Over The Pond

Two women sit on a bridge, their shoulders almost touch – in the sliver of space between their arms, the lights from town glow unrelentingly in the dark. One is smoking. The other is not. She seems more concerned with tossing pebbles into the water, though the splash is muffled by cricket song and the height of the drop.
They don’t say much.
The one who is smoking rests her chin on one of the rails and exhales tiredly. The smoke twists and turns between the pair before finally disappearing. She likes the quiet, the almost company, the sliver of space. Her friend has her head turned in the other direction and is looking for more pebbles, pulling them towards her with her fingertips.
They both swing their legs in the night air, though the one who doesn’t smoke is more cautious of letting hers go under the bridge. Logically she knows there is nothing to fear – at worst, there would be bugs – but logic fuels so little of what she does. Sometimes she remembers the one who smokes calling her brave. She thinks it’s funny.
“You know,” the one who smokes flicks her ashes off into the void below them as she speaks, “you always do that when we come here.”
“The pebbles?”
“Yeah.”
“And you always do that,” the one who doesn’t smoke inclines her head towards the cigarette.
Habits are hard to break. They both know that. They’re both old enough to know that. To have had habits and to have broken them. To know the actions that begin to replace the preferred actions, and how the desire for the destructive never quite goes away, like a splinter lodged too far under the skin to get at with tweezers.
They still carry it.
They both know a lot about carrying things.
“Are you sad?” the one who doesn’t smoke asks. She doesn’t look at her friend. Her eyes are fixed below them as she drops another pebble into the water.
The one who smokes only shrugs her shoulders. The familiar sound of fabric rustling is enough. After all these years, the one who smokes has never gotten used to her friend’s plain questions – the unassuming nature in which she asks them. The one who smokes has always been more decisive.
“Life, man,” the one who smokes laughs a little as she says it.
“True.”
The one who doesn’t smoke closes the sliver of space between them for just a second. She bumps their shoulders together in a way that is meant to be comforting, though she second guesses the movement immediately after she does it. When she looks over, her friend is smiling. She wishes she didn’t always worry so much.
“I like this bridge,” the one who smokes says.
“Really? I couldn’t tell,” the one who doesn’t smoke says sarcastically.
“Smartass.”
In way of apology, the one who doesn’t smoke offers her hand to her friend. Inside are six pebbles, all different shapes and sizes, all varying shades of grey. The one who smokes plucks the pebble from the middle of her palm and tosses it past the guardrail. The one who doesn’t smoke drops them all from her hand, letting them fall straight down, one after another, in quick succession.
It almost sounds like rain somewhere far off, like the echo of rain, like rain you aren’t supposed to be able to hear.
“You all out?”
“Unless I want to get up and look for more,” the one who doesn’t smoke says.
“Which you don’t.”
“Obviously not,” she laughs and leans back, resting her weight on the flat of her palms. Against her skin, the wood of the bridge feels grimy with dirt, but she doesn’t mind.
Neither of them could say exactly how many times they have sat here before, on this bridge, always in the same place. The number of cigarettes smoked and pebbles sent swimming has never been kept count of. But they do know that have seen the sunrise here more than anywhere else – that each could recall the other’s face painted in orange, and gold, and pink.
The two women sitting on the bridge, shoulders almost touching, would always remember the swell of their shadows – the sweet of their silence – how they each thought, so often, both together and separately, that it counted for everything: that sliver of space between their arms that always seemed to glow in their memory, so unrelentingly, guiding them both through the dark.

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