Aimee Bender + 100
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She was startled by what she saw on the bridge; it did not seem to have a shape, and yet it was moving toward her, and she found herself inexplicably compelled to stay put. She counted things to calm herself. Streetlights almost hidden by fog: 3. Parked cars tipped sideways: 2. Fat shadows so close you could touch them and feel their breath: 1. but she pulled a Marlboro red from her pocket & lit it, giving her time to figure out this shape cutting closer. Holes in the fog where it pressed through, nothing but her cigarette to hold on to, watching ashes light the descent, or was it just her wanting to see light on the ash — anything familiar and glowing. She needed glowing tonight, she needed familiar. Because so far, things had not gone according to plan. It was madness to come here, she knew. Yet, she’d been compelled to answer the phone. To obey that seemingly familiar voice charred with static. To agree to this place and time.
She worried for a moment that it was something in her own biology; a trick of the eye or a glitch in her brain was fooling her in the failing light. But sure enough, the human form came further and further towards her and she could only think of Glen’s voice saying to her, “don’t go out alone. “ She turned quickly, startled by a whooshing sound. Was it a bird flying through the enveloping fog? She couldn’t tell. Then it was gone. Am I in the right place? To come here by myself, this late? Should have asked Olivia to come with me? She dropped the cigarette in a small puddle of water.
Then she thought of Don, and wondered why she listened to him, instead. He had such a grip on her. He was her narcotic and she couldn’t resist his temptation. Now she was face to face with this lurking thing, this fear that was no less real than her addiction to him. When she asked Glen to accompany her, he said he had to work that night. Then they watched TV until he had to leave. For a while, she thought about not going. She weighed her options, she felt no fight or flight instinct, she knew she would have to succumb to what was about to happen. But the lumbering figure slowed down to a halt. It’s a funny thing, fear. Curiosity mixed with repulsion. In the dark, on the bridge, her body electrified by fear, she called out. “Hello?” The air felt hollow with words in it.
“How long have you been waiting?” the figure asked from the darkness.
She had borrowed her roomate’s fishnet stockings for the evening and now regretted it. They were a size too large. Loose nylon bunched around her legs — shackles of cankles. How the f*ck am I going to run like this? Her whole body fidgeted, toes curling tight, gripping against the inside of her boots. Hands in pockets caught hold of a cold lone coin and crumpled bus tickets — when did she last take the bus? Her eyes were locked on the shadow, feet immovable and determined to stay, nerves rattling inside. Liquid spewed out of the the animal. It shambled like a cart full of beer bottles. It smelled like garbage, but it had a consistent smell, like a heap of discarded perfume samples and half-empty toothpaste tubes. It smelled like her old room back in Toronto. Christ, was that motes of light peeling from it? It existed within an unreality of its own, static. “All my life,” she answered, the words coming without volition.
What makes us like the animals: fight or flight or deer in headlight? She thought of camping with her father as a girl, how he had rigged bear bags in trees to secure their belongings and taught her to create the illusion of largeness in their presence. She had used this trick on men, too. Though she remained in place, she would not be the deer; she would be the bigger bear, if through appearances only. She took a polaroid camera from her bag and turned the lens on herself, holding it stiffly at arm’s length. “Maybe that thing’s not all that’s out of focus tonight”, she thought. When her eyes recoverd from the flash she saw her picture hanging from the camera like a square tongue.
She threw the photograph on the ground. Evidence in event of death.
Then the bridge was collapsing. The pavement shuddered beneath her feet. A rumbling sound rose and enclosed her like a cave. She smelled asphalt and twisting metal. Thrown backwards to the ground, she glanced down at her hand that once held her cigarette. Parts of her hand seemed to lose its figure, had become amorphous. She panicked at first. Reaching her other hand over, she slowly started to shape her hand. As much as she wanted to, she resisted the urge to break down and cry, her tongue pushing tight against her teeth to hold back the tears. How had her life fractured so badly that she’d ended up here?
When he had said, I’m unraveling, while gesturing toward the green woolen strand at the cuff of his sweater, expecting her to do something about it she couldn’t resist giving the string a hard tug. That was probably the beginning of the end. An end that came too late. So why here, in the fog, were her hands shapeshifting. First no thumb then two thumbs. At eight, her brother dropped a knife on her foot, severing the little toe. She stared at the floor, feeling heat rise through her. Tendons and muscles tingled, sliding the toe back But there was no pain. None. And it startled her, to know, as she always had, that she could not feel.
A mangy dog was at her side, sitting, panting expectantly for a treat as if he’d been there all along. A heart shaped tag hung from his neck, hooked to a tattered collar. She ran her thumb over the engraving. “My name is GLEN” it read. He had gotten his shots. Bridge of cracked mirrors? Fog, stinky monster, fading digits, now this mangy Glen.
No, I don’t feel pain, gifting me girlsauce power. Yesterday, I slammed two thugs into concrete for bullying cousin Dane. But I have to guard myself from pounding every jerk I meet, so I’m not afraid to face you.
“Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real” the man said stepping out of the dark and turning the beast to stone. “This is not real”, she said clutching on to Glen, her boyfriend who was now manifest in dog form. “The only real thing is intuition”. He reached out his hand. She grabbed it. But she did not feel at ease. In fact, she felt nothing. She looked down and saw the veins swim under the skin of Glen’s hand as it tightened around hers. But she did not feel its warmth nor grip — not even the stick of a palm gone sweaty in a situation like this. “This is not real,” she said again. “You wanted to meet. Here I am,” she said.
The figure shuffled toward the bridge rail.
“It wasn’t my fault,” he said. He grabbed the lamp post and pulled himself up on the rail, and balanced there like a tightrope walker.
“I had to make a choice. It had nothing to do with you,” she said. “But if you think the camera is the only one who will see us, you’re wrong. Do you know how identifiable I, for example, am? I’ve been nine-toed since eight, and you, you’re trailing yarn. We will be found.”
“I’m not afraid of bugs or private eyes,” he said.
Photo from http://justincmcintosh.com/.