Untitled, by Alison Mitchell

Alison  Mitchell
 
Slow down! Telling you to slow down has the exact opposite effect but the warning leaves my mouth before I even hear it in my head. Anyway, this is how it all went down, that night, the one in the woods, the one where you forgot to retie your shoes and you tripped and slid down the bank. Remember? Tripped on your own damn laces, slid like a fool almost into the water. I laughed at you before remembering you had the wine. Then it wasn’t funny anymore because we’d lost the cork and I was not nearly drunk enough yet to be in this kind of darkness with you, the kind of person you are, near the water, in the cold. So I stopped mid-laugh, called out to you, and you assured me the wine was there, most of it anyway and maybe your ankle was starting to swell. I laughed again then. Because it didn’t sound like you were hurt, and because my god you looked so funny, wide-eyed and tumbling down that slope…

 All I could think of was that play we were in as 3rd graders, in church, where I was the angel Gabriel and you were relegated to shepardhood (denied the juicy part of Joseph that you’d wanted so badly, prepared for for weeks). From behind the curtains I’d appeared, dramatically, with arms outstretched and just coated in the vanilla-scented roll-on body glitter I’d convinced my mom was “way angelic” and thus necessary, even if Gabriel was supposed to be a boy and there was no glitter in biblical times (it should be noted that this was long before I learned to question why boys can’t wear glitter, and more pressingly, for someone to cite me some sources on which this fantastical version of Christ’s birth was based). You’d been instructed to look awe-struck, as a shepard understandly would look, if a winged being appeared from the sky and started speaking. Dumbfounded is arguably closer the expression you conjured up and that’s the same face I saw that night in the woods, nanoseconds before you realized you were going down and there was no helping it. Those blueish eyes wide and confused, not comprehending why your center of gravity had lurched so suddenly (answer: because benzos make you forget things, like that you need to tie your shoes before heading off into a darkened wood, and other things too, like which day in December your daughter’s birthday falls on). That you had the presence of mind to lodge the wine bottle upright  into the moss as you fell is something I sent silent thanks to the universe for.

I stumbled after you, picking up the bottle on my way and side-stepping carefully on cold, slick leaves towards this brilliant black expanse of water. I saw your silhouette framed against the backdrop of this shimmery abyss, the injured leg outstretched and the other pulled into your chest. When I reached you, you’d already stopped talking. I hadn’t heard a word from you since you’d reported on the status of the wine and that was 5 minutes ago at least. I realized you were less seated than slumped, I realized the moon made 6 circles on the skin of the water instead of the expected single sphere, I realized the stars didn’t reflect at all. And then I realized you weren’t breathing. And your daughter’s birthday was 2 days before and you had to buy her a belated birthday card (you picked one with a dog and glued-on googly eyes and a red felt tongue) and there were tears in your eyes the whole damn time you were in the aisle. And that you’d probably taken more than one of your mom’s xanax and probably started drinking this morning instead of 2 hours ago like me. And that you still weren’t breathing, even though I’d been shaking you this whole time, and slapping your cold and tired face. And that I didn’t have service here, we always loved that in high school because it was a perfect excuse for why we didn’t answer our cell phones when our moms called- oh, we were at the lake, I didn’t even have a missed call, sorry- but really we were tucked like little children in your bed, skin to maddenly smooth adolescent skin, in that maddeningly adoslescent kind of love. But you were so warm then, and you were so cold now and I couldn’t call anyone now and what do I do now?

And then I started to run.

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