by Riham Adly
It feels good to have a shower, even when you’re on death row. I smoke an entire joint in one hit then ask for another. I’m so used to them now, I don’t cough. The warden stands tall over me, shaking his head, but the cozy supply of cash in his pockets keeps him quiet. He asks me what I’d like to have for my last meal. I watch pig-tailed wisps of smoke swirl like atoms of a dream haunting my 8-by-12 foot cell. They sway like ghost-colored prayers in syncopated rhythm.
I can’t see her pink-rimmed eyes or the shock of freckles that failed to hide the dimple on her left cheek. I can’t even see the thin chip on her front tooth—it made her look more of the child she never wanted to be. I can only hear something; I wanted it to be her. The voice floats, like a mirage inside a dream, a memory?
“You’re one step closer. Come.”
I curse myself for having listened to her. She was all about running away: from people, to the streets, from her sunlit backyard, to me. I was never one for opening windows, my room always doused in shadow. We both had much to hide. Her face bloomed whenever she was up to no good. She had wanted us to do something together where we wouldn’t worry so much about getting caught.
“One more step, darling. You’re almost there.”
I think to myself, I want to touch her again, feel her against my chest. The air is thin, like on that mountain. I should’ve told her I’m sorry for being such an asshole the whole time we were together, and for pushing her down that cliff, blaming it on the weather—a blizzard at that. But, she wasn’t any better and I wasn’t any wiser in spite of the age gap. We first met in the classroom. I had paced in front of a chalkboard, while she gave me her best Kim Kardashian duck face. I kept us a hush, she didn’t care for secrets. In Chinatown, where she served tables in a small shop, I got my first fortune cookie.
“Let’s climb a mountain, let’s do Everest.”
“No.” I had said, “You have homework.”
“You’re a coward.” She challenged.
I was a coward, and I should’ve stayed so. You can’t hide forever, they’ll come for you. The fortune cookie predicted.
I let a thought take up her shape the first time she banged at my door, in the middle of the night, waking up the neighbors. I liked it when she told me she punched abuse in the face and spit on her stepdad whenever he tried. She was smart as hell, but never did well in my class. Math is a waste of time, she told me, after a good night’s sleep in my bed, in my arms, inside each other. “Who needed maths when they’ve figured everything out”?
Guess I was the real idiot when I tried to explain that math wasn’t about figuring out things, but rather exploring possibilities, like having whatever this thing we’re having together work out. It wasn’t working out, and I wanted her out.
She stands tall over the terrors of my imagination. I want to look down that cliff but instead I take one last drag. My lungs claw for air, but every breath hacks at my ribs. There’s that push and pull of hovering darkness.
“You wuss!” Her brassy, knuckle-head-yell snaps me back.
Wonder what she wants from me now. I did everything she ever wanted – parties, drugs, sex. We changed identities, left for Mexico, and got rid of that father of hers. We denounced mathematics, heavens, and bad burritos. She never settled for anything. She wanted that fall. She wanted to fly free of sins pressed to her skin.
The warden walks in like an Ice-Cream man patrolling the streets hunting children.
“I want ice-cream. Chocolate-mint.” Like the flavor of her more innocent girl-scout days, before this whole chain-reaction thing started.
“You got it.”
Ungrateful, She looks down on me from my sepia-colored memories while I enjoy my last bad brain freeze.
About the photographer: John Gawthrop, in late career in the mental health field, is a musician and composer with an interest in phone camera photography. He lives on beautiful Vancouver Island, Canada, where he keeps his phone handy for chance shots. The photo above, titled “Possible Light,” was taken in a friend’s living room, on a hazy day with the late afternoon sun coming through a skylight.