Of the Essence

We were nineteen when we climbed the dam. It was just before our last summer holiday, and I remember we were standing on the edge, the three of us in a line, the lake at our backs, a black wound in the crust of the earth. No touching, I thought. One of us might lose their balance and fall. Always better to fall alone, there’d be people left to tell the story.

Such was the silence that night, I could hear every thought of death forming behind my temples. Grains of sand grinding under my feet. I was terrified.

There was a village at the bottom of the lake, C had said. Earlier, before any of us had even considered stepping up onto the ledge of the world. I was eating an apple by the kitchen window when I saw the car pull over by the gate. Wings fluttered. I swallowed a badly chewed bite and felt it leaving a painful mark going down my throat. Then I ran out.

In the back seat, I wiped my hands on the front of my t-shirt. It was hot and dusty and we were very close to each other. The clutch and a couple of breaths of air were the only things keeping their skins apart and the thought of that made me shiver.

I remember everything.

Random cars passing by, M’s hands on the wheel, his fingers drumming to a rhythm only he could hear. The back of his head, the end of each hair. His eyes in the mirror. The white space between his eyebrows, wide enough for my thumbprint to fit on. C had turned back to face me and was telling us the story of the drowned village. How they’d been building the dam around it and people still wouldn’t leave their homes, how they stayed until hours before the waters came, living their lives like they’d seen a thousands floods come and go. Then ran for the hills and looked on for hours, as the waters slowly swallowed everything. Praying for a crack in the dam.

“I love you guys.” – C whispered. The mountains echoed it a million times, turning it into a hissing I found disturbing. And I hated the word. Love. It was so unlike him, unlike us, to randomly throw such words at one another, these cheesy, meaningless words they built soap operas on. I was glad the proximity of danger didn’t bring out the mushy romantic in me. That I’d managed to keep my cool, and not confess to things I’d regret later, in the light of day, safe from the edge of the precipice.

Instead, I was thinking about the village at the bottom. Picturing the church’s spire still standing high, algae and blue plastic bags tangled around the arms of the cross. Ghosts of the drowned dragging their feet down the narrow streets, killer boulders still in their pockets.

I guess when you’re nineteen, you believe there will be many people you’ll connect with. I’d be climbing atop a hundred other dams, I must have thought. What dams, I’d be strolling along The Great Wall of China, I would. Among people who would read my mind and finish my sentences. I’d be happy and not miss a thing. I’d have no regrets. For several years, I’d built a life for myself based on all that. Little houses, little streets, little people who told me their most intimate little secrets. And then, life. We never saw it coming.

Pastel

We were 12, the girls and I. We’d squeezed together on a bench by the tracks. It was painted green and the paint was cracked, like all paints those days. The dust, brick red, and the runners advancing closely together, like they weren’t even competing. More like a group of equally vulnerable strangers fleeing en masse from some blockbuster natural disaster.

We had different colours. Patricia was the darkest. She was “fit”, they said, and turned their heads to watch her go when she walked down the halls in tight Lotus jeans and bright sleeveless tops. Everything looked bright on her skin.

Averything about Cristina was caramel themed. Her tan, her sweaters, her chapstick flavor. She was the brightest of our lot and knew it, she could figure out all the equations in record time and always had her hand up in class. Now she was dangling her feet and rubbing her left eye with a paper tissue. The dust was troubling her she said, but we knew. She’d started using mascara for a week or two and was still poking herself in the eye with the brush every morning. Patricia giggled, she didn’t need mascara, her eyelashes were as dark as they got.

We wouldn’t try it for another year, we’d decided, Iulia and I. She was untangling a piece of red string holding her keys together. Her fingers were long and pale, her nails unpolished. She was just right. She never yelled and never blushed and never said or did anything embarrassing, all the teachers liked her and all the boys loved her, even Patricia knew she was going to get all the marriage proposals in a couple of years, and she wasn’t even that fit, she was skinny and almost transparent and never managed to smile properly in any of our yearbook photos.

We’d been fighting. Almost like we were hating each other. And not even properly, out in the open honestly hating our guts but in secret, keeping our hates in our tiny pockets and tiny purses like lady fire arms, all shiny and new and toy like, but equally deadly. If only we could race it off, I thought. If only we did the running on the dusty track that day, not a bunch of sweaty high school boys who didn’t know we existed but who’d managed to get us out in the sun and together, peacefully together after so many spite filled episodes.

“We’re mean to each other.” – I whispered, swallowing loudly. There was hot dust in the air. Patricia was biting her tomato red fingernails, watching the race without blinking. The poplar trees were turning yellow in the sun. Several years later, they cut them all down and there was no place left to hide from everything.

Iulia was the first to get married. There’s a photo of the two of us on her wedding day, we’re both standing next to the men who loved us at the time, our backs straight and our curls perfect, and she’s smiling. Patricia had a son. He’s so amazing I bet all the pig-tailed girls in his kindergarten class think he’s fit. Cristina is an engineer. She is beautiful. She wears her hair shorter and her skin tanned and no makeup. I think she still keeps her hate in a pocket, and rubs it shiny with a soft cloth every time we meet. We seldom see each other. Things change after a race.

Iulia was tying the red string around her finger. “We’re only growing up.” – she said, just loud enough to be heard in the craziness that followed. Someone had won and was jumping around in a cloud of bloody dust, his fellow runners patting his back. Patricia leaped up screaming, clapping her tiny tomato painted hands. The paint was cracked. Some of the runners looked our way and smiled.

I Feel So Close To You Right Now…

…it’s a force field.

This is how I remember it. The two of us, leaning against the railing by Niagara river. Not in front of the falls, where countless digital cameras click and flash in the mist. The best view is from above, they said. So we walked along the touristy path to the very top, nothing there but a deserted bus stop and the Canadian flag fluttering in the wind.

The cliff breaks without warning, a slice of bread one’s taken big a bite of. I look down. Towards the edge, the waters run shallow. Turquoise blue, one of those artificial shades you sometimes see in hotel swimming pools. The bottom seems close, like you could almost touch the pebbles. But there aren’t any. The river takes everything with it in its fall, and the bottom is bare, like a wall, or the inside of a cereal bowl.

Your love pours down on me, surrounds me like a waterfall

This is it, I think to myself. We’ll be telling stories about this. Even if we break up and swear not to think or feel of one another again, we’ll always have this to think and feel about. A memory of falling waters, handcuffing us to each other for the rest of time.

I wear my heart upon my sleeve, like a big deal.

All my life I’ve been afraid of water. I don’t even remember why anymore, if ever there was a reason. It’s the fear I remember. Its different shades, its moments of particular terror. I’m anchored to the railing, both hands holding tight. It barely reaches my waist. It would take no effort to climb to the top and jump. Or reach too far and lose balance. Stupidly brave, I smile.

And there’s no stopping us right now.