Corina woke up and her sheets, damp with cold sweat, clung to her body. Her dream still swam in her vision—the dizzying vertigo from the view off the bridge started to turn her stomach. She’d woken up right as she’d jumped, and yet she could still feel the wind on her face as she’d fallen. Her ragged breath echoed around the barren apartment.
She couldn’t still her heartbeat, and she looked around wildly for Shoebox before remembering that she’d dropped her cat off at her new home yesterday before—wait, before what? As Corina closed her eyes, her nightmare flashed back into her eyes. Why had she given Shoebox up again? A fleeting memory of a little girl holding Shoebox in her arms danced into her mind before fleeing just as expeditiously, until Corina wasn’t even sure it was real. Surely she hadn’t given up Shoebox.
Sure enough, a familiar meow sounded from just under the bed and Shoebox sprung up onto the bed, prickling Corina’s bare legs with her prickly, tabby fur.
“Hey, baby girl.”
“Prrrrrup,” Shoebox informed her, mashing her head against Corina’s lips. Her purr stabilized Corina’s heartbeat, and Corina lay back on her bed, looking up at the old, stained ceiling of her apartment. Everything was alright.
Corina absentmindedly stroked Shoebox’s fur. She still felt the remains of her nightmare, but at least she knew she was safe now. Safe and sound.
Wait, not safe. Corina sat up. It was a Thursday and the angle of the sun streaming in onto the floor told her that she was already late for work. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and grabbed her phone, which told her that it was… Saturday? That couldn’t be right—yesterday had been her last Wednesday at work, it was marked off on the calendar on her nightstand. Corina screwed her eyes shut in the sunlight, and the vision of the shallow river far below her burst back into her brain and left her panting again. Corina’s nightmares usually didn’t last this long into her day.
Shoebox purred again, and it made things a little better. Shoebox always did. Corina made a conscious effort to firmly put the dream to the wayside and concentrate on reality. Today was a Saturday, her one free day. She stood and stretched before wriggling into a pair of jeans and a sweater. Shoebox mewed as Corina kissed her on the top of the head before she left. “Bye bye, baby girl.”
Corina crept down her hallway as silently as she could, but the third door on the right opened nonetheless and her landlord, Mrs. Bolger squinted up at Corina with her beady blue eyes.
“Hello! Uh, ma’am, I’m really sorry I don’t have… I don’t have the rent yet, I’m still trying to… to pull it together after Travis left, I’ll be able to pay you soon, I’m sorry, I…”
Corina trailed off as Mrs. Bolger continued to stare. Then, she gave a thin, dazed smile. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I know you’ve been in a rough place since that scumbag left. Tell you what, I’ll give you an extension, just this once. You can pay me when you’re ready, okay?”
Without waiting for a response, she retreated back into her quarters and slammed the door.
Corina stood in shock. Mrs. Bolger had never offered to hold off on rent collection before. In fact, she usually asked Corina for the rent a few days early, just to make her nervous. Corina shrugged it off. Her sister had always said don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Corina jammed her hands in her pockets as she walked outside, expecting it to be as cold and moist and grey as it was every day in the winter here. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised to find a clear blue sky and a warm, spring breeze that brushed against her face.
Wait, a spring breeze? That couldn’t be right, Corina thought. There was nothing alive, nothing growing. For a second, Corina felt herself grow woozy and her stomach turned as it had in her dream, plummeting off the bridge. She shook it off. It was a nice day, a nice Saturday, and she should really take advantage of it.
She stretched in the sunlight, letting it spread over her skin and flow into her veins. It was almost too warm to wear her sweater. Despite herself, Corina smiled. It’d been a while since she saw the sun.
Corina was already a few steps into the walk to the florist when she realized what she was doing. It’d been a while since she’d come outside on a day she didn’t have work, but now that she was out, Corina couldn’t think of a reason she shouldn’t revive her Saturday tradition from months ago, back before Travis had been and gone, back when Corina still went outside, back when she’d still felt joy. Corina couldn’t fathom now why she’d stayed inside for so long—it was so much nicer here than in her cinderblock apartment.
The sun caught in her crow-black hair as she walked along the quiet streets. Not many people were out today, which was refreshing; Corina had kind of assumed that the streets would be flooded, since it was a Saturday. She let her dream fall to the wayside. It was just a dream, after all, no matter how realistically the wind had whipped against her face as she fell.
The cashier behind the counter grinned at Corina when she walked in. “Welcome! It’s good to see you, it’s been a while!”
“Yeah, sorry, I got… I got busy.”
“No need to apologize.” The cashier’s wide, toothy grin was comforting. “I’m just happy you’re here now.”
Corina’s shoulders relaxed. Why had she been so worried about what the cashier thought? “Th—thank you. I, uh, I like your ring.”
The cashier beamed and twisted the black ring encircling their middle finger. “Oh, thank you! You’re so kind! That comment just made my day!”
Seemed a bit of an overreaction for a simple complement, Corina thought, but it warmed her heart nonetheless. “Yeah, no… no problem. Can I get—”
“A bouquet of purple pansies and baby’s breath, using our Saturday special coupon, with a single blue salvia in the middle?” The cashier laughed. “Yeah, I remember. I’ve actually got one right in the back, ready for you.” They disappeared into the back.
“That’s… convenient. Thank you.” Corina furrowed her brow. That was a weird combination to have on hand, she thought, especially because she hadn’t been there in over two months. For a second, cold air slashed against her skin, which was strange for the middle of a florist shop. She shook it off. Everything was fine, she was just being paranoid.
“Here you are!” The cashier grinned. “That’ll be fourteen ninety-five.”
Corina dug in her wallet to pull out a five and a ten. Huh. How perfect. “You can keep the, uh. The nickel.” She collected the bouquet, tucking the small bundle into the crook in her arm.
“Have a nice day!”
“Thanks! You too!” The sun seemed even brighter when she stepped back out of the door. Corina took a deep breath, sniffing the salvia. Her sister had always said that the scent of salvia was her favorite, but it just smelled like weird, crappy mint to Corina. Oh well.
She checked her phone. It was almost noon, so the cemetery would be open at this hour. It was only a short walk but today it felt even shorter, as if a great weight had been lifted from Corina’s chest. She took a deep breath; for the first time in a long time, she didn’t feel guilty. She was content, almost happy. The sky and her heart were light, and Corina breathed easy as she walked the peaceful streets.
The reverie broke as soon as she put one foot on the great stone bridge that led to the graveyard. The air around her grew colder, nippier, and a great sense of dread invaded Corina as she walked to the top of the arch and looked down at the shallow water far, far below. Once there had been a river here, raging and frothy even on the balmiest of summer days, but Corina knew that wasn’t why the river brought her unease. It was her stupid dream again, and when Corina closed her eyes she was there again, tumbling head over heels in the open air, rushing towards that shallow grave. This was no memory, this was real, and the peal of her scream couldn’t have lasted more than a second but to Corina it was hours, hours of cold, searing regret before a gritting, strained voice said “No. We’ve still got time, not yet.”
Corina blinked her eyes back open in time to stop her small bouquet from slipping off of the railing. The churning of her stomach hadn’t stopped yet, and the memory of how it had felt to stand on the stone railing and let her knees buckle remained engrained in her legs. Corina backed away from the railing and hurried to the other side of the bridge where she sunk to the ground, her legs crumbling under the weight of living. Just for a second, Corina had lived some other life, a life that although being so, so wrong, had felt right for her. These surroundings, her experiences were tainted now, tainted with the version of herself that had taken that plunge and Corina couldn’t stop shaking. That voice she’d heard—who was that? Was she going crazy? The more Corina thought of it, the less she was even sure she’d actually heard a voice. Had she’d just had a flashback to her nightmare? Her sister had always told her she had an active imagination. Corina hunched over her bouquet of flowers, smelling the crappy mint. It grounded her, and the feeling of falling slowly faded into the background of her mind. She was here, she was safe, she was alive.
Eventually, Corina stood back up. The farther back into her mind her mind went, the cloudier her thoughts felt. The lightness in her chest that had delighted her earlier was now suspicious. Had she remembered to feed Shoebox this morning? Corina couldn’t remember. Shoebox’s bowl hadn’t been next to the door where it usually was. She also didn’t remember putting her phone in her pocket, but it was right where it always was. Why had she thought to walk to her sister’s grave today when she hadn’t been since June?
A black crow nearly flew into her hair and Corina ducked, breaking her away from her mind for a second. The crow landed on a tree nearby and cawed at her, reprimanding her for getting so caught up in her own thoughts. Corina shook her head vigorously. She was being paranoid, she insisted. It was just paranoia. She was here to visit her sister because she was feeling better today. It was a nice Saturday and she was doing something she had wanted to do for a while. Corina took a few stumbly steps forward, her legs growing steadier with every step.
The gravestones were as solemn as always, the engravings and lives of the people whose corpses they marked eroded away with the years. Her sister’s was one of the newest there, a lovely marble with white, grey, and green stones in a swirling pattern under the name “Iudita Cazacu” and the dates “1996-2018”. Corina had wanted to add “Loving Sister, Loving Friend,” but she hadn’t had the money to pay for it and Travis would never have let her borrow any—he’d been mad enough as it was that she’d spent so much on the grave marker in the first place.
“Hey, Iudita.” Corina smiled wanly. “It’s been a while, I’m sorry. I—”
Corina was about to tell Iudita about the dream she’d had when she noticed the large bouquet of poppies and asphodel lying across Iudita’s grave and she frowned. Nobody in the city remembered Iudita fondly but Corina, who missed her little sister every single day.
Putting down her own small bouquet on Iudita’s grave, Corina lifted the hefty bundle of flowers—it was far more cumbersome than her own. Feathering through the flowers, she finally dug out a buried card, reading “Iudita, draga sora, imi pare rau. –Decebal”
Corina nearly dropped the bouquet. Her baby brother had disowned Iudita years ago after the accident. There was no way this bouquet was really from him—she didn’t even know how Decebal would’ve been able to bring it here, given that he lived in California now. Something was wrong, she thought. Her estranged brother’s forgiveness of her and Iudita was all she’d ever wanted, but this was wrong. It would never happen like this. This wasn’t real, she realized, and as soon as she’d accepted that as fact and rejected the reality around her, her nightmare crashed back into her and suddenly the world started swirling, cold air buffeting against Corina’s face and body as she fell towards the swiftly approaching ground.
“So, you figured it out. I should’ve known the bouquet would be going too far—I just knew how much you needed his reconciliation. I’m sorry.”
Corina blinked her eyes open. She was suspended, midair, between the stone bridge and the shallowed river, and although the air was far colder against her skin than it was a moment ago, Corina felt that it was right. Memories poured into her brain—the memory of giving Shoebox to a new family, visiting Iudita’s grave one last time, and finally walking to the great stone bridge and jumping to her death. That hadn’t been a dream after all.
“Who are you?”
A figure appeared before her, nude apart from a garland of leaves that lay around her neck. Although her skin was stone grey and her hair a constantly blooming patch of pink flowers, Corina found she couldn’t take her eyes off the large, translucent dragonfly wings that kept the figure afloat in the air next to her. “My name is Ardath.” Although her tone was far more relaxed and sad now, Corina recognized the resemblance to the voice she’d heard when she was falling earlier.
“Are you my… are you a…” Corina fought for the words.
Ardath smiled sadly. “Don’t concern yourself with that right now, Corina.”
“What’s going on?”
“I just…” Ardath reached out and traced Corina’s jawline. “I wanted to give you one last day.”
“I tried, I hope you know. I tried to keep you safe, to keep you happy. I just couldn’t do enough and you turned to… to this.” Ardath closed her eyes tightly.
Corina looked down at the ground below her. “I’m… I’m sorry. Are you my… like, a fairy godmother?”
“More like a guardian angel.” Ardath reopened her eyes. They’d gone a particularly brilliant violet hue. “I just wanted you to be okay but… I failed.”
“No, no!” Corina rushed to console her. “No, you didn’t fail, it’s my fault, not yours, I’m—”
“It’s okay. Don’t you fret. It’s too late now, anyway. What’s done has been done.”
“What… what happened to me?”
“I wanted to give you one last day.” Ardath bit her lip. “When you jumped, I sent you a dream. I wanted it to be the best day you’ve had but every time your life became good you got more suspicious and my power over your consciousness slipped. I’m… I’m sorry, Corina. I just wanted to give you one last, good day,” she repeated.
Corina looked to the ground, hardly ten feet below her. “And there’s… there’s nothing you can do now?” Seeing the shallow waters so still and so smooth was strange. Nary a ripple disturbed the surface of the trickling stream, as if it was frozen in ice rather than time.
“No. I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Oh.” Corina looked left, towards her sister’s grave. “Will it… will it hurt?”
“I will do what I can,” Ardath promised. She cupped Corina’s face with her other hand. “I am… I am so sorry.”
Corina looked down again at her final choice. “Thank you, for trying.”
“All I could ever do for you was try.”
“How long until—”
“When my strength over your conscious runs out. The fall will kill you, unfortunately.”
“Will I…” Corina suddenly felt tears spring to just behind her nose, threatening to choke her, blurry her vision. “Will I see Iudita again?”
Ardath smiled sadly. “That depends on you.”
“I know,” Ardath said, and she was gone into air when time started again.