She put her hand in her leather jacket pocket. There was sand inside the worn cloth, and tiny shells from the beach. The beach seemed like lifetimes ago. Another person, another woman, had lived that day. That woman had been carefree and tumbling forward towards something sweet and grand. She had been worried about the wind uncurling her sprayed hair, and the sun ruining her complexion.
She placed one foot in front of the other. It was a long road, thru fields of waving grass. Each blade shuddered as the wind tickled it, whispering in a soft and reedy voice.
How circumstance had changed everything.
Her ears were open now, and could hear this subtle chorus. Her soul had been ripped free of its own noise, and now that she was quiet inside, the world was loud and full of meaning.
What answers could I really hope for? Hope was something that other woman had entertained. Now, I just place one foot in front of the other, and listen to the prairie. The flat road crunched under her feet. Mostly she walked on fine dirt, the gravel having long since dissipated from the lack of upkeep. Very few people found themselves on this road. Most just trickled their lives away, trifling distractions leading them away from the finality of a true decision.
She could see the Crossroads ahead. Beyond it was a big storm, rolling low and slow down the prairie. She could smell the moisture, as it mixed with pressure, dust and ozone. The air crackled, the wind panted, slight gusts cutting into the moments of still, low hanging air.
She knew this meant that he was coming. The storm, the pressure, the tension she felt trying to grab hold of her. Her attention fell to the simple sound her body made as it moved forward, this step, then that step.
There is no right answer. Destiny meets free will, and choice spreads out in every direction. Choice meets you at the crossroads. She knew how the crossroads worked. Once you began approaching it, you had better look deep into your heart. There was only this one time to decide, and then life would move forward down its path, enveloping you in the chorus of your new life. But that new life would never hold these choices again.
So she listened to her heart. She let the little girl bubble up, a quick rapture of glee in the face of a cold, hard road. How we become fractured, she thought as she inhaled the heavy air. Different pieces of me, all there, but split apart, light thru a prism.
And then she thought of him. When it was simple, on that beach. It was a gentle laughter she remembered. A simple feeling. There was no choice, just a natural movement forward between them. He laughed, she laughed. And they ate, and drank, and looked forward to a naïve and bright future.
A sigh slipped out. For today was a different day. Time had passed, and things had been unveiled. No more was it simple and natural and obvious. Now life was heavy with decisions, skepticism, doubt, fear, self-loathing and a storm was coming.
She could see his silhouette walking ahead of the gathering storm. Dust devils swirled around him. He was wearing a trench coat, which seemed odd, out of place for some reason. She found herself wondering if this was the same man, or if he had hired someone to take his place.
It was a strange thought, and made no sense. Of course he had to come, himself. That was the way this always worked. Even if he was unaware, and didn’t see the crossroads, he still had to make his own choice.
Her stomach churned, she knew that the decision was his first, and she didn’t like that. She worried that he would make the wrong one, and this chance would slip away, down different paths, different lifetimes. Her choice would come after his.
It wasn’t very far now. The plains were flat, and distance was longer than it seemed, but she could see his shoulders shrugging forward in determination with each swinging stride. The lighting struck out at the clouds, sending fingers of electricity into the looming bellows.
She tried to stop walking, slowing her feet in smaller increments, a sad foreboding stalling her will. Time would not let her stop, and her feet had a momentum of their own. Get it over with, they seemed to say.
“But I feel like that storm, deep in my soul, roiling and tumbling towards oblivion!”
“It won’t be as bad as it seems,” her feet whispered. “At the very least, this will all be over soon.”
These words did not help. The crossroads was a place for dead bodies, it seemed. This was the place they hung people, where you died for your sins. This was not a place of forgiveness, this was a place where life was forever altered, and everything could be lost.
With this thought, she could smell the sweet, sick odor of death. She knew the bodies of the unforgiven lay here, somewhere hidden in the thick prairie grasses. She knew their souls had been ripped from life, and sent down a new road. Bodies left behind.
Many people were nothing but ghosts after coming here. Anyone could become a corpse, leaving this moment separated from all that they were, and all that they had dreamed of being. Forever to wander a hungry ghost lost in this barren prairie.
Choices. Everything came down to that one moment.
Out of the sickness, and the death, the wind, and out of her fear, she stepped into the place where lines of life intersected.
He had arrived before her.
He stood in the crossroads, his trench coat snapping in gusts of air.
The world took a big inhale.
She tasted rust.
“So…?” she said looking into the shadows that were his face.
He looked at her; he seemed to be distilling every ounce of intensity he had into his words.
In the distance behind him she saw scenes of tenderness take shape out of the rolling storm clouds. The dark red-green hue of electrified water vapor formed a gentle caress. Yet, one had the feeling of a goodbye, of something growing distant and small. She felt a coldness begin to settle in her heart, a tightness, as if she was bracing herself. She let this pass, determined to form no resistance to the truth that came out here.
The shadows on his face took a deeper hue, and his eyes flashed, as if he was feeling the very apparition she saw in the turbulent storm front behind him.
“You know I didn’t come here for you to tell me what I am. I came here for you to tell me what is in your heart.” She took a deep inhale, and steadied her gaze on the shifting shadows that his face had become. She noticed the gusts of wind swirling around them, stealing the heat from against her body. Inside she felt a strange numbness, and waves of heat and nausea. Her body was affected by this interaction like a seasick person. She could already feel her spirit loosening and her body welcoming separation like a corpse lost at sea.
She quickened her resolve, and tasted the blood where she was biting her lip.
“We will always be friends. Right now I am overwhelmed with everything.”
When his words found her ears, her mind remembered every light hearted promise, suddenly knowing that hers had been real, and his had been nothing but utterances of passion, beautiful words with no real meaning. It is a pity, she thought, that people think pretty words are poetry. Only a true poet knows, that real poetry is soaked in meaning, sweet bread pudding made from the juicy flavor of sugar and spice. But flowery words cannot unlock the soul, if anything they do nothing but mislead the listener into confusion.
It was a strange thought, that hung in the air around her head, hung in between them like a veil. She noticed his lips were moving, and that he was saying something. She turned her attention to the jargon falling out of his mouth, already realizing the truth without needing to hear the confusion of his language.
She only needed one answer from the lips of this shadowed man. This man that had once been her lover, and her dream, what she thought was her destiny. She could see that he was so lost within his inner worlds of perceived pain, sorrow and distraction. She could not reach him thru his own shadow.
So it is I that must instigate the killing, it is I that must sacrifice this body at the Crossroads. Or he will continue to keep us in the murk of limbo and indecision.
So she drew back the arrow, and felt the string grow taunt in her bruised hands.
“Tell me one thing. Underneath all of your swirling pain and confusion, underneath all the stormy turbulence, the fear, the indecision, underneath all of your humanity, look to your heart, and tell me, are you in love with me?”
His face froze as if in shock, and the shadows drew back as one lone sunbeam landed on both of them. Illuminated, standing in the Crossroads, her hand poised for the execution.
The wind howled, all around them the grass trembled, but right where they stood, the air was still and dead. They were in the eye of the storm.
He looked at her, then his eyes fell to the ground, and he seemed surprised as the words tumbled from his mouth.
She let the arrow fly, and it sunk deep into the chest, stilling the heart's last protest, ripping the veins open. The chest cavity filled with blood, and a corpse was born. A spirit set free.
The sunbeam hovered for just a moment longer, as the final breath was exhausted and a spirit began its ascent to the sky gods.
The two stood there, and looked at the dead body of what could have been. He was shaking slightly, and she realized he hadn’t fully understood what happened here at the Crossroads. She felt calm. Dead calm. Her response had been water running down hill, the natural movement of releasing her hand, and releasing the spirit from what had become a sick body.
He reached out to touch her hand, just as she leaned down to clean up the mess. She grabbed the corpse by the ankles and began dragging it towards the tall prairie grasses. The wind had kicked back up, the eye of the storm had moved on, and rain was beginning to fall. Now she understood why he had come wearing the trench coat. It was made of oilcloth.
The body was surprisingly light, now that it had been released of its burden of life. She easily tossed it into the grass, where it was swallowed up like a penny dropped into a mud puddle. She stood there as she watched it disappear, all her emotions receding. Rain ran down the back of her neck, underneath the collar of her jacket. She could taste the dirt mixing in her mouth with the blood from her lip. It was gritty, and flavored like rust.
“I must be going now. Look behind you.” She gestured to the castles rising up in the distance, great minarets lifting out of the dust and storm.
His attention was immediately pulled away, to the shining castles, to the promise of greatness, acquisition and power that they symbolized. He began walking without even noticing that he had forgotten to say whatever he had meant to say to her.
So it goes.
She watch as his form walked away, the jaunty excited steps moving his shoulders up and down, wrapped in the oilcloth trench coat. She wondered if what he chased was real, or just a mirage that bubbled up out of the dust and confusion of life. For his sake she hoped he found something real.
It is what it is.
She chuckled as she remembered the day she had first heard that saying.
One foot in front of the other, she walked down the prairie road. The storm had stayed just ahead of him, and her direction was clear. The grasses were still, yet she could hear their slightest whispers, and it truly sounded like reedy bells ringing hallelujah.
A swallow dove in front of her, lifting her gaze with the arch of its swoop. Overhead was a beautiful rainbow sitting in the last shimmering air-born droplets. Lifted out of life as it is, unfolding out of the storm that was, and lighting her path as she walked alone thru the desolate prairie.