Little Gehenna wearing dark framed glasses
opens the window to her office
feels the cold breeze through short black hair
and the sunshine on her face
a white tank top shows off dark tattoos
two full sleeves of ink
left arm seven crows
right arm ten magpies
this is her time for him
she crosses out the hour
squeezes the diary against her chest
a tear is held within tiny dark eyes
Little Gehenna sneaks a smoke
just as they once did
with her office door closed
who the hell will care?
One drag for sorrow
two for joy
three for girls
four for boys
five for silver
six for gold
seven for his secret never to be told
Casey held tenaciously to the steering wheel as his small Chevy S10 fell on a ninety-degree angle toward the ice-covered river below. He could see the bridge above disappear as he plummeted backwards to the river. The wind was blowing the snow sideways at least forty miles per hour, causing extremely poor visibility and the predicament he currently found himself in.
In the few seconds during the drop, Casey had the presence of mind to start rolling down the driver’s side window after unbuckling the seat belt and hugging the wheel. The truck was going to hit hard. He hoped the impact didn’t knock him unconscious. He was thinking about taking off his winter coat when the car hit the two-inch thick ice covering the river.
The impact jolted him. He managed to keep hold of the steering wheel but the collision was a shock to his system. Everything went black for a moment as he passed out from the crash. He came to, and all was a silent blur, like the stillness in the air between the heaves of a storm. He heard the stumbling buzz of a fly, and was confused. When he could see again he noticed water pouring through the window and the truck about to go under. Without thinking, he ripped his coat off and held it before him as he pushed through the window. The ice-cold river enveloped him and tugged at his body, trying to pull him under with the truck. With one arm he swung the coat above his head and onto the ice above. It stuck immediately and held him in place.
Casey could see his S10 dropping into the cold darkness below him. The coat was flash frozen to the ice above his head. He wondered where all of his strength was coming from as he pulled himself out of the water and onto the ice. In the seconds following, he began to experience the flash freeze, which had stuck his coat to the ice. He was in the middle of the river; he had little probability of having easy access to the shore. To his left was the city. To his right the shore was natural and would give access to the freeway and possibly traffic. He made a quick decision and ran toward the shore on the right.
Months later Gehenna sat still in her office and studied Sarah, a petite blond woman no bigger than herself. Unhappy; she thought she read that expression, just for a moment. Sarah sat still and quiet, like it might be a competition between the two of them. It made Gehenna feel uncomfortable.
“So what’s with the bird tattoos,” Sarah observed. “Those are tattoos right?”
“They’re from an old poem,” Gehenna replied. She wasn’t about to cast her pearls.
“Did Casey know about the poem?”
This was a hint of what Casey sometimes alluded to in past sessions, competition and childishness. Did Casey know indeed? Casey knew enough for their relationship to almost be an affair of sorts. Unprofessional on her part, she knew. She gave too much to him.
“About the tattoos? Did you tell him?”
Gehenna did not reply. Instead she wrote on the intake form. “I hate this bitch…”
Casey was beginning to freeze. His legs and arms were stiff under the coat of ice covering his clothing. The bridge was to his right so he had no problem keeping his direction in the blowing snow, but the shoreline seemed too far away. If the ice even held while he ran he was still afraid he would freeze before reaching any warmth. He thought he remembered blacking out at one point, like a flash of shadowy light in his eyes. Dizziness and nausea washed over him and he was sure it was over for him. Then he stepped onto the shore!
The shoreline would lead to the freeway on his right. It was hard for Casey to keep his breath, but he knew to stop was to die. He couldn’t believe he was still alive at this point. The temperature was just above freezing; he remembered from the radio before the accident. But the wind was so strong it had to be fatal in this cold.
Casey’s eyes were tearing. The wind was blowing strong in his face. His limbs were burning, aching from the exertion. It took all his concentration to keep moving. It was like trying to run through wet cement. The wet trousers and flannel shirt were weighing him down, feeling like an extra hundred pounds as he plodded along, but he decided it was safer to keep moving than to stop to take his wet clothes off. They were most likely frozen by now anyways. It would be a troublesome task, which could possibly kill him.
The smell of exhaust fumes touched his nostrils before he heard the low grumbling of many engines running at once. Suddenly it dawned on him what was happening. He could envision the overturned jack-knifed truck on the bridge. Confusion and backed up traffic to this point, probably farther, and in this weather. The snow was blowing so it was hard to see a few steps in front of him. But he realized when he started up the incline he was at the freeway. He was there, somehow, and he was going to survive, maybe.
The incline was tough to manage. It was just steep enough to make him slip if he didn’t watch his footing. It was slow going and his body began to cool off in the wind. He was scared. He may not make the highway at this rate, so close to possible survival, yet falling short at the finish line. His eyes were closed, they might as well be, he couldn’t see anyways. His eyelids felt as though they were freezing.
All at once the terrain evened out. Casey heard the loud honking of a car horn to his direct left. He rubbed at his face with the palms of his hands, forcing the lids to break free and move of their own accord. He turned left. An old dark blue van was within arm’s reach. He was directly in front and could see a woman at the wheel. Suddenly Casey was confused. Who was this? Where was he? The horn honked again. He watched the woman in the van waving to him, beckoning him to the passenger door of the van.
She was not alone on the highway. Cars were in front and behind, lined up from the accident on the bridge to as far back as he could see. Windshield wipers were slapping back and forth, headlights dimming as they became covered with snow. He heard the sound of a car honking, then the creak of a door opening. “Get in here!” a female voice shouted. He followed the voice, to warmth. Casey could feel heat. His body relaxed, eyes closed. He was going out fast and he knew it.
“What are you doing out there man?” the female voice asked.
“There are a lot more of those people lately,” Sarah observed.
“People?” Gehenna asked.
“You know what I mean. Mental.”
“That’s not a real nice thing to say,” Gehenna corrected.
“It’s what they say in other countries.”
“Well there are more, seems like more than usual,”
“Maybe it’s always been like this,” Gehenna observed. “Maybe mental illness has always affected the same percentage of people all through time. We have the internet now, the media, and hundreds of movies about mentally ill people.”
“What would you think if that wasn’t true?” Sarah countered. “Half of my friends are on anti-depressants. Most I’ve known since grade school. They never seemed crazy before. Something happened when they grew older.”
“They weren’t crazy?” Gehenna asked. “I remember young people acting insane, girls getting murdered in cars, guys shooting each other over a bag of weed, kids overdosing in school. I still say the percentages are the same.”
“Well what I really want to know about is Casey, the Hero.” Sarah rolled her eyes without realizing it. Gehenna felt a little nauseated at her contemptuousness. “Do you think, just between you and me, that maybe he went over the edge on purpose?
“I mean, he was distant, depressed, for the longest time. I felt like I had to nag him to do anything, especially to go to work in the morning.”
“We were in negotiations, the two of us. I also thought Casey suffered from depression. I thought he needed to see a psychiatrist and get on some meds. Something to help him get a better perspective.”
“Perspective on what?’ Sarah asked.
“His life,” Gehenna answered. “He wasn’t very happy with his life.”
“Was he suicidal?”
“I believe he was not.”
“I just don’t get it then,” Sarah said, showing a rare sliver of vulnerability. “I was part of his life. If there was something wrong with his life then there was something wrong with us.”
“Not wrong,” Gehenna explained. “Wrong is not a good word to use. I don’t think Casey found anything wrong with his life. He was just chronically unhappy. Like an illness. Like he had a virus that wouldn’t go away.”
“I understand that depression is a disease,” Sarah commented. “I just never related it to Casey.”
“He wasn’t so sick that he couldn’t get out of bed. I have many patients who are that way. He was not that far gone, yet.”
“So what about us?” Sarah asked, showing all of her cards finally. “How did you see our relationship, based on what he said?”
“I don’t judge such things,” Gehenna lied. “And now it’s time for us to change the subject.”
Casey passed out. When he awoke he was still in the van, the girl looking over him.
“Hello?” she asked. “Are you awake?”
Casey stared at her blankly. He could not hear her talking. Instead, he heard the annoying incessant buzzing of a fly. The woman was dark haired. Her shadowy deep brown eyes added to the fierceness of her look. His first instinct was not to trust her. Then she smiled. The buzzing ceased, he heard the woman’s voice.
“My name’s Alex,” she announced. “And you’re Casey. I know this ’cause I’ve already been through your stuff. ” Casey smiled. He felt intoxicated and figured it was from the instant comfort of Alex’s warm van.
“I shook you awake ’cause you need to get out of these clothes now. They’re stiff and frozen. You’re gonna get frost bite or hypothermia, or something.” Alex was tugging at his pants. Casey could barely feel what was happening. She may be right about the frostbite.
“Wiggle your ass out of those pants,” Alex instructed. Casey closed his eyes and tried to pull his pants over his rump. Modesty was the last thing on his mind. He knew Alex was right and he was in a bad way. After both of them struggled enough, the pants managed to come off and the shirt was removed.
“Hold on,” Alex said. “I have a blanket in the back.”
“Where are we?” Casey asked.
“Still at the foot of the bridge,” Alex explained. “Nothing has moved for about half an hour. Why do I think this has something to do with you?”
“Is it still snowing?” Casey asked.
“Snowing and blowing.” Her face appeared above his head, slightly smiling. Casey felt the warm blanket cover him. She started rubbing his legs and arms. He felt okay. He felt like he might survive. Where Alex rubbed his legs felt hot, like his nerve ends were thawing. It was slightly painful, but it wasn’t long before he was sitting up in the passenger seat. Alex was in the driver’s seat opening a thermos. Hot steam rolled out of the top when she was finally successful. She poured some into the screw on cup.
“It’s black coffee,” she said as she handed the cup to him. Casey gratefully accepted it and took a long drink.
Alex stared at him like she was trying to decide something. She held a finger up for him to wait a second and silently moved to the back of the van where she hunted through her bags. It looked to Casey like she was traveling somewhere, packed up and on the move. But there were only a couple bags and a few cardboard boxes in the back, which might even have been empty.
“Here,” she said after returning to the driver’s seat. Alex removed the screw top on a dark bottle, which looked like it held some kind of medicine. She took his coffee cup and slowly poured some liquid into his cup, holding it carefully in front of her face so she could judge the amount coming out of the bottle.
“Elixir of terpenhydrate,” she explained as she watched the thin stream of liquid going into the coffee. “It’ll make you feel better and sweeten your coffee at the same time.” She smiled as she handed back the cup. Casey took a sip, and then swallowed down the rest.
“So,” Alex started, “what’s the deal with you, Casey?”
“Fell off the bridge,” Casey explained.
“Hold on. Traffic’s moving.” Alex had to start the van, put it into gear, and step on the gas to move a few feet on the snow covered expressway.
“Six feet!” she exclaimed. “That’s all we move after thirty minutes?”
“There was an accident,” Casey explained. “A semi jack-knifed, the trailer fishtailed and almost pushed a car with a mother and her two young girls inside over the edge of the bridge and into the river.”
“Good God,” Alex said. “What happened?”
“I rammed them with my truck and took the hit instead. They were pushed out of the way.”
“You’re a hero!”
“I don’t think so, just stupid.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Look what happened,” Casey explained.
“You saved a family, survived the icy river, and now you’re naked here in my van.”
Casey wrapped the blanket a little tighter. The traffic moved, surprising Alex. She popped the van into gear and started pulling ahead onto the bridge.
“I can see flashing lights up ahead,” Alex said.
“That must be the accident scene.”
“They must think you’re dead by now.”
“I don’t doubt it. Sarah will sure be mad.”
“Sarah your wife?”
“Estranged,” Casey explained. “But not so much that she won’t be angry about me dying.”
Sarah looked thoughtfully out Gehenna’s open window, her long golden hair falling back behind her shoulders. Green eyes gave no clue to the determination lying behind them. Casey’s therapist studied the woman’s poker face. She hid herself with a perfection sharpened by years of cultivation. A lifetime of dark purpose tucked away into the recesses of her personality. Casey really had no clue as to the depths of this woman’s heart. Gehenna knew this now, and was repulsed. The woman had the stench about her of someone who always got what she wanted.
Sarah looked down at her feet. Something caught her sight out of the corner of her eye, a dirty ashtray and a pack of filtered cigars lying on the floor partly under an end table. “Red Bucks?” she asked. “Are these yours?”
“I guess I forgot to clean up after myself,” Gehenna explained.
“Casey smoked Red Bucks. I hated that. It made him stink and cough.”
“It’s a nasty habit.”
“I was always under the impression that those were hard to find.”
“Oh no,” Gehenna lied. She tried to cover the guilt in her voice. She swallowed. “They’re everywhere.”
“Humph,” Sarah replied. “Kind of an outdoorsy type of smoke for a young woman like yourself.”
“They’re…” Gehenna’s voice cracked just the tiniest bit. “They’re vanilla flavored.”
They inched up toward the top of the bridge. Alex seemed thoughtful.
“So how is life treating you, Casey?” she asked.
“Not good today,” he answered.
“How about before today? In general?”
“It’s a shit sandwich.”
“’Cause you are at the bottom of the river for all they know. If we drove past and didn’t stop, well you would just be missing and presumed dead. The river will thaw in a couple months, they will find your truck, and assume you’re on your way to your final resting place somewhere south in the heart of the Mississippi.”
“Why would I do that?” Casey asked.
“A new start? A chance at a better anonymous life?”
“So where would you drop me to start this new life? With no money, ID, or clothes for that matter.”
“Well here’s the thing, Casey. I stole this van. If I stop there’s a chance the police will run the plates and figure out I’m not the owner and I’m two states away from where I’m supposed to be.”
“You some kind of criminal?” Casey asked.
“Some kind,” she answered.
They didn’t speak again until cresting the top of the bridge. The confusion of the accident scene was cooled by the time they arrived and people were gathering around each other while others worked intently to keep the traffic moving. The woman and her two children stood alongside their vehicle. She held the hand of the smaller child, who was holding the hand of her older sister. The woman looked as though she had been crying the entire time. She had a blanket from some caring EMT wrapped around her, and she dotted her eyes with the corner of it. The children looked about with lost expressions, holding tight to each other.
“Keep driving,” Casey ordered. Alex slowly accelerated along with the rest of the rubberneckers.
“Look at me,” Alex said. Casey was staring out of the window, half paying attention to the effort to clear the bridge, half watching the ice on the river below. He had just been here a few hours before, or was it a lifetime. Whatever she had put into his coffee was working on him. He felt warm and euphoric. He pulled the blanket closer around his naked body, enjoying the softness against his skin.
“Casey,” Alex snapped. He turned his head around and met her gaze. She stepped on the brake. “Dead is dead. If I keep moving you move beyond this life. Look me in the eyes and tell me what to do.”
Alex had the most penetrating dark eyes Casey had ever seen, yet they were friendly and inviting. Her hair was short and dark, black framing a round face, her eyes intense as she stared at him. She struck him in that moment as a kind of dark angel, or a friendly daemon. She had put a spell on him with a most congenial potion. He smiled inside and looked through her eyes searching her purpose. Did he see something genuine? Something he had not seen in quite some time?
“Dead is dead,” Casey whispered.
“I won’t dump you,” she promised. “I’m with you as long as you need me.”
“Please keep driving,” Casey asked without removing his gaze. His eyes welled up as he stared into her dark depths. A single tear fell down his check. “Please keep driving.”
Alex slowly accelerated, and rewarded Casey with a large heartwarming smile. She had dimples set deep into her rounded cheeks. Her eyes changed to sparkling brown as she turned forward to see the road ahead. She nodded her head positively. “I won’t dump you,” she reiterated, still holding onto the smile.
“You wouldn’t happen to have any smokes, would you?” Casey pleaded.
Alex dug around in the left pocket of her coat and produced a pack of filtered cigars. “Red Bucks,” she announced. “Vanilla flavored.”
“Let’s just put this delusion of yours to rest.”
“What does that mean?” she had a fading smile, “Gehenna? Did I pronounce it correct?” Gehenna had to admit to herself that Sarah had a pretty face. She could see Casey being suckered in by this one, this controlling person, lacking charisma, who probably had never been in love.
“It means Casey is dead. Case closed. Yes, a hero. I’ve archived his file and stored it in my drawer. It means I don’t have to talk about Casey again. I don’t have to think about him ever again. I can concentrate on my other clients.
“You were married to him. He was your husband and he was a good man. Unhappy, but good. Whatever occurred in the marriage was between you two. I know little of your relationship. It’s yours to honor or disdain. I truly believe that if there was a way to survive the fall off the bridge, Casey would have found it. He was not suicidal.
“Now, are you paying cash on your way out? We’re into this for twenty minutes. Are you leaving or do you plan on staying and paying for the rest of the hour?”
David Seaman asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work