Push (Push #1)


by Claire Wallis

Emma’s Prologue

I am standing on the bridge, and in a rush of brutal and beautiful clarity, I know. I know that I am not the only one. I know that he has done this before. With other women. In other cities. On other bridges. But it doesn’t matter. They weren’t me.

How could he have been so careless?

The green fabric of my dress is clinging to my skin, and the air is calm and humid. My hands are tied behind me, but I’m not crying. I’m not fighting. My skin is not burning with anger or fear. My brain is in charge of my body, and it is telling my instincts to go fuck themselves. As I look out over the dark river, it is all falling into place. The picture is whole.

His breath is steady, deep. He’s always been the calm that feeds off my turmoil, is thrilled by it even. But not today. Today there is only peace. I know what he needs from me, and even as I stand here on the edge of everything, I love him. If he asked me to jump, I would. There would be no hesitation. I know that now, and he knows it, too. I suspect he always has.

I can feel the remarkable beauty in his anticipation. Doing this one thing is going to make him very, very happy, far happier than anything else we have ever done together. It is going to make everything better. I know it.

I will not fail.

I suddenly feel his hand on my face. I quietly sigh and push my head into his palm, feeling the softness of his skin. Inhaling his scent. His smile is small, sheltered. But if I do this, if this happens, his face will open with joy, and his teeth will show and his eyes will brighten. He will be unstuck.

His hand falls from my face, and he drops to his knees. The sacks of sand at my feet—on my feet—feel dense. I stand still as he knots them slowly to my ankles. I am quiet because I am not afraid. I am not sad.

Right after we met, he brought me to this bridge. He showed me the colorful graffiti painted across the trusses and told me that this illicit art had turned a simple bridge into a masterpiece. It was someone’s opus, he said. The fact that some kid, probably unaware of his own talent, could create something so moving obviously touched him deeply. At the time, I wondered why he was so captivated by it. But now...now it is clear. He knew, even then, that all this would come to be. Because it had happened before. With the others.

Still, none of it matters.

Because I am here now, and I am the one.

David’s Prologue

I love her. Truly, I do. And that’s something I cannot say about any of the others. I am, however, a goddamned son of a bitch, and despite my adoration of her, I need this. I need to do this.

I thought that, perhaps, I was past all this fucked-up bullshit. I thought that I could go on being with her forever. For the first time in my life, I was enjoying a taste of contentment. Happiness. But then, as it always does, the unrelenting ache swirled back into me, striking through me, biting into my brain like a gnawing hunger. A craving for a single, perfect moment in which I have absolute control. I can’t ignore it. Even with her. Even though I really do love her back.

I am standing on the bridge, and something in her face suddenly tells me she’s figured it out. She knows that she is not the only one. She knows that I have done this before. She looks at my eyes, and despite the darkness, I know she can see through me. She sees straight to the others—all six of them. She can see the three cities and the four other bridges. She knows now, yet she is so calm. Unchanging. But it doesn’t matter. Because they weren’t her.

I put my hand on her face. She sighs and pushes her cheek into my palm, her breath skimming across my skin. Shit. She is cold. There’s no heat. No anger. No panic. I smile softly at her, knowing that fear will sink in soon enough. It always does, because in this perfect moment, there is always fear.

I stoop down next to her and nearly brush her bare leg with my fingers. I don’t dare touch her again though, because I suddenly feel that if I do, I might change my mind. And where would that leave us? We are here now, and I am pulsing with my own eagerness. As I begin to lash the bags of sand to her bare ankles, I glance up at her face. She’s staring straight ahead, lost in her own thoughts. Her brow is rigid. Her lips are narrow. I think I see a slight smile. There isn’t so much as a drop of fear in her body.

Why?

A bitter realization strikes me like a whip. She isn’t afraid because she wants to do this. She wants me to love her so fucking badly that she will jump off this bridge, voluntarily, right now, if I ask her to. Just because she knows it will make me happy. Because she thinks it will fix me.

Now I am livid. I am awash with contempt for this woman. No, for myself. I fucking love her already. Did she not see it? Did she not feel it?

I am a twisted, fucking son of a bitch, and the woman I love is standing on a bridge prepared to let me push her off just to make me fucking happy. Jesus H. Christ.

I look back down at the sandbags, and I continue to fasten the knots far more slowly than I should because I am waiting for a whimper, a snivel, something. Some sign of her comprehension that I am going to do this. A sign that she is afraid. A sign that maybe she’s changed her mind, that she knows I am not worth fixing. A sign that she does not, in fact, want my love. But I get only composure and control.

It is infuriating.

As I get up I can feel my anger swell. I am standing behind her now, looking at how her dress clings to her body. She is frozen. I am a fucking fool for her, and the realization that she wants to do this makes me want to push myself off this goddamned bridge. I could stop. I could untie her hands. I could tell her that it is all an angry, sick joke. But what about the others? She knows about them now; I’m sure of it. I can’t ask her to carry that knowledge around for the rest of her life.

Because I really do love her back.

I put my hands on her waist and breathe.

Chapter One

Emma—Age 8

I am a small girl, much smaller than the other girls my age. I am standing on the white plastic bench in our bathroom, and I’m up on my tiptoes stretching as high as I can. I want to see her better. Watch her move. Smell her lady smell. She’s leaning into the mirror, her breath creating a small circle of haze with each exhale. Her softly curled red hair nearly reaches down to the back clasp of her bra. I want to touch the curls, find out just how soft they are. But I know she’ll scold me if I do because her hair is already fixed just the way she likes it.

As she shifts even closer to the mirror, her lips stay parted in concentration. Her left hand tugs at the corner of her eye and stretches it outward, smoothing its surface. Her right hand spreads the eyeliner across her top eyelid. When she reaches the end of her eye, she stands back slightly, and blinks at herself in the mirror. As she repeats the process on her other eye, I am transfixed. I want to put on eyeliner, too, but she says I am far too young to wear makeup. She says that I am beautiful enough without it. But I think that she just says that to keep me from pestering her about it, so this time, I keep my mouth shut.

When she’s finished with the eyeliner, she opens her eyes really wide and puts on her mascara using small, soft sweeps. The brush accidentally touches her eyelid, leaving behind tiny, sharp, black lines. She frowns slightly, licks her thumb, and absently swipes the lines away. Her eyes meet mine in the mirror, and a sweet grin touches her lips. She reaches toward the mirror and begins to playfully tickle my face’s reflection. Her eyes and nose scrunch up in delight. My face echoes hers.

“You are a silly girl, Emma,” she says as she turns to look at me, taking her hand away from my reflection and putting it on top of my ginger-colored head. She is looking down at me now, and we are smiling. After quickly mussing my hair, she trails her index finger down the center of my forehead, between my eyes and down to the tip of my nose. She sprinkles her fingertips across my nose and cheeks in a game of connect-the-dots.

“Someday you’ll love these freckles as much as I do,” she says as she plants a rapid kiss on the top of my head and then returns to her reflection in the mirror. She quickly puts on her lipstick, plumps up her breasts, and flips her long bangs out of her eyes.

“When will you be back?” I ask her, not really wanting to know the answer.

Her eyes meet mine in the mirror again, and I think they look a little sad. A little as if maybe she doesn’t really want to go this time.

“Michael says we’ll be back in three or four days,” she tells me. She is walking to her bedroom now, and I am following her like a puppy instead of an eight-year-old girl. “Emma, you know Carol really enjoys staying here with you and the boys. It’s just for a few days. She’ll take good care of you. Besides, you’ll have her mostly to yourself. Ricky and Evan will be at practice every night after school.”

“I know,” I say. It’s just that Carol doesn’t wear eyeliner. She doesn’t curl her hair. She doesn’t smell like a lady—she smells like a fireplace. She is not my mommy. She is not you.

As she dresses herself, I sit cross-legged on the bed and watch her move. After her skirt is zipped and her blouse is buttoned, she grabs my hand and pulls me off the bed. She leads me over to the dresser and switches on the lamp. The dresser is flooded with a soft light, and I am instantly delighted because I know that she is going to let me pick out her perfume. It makes me happy because I know that every time she takes a breath and smells the perfume, my perfume, she will think of me. And know how much I love her.

I study the little glass containers. It’s difficult to decide which of the beautiful bottles is most deserving of my mother’s neck. My mind is floundering with indecision when Michael walks in. He’s dressed in a pair of khakis, a blue dress shirt and a tie. His neck and back are stiff, and his dark hair is combed straight back in a series of perfect, rigid lines. When I see him I freeze, and my eyes drop toward the floor. Mommy lets go of my hand and steps over to him, kissing him on the cheek and touching his arm.

“We need to leave now,” he says, looking at her with his mouth straight. “Where is your bag?”

“Over on the chair,” she says, nodding toward the red wooden chair in the corner of the bedroom. Michael strides over to it, picks up the bag, and walks briskly toward the door. As he walks past me, I glance up at him, and our eyes meet. He smirks his knowing smirk, and I feel hot and angry inside. So angry. I feel my skin starting to burn.

Mommy doesn’t look at me again. She hastily picks up the nearest bottle of perfume and squirts two puffs of it on to her neck. I watch the little droplets of moisture spin around her as she rushes out of the room after Michael. She didn’t even pick one of the prettiest bottles—and it makes me want to explode.

Chapter Two

Emma—Present Day

I can’t find the picture anywhere, and it is starting to piss me off. What did he do with it? The fucker probably threw it away just to spite me. I’m disgusted with myself for asking Michael to send me my things, but frankly, it was better than the alternative. The thought of him wrapping and packing all the mementos from my bedroom makes me want to wretch. Yet I know it was far better than going back to that house to get them myself. Far better than having to look at him and his greasy-ass hair.

On top of the last unopened box is a yellow sticky note. It is my tally of the postage amounts from all the boxes. I peel it off the box and put it on my desk. I am sending him a check tomorrow simply because the idea of owing him anything makes me crazy. I open the last box and frantically rummage through it. I am really starting to get annoyed, and I can feel myself losing it. So help me God, if he kept that picture...

In my mind I can see myself buying a bus ticket and breaking down his door to pry the picture from his hairy, disgusting hands. But there’s no need for such aggression after all, because suddenly I can feel a corner of the wooden frame deep down in the box. Even without seeing it, I know exactly what it is. I have touched that frame a million times. I pull it out of the box and wipe the dust from the glass with my palm. There we are. Two freckled redheads. Our arms are wrapped around each other’s neck, and we are smiling. We are gleaming. I know I am happy in the picture because it was before Michael. Before the mess. Before my dad was gone, and before Michael turned my brothers into assholes. It is just my mother and me, and for the millionth time, I can’t take my eyes off of us.