The wind off the Gulf whipped streaks of color around Chelsea’s face. Too listless to lift her hand, she let her hair fly about her. Her eyes trailed a fast food cup as it floated downstream, pulled toward the open sea with the straw still captured in the claws of its lid. Looking down into the bilge, she shivered and pulled the hood of her sweater over her head. It seemed a futile action. What did it matter if she froze, right here on the edge of the river?
She cried some more even though she thought she was past that.
How could life have turned so vicious? She dumped her dreams somewhere in Tennessee. Hope vanished in Alabama. Sanity took a hiatus in Mississippi. And now? She couldn’t remember how she arrived in New Orleans. Yet here she stood on the edge of her final solution.
The river smelt like death. “The river giveth and the river taketh away,” she muttered. The hag on Jackson Square had screamed her prophecy into Chelsea’s ear, and she had absorbed the old crone’s truth. The river promised her release from the pain lacerating her heart. “Just close your eyes and take a step…”
A firm hand grasped her wrist. Startled by the unexpected touch, her leg stalled in mid-air. Looking up into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, she backed away from her decision. Her knees buckled. The man’s uncanny resemblance to Mark pulled the last smidgen of sanity from her.
“Why?” she screamed and pounded his chest. “Why did you leave me?”
“It had to be.” Mark’s mouth moved, but his words didn’t match the motion, like a film off track with the audio.
“You left me. You have no right to come back. Not when I’m about to—”
The Natchez blasted its warning, her paddle churning the dark water in her wake. Chelsea’s muscles tightened at the assault on her eardrums. An answering blast from a tanker shook the airwaves around them. Her backbone stiffened into a rigid ribbon down her back.
Mark’s mouth formed another excuse in the midst of the cacophony. “I couldn’t stay.”
She shook her head and tugged. His grip remained firm. Just as during his life, he imprisoned her. Mark owned her. Even in death, he controlled her.
“Let me finish what I started,” she pleaded.
“I’m sorry, Chels,” he smiled, mockery dancing in the depths of his eyes, the sea of blue drowning her without a drop of water. She hated it when he called her Chels. “You have to live with this.”
“No. I can’t.” The thought petrified her.
“You have no choice.”
A surge of hatred darkened her soul. She did it once; she could do it again. A step to the right. Another. His fingers burrowed into her wrist. “But I do,” she countered with narrowed eyes. One glance at the river confirmed her judgment. Yes, the choice was hers.
“You had no right to take my baby from me.” With her last ounce of strength, she plunged into him, sending them both headfirst into oblivion. To her dismay she emerged, her lungs gasping for oxygen. Bouncing up and down in an awkward dog paddle, her willful body struggled for continued existence, despite her firm resolve to give up the fight.
Death cheated her again.
Mark didn’t surface for a horrid moment or two. Once again she thought she’d forced his absence from her life. A hand and then a head shot out of the water. Horror washed over her as a stranger grabbed a piece of driftwood.
“Who are you? Where is Mark?”
The man sputtered his answer. “Give me your hand.” She didn’t want to touch him. She’d rather sink. “The current is too strong,” he argued, spitting river water out of his mouth. “You’ll drown.”
“I deserve to die.”
“No one deserves to die—”
“I killed him…”
Once again the stranger reached for her, trying his best to save the un-savable. “I know,” he yelled over the approaching storm. The fog over her mind lifted, and she recognized the cop—the one that had been following her for days. "But no one deserves to die like this." His eyes glistened with entreaty, a hopeful gleam that snagged her soul.
The will to live coursed through her. After wiping the hair from her eyes, she grabbed his hand.
(c) Denise Moncrief 2010
(c) Denise Moncrief 2010