“nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy.”
The first step is always the hardest, I tell myself as I walk onto the bridge. Before there is railing, there is sidewalk and a wall which makes it easier because I can’t see how far down the river is. The wall is a dark forest green with bright geometric patterns painted all along it to distract from the industrial backdrop. From the paper cups in the gutter. From the snarling motorbikes and the exhaust; the clouds of dust that coat my clothes and need more laundering that I am willing to provide in such a persisting languid state. I cannot lift my head from a pillow inside my own manor but out here I am sharp. I am aware every time a car drives by me. I am aware of every plastic straw in the gutter. I am aware when men walk by me or when they are thirty to seventy feet behind. My fingernail is scraping the side of the wall in her own geometric patterns. Even though I do this walk daily, I first had to conquer it. It’s not that I am scared of heights.
“It’s that I’m scared of everything,” I tell Camille.
She is making Ethiopian in her apartment for us. I am trying to rectify winter to explain it to someone, immobilized by stage, yet, also drawn to it spending most of my time creating paper audience members in my living room. I pace my cage daily speaking out loud, rehearsing, pretend one is you and how can I explain your meaning in it without going all the way back?
I should go back. I am three feet onto the bridge which is neither empty nor full. A puttering of people surround me to ignore me and I am quite frankly used to it. This is trepidation, I stop. You only enter the circle with perfect trust. The brown rust of the track shrieks.
Camille is placing injera bread in front of me and I am asking, “Did I ever tell you about the story of XXX?’
Never knowing where to begin. I am always three places if I am any less than nine and the first step is always the hardest, I think as I place my boot gently on the frozen water praying that the glacial December and January we had would support me. It started innocently enough: seven snowstorms that filled the valley but before that a cool and calm change in foliage and deep need to explore any detritus. Each trail. A deep need to feel the weather change in capes and skirts and on the ground, together. Inseparable and tethered by proximity. Childhood bonds are formed by who is closest.
“February is the coldest month. Everyone forgets.”
Cross-legged braiding my sister’s hair, I have started this. We are in the woods. This was October. Matter of factly I say which is which and often. I could be described as precise, studious, earnest, stepped on.
“You think Palatinus is frozen solid?”
“God, no. Loga, probably,” I correct her. “Palatinus is too large.”
I am grabbing the railing and watching the train, hearing the scream of the friction announce her arrival and my sister is leaning into my hands, head backwards. Her nails dig into the top of her skirt so as not to wince as I pinched her twice already for moving, and I am precise. Don’t like fussiness or wimps. Let’s get it done. Yet, I have been stomped on. You only enter the circle with perfect love.
“Where do the fish go?” Liliana asks.
She is placing twigs in a circle and then a cross between them. I don’t bother asking what she is doing anymore. Eventually her ignoble tic will begin and she will tell us exactly what she is doing and what we are doing next to support it.
“They go deeper.”
“They don’t die?” Kamelia asks, knowing not to turn towards me but wanting to. Could feel her body shift slightly on my lap.I pat her back with my free hand.
“Some, sure, but most swim beneath the layer of ice and live out the season. We just see the top sheet. Underneath it’s business as usual.”
“Some freeze to death,” Liliana asserts. I am not looking at her, but I hear her, moving objects around, leaves ruffling, the sound of rocks clanking together. When it’s too quiet, a sniffle to assert her presence behind us.
“Yeah. Some get caught in the top layer,” I hear a ssst sound from her direction. “Some were weak to begin with.” I turn my head slightly, just the periphery to see what it is. I know better than to make things known
Liliana is striking a match on a rock.
“You think you could walk across, Katarina?” she asks.
I am picking at the collard greens Camille prepared and fumbling with the beginning, “I could not stop thinking about this person.” I am moving the injera bread to the side. “And I hadn’t seen them in a year.”
It is 85 degrees, 6:56 pm, and I am shaking, clutching at the rail, biting my tongue so hard that a dribble of blood has started down my chin.
Naturally concerned and reproving, I let go of Kamelia’s hair to hold both my hands out, preparing to possibly get up. .“Liliana, careful. We are surrounded by trees.”
I feel my sister twitch and my left hand pinches the piece of skin on her wrist her blouse sleeve doesn’t cover. Naturally concerned and matronly, I have always taken a hold of her. Kamelia moves no more.
“Could you walk the whole lake, princess Kat?” she repeats, holding the leaf up, leering through the flame.
I know better. She will blow it out. I know better. I can feel my sister blinking, waiting. Careful not to swallow too loudly, this is a soft dance between the three of us: silent, patient, unnoticed.
“Yes, Queen Lily,” I am looking over the railing, paused, speaking out loud, not noticing the gash I created, the drying liquid on my chin or anything really, pushing collard greens around with my fork but not eating. “I suppose if I ever had to, I could.
She lets it burn down halfway before I see the deep inhale.
“But only in February. At the peak.”
Liliana’s grimacing and twirling the glowing leaf between her dirt-capped black fingers. The back of my sister’s head is nestled on my chest now, relaxing into the stand-off. At least she has reprieve from the pulling, the scalp tightening and grateful for the pause between my pawing and nails, untouched by the scene on the other side of me. I turn back to Kamelia knowing she won’t put the flame out while I am watching. I begin to count the seconds and dig my hands back into her thick dark hair. Not swallowing too deeply or moving a muscle on my face so neither can feel my disquiet. Make some plan to pull it and run if I don’t hear the exhale loudly enough. My sister straightens her back in perfect trust; neither one of us facing the devil between us.