The day he jumped, she hemorrhaged as if her soul were bleeding out. It was twelve hours before Peter’s death. John gasped, helpless, naked, arms splayed. Just my period, she told him. The bleeding slowed, stopped, and started again after Peter jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
At one time, the ordinary house items intrigued her. She liked it, back then, when Peter was small, all that open space, all that freedom to consider the tiny morsels, rich crumbs of a day. Small shoes tipped in an unusual manner, were, she decided, a pattern so predictable they defined a moment.
Now, she lived in her head. The present and earlier times intertwined like a web, as if Peter became a spider and crawled inside her, launched filament, visceral silken strands to keep himself alive in her mind.
He had said goodbye, the last time, coat half on, half off.
Bye Peter. Love you.
Love you too. She glimpsed the neon green. It became a haunting image— Peter’s coat billowed out, buoyant, in the San Francisco Bay. A trail of syrup and coffee scent followed him out the door that morning, clung to him as long as it could, seeped into the fabric and fibers and he carried it, unknowingly, like a host. Everything tried to hang on.
Now, the waffles and coffee are for John. How could he, she wondered, how could he still eat those foods with Peter gone?
“You have to start eating, Melanie,” he told her. Bits of food shot out his mouth, and she loathed him for it. That's all she saw, the bits of food.
“When was it?” he continued. He was chuckling about an incident at work, not in his bellowing way but more furtively. His sentences became dismantled, transformed in her mind, and each one trickled out like a slow fog horn bleating, awakening to a new older strand—morning at the beach:
Donuts! Pretty Bunson twins, sixteen-years old, 5: a.m.—each holding a white pastry box filled with warm donuts, walking up and down the beach road.
Mum! Daddy! The donut girls! Wake up!
The cottage sold. Went quick, the realtor had said, excised from her life, and shortly after, Peter.
“I don’t think we should sell it,” she said, when Peter asked why, said he didn’t care about college. John had the last word. Maybe the cottage was Peter’s retreat, his solace, maybe it saved him those other times.
“Melanie, damn it. I’m worried about you,” he said, interrupting her reverie.
She saw his mouth move, glimpsed the unshaven bristles that pricked her face the last time she was close: It was a sultry night—full moon, blood moon casting a red pall on John’s face, curtains billowing, French doors wide open, eloquent, like a lady-in-waiting; cicadas shrilled.
“The moon is magnificent. Christ, look at her, Melanie. She’s gorgeous.”
She put her coffee cup down, noted the wrinkles in her hands, the passing of time tearing at her body. She was the opposite of the moon, mortal, weary, erring. It was always this way, the calm before the storm. Peter and his rages and depression, the whole big burden of Peter—the yelling, the fits, the fears, all of it was gone, for now. Peter was okay. Peter got his license, a job, a girlfriend.
“Please, Melanie,” John had said, extending his hand. She knew this hand better than herself. It was the hand that quelled, that fixed, that dried, that patted, that held on. The enigmatic hand, she knew. It was a brilliant hand, much better than she could ever muster. Even Peter fell short. And he knew it. She imagined Peter, then, where John was standing, pointing at the same moon, Look Mum. See it, Mum? It looks smooth. He was bright-eyed, blinking once, twice, three times, in rapid succession like the flutter of a bird’s wing.
"You think Peter sees it too?" She was numbed with memory, slipping into a fugue. “I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.”
The air stilled, seconds before the phone vibrated; molecules pooled like leaden spirits. She had watched him put it to his ear. “Not again. Jesus Christ this kid could get a goddamn PhD in faking suicides.” Then he crouched down, reticent, and his expression became grave, incredulous.
She despised her husband, wondered how he could say what he did, and even more when she saw Peter an hour later, bloated and blue, the bay spilling out of his ears and hair.
She stopped eating, saw him only in parts. Today, it was his chin.
"Melanie, I'm leaving." His chaw opened and shut. The door closed. She heard it like a hollow thud.
And he emerged like fog off the bay, quiescently—Peter. She stalled and fixed herself in the memories, in Peter’s intricate web, and she stuck there.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. She saw him clearly, now, in the silence of the kitchen, in the way the light slanted through the panes, green-eyed, blonde shaggy curls.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Laughter. Again, Mum!
Sand drifted in heaps, glittered on Peter’s bony knee caps and sunburned cheeks; he was the shore, the waves, the shells, the jetty. He wore it on his skin and soul.
My Peter, having fun?
He squinted hard like a cowboy. Of course, Mum. He dug and built and poured, engrossed until he fell back limp and languished.
After when the beach house went quick and he grew tall limbs, melancholia latched on and coursed through his veins.
She mourned for Peter before he jumped.
In the solitude of the kitchen, he weaved his web and she gripped it, the last strand, the one he left behind, the one that tugged her down into the depths of Peter’s mind, a split second before, when he saw the fog, imagined he was jumping into the sky—flying rather than falling.
Elizabeth Brown is a native of Connecticut. Her short story "Coveted" was published in BareBack Magazine's November 2013 issue. "He" appears in TreeHouse (November 2013), “Only Heaven” is in the December 2013 edition of Bartleby Snopes, and "Fugue" is (serialized) in the December 2013 and January 2014 issues of Empty Sink Publishing. She studied writing under Wally Lamb and Joan Joffe Hall and is a two time recipient of the Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction.