One leg over the bridge guardrail. A moment of straddling. The girl imagines herself riding a horse into a fire. The second leg over the guardrail. And one big step. That really is all it takes.
Wind whistles in the girl’s ears as the bridge recedes above her, its metal girders cutting the sky into triangle segments. Sky becomes a mosaic. She pins her arms to her side hoping to speed her descent. Girl becomes a bomb.
Her sneakers puncture the still surface of the lake, a sound like shattering glass, and as the water takes her in, her ripples skate across the surface of the lake, out past the bridge, out to the horizon.
It’s an old story. The big first step. The willful move into the tumultuous unknown. The hero’s journey. It’s an old story. It’s not this story.
The girl feels the water entering her. It soaks her skin, assaults her eyes. It snakes into her ears, fills her nostrils. It tickles her under her chin, coaxing her to open her mouth. Like a kitten mewling at the door, the water wants in.
The girl sees the fish, huge and listless as a blimp, wide-set eyes big and dull as dinner plates. The fish swims toward the girl. Its barbels wave like skeletal, accusing fingers.
Inches from the girl the great fish transforms, nature’s magic. Tah-dah. Eyes gone. Barbels gone. The great fish becomes a gaping mouth, becomes a blackhole lined with rows of razor-wire teeth.
The girl tumbles headfirst, helpless, hopeful, into the darkness.
It’s an old story. The big first step. The willful move into the tumultuous unknown, a tumble into the primal, the essential. Man’s return to nature. It’s an old story. It’s not this story.
The girl can’t even tell up from down, darkness thick as a wool blanket. For a moment she imagines she has returned to the womb. Girl becomes fetus. Fish becomes mother.
The girl gropes the air, hopes her fingertips might reveal the world around her. Something slick and wet and bumpy, its gives slightly when she pushes against it, makes a noise like the squish of a damp sponge. The girl brings her hands back to her face. They smell like stale whiskey. They smell like raw meat. When she licks them they taste like iron.
It’s an old story. The big first step. The willful move into the tumultuous unknown, a tumble into the primal, the essential. Complete consumption. Exploration. The stranger in a strange land. It’s an old story. It’s not this story.
A sudden zig, a sharp zag. Movement, a rushing through space, a sound like water whooshing toward a drain surrounds the girl. The great fish spirals through the water. The great fish spirals through the water circulating on a rotating planet. The great fish spirals through the water circulating on a rotating planet spinning laps around the closest star. So many circles, and the girl is along for the ride. Helpless, hopeful, the girl just wants to hold on, just wants to feel it all spin.
It’s an old story. The big first step. The willful move into the tumultuous unknown, a tumble into the primal, the essential. Complete consumption. Exploration. Recognition. The hero wrestles fear. The hero confronts themselves. It’s an old story. It’s not this story.
The girl knows the fish now, knows the fish the way she knows her own breath. She knows where the fish is going. She knows what happens next.
They will travel to the deepest part of the lake, girl and fish, dive down, down, down, dive beyond the reach of sunbeams, dive until they settle on the soft clay bottom, darkness all around them thick and comforting as a wool blanket.
The clay of the bottom will smell like rich compost, like decay reborn, death become life. In the soft clay bottom they will dig, flap fins, churn tail, until they settle into the clay, until they have dug out a place of their own, until they wear the planet on their back.
And then they will shake, together, and they will feel it, a wobble in the eternal spinning circles. They will feel the whole world spinning a bit differently while they are together.
It’s an old story. The big first step. The willful move into the tumultuous unknown, a tumble into the primal, the essential., consumption, exploration recognition, consecration. It’s a love story. It’s this story. This is a love story.
Tom Weller is a former factory worker, Peace Corps volunteer, Planned Parenthood sexuality educator, and college writing instructor who recently relocated to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. His fiction has appeared in a variety of journals including Litro, Epiphany, Phantom Drift, Paper Darts, Booth, and Jellyfish Review.
Artwork by: Robin Basalaev-Binder
Robin Basalaev-Binder is an artist and urban planner living between New Jersey and Montreal with her partner and inspiration, Cesar. She uses primarily watercolors, gouache, conté, and inks in her art. She believes in fighting injustice through resistance, critical thought and creativity.