I screamed for the first time. I wanted to be heard, more than I had wanted anything in my life. I made a scene, I felt alive.
My wedding had been astonishingly efficient. Effective. Everyone moved quick as ants to a queen.
“Do you need anything?”
“How are you feeling?”
“Do you like it?”
“Do you love it?”
“Do you want it?”
I felt like baby Jesus. Swaddled in the chaos of an end to romance. The romance of change, possibility. Where we once teetered and now dropped flat-footed in the sand, was sweet and overrun by eager insects ready to build for this and for that. Above me, I swore a house was being built in suspension and would be lowered onto my fiancé and me before we finished our vows. But yes, I relished. I still had it. Still held that unnamed essence in myself, until my vows.
I never noticed it before, but it was mine. Leaving my hands and feet dirty after the end of a long day. Kicking and punching restlessly asleep. Waking up alone. Letting my saliva dribble down the sides of the orange juice jug. It was a secret of personhood that I kept. Of my existence. It was mine. Mine.
Tick! Tick! Tick!
Carefully, determined, I picked at my fingernails. I had decided to live one year prior, to the day, and now, I supposed, to the hour, the minute, the moment. I determined that life was inevitable, that it would continue to happen to me regardless. At least I knew this world, at least I was grounded like an old, wet boulder, sinking a little more in some mud over time. Someday I would be gone, but not before my time. I would deserve my absence. So I accepted that my life wouldn’t end with my first husband’s. I would live another life.
I had watched my mother marry, over and again. My aunts and my grandmother followed suit. They uprooted themselves all at once like flowers desperate to become a bouquet. Not for freedom, but to have the comforting, and stylish encapsulation of a vase. To be admired again, as something new, something put together and made whole. I had not been so desperate then, but I was desperate at this moment to become something whole again. Perhaps, a wife. And then a mother. And then a widow. This was the pattern my mother followed; married first at 17 and then 20, and then widowed and dormant for a few years. And then me, and then her third husband after a few decades of nothing. It’s still going. After being widowed at 22, I supposed that at 24 it was about time for another husband. Always one step behind my mother, she’d re-remarried the same year. I supposed after this husband, I would get to that long stretch of nothing. I didn’t know whether to await it longingly, or to dig my brittle nails in. Looking into my soon-to-be husband’s eyes, I saw an endless black. Maybe the nothing was already here.
I dug my heels into the padding of my shiny, black shoes. I gripped the bouquet of dried pampas grass like I’d just ripped it from the ground. Something in me wanted to bury my face in it and shred it with my teeth. My armpits sweat, and wet deodorant drip ran down the sides of my satin gown. I felt myself coming apart, I felt my eyes growing hot, and then: nothing. Life overwhelmed me most days, but it was inevitable. I couldn’t escape it.
“Kiss the bride.”
His lips were moist and sour. And then rice and salt, roaming the aisle down side by side. They feasted on us with their rolling, dripping eyes, moving, like twisting mauling jaws.
I lean through the broad, skyscraping doors of the church, slow and steady like passing through a wall of gelatin. I stepped slowly as I had down the aisle; I was relishing something I couldn’t yet name. I couldn’t bear knowing just what I’d lost. I hadn’t said goodbye. I slid my shoes off, as they squeaked and scratched at my ankles in protest. The wedding was over.
I let my toes embrace the grass tightly, ripping bits of it up as I strolled. I felt the weight of the moon on my back, and I pulled against it. I fought to stay on the ground, in my world. With each step forward, I lost my matronly gait. I wanted to run, madness bubbled hotly in the chambers of my heart. I felt black char crawling out from my chest, infecting me. When I was a good distance away from the church—far enough that it looked like a doll’s house—I fell to my knees. Sunset crept its blood-orange cloak over the forest. Indigo came over me, and I lost myself in the angelic ocean hue.
I felt nasty. I pierced the soil with my fingertips, digging up grass by the root. My throat was dry with anticipation, my stomach twisted with hunger. My jaws spread and contracted like a snake’s.
I pulled at my hair, chunks of dirt breaking off into it. I rubbed it onto my face, closing my eyes and gulping in air, maddening with each breath. And then I saw her.
A black bear. She was a tendril of malformed shadows, an extension of the tar-melt inside me. Her eyes were deep and dark, starving as a gaping hole. Starving as me.
Naila Buckner is an aspiring author who specializes in poetry and short prose fiction. She has published works in the “2022 Colorism Healing Writing Contest” anthology, and has a deep passion for writing that has been with her since childhood. As an author, she hopes to inspire others to create safe, creative spaces for themselves and others.