The young man walks slowly across the worn stone bridge, his head bowed and eyes staring intently at the cell phone in his hand. Dried leaves and bits of twigs and dirt blow in little tornados around his feet as he walks, a slight misting of breath escaping his lips in a rhythmic pattern; step… step… breath mist… step… step… breath mist… never taking his eyes from the phone. The lower front corners of his tweed jacket flap around his waist, tugging at the buttons. The unraveling end of a shaggy grey, pebbly wool scarf wrapped around his neck and chest flutters peek-a-boo from under an edge of his jacket.
A late afternoon steel sky hangs close above, brushing past the tops of the naked trees, as the ground wind rises and falls indiscriminately. One fisted hand pushes far down a front jean’s pocket, the other wrapped tightly around the cell phone. Step… step… breath mist… He reaches the end of the arched bridge, turns and heads back the opposite way.
A yellow taxi cab slides by in the blurry distance as a muted police siren ricochets back and forth off lichen covered tree trunks. The young man walks as if a zombie, lifeless yet in motion, reaches the opposite end of the bridge and turns the other way. A pigeon lands at his feet, scooting quickly out of the way. He doesn’t notice and never skips a step.
The cell phone, his hand wrapped tightly around the lower portion…knuckles almost white with tension, is an older clamshell model with a simple screen. It does not make a sound while the young man is walking.
That afternoon, the young man had sent a text message to a girl he loves; a girl who may or may not love him back. The message was “nothing has come 2 me yet 😉” and it was sent 3 hours before now. Earlier that morning, the young man and the girl were sitting on a wood and concrete bench in the very same park where the young man is now. They were sitting side by side, resting from a long walk around the periphery of the park and they were talking. Semi facing each other, his arm was resting quietly on her right shoulder, his elbow on the back of the bench, his fingers moving the ends of her dirty blond hair in twirls.
“My dad was talking to Mr. McGruder down at the butcher shop…he said that McGruder told him that your dad was crazy and always has been since they were kids.” The young man lifted his arm an inch and moved a stray lock of hair from the girl’s face. His hand came back to rest on her shoulder, he could feel the slickness on his fingertips of the nylon of her coat.
“He is crazy” said the girl with a small resigned sigh, “You know he’d kill you if he knew we were going out.” She looked back at the young man’s eyes and nodded her head, “I know that he’d kill you.”
“Fucking crazy is right” the young man responded, dropping his arm from her shoulder and resting his right hand on her knee, looking at his finger tips there. “There are stories.” He looked away, deeper into the park, toward a long line of soldier trees, naked and at attention.
“I hate him.” The girl stated plainly and without noticeable emotion, “I’m going to kill him.”
The young man didn’t react and instead kept staring into the park. He had heard her say this before so it didn’t surprise him. The stories of her father’s peculiar and violent habits he had heard from her, over the last 8 months that they had known each other, were ample background to be emotionless in the face of such an admission.
“I’m going to kill him today.”
At that the young man turned his head toward her, scanning her eyes for truth, looking intently at the corners of her mouth, the angle of her jaw for signs that this time she was serious.
“I’m going to stab him in the throat with a butcher knife when he’s sleeping…when he comes back from the bar this afternoon. He always falls asleep on the couch in front of the TV after he’s been there.” She casually brushed some stray hair from her mouth, using her thumb and forefinger to pull some reluctant strands from her lips. She finished, “That is if he doesn’t decide that he wants to fuck me first.” She looked away slightly, “Or kill me.”
The young man saw a difference in her face, some little twist he hadn’t seen before, something real yet unreachable. In his heart a switch flipped and he suddenly felt connected irrevocably to her. He knew that what she was saying, what she was getting into, was going to drag him in like a whirlpool…all the way down into it. He felt he had no choice because, in fact, had made the decision months before to follow her to hell if he had to. The look in her eyes on that park bench on that cold dull day told him that hell was indeed their next destination.
The young man stared back at her soft brown eyes for what seemed like twenty minutes and said, “Do you want me to do it? Want me to help?” He didn’t want to, he never thought of killing anyone but he was entwined now and he couldn’t get away from it…couldn’t trade in that ticket to hell.
“No.” she said, “I want to do it, I want to feel it go in, I want to see him die.” Her eyes never left the young man’s face, never hardened or turned away from his gaze. “I’ll text you when it’s done.”
Today, in this afternoon turning quickly into evening, the young man walks back and forth across the stone bridge that spans a cold dead stream, the brackish water (when it flowed) long gone with the memories of summer, his cellphone clutched tightly in his hand and held stiffly in front of his face; his eyes unblinking, staring lasers at the tiny 4 line LCD screen. He shuffles across the cold stone bridge; step… step… breath mist… step… step…
Under the hum of the wind, another siren ricochets somewhere far away.