by Colleen Anderson
She pierced the air like an arrow shot from an angel’s bow. Her feet pointed toward heaven as though knowing where they’d step next, her hands pressed together, directed the way to her descent. The dive would have received the highest points in the Olympics; her form was so exact, her back arched just right, her legs together, her short blond hair tied tightly back from her head, adding to the streamlined look.
Doug was sure that he was the only one who saw her dive, viewed her perfect diving figure, the calm look upon her face. Had her eyes been open? It was hard to tell and he was so mesmerized by the image as she streaked earthwards that he could do nothing but gape, frozen in an awkward salute, shading the sun from his eyes.
Then, she did not slice through the water, for there was none. Though Doug cheered her to be able to part the earth, she hit with a reverberating thunk and sickly bounce that stopped people on the street. They turned slowly, not knowing exactly what had happened, where the fall had been, perhaps subconsciously fearing the results. In the inevitable rush to the broken doll-like thing, the screams and murmurs, the cell phones stuck to ears, and even in the subsequent wail and hysteric flashing of emergency vehicles, still Doug did not move. Could not move. That arrow of flesh and blood and bones had struck his senses at the moment she died, and there was no doubt with all the blood and other bits he would not look at, Doug had been numbed to his mortal core. His poor meat brain, its pathetically simple synapses could not absorb the mix of death and beauty.
He was still standing in the same spot, gazing nowhere in particular and certainly not at the gruesome mass now surrounded by officials and office ghouls, when he realized in a vague telescopic way, that several people pointed to him. Eventually in the syrupy dream sequence he was breathing, an officer came over to him and asked him something. Doug had never been one to resist or fight and could just as easily be blown away in a good storm, or so he had joked about his slim frame. Yet, he barely noticed the officer gently pushing his stiff body toward a squad car. Once he was sitting, someone put a cup of something into his hand and said, “Drink.”
Most of his life had been doing what others told him; his parents, then his teachers and now his boss. He saw no reason to rock the boat and it was so automatic for him to obey that the cup met his lips before he realized that it was hot tea. Burning his lip, he brought his hand up to it and finally registered some words. “Take your time. When you’re ready, we would like to get a statement from you. You saw her fall?”
He nodded. “She dove.”
Taking another gulp of tea, Doug frowned and looked up at the officer. “She was like a diver, like she was diving into a swimming pool.”
The officer looked down at him, not unkindly and scribbled in his book. “A diver?”
“Pointed toes and hands and all. She knew what she was doing. Didn’t look scared or anything.”
“Did she look like she was on drugs?”
Doug shrugged and grasped the paper cup tighter, hunching into his sweatshirt. “I dunno. I couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or not but she sure didn’t look outta control. Why would she do something like that?”
“People commit suicide for different reasons. She may have been ill or lost a loved—“
“No,” Doug shook his head as if trying to shake the events into an order that would make sense. “No. Why would she dive to her death as if she were in a diving competition? Why put such art into her death?”
The officer patted his shoulder once. “I can’t tell you that. Perhaps once the investigation is done they’ll have some answers. I have to take a few more statements but you can wait here. You’re suffering from shock. Someone will be by in a moment to see how you’re doing.”
The officer walked off. Then someone did come by, several someones. A paramedic looked him over and suggested he take the day off work. Another cop asked for information again and took his name and address, then said he was free to go and got another cop to even give him a ride. He was still too wrapped in weirdness to appreciate that his first ride in a cop car was when they weren’t hassling him. When Doug got out at his apartment, he asked, “Do you think I might be able to find out why she did it, after the um, investigation is done?”
The cop made a note in a booklet and looked over at him. “If there was no indication of foul play this will be wrapped up sooner. But often the information may be confidential for various reasons. Here.” The cop handed him a card with a number scribbled on the back. “Call in a week and ask for this case number. They’ll let you know if there’s anything they can tell you.”
Doug watched TV that night though he would never remember what had been on. He kept seeing the woman diving, plummeting to her death and he could not reconcile the beauty and the horror of it. He’d never really given much thought to beauty before, took it for granted and saw it only in a woman he might be interested in. Once in a while, some awesome image would catch his attention but he had never really, consciously looked at or looked for beauty before. It wasn’t that the dead woman had been beautiful—he’d been too far away to see her features that clearly—but it was the symmetry and perfection of her dive, of beauty moving into death. Why had she brought elegance to her knowing death?
Why had she seen fit to die in beauty? Surely if she could do something so graceful she would not have needed or wanted to die. Doug imagined her as an angel diving from heaven, the wings tucked tightly in, still filmy in etherealness. That image only worked until he saw again her very real impact with the earth. Perhaps that’s what happened to angels if they touched ground. They exploded. Their incorporeal thoughts, their etheric substance, like anti-gravity and gravity coming together, could not stand the baseness and corruption of human life.
Eventually Doug found himself going to bed though his mind tagged along distractedly. Try as he might, the woman kept diving through his dreams, giving him a restless and unnerving night. And the few dreams he had were of angels calling to him but their intent was to touch him and watch him explode.
Still dazed in the morning, he decided nothing would be served by staying at home, letting his roommates drill him with questions, or dwelling on the woman’s death. He dressed and eventually arrived at work, only five minutes late. He couldn’t even recall if he’d called in yesterday but his boss, an uncommunicative man at best, looked at him and actually asked, “How you feelin’?”
Doug shrugged. “Okay, I guess. It wasn’t me that fell. I mean it was pretty…awful but it’s gotta be worse for that woman’s family. But I dunno, it was kinda…” He drifted off and shrugged again, then started making dough for the pizza. His boss left him to himself.
The day fell into the familiar rhythm of making pizzas and the inevitable rush of lunchtime hungries and then the after-school, waiting-for-the-bus crowd, grabbing their buck-a-slice pizzas. Doug found himself abstractedly thinking of the diver and looking, actually looking at the people who came into the pizza shop. Usually he maintained an automaton’s interest, working, collecting his paycheck and leaving, little interest in the world around him. Where was the splendor in these people? Many shambled and slunk, jostled and pushed, rushed and jounced into the shop, giggling or acting tough or looking distant.
Did they have art and grace in their lives, and had that diver? Perhaps she had had nothing beautiful to live for and sought magnificence in her death. But surely, if she could accomplish it in death she could have done the same thing in life? Doug shook his head, irritated. The diver’s motives confused him, as if her passing had stirred the eddies and currents of his thoughts, disordering them, swirling them into new patterns.
He made it through the rest of the week, wading the currents of his mind, trying to sort them into an orderly picture. Try as he might, to himself or with his buddies drinking beer in the pub, he could not fit the imagery into a picture that made sense. His friends were as little help as he expected them to be.
“Maybe she was dive-bombing,” which was greeted with drunken laughter.
“Maybe she was just fuckin’ crazy.”
And on it went with halfhearted attempts at serious thought. Doug just sat there, a half-smirk on his face but he couldn’t even deride his friends, for the puzzle consumed his thoughts.
He waited until Monday, agitated as if he were going on his first date, before he called the police, the sweaty business card crinkled in his fingers. When someone answered, he began before he lost his nerve. “Um, hi, I was wondering about case number LC2493. They said I could call and find out about the woman who dived, who uh, fell to her death last week.”
“Are you family?”
“Uh no.” He wiped his hand on his pants. “The policeman said I might be able to find something out. I witnessed her um, fall. I’ve just been wondering, I can’t quite sleep—I just wanted to know why, if they found out anything.”
There was a pause, then, “Just a minute please.” Musack filled his ear.
Doug looked around at his place, waiting, not sure if he would learn anything. There was little that was attractive in this old house. Shared with two roommates, it was a shambles of cast-off and rundown furniture in outdated colors and patterns. The walls had once been freshly painted. The rock posters hinted of teenaged years and bore the battle wounds of being ripped and packed and unpacked more than once. Besides the puke orange of the couch, there was little of brightness or color. Nothing soothed the eye or brightened the mind, and the signs that no one cared were everywhere.
Someone came back on the phone, a man’s voice. “Hi, I’m sorry, we can’t give out much information. But the family stated earlier that it was okay to tell you this. Ms. Seymour wasn’t ill and left no suicide note. We’re still not sure why she jumped but foul play has been ruled out.”
“Oh. Well, thanks. Yeah, bye.” Doug hung up the phone, the why still hanging over his head like an archangel with a flaming sword. Maybe she had just wanted to go with style and grace before her life became a pathetic attempt at living. Like Doug’s.
He ran his hands through his straight, prematurely peppered hair. Staring down at his faded sweatshirt, he noticed a red stain. Pizza sauce from yesterday’s orders. He got up and changed into a clean T-shirt, his mind thankfully blank for once. Yet, he realized it had been blank too much of his life, filled only with the noise and shallow ambiance of TV and pubs. All the thinking he’d been doing, the puzzling and ordering of someone else’s life that he never knew, or perhaps the ordering of her death, should have made him tired. Instead, he felt alert, stirred up.
Doug paced the living room, then realized that there was no reason to stick around the house. It was still early for work but the sun shone hot, bleaching color to softer tones. A walk in the fresh air wouldn’t hurt.
On the street, there wasn’t much to see. An older district with houses badly needing paint, verandahs tilting and windows holding the murk of seasons. Still Doug looked closely, actually paid attention and noted so much he had never seen before. Elements of shade and light played off the new, whitewashed picket fence against the spill of garbage cans and flaking paint in front of a slate gray house. A juxtaposition of the new and perfect, and the dilapidated and dying. He began to understand that perhaps there was loveliness in death, in disrepair, but only if it was appreciated.
He eventually wandered onto the streets with quaint coffee shops, decadently named chocolate stores and eclectic fresh fruit and vegetable markets. The robust reds, inflamed oranges and seductive greens led him along the storefronts. He saw colors and shapes and even discerned a few scents amongst the metallic odor of cars.
As he passed the community college, its young saplings just beginning to dance with leaves, he felt pulled into the dark interior. He had never been inside before and couldn’t think why he would go there. Standing in the foyer of sand and deep brown bricks, he looked around. The backlight of sun shining through the far window gave people the appearances of shades. The polished sheen of the floor tiles added to the ethereal length and wavery quality, making individual features indistinct. As they drew closer, their features became clearer and although some of the women were attractive not many of them seemed to shine. Even the men had these qualities, or lack of them. It was as if they were truly shades, muddied by shadow, never quite glowing with inner awareness.
Doug looked down at his hands and wondered what it took. He could never have put it in words but there was something missing from some people, a deadness that blunted their faces. Was that the difference? Were they dead and not knowing it? Were they afraid to dive into life? Maybe the woman had already felt dead and had been diving out of death not life.
“Can I help you?”
Doug turned slowly, one hand on the strap of his pack, and realized he probably looked like another lost student. Well, maybe he was. A young man with wavy blond hair watched him, mildly curious. He probably dealt with lost or dazed souls every day. If the woman who had died were standing in front of the gates to heaven or the registration desk, she would be there with confidence, knowing what she wanted from death.
Doug had never dived into anything in his life. He had either moved slowly or receded, like the tide, from any threat or confrontation. When he had felt compelled, which was rarely, he had moved forward slowly, not necessarily examining so much as just taking his own sweet time.
In his own way, he decided to take the plunge. “Um, yeah, I was wondering what courses you have coming up and when they start?”
The man pulled some catalogues from under the counter as Doug moved forward. “Any particular subjects?”
“Yeah, um, cooking, chef classes, that sorta thing.”
By the time Doug emerged into the cacophony of the day and the bright colors and shadows, his pack was a little heavier with upcoming classes and information. He actually smiled at a woman walking by, not meaning anything but an informal greeting.
On his way to work he stopped in a print and art shop and just flipped through the pictures. The interpretations of art were numerous. Some he found profoundly ugly and some were kind of nice. A few were inscrutable, as if peering into the mind of an animal or an alien. He left empty-handed, not sure that pasting art on the walls was a way to have beauty enter one’s life. For one bright moment, he recognized that pictures could become traps, like buying clothes or fancy cars. What ended up as a wrapping could not disguise the crumbling foundations.
Doug eventually ended up back at the pizza factory. He rolled up his sleeves and tied on an apron to once again roll out dough. He smiled as he laid salami and olives on the crust. Where had he heard it before; that beauty was in the eye of the beholder? He had found some intriguing imagery and realized he was only scratching the surface. Even the people coming in to buy pizza slices looked more interesting, if not exactly attractive.
Perhaps it was time for Doug to take the dive.
Colleen Anderson is a 2011 and 2012 Aurora Award finalist in poetry. Her work has appeared in Deep Cuts, Polu Texni, Bibliotheca Fantastica, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. New work of hers is forthcoming in Bull Spec, Fantastic Fronters, and Chilling Tales 2, among others. Learn more about this author and artist by visiting her website.