Lydia Ship

Falling in Savannah

There are women in Savannah who want to kill themselves.  Can we stop them?  No, not really.  We could stop them for a little while, but they’d only find a way to go on jumping wrapped in weights from the barge by River Market or walking until they drifted off bridges over the water or off tall buildings, and you don’t know how they do it.  It’s scary to step off from so high.  Less scary to take pills, but then you’re so alone that way.  Even when the paramedics come—they’ve seen it before, you’re not special.  But a person stepping into air, that’s special; people see, people remember.  They bear witness, and they do have to bear it, because the image repeats in memory.  When our husbands and fathers and sons were killed, we were left, but not really.  We wake up in the morning and look outside to see cars sitting in the middle of the road because women have simply stopped moving.  We drive to work slowly because women will step out into the street without looking.  We walk past ambulances at least once an afternoon in our walking city, with its tidy garden squares every block where women sit staring under the oaks.  Off of one of the tallest buildings in Savannah, wouldn’t you know that’s where five have stepped into the air.  You train yourself not to look in dark corners or alleys because you might see women slumped, and you don’t stare at the women drinking or eating or starving themselves to death.  Every night you walk to River Street Sweets in the thick syrup smell across the cobblestones in downtown Savannah, and you walk alongside the river through the Southern-scorched scene, and you might carry popcorn or cotton candy from one of the street vendors because without the drunken men everything seems somewhat little-kiddie; you look at the steamboats that no one but the tourists ride now, and we have plenty of tourists.  The tourists come to enjoy carriage rides under draping Spanish moss, haunted history, old-world architecture, Southern charm and Southern grotesque in Savannah women, and so many of us, like tall orchids, sculptural, we tend to tip over or lean too much, and the tourists ask, balking, “Where are the men?  Where are the boys?” as if they’ve stumbled into a sticky-hot Southern siren song.  We want to say that we have been deceived.  To be with someone, to love someone is to promise never to leave your beloved during those times when everyone seems like a stranger and everything seems strange.  I feel this so often lately, you say to him—Today I felt crazy when I saw.… Today I was the only one laughing when I.… Today I thought my oldest friendship was hopeless.… Today I understood my father is vain; you say these, and your beloved knows what you mean, and you’re not alone. Well, they left us alone after all.  And we have no one to hear us, so we ask ourselves the usual questions.  Do people turn robotic around Thanksgiving?  Are some people real only to themselves?  No—we answer ourselves—that’s just us; we’re going crazy.  And then we do go crazy.  Every night we say, Don’t leave me alone.  Don’t leave me.  And even if we say it on bended knee, we are alone.  That’s why women are killing themselves.  You’re sorry for these lay-about, fall-about women.  It scares you to see them.  It scares you to miss anyone because there is no one here to tell you when you miss too much.  You’re talking to your fish and you’re talking to nothing.  It’s scary because there’s no one to tell us not to step into the air.  No one really loves us.  Loving us is not possible, not when we don’t really love anyone back.  We spent it all or most of it or the love that reached the furthest, we spent it on one person each, and that person is gone, and so are we, all that investment, so one little fall makes no difference.  You can’t tell them not to step off.  You don’t yourself because it’s scary.  It looks high up.  It’s a long way down, enough time for regret.  You might be able to do it if you were drunk, but you don’t drink anymore for that very reason.  Sometimes you like to talk to him, like now, you suppose—this is talking to him.  But he can’t hear anymore.  Nothing left of him except your love, your love for a dead person, and to be honest, it isn’t love.  It’s hurt and longing.  If you remain dedicated, then to what?  If you move on, how?  In the meantime you’re losing him every day, that person you lost.  You want him back, not the one you miss now, but the one with parts of himself you swore you’d never miss.  You want him to be happy.  Live.  Healthy.  You were supposed to take care of him, but you didn’t.  You see that sometimes he was sad and it was your fault.  You see that you were so different from him that sometimes you couldn’t understand him although you always appreciated him.  You see that he saved you from being a severe person by being the severe one and letting you criticize him for it and be the playful one.  And you see how generous he was.  You see him leave to fight.  And you see him die.  You shuffle through memories.  Now is not happening.  Only then happened.  You will push.  You will fall.

Fiction by Lydia Ship has appeared in American Short Fiction, Hobart, Quick Fiction, Staccato, Pindeldyboz, White Whale Review, three times in Night Train, and many others. She is the new managing editor of The Chattahoochee Review.

Thanks for stopping by the Sonora Review Short Fiction Fortnight.  Please stop by tomorrow for John Van Kirk.

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