Essay: But It Is Dark by Jennifer Fliss

I am twenty-two feet above New York City. Below me, the glistening Hudson River, reflecting the lights of Manhattan and of New Jersey, across the way. In front of me is the gaping hole that used to be the Twin Towers. Tonight, two perpendicular blue lights shine into the clouds. Chalk coats my hands, ripped skin stings my palms. When the bar comes back to me at the platform, I will try the layout again. And again. And again. I have yet to catch it and what is trapeze if you’re not catching your tricks? Lista! I call. The catcher shouts, Hep! I pull the bar up and toward me and I jump off the platform.

Sweep – I kick back my legs; years of gymnastics kept me limber. Force out – legs together, toes to the sky. Hollow – a deep round in my gut. Another sweep. Seven – eyes over the bar; see the lights of where the towers once stood. Set – hold, hold, hold, even as physics wants to peel my body off and drop it into the net below. And then, release and flip with my body as straight as I can. If I fly far enough, the blue lights will engulf me and carry me up.

***

One year later, my father dies. In my sleep, we sit together on a knoll. He is, surprisingly, alive again. Up here, the sun is larger. That’s because it is setting for the last time. Somehow I know this, though I can’t explain it. I tell my father to leave. We descend on opposite sides of the small hill. When the sun finally falls, later that day, I am alone in a shed in my backyard. That the sun will not rise again is not the apocalyptic event we were told it would be. I am safe, without the sun. Without the heat.

But it is dark.

It was always dark.

I am twelve and standing in the hallway of our apartment building, orange and brown speckled carpet, the smell of stale curry in the air. I notice the light by our door has gone out. Our apartment door, several inches of thick steel, is right across from the elevator. I push the button to call the elevator and I hear two dull thuds from inside our apartment. One. Two. I know my father is angry because one of the kittens peed on the couch. He comes out of the apartment, his great heft, breathing heavy, carrying a black trash bag, weight sagging in the middle. The bags are so shiny. We aren’t allowed to have pets in the building anyway.

Years later, I have another dream. I am in a motel, one of those old-school fifties ones where the signs are neon and the hallways are outside and the folks who work there are always playing cards behind the counter. Pablo Picasso has been chasing me for a while. I am out of breath and almost out of options. Second floor. I judge how injured I’d get if I jumped. These rooms have kitchenettes. I grab a knife – a butter knife – from the drawer. The door opens. Picasso glares at me. You would think his features would be block-like and confused, nose where his ears should be, eyes where his heart should be. But he just looks like an artist. Intense, intelligent, criminal. He takes several steps toward me. I ready my butter knife. Then he turns, opens a closet, and steps inside.

***

I am a mother now. I stand in my kitchen, deriving great satisfaction from peeling vegetables. Not potatoes. Definitely not potatoes. But carrots, parsnips – the long ones. The zhush of the skin coming off in such delicate fine slices feels a little like pulling away a façade. I feel powerful. And then I feel naked.

In fantasies and in nightmares, I wear a red dress in a black and white world. I flit between trees and often just catch a glimpse of myself, a trail of red. It is like a drop of blood.

 Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, Hobart, The Rumpus, Gigantic Sequins, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.

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