by Nicole Leona Smith
Swan Lake by George Stein
The night sky was full of stars, but no moon, because I ate it.
In one fell swoop!
And that was before I killed myself.
It’s not every day the natural wonders of the world can be so easily digested. Bev always thought it happened in death, but she was wrong. It happens in decision. Not to be confused with indecision, which is different.
“Don’t think twice,” said Harriet, my twin. She’s the smart one.
I am pretty.
Or I was, before the sidewalk exploded my face into a thousand people. Pieces, I mean. Though I guess people is more accurate. Aren’t we all more than one?
After I jumped, I knew I wanted to. Harriet called an ambulance.
There was an interview we saw once, on Oprah I think. An interview with survivors who attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. They were all men, and 100% of them (all three) said the second their feet left the ground, they regretted it. As if they literally crossed some kind of line in the air. That wasn’t the case for me. Or Harriet. Or Annie.
I think they wanted to die by accident, the men. We were destined to.
Harriet will be next, and it’ll happen soon. A twin thing, maybe – always the copycat, even though she was born first – but her ending is different than mine. She won’t jump off a bridge. She’ll sit nicely at a kitchen table and discover something she shouldn’t.
Most murder victims don’t have a choice, but Harriet will.
It’s hard to digest, I know, but I think I said that already.
A bowl of soup will do it. Tomato soup. Campbell’s. Mm-mm good.
Our big sister, Annie, is the smallest of us girls.
She will live a dead kind of life until she deteriorates alone in her bed at 97-years-old, never having sunk her teeth into anything but the ground. Too grounded. It turns out there’s such a thing. Annie C. Miller. 1974-2071. The first to be born and the first to die and the one who lives the longest.
We all share a story, because we all share a grandmother. Bev raised us in the dark, mostly. Hydro is expensive. She sold lights out of a storefront downtown, and we lived in the back room. “My three girls,” she called us, but we were never really hers. We were never really ours, either, and never really each other’s.
“You got a light?” I asked the man with the scruff next to the dumpster.
Generally, the darker the dude, the more accommodating he is, but this guy had some shimmer to him. Almost garbage, but not quite. Once, when he was four, his mom tucked him in and said “I’m proud of you.”
His arm flicked out and reached toward the cigarette in my teeth.
I jerked my head back. “Fuck off” I said. He tried to take a swing, but I was already halfway up the street.
If I wasn’t looking for something to stick, I might have given him a chance. But he wouldn’t do. Not tonight. I wanted something of my own. I had it once before, but it dropped out of me like a beating red water balloon, and I was sick for days.
I saw Harriet. She stared up at me from the river. Harriet and the moon. I knew it was her and not just my reflection, because I never look at myself longer than a minute. She was saying goodbye, so I let her stare, and then I opened wide.
It was the best decision, swallowing it whole. I do feel guilty, but only a little, and only because I’ve never been a glutton. But a person can get used to anything. I can’t imagine it staying inside me anyway, the light. Even if I wanted it to.
I used to mind, but now I don’t. The truth is the truth.
I crave love. I am indifferent about my sisters’ endings. I am at peace. I am a sociopath.
This unlikely self-awareness came with the moon.
Bev is our mother, not our grandmother.
It’s what Harriet finds out before she gets killed. Bev finds out about Harriet’s finding out first, though, so she puts poison in her soup.
Mother knows best.
When a person is fed lies her entire life, the result is not dissimilar to eating too much candy.
Or ravioli. (The Chef Boyardee kind.)
Her teeth fall out. Her heart clogs up. She doesn’t know how to cook anything from scratch. She hates the colour green. She’s always full, but never really, not with anything of substance. Not with anything nourishing. Nurturing. Her bones get brittle, like Annie’s, or she gets fat, like Harriet, or her brain burns to a crisp like mine.
My brain burnt to a crisp long before the moon.
I’m the black underneath the light. The leftovers. The remains. I’m everywhere. I’m clotted blood. Rubber. The words at the back of a throat. I’m all over the street, and the city’s waking up for work. An old lady smells burnt toast, and she hates it. It makes her think she’s dying. Stroking out. Different than striking out, but only slightly, and only if she gives it a second thought.
“Don’t think twice,” said Harriet.
My mess reminds me of when we saw the seagull get obliterated by the truck.
We were five, and both the driver and the bird were distracted by a french-fry.
“Ketchup and blood are really one in the same, if you think about it.” Harriet said, munching on the scattering of fries that had tumbled out the window when the trucker screeched to a halt. “It all comes down to sugar.” She hesitated a second before dipping a chip into the gull’s gut. She was never unsure again.
The best thing about lies is that living one means nothing is true. Or everything is! Depending on your outlook. I’ve always been an optimist. Positive of everything. Glass half full of rubbing alcohol.
Living a lie is how I learned to tell the truth.
The holes of the moon are hardest to devour. Not to be confused with the whole of the moon, which is different, and an excellent song. Craters have a taste that is difficult to describe but not unpleasant. They are sharp. They taste like everything broken and angry. Bitter and alluring. Full of empty. They taste like a mom.
“Come on babe, I’m starving” Dumpster Dude said after I went back for him. He was following me to the overpass but wanted to go to Tim Horton’s.
“You go” I replied.
“What are you gonna do?”
Gobbling the moon made me brighter. I was ready to be alone.
“Fuck off,” I said.
He thought it was a command, but it was an answer.
My favourite season has always been Fall, and on second thought, I think that’s because I didn’t. I jumped.
“Just make sure it’s on purpose,” Harriet told me. “It’ll hurt a lot more otherwise.”
Annie said something similar to me once, too. The only time I ever heard her swear. I was just messing around. Balancing on the edge to freak her out.
“You’re gonna fall, Madge.” she said. “Stop! Get down! You’re gonna fall!”
We were almost home when she said: “if you jumped though, you’d have a chance.”
Her eyes were glowing. It was the only time she’s ever been beautiful.
“If you jumped instead of fell you’d have a chance to come up with a story; to paint a picture in your head to jump into.”
I stared at her.
“In your head anything’s possible, Madge.”
I said a lot with my mouth closed because I was chewing on her words.
“Just don’t fucking fall. Is what I’m saying. Okay? If you’re going to plummet to your death, just make sure it’s on purpose, alright?”
I’m not of the mind.
I’m not of the mind that what we’re surrounded by rubs off on us. I think it’s the other way around. I think we rub off on our surroundings. Everything that handles us wears a little more. We are tragic articles in newspapers people can’t get enough of. We are bad stories. Our existence turns their fingers black.
Annie could have love, but she doesn’t want it. Harriet’s starving for truth, and all three of us die with our mouths open.
We’re tenants of something then, aren’t we?
Truth, Beauty and Love?
Tenants of something other than Beverly Miller?
Occupants of a house where nobody skips breakfast, maybe.
That’s my dying wish. For a different beginning.
Next year, someone will want to be with Annie. A cashier with a tattoo of a line across her back. The only line Annie will ever cross. First with her fingers, and then her mouth. She’s as ugly as my sister, so naturally, they cancel each other out. They dazzle. They are striking together. Aglow. Annie can’t see it, though, because she doesn’t believe in nature. Only nurture.
We’ve never really had much in common, the three of us, but in the end we all die for the same reason.
Last night I got so desperate, I ate the moon.
Nicole Leona Smith is a writer, theatre creator, and director, as well as founding Artistic Producer of Sonderlust — a theatre collective dedicated to the creation of original work and the staging of women’s stories. She has lived in and/or traveled around many exotic places like Australia, Peru, New Brunswick and the Eaton Centre, but is now based in Cambridge, Ontario, where she is from.
George L Stein is a writer and photographer in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area with interest in monochrome, film and digital photography, urban and rural decay, architectural, street, and more generally, art photography and digital manipulation. His work has been published in Midwest Gothic, NUNUM, Montana Mouthful, Out/Cast, The Toho Journal, and previously in Ember Chasm Review.