Artwork by Hanna Biju. Her full profile is available in the Art & Photography section.
Fall is almost over. I’m going to miss the deep orange hues of the forest.
I used to go down to Cadillac Creek every other day to fish. The trout loved the autumn, but it was hard to see them because the creek was covered in yellow leaves. That’s okay, I didn’t need to see them to know they were there. Neither did my hook. Sometimes Emmylou joined me, but she wasn’t the biggest fan of the twigs and the dirt. I can’t say I blamed her.
The creek was located near the end of a mountain dirt trail where a small bridge arched over the water and moss sprouted from cracks in the rusted stones. The river water never stopped, it ran for miles and miles. My aunt loved this creek. She used to tell me that when we’re dead and gone the water will still be running.
“Doesn’t it ever get tired?” I once asked her.
“Water never gets tired because unlike you, water isn’t a living thing,” she said.
“How many other things in this world aren’t living? Will they ever become living things?” I questioned.
“That’s an absurd thought,” she laughed, and she was right.
“Then what happens to living things when they stop living?” I asked, but she didn’t answer.
We moved out to the San Francisco Bay area about a year ago. We needed to move.
I remember that conversation with Emmylou.
“It’ll be good for us, I promise.”
“But we can handle this, we don’t have to move, not yet,” I pleaded.
“We do, you know we do. It’s been six months now, we can’t live like this any longer-” she looked me in the eyes,“-it’ll be good for us.”
“I already have job offers lined up, and a change of scenery will do wonders for your writing. I promise,” she repeated.
She didn’t make many promises. They were never her style. That’s how I knew she was serious.
Even though I wanted nothing more than to refuse, to scream to the heavens and stay right there, I didn’t say anything. She was right, it will be good for us.
I didn’t like San Francisco in the beginning. It was cold there, far colder than the mountains.
“How is that possible?” I asked Emmylou.
“Your mind’s playing tricks on you!” she joked.
But it was colder. I could taste it in the night air when I went for a walk, but as soon as I reached the Golden Gate I’d turn and go back home. I wasn’t going to cross. I couldn’t.
If I was one of those pelicans in the bay I wouldn’t have to cross on foot, I thought to myself. I could just fly over the bridge and not worry about falling. I wouldn’t need my fishing rod either, I’d just dive into the cool water from any height and pluck one of the fish from the river. I wish she’d been a peli-. No, I can’t think about her. I won’t.
The bay area was perfect for writing. Emmylou was right about that. My last book, about three years ago, didn’t do too well and I promised her I’d make this one better.
“It was a good book, don’t listen to those critics. I liked it, that’s all that matters right?” she said.
“Yes, of course,” I lied.
It didn’t feel good, but I was too tired to break that smile. This book needs to be better.
Our house was cold too and I kept having to tell Emmylou to stop leaving the windows open.
“Sorry, force of habit,” she would say.
The cold in the house felt different from the cold outside though, almost like the cold from the creek.
Was it following me? Was she following me?
No. I can’t let myself think about that.
“Your mind’s playing tricks on you!” Emmylou’s words rang in my head over and over.
My mind is playing tricks on me.
This can’t happen, it doesn’t make any sense.
It’s- I- I- uhh…
No. No, no, no.
“When living things die, they stay dead,” I mutter to myself, hands clasped over my ears tightly and eyes squeezed shut.
“They won’t come back. They can’t come back. I can’t go back,” I say.
Emmylou always tells me to move forward, keep going.
But I can’t. I left her there at the place she loved so much. How could I have turned my back?
This book, I have to write this book to move on and forget about her, about that creek. It needs to be better; I need to be better.
I need to go for a walk.
Only a handful of the streetlights are lit winding through the streets and leaving pockets of light. Are they leading me there, to that bridge? I can’t turn back, not again.
I make my way slowly across the bridge and stop somewhere in the middle. When I look out over the railing I can’t see the water, the fog is too thick. That familiar cold comes back and I see her, my aunt, dancing along the top of the railing, ignoring my concerns. I see the same wobble, just like that day, and her hand stretches out to me, catching empty air.
We moved out here to forget, except, I can’t stop thinking about her.
She fell from that small bridge into the creek, and I just stood there.
What if I fell, right now?
No. I’m not going to fall. It’s almost over.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Emmylou said to me.
It’s about to get a lot colder here, in San Francisco.