The only drama in Poughkeepsie occurred at sundown. Chronic silhouettes of clouds were herded towards the steel cantilever deck of the High Bridge on the Hudson River. Rose-tinted film sketched outlines in the sky. Light scattered blue, hitting the river water and reflecting red-yellow, salmon and apricot. The shoulders of white pine, hemlock and black birch sat on the other side of the river and hummed the colors. Mesmerized passersby could not look away from the spectacle of cloud and color and sky.
Nora Bray sucked on her thumb, nursing a split fingernail, and decided that the sunset was a pathetic imitation of blood and thunder. The colors were foggy liked stained glass or the tracks of her bicycle in the dirt path. She kicked a rock into the water. Good fucking riddance, she thought as the sun folded itself on the wefted face of the Hudson River. She leaned back into the wooden bench, her limbs loose and her skin smoldering in the heat, and wondered whether her twin brother Nick would show up late again.
The twins met at the park down by the Hudson River every afternoon after Nick finished rounds of tennis with the varsity team. Sometimes he appeared seconds before the falling sun hit the water. Other times, he missed it entirely, the spotlight on his bicycle wobbling towards Nora in the night and his voice rolling off apologies for being late. This time, as Nora picked at her nail, Nick came flying around the corner, a racket on his back and sweat bleeding through his white shirt. His bicycle stopped short of the bench, and he drew long gulps of air.
“How was the show?” He asked. One forearm rested on the handles of the bicycle, and the other wiped his forehead.
“It just ended,” Nora replied dryly. She kicked the wheel of her bicycle, lying helpless on the ground next to her, for a melodramatic echo.
Night was blanketing the sky. The sun had finally crept below the surface of the river, fading into the water as though pulled underneath by a dark hand. Streetlights mumbled and chattered above their heads.
Nick yawned and gazed at the Hudson River. “I wish I’d seen it,” he said. Nora couldn’t hear if he was disappointed; she only wanted him to be guilty.
“You didn’t miss anything,” Nora spat. “But you usually miss them, anyway. It was a perfect sunset, just like all the other sunsets here.” Nora nodded towards a bench down the dirt pathway. A young man was pointing a camera lens at a copse of trees to capture the last of the sunset poking through. “Why do people take photographs of a phenomenon that happens every day? The sunsets aren’t going to go away. Only people do that.”
Nick paused and looked at his twin. Her arms were crossed over a black t-shirt, holes littering the bottom hem where her fingernails lingered and pried threads loose. Even if she wore blue or green or yellow, her shirt would have looked dark in the night anyway.
Nick couldn’t quite understand this about his twin sister. The lingering anguish. The immovable dissent. The lamenting. He stared blankly at her during her melancholy outbursts, tinted with cries of Woe is me! She complained when there was only crunchy peanut butter in the cupboard, and refused to try it, accusing their dad of buying it to spite her. Asked a smiling Nick, What are you plotting? Was convinced that a poor grade in European History meant she could never be a museum curator. After fifteen years, he was sick of the pessimism. The misplaced superiority. Happiness was a choice, wasn’t it? Nora, Nick believed, had exercised her right to vote.
“Why do you say that as if it has to be a bad thing?” he asked, leaning away from the handles of the bicycle.
Nora whipped around to face her brother. Stringy dark hair muddled her creamy complexion. Nick thought of the coffee their father drank in the morning, as he tipped too much half-and-half over the rim. Their father was probably sitting in the dimly lit kitchen, placemats and glasses of warm milk spread out on the table, across from three absent chairs. Two were accounted for in the park on the Hudson River. He would be wondering where his children were.
“Don’t you think it is?” she asked.
Her knuckles gripped the edge of the bench seat. They paled to bleach white as the air thickened to black around them, the night absorbing everything around the twins. The river and Nora’s bicycle lost their outlines and fused into the blackness of the night.
Years earlier, sitting upright in her bedroom, Nora once asked her mother where the furniture goes when the lights turn off. Six-year-old Nora pointed to a chest of clothes across from the bed, sheets and blankets swaddled her legs. Her mother sat near her feet.
“They go to sleep,” Nora’s mother said plainly. Her eyes were rust-covered pennies behind her wire-rimmed glasses. Nora forgot if her mother’s eyes were blue or green. She hadn’t seen them in years. “Things just curl up and go to sleep.”
Nora jumped from the bench, brought her bicycle upright, and hit the kickstand.
“Are we skipping family dinner again?” Nick asked. His eyes and shirt were luminous. Nora clambered on the seat of her bicycle.
Nora and her bicycle were rushing away from her brother, near the riverbank, and up the slope towards the High Bridge. Nick echoed her name. Nora! First uncertain, then hysterical. Nora! Nora!
Nick realized he could not bear to lose another.
Nora could not turn around. She could bear to hear his voice, but would not look at his face. She felt weightless. She felt like she could fly. Nora shut her eyes, the wheels and screws of her bicycle cawing in protest. The air enveloped and enclosed her. She hoped the air around her would calcify into an oyster shell and drop her at the bottom of the Hudson River. Her balance faltered as she moved her hand to wipe away the tears that had dried into her skin, forming grooves on her cheeks. She opened her eyes.
But her eyes weren’t on the road. They were in the sky. Her bicycle had mushroomed from the paved road and was sailing above the heads of cars. She was flying westward. Nora sunk into the seat. Her feet and the pedals of the bicycle were in rotation. The wheels were like a band of light, depositing debris of gravel and dirt to the dark frontier beneath her feet. She heard the clatter of remains hitting the Hudson River. Nora flew above the High Bridge, past the tollbooths and above the city of Poughkeepsie.
A thousand feet below, Nick wheezed underneath the belly of the bridge. His bicycle slept sideways on the ground. He saw his sister’s silhouette fluttering like a burnt-black curtain against the mascarpone moon, and then dissolve out of sight.
Julia Gagliardi is a senior studying English and Sociology at Fordham University and has recently joined as a concentrator in the Creative Writing Program. She organizes live storytelling programs and researches storytelling curriculum as a form of civic engagement and emotional competence. She has been previously published in the Comma and Willamette Writers.