falling

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Light reflects off of dull, once-painted metal covered in blood in a very specific way. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And believe me, I should know. I’ve seen more than my share of strange things. Not that it matters, anyway.

It’s almost red—the light—or maybe orange, watered down by sunlight. It casts a red splotch on the sky, and the people, darker in some places where the blood is thicker, and lighter in spots where the ooze has dripped down, down, down, pulled by gravity to pool on the luscious green of the new grass below. Pulled by gravity to wait for someone to come and find it, to scream, to run, to faint. To stand and stare, a single tear falling gently, unbeknownst to the crier, down their cheek.

When I first saw the red shadow in the sky, I swear it looked like roses. Red, scarlet roses. Beautiful roses.

Then I looked up at the merry-go-round.
  
And I didn’t think the blood looked like roses anymore.


***

“Gem? Hey, Gem! Mama says to come down!”
  
I don’t want to answer. Why should I bother answering? Why should I bother to care?
  
So I don’t. I stay locked, glued to her bed, my head in the precise spot she used to sleep in. It’s still dented from her tiny, beautiful head of curls.
  
“Peili,” I whisper so quietly I can barely hear it, “where did you go?”
  
I am choking on the effort of holding so many unshed tears inside.


***

Her favorite color was bright yellow. Most little girls like pink and purple—or maybe even blue or something.
  
She liked yellow.

“It’s banana yellow!” she used say sternly, her little crimson mouth puckering up in a bossy expression, her green eyes shining. She would puff up her cheeks when she was angry, and purse her lips like that. Then her tiny fingers would begin frantically twisting and groping around her tight, thick reddish-blonde curls, and she would tremble all over.

No one could comfort her but Mama or me, and when she began crying, only I could convince her everything would be okay.

But it wasn’t.

Oh, God. What have I done?


***

I don’t remember being little. Why don’t I remember being little? Did my parents brainwash me or something? Or am I just abnormal?
  
All my friends can remember first grade, and third grade, and that random time we did a horrible group book report and how Trisha punched Janet on the last day of second grade.
  
I don’t remember it.
  
I used to, when I had Peili around—Peili jumping on the bed, Peili tossing her curls, Peili wearing some new ridiculous princess outfit.
  
Now, I don’t remember being little.
  
Peili would have answered, “Gemmy! Of course you do! You just have to try to remember, okay? You have to want to remember!”
  
But maybe I don’t.
  
Maybe I can’t.


***

I squash my face into her pillow so hard I think the bone in my nose splinters—or maybe not. I can’t really feel it anymore.
  
Or anything else.
  
I’m numb all over, and not that sort of tingly numb you get when your foot falls asleep, or even when your injected with that big, fat needle and your skin gets all puffy.
  
I don’t feel anything
  
but guilt.
  
It was all my fault.
  
Everything.


***

If I knew where Peili is, I’d write her a letter. She’d be able to read it—she always told me that she learned to read my handwriting before real letters.
  
But you know where she is.
  
So tell her I’m sorry. Tell her I should have been watching.
  
Tell her I can’t forgive myself. I’ll never forget this. Tell her it’s okay if she hates me for it.
  
Tell her she doesn’t have to forgive me.
  
Tell her I think about her every single night and every single day and every single second.
  
Tell her I hate myself.
  
Tell her I can’t forgive myself.
  
No, don’t tell her that. It’ll just worry her. She always played mom with me. Tell her I’m fine. And I’ll be okay. Really. Please?
  
Maybe I won’t be, but—
  
God, I can’t lie to Peili. Tell her everything I said, if you want. It’s your choice.
  
Just, please, please, please tell her I’m sorry.
  
And tell her I miss her.
  
Tell her I really do.


***

“Gem, please stop. I forgive you. It wasn’t your fault.”

“It was. You know it. I wasn’t watching you.”
  
“But I was the one who fell.”
  
“Oh, Peili! Don’t say that! It wasn’t your fault!”
  
“Well, it wasn’t yours, either…It wasn’t anyone’s.”
  
“Peili, wait! Where are you going? Stay, please!”
  
“I love you.”
  
“Peili!”


  
“I love you, too.”


***

“Gemma, darling, come and have something to eat.” My mother’s voice seeps through the wood like wet—penetrating and sticky.

“I’m not hungry,” I answer, but I don’t know if she can hear it. My face is still stuffed into the pillow.
  
“Sweetie, please!” Her voice breaks and I think I hear thick, fat tears. “It wasn’t your fault—it wasn’t anyone’s. You know that. You need to come and eat, please. You need to forgive.”
  
I turn away.
  
That is exactly what Peili told me.
  
My eyes are on fire.
  
I’m not crying.
  
I won’t cry.
  
I don’t answer and I don’t come down.


***

I want to dream again. I wonder if Peili was really there.
  
But I think it was just a dream.
  
I curl up on the bed, my arms hugging my chest too hard. My head is bent down to my knees and I hurt all over.
  
Golden flames twist and leap in my eyes, sparkling and gulping, swallowing. Their teeth gnash against my pupils, their tongues flick into the whites of my eyes and eat me, burn me, melt me into a thousand tiny droplets of fire. Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly.
  
I will not cry. I will not cry.


***

I am asleep again. Peili is not there. I hear no voice, see no strawberry curls. Everything is black and hollow. The darkness is swallowing me, suffocating me, pressing in on me and folding and crushing and killing. I cannot breathe.
  
Little bits of red flit before my eyes. Red stains populate the sky.
  
Everything is spinning and spinning, too fast to see anything but red and black and dark.
  
I am holding onto metal and my hands are bloody.
  
And then I am falling into darkness, forever. Falling, falling, falling. Falling. Falling.


***

My eyes snap open audibly. I can hear my eyelids pop and crackle like breakfast cereal.
  
My eyelashes are dry.
  
I see red. And flaxen curls.
  
I squash my face into the pillow again and try not to breathe.


***

“Remember how, when I was sad, only you could comfort me?”
  
“Yes. I don’t like where this is going, Peili.”
  
“You have to comfort yourself this time.”

“I don’t deserve comfort.”
  
“I have to go.”


“I’ll miss you. Please come back. I love you.”
  
“Gemmy?”
  
“Peili.”
  
“Remember.”


***

She is gone.
  
My room is dark—night has crept in through the cracks in the windows, and the stars are choking with clouds. There is no moon tonight.
  
I curl up again and hurt. My eyes are glowing and my body is hot.
  
I will not cry.
  
But Peili is gone. And I am all alone.
  
I fall asleep gently, my eyelids fluttering open at every sound. When the darkness finally envelops me and I am no longer in that in-between state where your body is asleep but your mind roams the corridors of your thoughts, I toss and turn restlessly, dreamlessly, and stay quietly asleep, listening to the deafening pounding of my heart and Peili’s labored breaths.


***

It was so blue, everywhere. Turquoise seeped into the grass and stained it dark aquamarine, and the sky was so deep I couldn’t quite breathe right.
  
The playground was alive with sound and shape and color—a surge of beauty and innocence. Children screamed and laughed, leaping off swings, pouring down slides in torrents, running everywhere.
  
We walked quietly, smiling, laughing a little. Enjoying the stunning day. We were heading for the merry-go-round spinning in the breeze, empty of children.
  
Peili danced her way there. Her reddish, golden swirls and ringlets of hair flew around her, dancing along.

I followed slowly, walking carefully, smiling after Peili.
She jumped up onto the merry-go-round, swung her leg over one side of a bar, sat down. Her face curled into an expectant grin not unlike her dancing tresses.

“Gemmy!” she yelled, “Push me! Pushmepushmepushme!”

I was smiling big goofy smiles and she was laughing and everything was perfect.

It was sunny and beautifully windy—the breeze whipped my hair as I took hold of one of the merry-go-round’s rungs and began to run, gaining speed as Peili shrieked with delight.

Everything was so perfect, so ordinary.

And then I saw Wynn, standing so forlorn on one side of the playground. I waved to him, beckoned him to come over. He loved Peili.

But Wynn didn’t see my flapping hand, and so I let go of the merry-go-round for a brief second, knowing Peili would be fine. She would be—

And I didn’t see her fall. I was running to Wynn, smiling, yelling, and I didn’t think to look back. I didn’t think in a million years she’d fall. I didn’t think she could.

But she did.

And I wasn’t even there to watch her die.


***

“Shhh,” she whispers so quietly, so gently. “Shh, Gemmy.”
  
“Peili? Oh, Peili. Peili. Peili, I—I remembered. I’m so sorry.”
  
“I know. But you don’t need to be. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
  
 “Peili, of course I did. You remember, too. I didn’t watch you. And—and you fell.” I am crying now, finally crying, so fast and hard and terrible I don’t think I will ever stop. The tears sting and burn more than holding them in ever did. Breaths catch in my throat and I gasp.
  
“Gem. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault.”
  
“I—I—” I falter, breaking off, and give another wrenching sob so deep in my chest that it must be buried under mountains. I try to breathe, try to breathe, try—
  
“I know,” I murmur.
  
I can feel Peili smile, and I feel her letting go, and, in the one brief second before the sickening crash, for once in my life, I am flying. Peili is at my side, and we are flying, flying, flying. I am flying. 



*Sorry for the creepy picture. That's actually my wonderful neice, Sadie, being very much alive, as you can see in the original photo.*

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