You are standing at the edge of a cliff and looking out at the gray, churning water 30 feet below as waves crash over jagged rocks. You back away, half-dizzy, stomach pumping with vertigo. Behind you to your right is an outcropping of grim boulders, weathered from wind, flattened by time. You thrust your hands into the pockets of your Levi’s and wince as your dry knuckles scrape against the hemline of the blue jeans’ stitching.
You shuffle and slide across black soggy leaves over to the boulder that grows out of the ancient Alabama mountainside. Your hiking boots give you footing, but you still feel uneven, with pressure in your ears.
You turn and sit on a tongue of rock that forms a chair unusually well-suited for your thin frame, one of those natural seats that doesn’t seem real somehow, but that you know has been there since prehistoric times, before anything that we know as intelligent walked or slithered on earth. And for some reason you remember a children’s bible illustration where Jesus, sitting on a similar rock, gestured His eight beatitudes to a throng. You can’t remember the commandments, but you know you are not among the blessed.
But thinking of childhood Sunday school does make you think of the word love, and you know you didn’t love Allisa, and you know that you never really loved her, that you were merely
obsessed by her. And it was not even by her looks per se. While not ugly, she would never pass Madison Avenue’s tests for looks. Her crystal blues under those thinning black bangs turned you on. But did they work on others? Her Cuban accent and cravings for Thai food, her encyclopedic knowledge of architecture multiplied your
romantic longings, which she did not reciprocate. Not until that final night. Not until her passion boiled over and set you on fire. Her friendship had been platonic and yet, and yet … there was always the “ooh ah” factor in your favor.
Allisa had giggled at the first sight of computer eye candy. When was that? 1990? ’91? You’d shown her the shiny new Windows 3 splash screen as it zoomed across your monitor. Techie stuff won her heart as often as roses. She broke out in a huge grin when you told her you were going to email something to yourself. That was her first Internet epiphany, circa 1994. Years later, last week to be exact, she texted a picture of herself to you. In the photo she stood beside a mural at the art museum — a mural of a twisty mountain road — hand on her hip, a smile in her eyes, one black pump up in the air.
The fundraiser at the museum had gone well into the night. You waited up for her. She’d texted around 11:00 or so, admitting she’d had three glasses — and counting — of Merlot, admitting her date was a creep, admitting she really wished you were there.
Drunk yourself from a twelve pack of beer and no food, you called her cell an hour later. She’d answered on the first ring with a sweet, “Hell-lloo.”
“I only have sex with good-looking guys,” she’d told you. “That son of a –. It’s always like that, isn’t it? They’re always like that. Sex. Drugs. Rock-and-roll. All of them.”
You didn’t follow her train of thought, muddied by wine, or yours, sullied by beer. But your eyes had lit up. Your face had brightened.
Now your face sags, hangdog eyes. You feel scaly, eyes bulging like a fish’s. What was it the nerd said in the office last week? The guy with the letters MISKA-some-shit-or-other on his sweatshirt that casual Friday?
“You’ve got that Innsmouth look going, buddy.”
You had no idea what that had meant. You didn’t care. You didn’t care then, and you don’t care now. Your mouth is hanging open, though, so you can take in big gulps of air. Mouth-breather. You roll your
eyes. Well, you are from Alabama. That’s what people expect to see. Mouth-breathers.
You sigh. Your thoughts are gloomy, pre-winter clouds, roiling like a too-hot November day that presages tornado outbreaks.
You snap out of your daydream when you realize your hands are tingling. They’re still in the pockets of your jeans. You’d sat down with them like that. Now you wiggle them out, and the dry skin on your hands finally cracks, and two of your knuckles bleed. You grip one hand with the other, worried you’ll get blood all over your North Face jacket and people will stare at you later. Either that, or the coroner will ponder your bloody hands after they fish your body from the waters below.
There isn’t much you can do, is there? Your mind is numbed by data entry and bad nutrition and subtle musings about madness.
“Do you want to come over?” you had said to Allisa Fuentes that night.
And Allisa Fuentes, from Santiago de Cuba, where communist revolution had been born, had giggled like a conservative white American schoolgirl of the 1950s.
“Sure! I’m turning around now, and we can –.”
The phone had gone dead in your hand. You gawked at it, a stupid grin on your face. You tried her number again. You tried it over and over, assuming she just hit a dead spot in coverage. No signal.
“I’m turning around now, and we can –,” had been Allisa’s last words when, distracted, she lost control of the car, and plunged 1000 feet into the roaring mountain river below.
She was still holding the phone when they found her. It was her right hand. You’re looking at your own right hand now. It’s still bleeding. And scaly. It’s the color of a fish.
You stand, roll your head, and shuffle away from the rocky edge of the cliff, wondering if the words “Innsmouth look” have any real meaning. Maybe they do, but weird crap like that doesn’t matter. You walk back and get in your car, a high-tech SUV that’d been idling, waiting for you, and when its display lights up, telling you your own cell phone has been detected by its Bluetooth rigging, you grind your teeth, take the phone and sling it as far as you can out the car window, over the bluff. As you put the car into drive you think you hear the goddamn thing die on the rocks below. You hope so. You’re going to pretend you do, anyway.
Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.