everything gradually seemed saturated and brighter. My mind felt clearer as we continued to dream and talk. I had failed to notice this before.
The heat was getting to me and I could feel my body sweltering as if swollen from the sunburn I had gotten two days before. I took off my shirt and she made some remark about being sexy that I couldn’t make out over the roar of the highway. I laughed as I thought of my answer to her question again.
“This is the bridge we’re going to live under!” I shouted. I thought she was going to die when she started laughing. She grabbed her stomach and fell to the ground. When I glanced upwards, it suddenly stopped. Time slowed down almost to a standstill, and I saw a red car drive by. It was on fire, or maybe it was painted that way. Between her laughing and the skeletal man driving the car, the roaring and screeching of demons underneath us on the hot cement and concrete, the smoke and those damn distortions, the hot coals of that man’s eyes…maybe this truly was hell.
I willingly fell forward with outstretched arms over top of her, and time returned. My head was on her chest, and I could feel her heart beating like that big hill we had traversed the long way down, the one that felt like her chest did now, rising and falling like a wave. She was the real thing; all the passion of fire, her eyes, her hair, that heart beating throughout the hell of the day. She embraced my head in her arms.
“This isn’t really happening, is it? Us connecting?”
“Everything seems so clear though…it’s manic like a flame and yet relaxed. The day is dying.”
“So are we…we’re nothing permanent. Everyone will vanish, the sun takes it all, and even our little rich houses will turn old.”
“It doesn’t matter where we go, Kate. People don’t always change. We still have each other, always.”
“Always? Even after today? We’re in hell, you know.”
“Well at least I’m with you.”
She kissed me, and I tasted several different fruits from the gum she had been chewing in little bursts like new colors of the sun I’d realized just moments before. Banana, strawberry, citrus, orange. My eyes were closed and I could see us standing in a field full of flowers with a cool and gentle breeze blowing over us. This moment lasted forever, until an unpredictable short gust of wind suddenly hit us. It was hot air, but a bit cooler than usual. We opened our eyes and Kate looked to the horizon as we both sat up.
“The sunset,” she sighed.
It was the most beautiful thing I saw that day besides her face. The purple was her eye shadow, the last golden rays were her hair, and the clouds were the mascara that was now beginning to run as her tears fell in adoration of this natural masterpiece. I held her as we gasped, still waiting forever for the sun to set, the heat to end, and the day to be done.
It looked like a finger painting we had done once in the third grade. Some of those purple spots were rather haphazardly placed, like God’s fingerprints were reaching out to show us who we were, the reflections in the clouds made it look like a candle, and of course that distortion made it jump. Or maybe it looked like water, and just maybe we were standing on a “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, that song I used to hum to her.
And maybe it’d kind of funny that there’s a homeless man walking over the barrier ten feet away from us and my mind is still clouded. Maybe it hasn’t happened at all, and perhaps this was just a beautiful dream I can’t take my mind off. But I feel confident now, so much stronger. The sunset was a painting for us, I knew that much. It was like eating a Starburst, like tasting the leftover flavors of her gum, like feeling burnt, like shining in the spotlight.
That whole image was one giant summation of our day spent together and hopefully many more to come. Love is something we didn’t discuss; maybe that was the red, or maybe the red from that passing car. And maybe we weren’t supposed to talk about it anyway.
We embraced, and I took her hand in mine. It was still cold as ice as the sun went down. Maybe the red was blood. I remember her mascara running, her tears falling, the cars falling out of all manner of view and vision. The screaming of demons, the laughter from far below; it wasn’t just a question, but an expiration date. She always told me about her dreams of burning in hell, particularly on those same burning, hot-as-hell days when she wanted to talk to me. Her hand is still cold as ice.
I flash back: her funeral, the smell of beautiful flowers, the taste of…no. I woke up in a cold sweat one night in my bed, my body sweltering with the heat of…and I took my shirt off. Somewhere in the distance is laughter, unless it’s my imagination. Somewhere in the distance, I can see the sunset and somewhere on my wall is the finger painting we did in third grade.
I don’t remember her dying at all, which is funny. She still comes to my doorstep sometimes, but it’s not her. She has a different face, different eyes, those things are black as coals. Shall we talk about love? Why not, Kate?
“It really is all candy-coated lies and sweet tastes, anyway.”
That’s what she would say. She always told me she hated people who were married and couldn’t stand the thought of spending her life with someone. Then again, this was years ago.
And here I am, crying down the hill and still stepping a rhythm in time, gazing at the veins of the sidewalk and praying that each stomp, each clap of thunder and crack of lightning might defibrillate your dead heart and bring you back to me. I’m still standing on the bridge over hell because it’s the sweetest memory I’ll ever have of you, staring at a stupid old finger painting because it’s all we really did together as kids.
Here I am, my beautiful girl, waiting for you until the waking dawn to show me your sunrise, to smell the sweet scents of your flowers, taste the fruits of your kiss, and dream of the love we still share, ten years later.
“Take me home, please…”
I vow to stay here until the heat gives me some damn good courage to jump the fence, or if I’m lucky, maybe the veins of this cement will explode and the bridge will carry me down to hell. Either way…
I think I’ll still be here in another ten years.