Interstate 295 south bound from Baltimore to D.C. is predictably and tightly packed this Tuesday morning with a lot of stop and a little go traffic pushing a mass commute directly to whoever pays them to. A radio station that claims to play golden oldies is the only one that clearly pronounces music, so the woman in the silver, 2003, Honda Civic listens to “Born to Be Alive” by Patrick Hernandez.
Through her gritted teeth, she forces out an “Ugh” and grabs four strands of hair from the middle-back of her skull. Along with the songs quick, disco rhythm, she pulls her hair clean out, timing the break with symbol crashes. Although she tries to hide her cringe, a passerby driver watches her. Her cheeks fill with heat as she plays with the hair using her thumb and forefinger strategically under the view of her window. While looking at the bridge’s safety barrier that presents itself thirty feet to her right, she thinks that it must feel like concrete to jump from this height.
When she was seventeen, she used to jump off a cliff from sixty feet into a hidden rock quarry that had the kind of murkiness caused by chemical invasion. She stares at her feet, becoming nostalgic about that harsh, yet satisfying sting as they smacked the water after a four and a half second fall. She reminds herself that it has been eight years since that time, and continues to gaze at the sorry excuse for a safety border.
A xylophone ringtone jolts her consciousness. Among an email from her boss who sent the schedule for next week, there is a reminder to listen to a voicemail from 888-765-0001. She had been avoiding this reminder for two days. Although she wanted to keep ignoring it, especially today, she folds and presses “Listen” with a care that exists somewhere between diffusing a bomb and pressing the end button on a microwave before the timer goes off.
The same soft, yet authoritative voice that tells Alexa to take a right on Charles Street and to insert her payment method at the self check out sounds in her ear, “This a call for Alexa Ronaldo, if you are Alexa Ronaldo please stay on the line. This call is from a debt collection agency. Please stay on the line and you will be connected to -” click.
She looks around to spot if anyone sees her hang up. Like an allergic reaction, a lump develops in her throat. Talking to her strengthening grip as it chokes the steering wheel with nearly murderous intention, she breaths out “Fuck.” A seedling of rage pervades her blood stream and begins to grow its roots in her eyes. The unbearably stagnant scenery seems more unreasonable than before that voice found her again. She whispers with the same conviction as a scream, “I hate myself. I should have never went to that fucking hospital. UGH!” Her hands feel the urge to punch the rearview mirror as it caught her eyes with a sick bit of redundancy; she already saw them in her bathroom mirror this morning.
Covered in bits of eyeliner, her fingers let go of her hair collection and hover above the door handle. She thought of this kind of escape before, but this time the idea bursts through her muscles as if a part of a memorized dance routine. Click. The door handle is opened and she practically parachutes on to the black asphalt. She can feel the summer on the road through her three-year old Serve-Safe shoes.
Her march via the elevated concrete passed the front of her car kept on towards the right edge and eventually let her view the river over a barrier that hits her thigh like a small child. Suddenly, she feels dizzy. A hot, copper tasting breath pushes out of her teeth accompanied by an accidental whistle that sounds like a distant train. Today, her way through this all too familiar attack is the promise of its end. Her heart beats both unevenly and boastfully.
Alexa presses her thigh against the top of the border, creating a crease in her six dollar, black work pants from GoodWill. She knows this jump, if she did it, would last longer than four and a half seconds. She feels like there is a presence immediately behind her, but she doesn’t turn around to discover what is probably just another form of her paranoia.
As if her brain is made of thin wires and her skull the weight of a tin box, her head thoughtlessly hinges forward. Looking down, she notices a few bubbles floating atop of the river beneath, and she invites the momentum of her body to continue toward it, rationalizing whether teetering, rather than jumping over the edge is better. Then, her clear vision becomes swarmed by purple flecks in a vacuum of blackness, and the encasement of her skin feels like it is vanishing. A tingling takes over where the feeling of wind used to be, and with no balance left in might, her limbs convert to a languishing droop. She lays there, limp, like a slain high-way deer.
It’s a familiar feeling, the weightlessness. As she ascends upward, her body moves with an impromptu dance in the air. In a levitating twirl, her back opposes the water while her face gleams at the sun, flowing synchronously with the anti-gravity’s will. Her body feels powerful in it’s journey to what seems like death. She feels like a mouth opening wide to a bouncing flame, wrapping it’s lips around fire without the slightest compulsion to scream.
Only moments go by before her savior so carelessly lets go of her dancing body, making it wail instead. The river below immediately sucks her in beneath the surface, and she can’t feel the initial hit of body verses water. Opposite to the sun inviting her by her front, the river’s floor wants her back to it, so she can watch the light close off in a minimizing circle like the end of a movie. As the floor pulls her closer, a hopeful word banners across her mind, “Help.” The plea is unattached to her ownership, like watching an airplane advertisement on a beach.
Once the crushing pressure slithers around her, carrying through with its final squeeze, she says to the empty water, “I’m dying”, making bubbles out what feels to be her very last breath. All of Alexa’s senses are unfelt, except for her hearing. A slight ringing sound lives on, one that usually only the young can hear. She feels a rare privilege to know it. The ringing plays its single, lonely note in a slowly growing crescendo, uninterrupted by gaps of silence.
She can hear the note so purely that it becomes visual; she imagines the color to be a yellowish gold, worthy of a fresh jar of honey. Slowly, she can almost touch the color; it feels warm and smooth, almost like the leather seat of a car on a July afternoon. Abruptly, the harmonious ringing sound cruelly transcends into a blunt, staccato HONK HONK HOOONK!
Awoken from her state, she performs a deep, dramatic intake of breath, playing out a reverse scream. Her surroundings are presented in a boomerang of double vision. She pushes her spine back against the safety barrier, and just behind of the side view of her Honda Civic there is a line of cars. Their drivers are acting out a combination of recording her with their phones and with their eyes. With every blink and shake of her head, more pieces of truth shoot into her brain. She is alive. She is – Ding ding ding! The xylophone rings again. It is a Facebook notification. “Imani Braswell, Brandon Guyza and 12 other friends have written on your wall!” As her chin sits perpendicular to the ground, her cheeks squeeze instinctively into a smile. It fades as quickly as it forms when she notices.
Cars are beginning to pass her silver Honda; it acts as a pesky clot in the way of a passing blood stream. One car pulls to the right hand shoulder where Alexa’s newly standing body unravels. It is a newish, black Nissan Altima and makes no sound while breaking. Without fully stopping, the tires spin to a crawl setting a brief scene of dialogue between its driver and Alexa.
Before the driver can get out a word of concern, Alexa shouts “I am sorry! I am fine, I just got a little light headed. I will get out of everyone’s way.” The driver replies with the same familiarity of a greeting, “You sure?”She insists that she is perfectly well, and continues to shout “Thank you though! Have a good one!” She watches him drive on. Alexa walks back to her car, hurriedly turns on the ignition while shutting her driver’s side door, and joins the rest.