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November 28, 2022

Monday Falls

By Andrew Taylor-Troutman

For Colleen, waking up with a start at 5:22 in the morning, Monday morning meant one thing: Spanish class.

A few hours later, she ducked into the bathroom across the hall. She wanted to take one last look at her hair, but silently cursed her reflection and the dark circles under her eyes; incriminating evidence that she hadn't slept well at all. She spent most of the night staring up at the ceiling and fantasizing in time with her dorm roommate's snores. First, a romantic scene with James would play before her eyes...she saw herself leaping into his arms in the middle of a field of sunflowers. SNORE. But then, she saw him lifting the veil over Christine's face, kissing her as the minister made the marriage pronouncement. SNORE. There was James, showing up at her dorm with roses! SNORE. There was Christine, flicking her off behind James' back as she led him away with her other hand.

Colleen splashed water on her face, took a deep breath, and headed to class.

*****

Somehow, Colleen found herself walking next to James and his dog later that day. Their professor had stopped class early and allowed his students to begin working on their homework pairs. When James turned around in his desk and waved his Spanish book at her, raising his eyebrows in the cutest way, Colleen could not believe her good fortune.

But, she really could not quite fathom the position she was in now. Somehow, their conversation had spilled out of the classroom, their laughter running like a merry brook through the college quad, past the library, and to James' car. In seeing Colleen's delight at his dog, James had suggested that all three go for a hike. Colleen had been as eager as the puppy; she too could have licked his face.

"Hey, pilot to passenger; do you read me? Are you still with me over there?" James smiled and Colleen blushed the slightest pink.

"Yeah, of course I am. I was just wondering if Nikki here can be as patient as me." Hearing her name, the little black and furry head popped up and put her front two paws on the console in between the driver and the passenger's seats. James laughed and scratched behind her ears.

"Don't worry, Nikki; the most perfect little park is just ahead." He smiled at Colleen and added, "All will soon be revealed." Her insides flip-flopped.

He was right. They had arrived at the most perfect little park, complete with a trail leading to a waterfall. The puppy was so excited that she was literally choking herself on the leash, straining like a sled dog against James' body weight. Finally, he stopped walking and bent down to the dog's eye level.

"Nikki; listen to me. It's ok; we're going to get there together. Calm down; I don't want you to hurt yourself."

Colleen bent down next to him and scratched the dog behind the ears like she had seen him do in the car. The sun was bathed the scene with a happy yellow, split into a thousand beams by the tree canopy overhead. James straightened up, his arm lightly brushing up against Colleen's. Still bent over the dog, she smiled up at him. The fall colors formed a polychromatic halo above him, as he threw his head back and dramatically took a deep breath of fresh, forest air.

"I mean, you need to calm down, Nikki, because where else in the world could you possibly want to be, other than right here?"

As soon as the threesome started back down the trail, the dog stubbornly continued to thrust her weight forward, only to be pulled backwards time and time again like a yo-yo by the merciless leash. Colleen could tell that James was barely masking his growing frustration.

"Your dog must have a sadistic side." She had meant the comment to be funny, but, for the first time that day, something felt off about James' response. It had been as if they were slowly weaving a blanket together, each well-placed comment like a single stitch, building and building upon itself to form something whole and beautiful. Now, Colleen was suddenly aware that what they had could come undone in an instant.

"No, she's masochistic," her hiking partner said. His dark hair, shoulder length hair was pulled back in a bandana, which made him look cool without even trying.

"You see, Colleen. Nikki's the one inflicting pain on herself. There's nothing I can do about it; I've tried talking to her, but she doesn't seem to understand." He shrugged, reaching down and rubbing the soft spot behind Nikki's ears.

"You must think it's worth it, huh girl?"

They reached the waterfall. Having reached the roaring whitewater apparently brought peace to Nikki, as she promptly stretched out on a cool rock and fell asleep.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Colleen turned to face him and nodded, very much aware of the heat in her cheeks and the tightness in her pelvis.

"I used to come out her as a child for day trips at my camp. This year was the first time that I was a leader." He paused and Colleen waited, not sure where he was headed with the story, but hoping against hope that it would end with a kiss.

"You know, that's how I met Christine."

The mention of that name alone ripped apart that blanket that they had been so diligently weaving together. James must have sensed that something was destroyed, because he awkwardly tried to move forward, stumbling into a story like a man through the woods at night. Colleen found herself being dragged along through some story about another of James' summer camp directors, a large African-American woman who held the end-of-the-summer party for all the camp leaders at her house.

"...and, in her living room, she's got a life-sized picture of naked, African tribesman standing at attention -- if you know what I mean!"

"Of course," said James, recklessly stumbling towards the punch line, "This is the same professor who's married to a small, white man!" Colleen forced a smile.

"Well James, is she sadistic or masochistic?" She let the question hang before giving him a pointed look and answering her own question.

"I guess it depends on your perspective." His eyes widened.

"Um, you ready to go?"

Nervously, he took the last sip out of the water bottle and turned towards his dog. He moved out towards the trail and Colleen had one last, clear view of the falls. Like the rocks, Colleen longed to be worn smooth too. Right now, all of her jagged edges were exposed to the onslaught of emotion that wants what you know you can't have. She felt locked up, spiritually paralyzed by the desire to kiss this man and even make love to him out in the honest, blessed open, free from all attachments and realities that, like a leash, only seemed to hold her back.

"Yeah, let's head back. I've got some studying to do." She put on her bravest face for the long walk back to the car. Nikki pulled James along the entire way.

*****

They woke up late the next morning to soft rain on the widows.

"What do you want to do today, sweetie?"

"All will soon be revealed."

At her laptop working on her novel, Colleen's nostrils flared with the recollection of that last comment from earlier today. Who the hell did that guy think he was? Appearing to act all sweet, but unable to come through when she needed it!

Paul made fresh coffee and his wife's favorite fried egg sandwich. He insisted that she loved it because he "flavor-baked" the salt and pepper into the egg. She would roll her eyes in mock annoyance, but could never contain that little smile perking up around the corners of her mouth. One thing had led to another, like the increasing intensity of the rain, and then she was straddling Paul on the couch, making love to him with increasing vigor. Just like the old days. It felt great, too great and too soon...

"NO! God damn it, I was almost there!"

Christine pushed herself off Paul and grabbed her bathrobe. Covering up her body and her tears, she walked hurriedly to the bathroom and slammed the door. Left on the couch alone, Paul looked up at the ceiling and sighed. He felt like a loser.

Colleen nodded smartly. Writing can be like therapy.

Christine was the first woman and only woman he had ever been to bed with. She exuded sexual confidence; Paul was awestruck of how well she knew her body. He was awkward, but learned through practice...and they practiced plenty that first year. They would skip afternoon classes to make love and lay around naked on her dorm room floor. He loved to make her come, actually more than his own orgasms. He felt something primal happened in her body, something that was approaching a truth he could not find elsewhere. And he loved to hold her afterwards, timing his breath to match hers and kissing her freckles. Sometimes she would nuzzle her nose into his neck, her hot breath sending ripples of pleasure down his spine. He would wrap his arms around her and, just to feel safe, wrap his legs around her too until they were like a pretzel.

He heard the running water of the shower and closed his eyes. Christine used to sing in the shower, tragic little folk songs about love and loss that she knew he loved. Paul listened to sad tunes on the acoustic guitar his whole life; he called them his "rainy day music regardless of the weather."

She had been singing to him since the first time they met. His friends used to smoke pot at night out by a waterfall, sneaking down the trail once the park closed. This one evening, he had somehow managed to talk Christine into coming with them after the evening's Spanish class. Paul thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and had talked with her the whole way, keeping a little distance from the rest of the group for privacy. At the end of the walk, his friends were all seated along a stone wall that separated the trail from the falls and, selfish as they were, only made enough room for her to join them. Not wanting to miss the conversation or the joint, Paul should awkwardly in front of them, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Soon, he became sufficiently stoned and found that he couldn't follow the thread of conversation. He resigned himself to sitting just off the trail in the nighttime dew. Confused and wet: neither version of grass was treating him kindly.

Then, in her sexy voice, Christine started singing. Sometimes, when she was yelling at him over the latest stress in their marriage, Paul would think back to that one night by the falls when she sang Natalie Merchant's "One Fine Day." Her voice pierced the night, grabbing everyone's attention, and obliging a reverent silence. In the magic of the woods at night, the crickets were on beat with the song. Her eyes were closed, fluttering ever so slightly when she reached inside herself for the high notes.

"Just lying there enjoying yourself, huh?" She immerged from the bathroom fully clothed. Her voice was cracking and her eyes were red. Paul felt terrible.

"Listen, baby..."

"Don't you 'baby' me right now! What's wrong with you?" She pulled a cigarette from her purse and lit it with shaking hands.

"It's just, hey, I'm sorry..."

"It's sadistic the pleasure you seem to get out of bringing me to the brink and leaving me their alone. Maybe I should wear black leather and whip your bare butt until its black and blue!"

At this image, Colleen laughed so hard that she snorted out loud.

She gave a bitter laugh and left the room. Paul tried to think of ways to improve the situation. He could offer to buy her dinner tonight; hell, maybe drinks. He could make love to her better. He fantasized about taking her in his arms, passionately kissing her, and making love to her standing up against the wall with Led Zeppelin blaring in the background. They lamps would crash to the floor and their light bulbs explode. Or maybe he could even take her back out to that waterfall where they had met...he could love her under the stars to the sound of roaring water, their bodies rubbed warm and smooth against each other like the rocks beneath the falls...

He thought of a lot he could do or say, but she only re-entered the room to grab her purse. Without a word, she was out of the door and gone.

*****

Having saved the file marked "the novel," Colleen was now engaged in penning a poem about the grandeur of love. The first line went like this:

Just as the green hills roll towards me like waves of the sea...

James' face burned in her memory like a scorching hot sun, and she was literally sweating from the effort to compose the perfect poem for him. She yearned for artistic inspiration, for elegant words and beautiful phrases. She wanted to write him the type of poem that would make him love her like when couples shared that one, special song. Only her poem would be even more perfect because she had written it. She imagined telling all those jerks in the fraternity house, the ones staggering around drunk who called her a bitch because she wouldn't sleep with them, that she was engaged. In her fantasy, she and James were sipping champagne in formal attire, arms entwined, laughing joyfully before locking into a kiss of Oscar-worthy proportion and drama. Those eyes that once mocked her would slant with jealousy, but she and James would stand proudly above their pettiness like fine art. She sighed.

Glancing out of her dorm window, her gaze traced the circular flight of a hawk, spiraling downward ever so gracefully to exactly the point where he wanted to be. Another sigh. She wished she could be that sure about her next decision in life. Her mind returned to the afternoon at the waterfall, circling in to perch on her self-doubt. She must have done something wrong, sent James the wrong signals! Why hadn't she taken more initiative?

As if to answer, the hawk slowly turned his neck and met her gaze. The truth was, she wasn't exactly experienced. In fact, claiming that she had any sexual prowess was a lie in itself. She hadn't even kissed a boy until she was sixteen and that was an exercise in embarrassment. Right before moving in for the big moment, this poor goofball had sort of choked on a deep breath and emitted a type of snort. His eyes were closed, so she had followed his lead. That was an awful mistake, she silently told her one hawk audience, we bumped faces in slow-motion, lips crashing together like a fender bender. My teeth even gave an audible "CLICK" on his braces! The hawk flew off, perhaps in disgust at her synopsis of the human mating ritual.

With a burst of shame fueled energy, she crumbled up the poem; she would probably never get past that first line of the poem intended to change her life. What she needed was a distraction.

"Hey Amy?" Her roommate looked down from the top bunk; upside down, her face was the weird contortion of eyes and teeth in the wrong places.

"Do you want to get drunk tonight?"

The teeth, still at the top of the head, turned down even as Amy smiled. Of course she would; in fact, she would love to. Colleen smiled too, but the upside down smile had struck an ominous tone in her mind. Shaking it off, she followed Amy out the door.

Upon leaving their dorm, Amy had convinced Colleen to go to this particular house, Pi Kappa Phi, because the boys played poker on Monday nights.

"And you know what boys do when they play poker, don't you?" Colleen didn't know, but had nodded as if she did in order to please her roommate.

It turned out that boys, at least these boys, drank when they played poker...drank liquor...and lots of it. So, Colleen drank too...drank liquor...and lots of it.

Three hours later, Colleen fell off the back porch of a fraternity house.

*****

"Whoa dude! What are you doing?"

Paul Jamison heard the voice of reason at the same time he realized that he was hanging upside down from the back porch of the apartment hooked to the top rail by his knees. Alcohol in ridiculous excess had rendered him utterly incapable of explaining how he was balancing precariously from the back deck. Vaguely, he remembered hanging in such a position from a dogwood tree his grandmother's yard.

"Gotcha dude!" Paul looked up to see his best friend's chubby, Buddha face smiling down at him. His head was directly in the middle of one of the porch lights, giving him the appearance of having a halo.

"Yo dude, what if...you did a flip off the back porch?"

"What? Are you crazy?"

"No, I'm not crazy. I bet you could do it."

"Shit no, man. Keep a hold of my legs!" Laughing, he let go of Paul's legs for a brief instant.

"Stop it; I know what you're thinking..."

"How do you know what I'm thinking, man, can you read minds?"

"No, of course not, listen..."

"OK Jamison, prove it. What am I thinking right now?"

"Stop it..."

"Wrong! That wasn't what I was thinking at all!" Paul could see that this could go on a while and his head was starting to hurt from all the blood rushing to it.

"Alright, alright. What are you thinking?"

"I was thinking that all you have to do is kick your legs back out over your head and tuck into a ball. Then, you'll do a perfect flip! It will be awesome!"

"What? Hell no..."

"Jamison, it's simple, man, real simple..."

"What the hell is going on out here?" Paul knew that voice.

"Um, nothing Christine. We're just hanging around out here." Now seeing double from hanging upside down so long, Paul still was able to roll his eyes at his friend's pun.

"Shut up, you prick. Get him up on the porch! He could break his neck!"

"No, Jamison is going to do a back flip."

"The hell he is! Get out of my way." She pushed Amos and he pushed back. In the rising tension, everyone forgot about Paul.

The sounds of the world faded in one rushing motion like water going down a drain. Paul's last recollection was that he too was falling, being pulled down a drain towards somewhere he didn't want to go. Strangely though, he submitted to his desire to just let go and fall...fall...fall...

*****

Bright lights were the first things to register in her mind. It slowly dawned on her that they were stars. She realized she was breathing in night smells...and she could hear crickets! She thought that this was very good because, even if she was dead, she figured that the hell to which they sent underage drinkers did not have crickets. Next, she marveled that she could actually move all her limbs. With a groan, she sat up. She saw that she had actually landed on pine needles. A little to the left and she would have been in that tree; a little to the right and it would have been the gravel walk way. Colleen flopped back down on her breath and took a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she mouthed a silent prayer of thanks at the mysterious providence that had kept her safe.

"Holy shit! Dude, look! Isn't that your friend down there?"

"Ohmygod, ohmygod! Colleen! Are you alright? I'm coming!" Colleen heard the clamor of footsteps on the porch.

"Colleen? Are you...dead?" Amy raised her hand like she was going to slap her friend into consciousness.

"Whoa! Don't hit me! You're not going to slap me awake like on TV!" Colleen smiled up at her friend. Amy's face registered shock and then relief so powerful that the smile she returned pushed tears out of the corners of her eyes.

"Oh, you're alright!" She laid her head down on Colleen's chest and dampened both their shirts with her tears.

"Hey...hey! It's ok; why don't you just help me up?" Colleen took a hand from Amy and stood up uneasily. Her roommate watched her skeptically.

"Hey! I'm ok; really. Watch this!" She bounced up and down a few times to prove her case. Colleen tried to put on a brave smile, but the jumping had jostled the contents of her stomach. She now felt like the baking soda volcano in a science fair project.

"Oh no; maybe I'm not so good..."

With that, Colleen turned, dropped to her knees, and threw up violently in the same pine needles were she fell.

*****

The two roommates were stumbling back to their dorm, Colleen with an arm thrown around Amy's shoulders for support.

"Amy..." Colleen hiccupped.

"Yes, my dear, drunk friend who falls from the sky."

"Do you suffer from visions of grandeur?"

"I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"Well, when you are walking down the street, do you ever daydream about being famous?" Amy laughed and shook her head. Colleen continued.

"Do you ever write acceptance speeches for awards you've won?"

More laughter from Amy.

"When driving alone in your car, do you think about what you could do or say or write that would simply amaze people? Do you ever picture yourself as the world's leading expert in this, that, or the other?"

"Colleen! Stop it; what are you talking about?"

"I'm just asking the question; do you suffer from visions of grandeur?"

"Well no; the fabulous Miss Amy Divine is a vision of grandeur!"

Colleen stumbled forward and Amy caught her.

"Listen to this, even though I'm drunk and you are a vision of grandeur. When I was in fifth grade, I had this premonition. My class was lining up to go to the awards assembly when, out of the blue, I was suddenly convinced that I was going to win the "Volunteer of the Year" Award."

"Honey, what in the world is that?"

"Oh, you didn't have one at your school? Ok, I'll grant you that this award is not exactly an Oscar, but there was only one winner each year in the entire school and, this year, I just knew it would be me. I can't explain it, but I was as sure of the fact that I was the "Volunteer of the Year" as I was convinced that my first name was 'Colleen.'" She paused for dramatic effect.

"I was absolutely convinced."

"So, what you're telling me is that, yes, you do you suffer from visions of grandeur. Is that right?"

"Well, here's the damn thing about it, Amy. I actually won the "Volunteer of the Year" award. Just like I imagined it, they called my name out loud and the room burst into applause. Just like I pictured it, my parents were sitting in the front row, clapping the loudest and mouthing, 'We love you, Colleen!' as I walked past. Just like I predicted, my name was on that plaque. Flashbulbs were going off all around the gym; nothing less than a standing ovation.

"That's amazing! I'm so proud of you!"

"I'm too drunk to tell if you are being sarcastic, but stay with me. Flash forward, past the summer, into the fall and the start of a new school year. Not just any school year: sixth grade. Middle school." Colleen uttered the last two words in a deep, dark voice and Amy screamed in mock terror.

"Now, like everyone else in the whole crazy world, I went from the top of the heap to the bottom of the barrel. My hands shook so badly the first day of sixth grade that I had to get my homeroom teacher to open my combination lock. Still trembling, I tottered into first period and sat in the far back corner, just grateful to be alone. I thought I might cry."

"Oh no! What happened? I'm on the edge of my seat!"

"OK, now I know that you're being sarcastic, because I am not drunk enough to think that you are sitting down. Amy, you may roll your eyes all you want, but, I'm going to continue anyway. Back to middle school; are you ready for the plot twist? Lights, camera, action...cue the hero! He walked in as if in slow motion, flashing a smile that twinkled in the corner like those toothpaste ads."

"Oh my god; are you going to tell me the story about when you lost your virginity?"

"What? No! For God sakes, get your mind out of the gutter! But, there he was, I'm telling you, heart-stopping beautiful...I mean that quite literally. I honestly thought that my heart had ceased to beat. No wait...this is better...I realized it was pounding hard enough to explode right through my chest and crash against the chalkboard with a bloody THUNK! At any rate, the point of the story is that he was coming my way...far back corner...the only seat available was...right in front of me!"

"I knew it! This is a story about you getting it on!"

"Amy, listen to me! I'm not sure the cards could have fallen any more perfectly. He set his backpack down on the floor, ran his hand through his perfect hair, flashed that toothpaste commercial, picture-perfect smile and said..."

"'Hey stranger, want to make out right here in the classroom!'"

"NO! He said, 'Hi! Don't I know you from somewhere?' I thought: Don't puke. Hard swallow. No salvia, mouth too dry.

'Ummm...maybe,' I croaked. I sounded like a frog, but at least I didn't vomit."

"And he says in his cute voice, 'Oh, I know where I've seen you before...you won the Volunteer of the Year award!'"

"You're kidding? He cared about that stupid award?"

"Amy! This was my shining moment, the one that I had foreseen with psychic prowess, my radiant day in the warm spotlight of honor...I felt my cheeks grow hot with pride and I was just about to nod and fulfill my destiny...and then he said, 'Ummm...no; never mind. That must have been someone else.'"

"NO!"

"YES!"

"Well, I guess you're just going to have to give your virginity to James."

"No Amy. I do not suffer from visions of grandeur anymore."

-- Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Article © Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-03-24
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