She pulled her girls in a carriage behind her bike. Their plastic high heels and necklaces clicked. The river was in the distance. So was the shopping center. It swelled like a blister. She’d been wild when she was younger. Now, she didn’t look like a suburban mom, her tattoo underneath her tank top, her skinny tan legs. She looked like a boy, like a hard insect. Red lips and unpainted fingernails. She had blonde daughters who wore ballerina outfits and said strange things, ages three and four.
Today, in her peripheral vision she saw a woman who looked just like herself. This woman had the same slouch, the same blurred red of an inky flower on her shoulder. This was trouble, she knew. Not a curse, perhaps, not that obvious. Not worth worrying herself over. She needed to get seltzer, paper clips, tortilla chips, wine. She needed things. But this woman was too close to her, right beside her shoulder. This woman was suggesting she just get off the bike, was whispering for her to rest her bike on the ground and take off. Not to drown herself in the river. Not to leap from the cliffs beyond the shopping center. But to really take off. Take off to where the signs said, 300 miles away.
She wasn’t thirty yet. She made sacrifices for her husband and children. She tried to learn practical things, how to sell houses, how to cook different recipes. She’d married her husband on a hill. He was a nice man, not like the ones who came before him, dark haired, cruel, sizzling. Her husband didn’t yell, but he certainly wasn’t kind, he certainly wasn’t the best one for her. She’d never say it, but she missed the men who tried to pull dirty things in bed, held their keys up with their drugs on the end for her. But that wasn’t all of it. Sometimes hard things like marble or cement looked incredibly soft to her.
She wasn’t thirty yet, but she’d had a baby die inside her. Her daughter’s heart had been on the outside of her body and she’d been born dead. She went out to dinner one night and tried to tell this story, but ended up dropping her wedding ring in her water glass to watch how fast it would sink. Dinner had been beautiful and expensive, the pink skull of a fish. There was a poet and both his wives stuck their heads in the oven. She remembers learning this in high school. If she knew for sure that her husband’s second wife would also stick her head in the oven, she would gladly do it first.
The woman who looked just like her was still by her side, also had her hair, her green eyes, her small breasts. This double seemed to want to give her the answers. She thought of crashing her bike, of which parts of her brain affected speech, memory, and knowing the names of things. Which parts of her brain, when stimulated with electricity, might create this image of her double. What damage had she done to herself. What hope did she have for things without explanation. Harbingers.
Later, in her garden, the woman was there again. This time she knew it meant death. It meant climb to the tops of towers and fling yourself onto the spikes. It meant put on your wedding dress and burn down the house. It meant make dinner, set the table, ask how his day was. It meant drink wine in the shower, the glass steaming up, your fingers cold. It is what it is. Everything is like being married, everything is difficult, shitty, hilarious. Everything makes you catch your breath.
She imagined her dead, baby daughter like an awful butterfly in the garden. Pink, moth-like, dangerous.
Perhaps her alive daughters would forgive her, would grow up to realize that this was no kind of life, would understand why she packed her suitcase and left, would even someday leave themselves. She walked out of the house, got in her car and drove past the shopping center, the river, the green signs that marked the miles and towns of the distance. The woman who looked like her, her double, left her side then, disappeared from her. And she knew that this woman had walked into the gleaming white house that she was leaving behind. Had walked in, closed the door and sat down at the kitchen table. Soon, her husband would be home with her daughters. It would get dark outside and be night.
Photo by Steve Shearer.