Fissure

Lying on the bed, arms under head, staring through the window at the sea.  The sea, deep blue, sky lighter. Clouds haunted with lavender
shades.  Wind from the northeast, driving white waves onto the distant yellow beach.

"Julia... "

My name like a hollow echo.

"Julia... "

I stand.  A woman's voice, below the house, somewhere.  To the window, without expectations of seeing anyone.

"Julia... "

A trick of wind whistling through the teeth of trees?  No, I see a face reflected in a scrim of water.  She is gray-haired, bemused, calling
me.   Diane's voice.  We've never met, yet I know her well.  Phone, internet, blends of words with a photograph apiece passed between
us.  Diane, who lives far away.

I throw covers over the unmade bed.  The house is a mess.  I fuss about, but there is no time.  I rush past the half wall by the stairs, past
the forest of potted plants to the door.  I grasp the brass knob and stop.  A tiny gray bird hides amidst the green leaves.  But the bird is
not a bird.  It stares with sharp eyes and slowly unfolds gray wings.  A bat.

Horrified, I open the door wide and hurry out.  The bat hesitates and then flies through, swallowed by sky.

"Julia... Julia... "

I stand in the front yard, staring at the portico, which is supported by square columns carved with hieroglyphics and symbols: eye of
Horus, vulture, half moon, papyrus, etched insets in ivory marble. I've never noticed them before.

"Julia... "

I follow the voice around the side of the house.  Sturdy rock bluff and windswept, stiff green grass.  A chill crisps the air.  Like a searching
ghost, Diane comes toward me, arms outstretched.  As she approaches, I study her face, familiar because of the photograph, strange
because she is animate, frowning and smiling, expressions of light and dark, seconds apart.

Diane places her hands on my shoulders. "You must understand," she whispers.  Her eyes are hazy blue.  Her hair is the color of the bat.  
"Please understand."

I listen, wanting to help, unsure of her.  Be kind, my mind says.

She points to the columns. "The symbols will tell us."

I shake my head.  Confusion.

"About your dream," she says in an urgent voice.  "You need to understand.  If we add the numbers, the equation will explain it all."

I look at the carved column. 222.  "Six?"  I don't believe this is the answer.

She smiles.  "Two of us and two of us and two of us."

"You and me?"

"Yes.  And me and Paula and me and my daughter."

"Too many of us," I reply and mean it.  Diane's relationships are boxes into which she often vanishes.

"That all depends on your perspective," she replies.  "For me, for now, it works."

Diane guides me toward the hill.  The scent of ocean salt mixes with the husky dryness of oak.  Sun is bright and blinding.

"Are you okay?" I ask.  One question plucked out of thousands.

"Yes."

"How did you get here?"

"Does it matter?" She is serene.

I envy serenity.  Yet, as always, I throw pebbles in the still pond.  "Why did you come?"

My question spins into silence.  We walk.  I can't see anything except for her gray hair wings, blowing around my head.  I am lulled.  Going
along.  Time seduced.

Then I fall.  Backward into space and darkness -- into earth, a fissure in the black rock.  My shoulders pressed under stone.  Narrow
crevice with blue rectangle high above.  Locked tight, held down by the weight of forty feet of cracked mountain.

Diane leaps over the patch of sky and disappears.

I scream.

Did Diane push me and then jump down the hill, leaving me to die?  Or did she lose her balance and fall to her own death?  My eyes shut
out the inner sight.

                                                                            ***

Yellow sunlight stripes my knees, follows my wool trousers to the floor, and crosses the nubs of beige carpet to the tips of her black boots.

"At the very least she abandoned you," she says.

A frightening possibility.  "I don't know."

"Or was she trying to kill you?"

My throat tightens.  "Maybe."

"What feels like the answer?"

"Like both.  I was left alone... "

"Your usual state."

"Yes, it is.  It terrifies me."  I hate admitting this.  She knows.

"So Diane left you there, unable to move."

Analysis is more comfortable than feelings.  "But the equation... two of us together... equation of two... that meant... "  My mild protest
fades into realization.  "That the equation adds up to... I don't know... falling."

"Falling? How?"

"Like in love."  This is too facile.  We both know it will only save me for a second.

She waits, giving me time.  "Julia, how does this love feel?"

I wish the shadows in the room would cover my eyes.  "Dangerous... a death trap."  I am anxious.  When I am anxious, I smile.  "I let
myself be trapped, didn't I?"

"Perhaps.  Maybe you were trying to make the relationship work, to be helpful, to understand."

"That's what I do.  Giving too much.  Trying too hard.  So much that I didn't attend to what was happening until I literally lost my balance
and fell... or was pushed."

"It sounds like you're blaming yourself.  It's typical of you to believe this-- "

"That everything is my fault?  My failure?"

She nods.  "But you're being harsh with yourself.  In this case, no, I don't think the failure is your fault."

Relief.  She must often remind me.  My second voice, hers, the one I'm learning to hear along with my own.

"What about my history?" I ask, hoping she will erase all that has gone before.

"That was then.  This is now.  This is different.  You did your best."

"Are you sure?"  Doubt crawls under my superficial assurance.

Her smile is believable.  "Yes, I'm sure."

"But what about the bat?" I ask.

"Tell me about it."

"The bat was pale gray."

"What did it remind you of?"

"It was the color of Diane's hair."

"So she was the bat escaping from your house?"

"She didn't leave until I opened the door, not until I wanted her to go."

"Before that she was content to stay?"

"Yes.  She wanted to be with me."

"And then?"

"When I opened the door, she flew outside."

"And you followed her... followed her voice."  She tucks one foot behind the other.  "Julia, this reminds me of last week. You tried to end
the relationship then, didn't you?"

I nod.  "And the next day I gave her another chance."  I look at the wall, which is as blank as my mind wants to be.  "That's similar, isn't
it?  Asking her to leave and then following her."  I thought about this.  "I guess that as long as she was a good bird sitting calmly in the
plants I would've let her stay inside.  Once she transformed into a bat, I wanted her out of the house."

"Tell me about the good Diane... "

"She's very intelligent.  The conversations and e-mails are so luxurious and fluid -- like we flow together on the same stream.  She's
engaging.  Challenging."

"Quite a challenge given the distance and her frequent unavailability... all the times she was late for phone dates or re-scheduled them."

I nod.  She's right.

"Diane's constant switches and changes must be very upsetting for you," she offers.

The empathy is a balm, one I am unable to apply myself.

"Going back to the dream... what does your house represent?" she asks.

"Safety."

"What else?"

"A private place." I pause.  "My self?"

"So how did the bat get inside in the first place?"

"I don't remember.  It was just there."

"She was there."

"Yes. Her voice and her words were in the house with me.  Through the phone and e-mail."

"Coming in through small holes, like a bat does."

"I suppose so.  She contacted me first, if you remember."

"She flew in, perhaps as a bird... "

"A beautiful bird."

"And then the beauty transformed into something you didn't want in your life, in your house."  She pauses and studies me with kindness.  
"So, Julia, if she left your house, your self, why did you remain outside?  Why did you walk toward the bat transformed into Diane?"

I sigh.  "I wanted to help her, to understand.  She seemed upset."

"Like in the conversations you've had with her?"

"A few of them, yes."

"What does this remind you of?"

"My usual role.  Giving by listening."  I am silent, observing her.  She is waiting for me to say more.  "And as usual I didn't listen to my own
warnings... my own concern that this relationship isn't good for me.  Then I fell -- or Diane pushed me -- and it was too late."

My chest is crowded with air.  I swallow more of it.  "When I was looking up at the sky, locked within the rock so I couldn't move, I knew I
was going to die.  That I would never get free.  Somehow this felt fated."

"Like death by falling in love was your punishment, the end result you always expect?"

"The one that usually happens."

"I don't think you're even angry at Diane, are you?"

I shake my head.  "No, I guess not. Her behavior was her behavior.  And my history is my history... my equation that equals my death, my
failure."

She is quiet, regarding me with my own sadness.

                                                                         ***

I listen to Diane's explanations and excuses.  Tumbles of them.  Hypocrisy nips at the edges of my consciousness, that is, her hypocrisy.  
Okay for her to cheat on her lover Paula by beginning a relationship with me; unconscionable that her lover should do the same to her,
writing flirtatious e-mails to a woman and leaving them on the computer for Diane to find.

Long minutes pass in which I am silent, foregoing my usual responses, the questions I ask to extend the bridge between us.  Diane
doesn't seem to notice and segues to her daughter, who refuses to hear about her mother's lesbianism.  Instead of dealing openly with
the issue, Diane compartmentalizes her sexuality, her relationships with women, and no longer mentions them to her daughter, just as
she probably compartmentalizes me and her daughter with Paula and compartmentalizes Paula and her daughter with me.  Once again, I
am trapped into a narrow crevice, a thin slice of Diane's time and life.

No, my dream was a warning, I think to myself as she continues to talk.  Oh, but the loss.
The loss. I am weary of subtraction, my counter
to her additions, to all of her two plus two plus two plus two mathematics.  Heed the dream's meaning.

When Diane finally realizes I'm not participating, she pauses.  "Julia, is there something the matter?"

I hesitate, hating to lose what I never really possessed.  "Diane, I can't do this anymore.  I'm really sorry."

A hush like a wind comes down the line, as if we're connected on either side of an endless tunnel.

"Our relationship is so wonderful at times and so painful at others."  I tell the truth, thinking about the beautiful bird and the frightening
bat.

"But I'm in the process of ending with Paula," she explains.

"
In process can take a long time."

"You're right.  It could."

There is her honesty.  Shining, tempting me to continue with her.

"Do you understand why this is so hard for me?" I ask, desiring her understanding and also her forgiveness, to close my eyes and flow
with all that is right between us.

In the background, her dog barks.  I hear Diane clip a leash to his collar.  As she descends the stairs, she apologizes for the interruption
and explains how long the dog has waited for his walk.  Outside, her cell phone signal weakens, and her voice acquires an uneven strength
and an air of distraction.  "I suppose I do," she replies, "I mean, understand."

The fact that her dog takes precedence over our conversation makes it easier for me.  "I was very hopeful about us."  I sit up and place my
feet on the floor, as if I am preparing to walk away.  "We were so close to perfect when we were so close to perfect."

Suddenly, she perceives the finality of the situation and stops walking.  "I know. I feel the same way... and have from the first time we
talked on the phone."

Diane is trying to prolong the conversation, to re-route the ending.  She offers so much -- the dance that enchants, but only when she
allows the music to play; a relationship always on her terms, on her time, limited and fragmented.

"Diane, I wish... "  For a second, I freeze, stunned by a collapse of will.  No. Open the door and usher the bat out.  Close the door and
stay inside, safe.  "I wish for what will never happen, at least not now.  I'm sorry," I repeat.  The words are so thin.  "Goodbye."

I hang up the phone and lie back against the pillows, my arm under my head, staring out the window.  The sea is deep blue, the sky
lighter.  In the distance, a small gray bird flies away.
Laury A. Egan
Laury A. Egan has received awards/publications for both fiction and poetry as well as receiving a Pushcart Prize
nomination. Her short stories have appeared in
New York Stories, Paradigm (online and anthology), and Grasslimb; her
poetry in
The Ledge, Atlanta Review, Sea Stories, and The Centrifugal Eye. A full-length collection, "Snow, Shadows, a
Stranger", is forthcoming from FootHills Publishing in 2009. In addition, Laury has written several suspense novels.
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