Abstract Picture in Winter by Angela Palm
White. January. The river everybody knows and the bridge everybody hates and the woman nobody loved and the pickup that didn’t have brakes. Around the mounds of snow on the frozen river, icy ridges crested in the open air. They told us exactly how deep the freeze. It meant good enough for skating. A snapshot of facts, the things we knew for sure: solid, then not, in a matter of seconds.
Red. Crimson drenched the snow in big, blotchy patches and smaller spatters—a pattern that made sense in that mathematical way that draws the eye. A constellation of blood. Then everything went sideways. Like time. Alive, then not. A matter of seconds.
And then an opening.
Black. Below the surface was murky, wet depth. A black hole.
Deep enough to swallow the pickup that didn’t have brakes and the woman that nobody loved.
In the summer we’d swum in the river, warm as bath water, washing our hair with mud soap and diving for river clam pearls. The bathtub, conversely, was for riverplay and games between boyish sisters—channel cats, sunk rock, sunk truck, sunk lady, Ophelia only sleeping in a stream. We’d been skating the day the river opened up. Zigging and zagging, girl to girl.
White, then red, then black. White was the present, red was hurt, black was dead.
It wasn’t until blue that we realized our error: there was no sense in our play. I was fiercely ashamed, dumbstruck at my sudden mortality. Perhaps, I thought, we were responsible for having made a show of it, prancing across the ice like fools. For having forgotten that the river was bigger than us. It claimed lives at will, raking them into its wide mouth.
The pre-memory had no place in the narrative. No one asked whether I dreamed she would die, or whether I felt a pinprick in my index finger where my guilt gathered for months before she drove her pickup over the side of the bridge, practically onto us. I had watched the woman who nobody loved from across the narrow strip of water, our bank to hers, night after night. I’d watched her not loved—standing still in her low-lit living room, smoking, pacing, standing still again. In the dream, in the pre-death, she hung from the bridge that everybody hates by one arm with a grizzly snacking on her leg. But she never went into and under. And there was no truck.
Blue. Hands, lips, and all. Her body dragged out from the water while we shivered beneath medical blankets on our own riverbank and watched, wet only to the ankles and well enough. What most shocked me was that a body could go blue, her melancholy turned inside out. A matter of seconds.
Angela Palm is an editor and co-owner at the Renegade Writers’ Collective, a writing center in Burlington, Vermont. Her work appears in Midwestern Gothic, Sundog Lit, ARDOR Literary Magazine, Little Fiction, Big Truths, and elsewhere. She is a nonfiction editor at The Fiddleback, a literary journal. Her essay, “The Devolution of Cake,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She resides in Burlington, Vermont.