If you missed “Hair” (Fall 2017) – Part 1, you can find it here. This is the second half.
One hundred and forty-three hours after we first met, he finally leaves his room, half-tugging his hood over his face and jumping from streetlight to streetlight, trying to always keep his feet in some form of light. He’s acting like every other student on campus, as if he’s afraid of the murderer. There he is, though, one hand gripping the lip of his hood, and the other waving maniacally, trying to maintain balance while the rest of him catapults between patches of light. It looks like he’s heading for the bridge again.
I half-jog after him with FINALLY going electric through my brain, but when we’re nearing the bridge, I see that there’s a crowd of people holding lights—candles or something—and surely combining their weight to too-much over the arch of the bridge.
A girl steps from the throng and throws open her arms to the murderer. Even from this distance, I can tell that the girl’s face is veiled in a sheet of sweat or tears or something. He walks straight into her arms and buries his face in her neck. Her long red hair flows down her other side like a tacky stream of corn syrup and food coloring.
For a second, I can only stand in the middle of the path, foot hesitating over the next brick, mouth and eyes still in the process of widening in the excitement. My brain is reluctant to break the bad news.
He stays with those people and their candles for something like two hours. I imagine what lives under his skin, my mind burrowing through the softness of his organs, crunching through his spine, and squishing into his cerebrum. His shoulders never relax, his muscles tensed up into strained cords. The redhead keeps absently trying to massage them down. She frowns—absently—and cries, distant.
Finally, individuals begin to slip to the outskirts of the group, trickling along the tributary walkways back toward the dorms. Gradually, the sidewalks thicken with whole cliques and gangs. Soon only the murderer and the redhead and three others with bodies screaming of awkwardness remain. Slowly, the three edge away, glancing at their watches and phones. One mounts a bike and lurches down the darkest pathway. The other two stumble away on spindly legs, casting quick glances over their shoulders for the first few feet, then, rooting hands in pockets and eyes to ground, they force their backs to stay turned on the couple on the bridge.
The murderer and the redhead are staring at one another, their fingers loosely twining over the railing. Unlike six nights ago, silence seems to shroud the bridge. But I can feel that she’s finally noticing him. There is still hope, especially when she untangles her fingers from his, half turning for the path that leads toward me, and then he snags her trailing hand, turning her back to him.
I lean my cheek against the tree, feeling the ridges of the bark delving into its soft flesh. The hairs near my temple bristle at the intrusion.
She looks down into the water rippling under the bridge and absently runs her fingers through her rusted hair, her eyes going small. He continues staring at her, but his eyes are black holes looking to pull her in with their enormity and begin the process of tearing her apart molecule by molecule.
My nails press into the tree. It sways above me, the leaves clattering together as though trying to alert the murderer and his prey to my own swirling eyes.
She closes her eyes and sucks in a breath. It hisses in through her clenched teeth, quivers in her small chest, and then whistles back out to rejoin the atmosphere.
His left foot inches toward her. When her eyes don’t spring open, the right foot follows. I can hear the tread on his shoe grate against the bricks, but she’s too focused on the wind in her teeth. His fingers crawl into his pocket.
My heart thrums. For a half-blink, I can almost imagine his first victim’s mangled throat on this girl. Her hair will fly around her with the blood splatter only to land in my pocket among the dark strands.
I can’t think of a more beautiful contrast.
She makes some sort of sound. Maybe it’s a gasp, but it’s not one of horrified discovery. Her hands go to her face, slipping over her contorted mouth, settling around her slender nose. She keeps making the soft sound and begins to crumple in on herself.
He takes a few more quick steps, his arms stretching out for her. His hands land on her hips and climb to her hair, running hands softly over it. She collapses against him, tucking her head against his chest like a small bird.
I want him to loop her hair over his fingers and pull, to extend her neck and use the knife in his pocket, to give his fanged blue monster a reason to administer the next injection of adrenaline. I want him to give her a reason to cower, to send her collapsing onto the bricks, her blood sprinting for the bricks and vaulting over the side, drawing the Lakes’ fish up to the surface to watch the show while their gills and their gaping mouths lap at the droplets. I want him to stand over this one and accept it. I want him to still be there when I come out from behind the tree this time. I want him to meet my eyes without running. I want him to see that I know.
I want to thank him for the hair.
I don’t want him to continue stroking her hair. To let tears slip from his own eyes. To lean against the railing and slide down it until he’s sitting with her, cradling her, comforting her. To allow his hand to forget his pocket and the knife that killed the first one.
A fissure crackles through my sternum. From somewhere deep with in it, something begins to ululate, filling the trees and the bricks and the water under the bridge with its wordlessness. The stars open their eyes at the sound. They open their mouths to it, and it flows into them and brims from them, spilling back out into the darkness between their outstretched fingertips and pouring down upon us.
The couple on the bridge looks up, shrinking back against the railing. Their eyes are white at it; their ears tremble. He leaps to his feet, pulling her with him, and steadies the two of them, his eyes never leaving the sky. And then he is off, the goddamn murderer, bounding back to his bedroom with the smoldering computer screen with this girl latched to him, and he latched to her. Her hair whips out behind her, thrashed into matted strands by their flight. As they pass me, it lashes my face. They find the nearest streetlamp and round the corner toward the apartments.
The sun and I lock eyes when it raises its filthy head on the horizon. I force my eyelids to slide over my gritty eyeballs.
While I found it impossible to go back to my apartment and sleep, it did not stop my favorite murderer and his favorite victim. They’re cuddled up in bed right now, limbs and sheets and pillows in a tangle.
I’m pretty certain they’re holding hands still.
I blink again and sigh.
And stand up.
A few streetlights are attempting to deny that it’s getting dark, but most of them are warming up their voices by now. I look along the path. This is the seventh night since I first met my school’s dear murderer and his even dearer prey, and my peers are still timid and mousy when it comes to pathways after dark.
A few blocks away the air is stirring.
I almost feel sorry for her for a second. It probably would’ve been easier for her if last night had just resulted in another bloodstain on this bridge.
Best not to go too far.
That’s his sin and—arguably—mine: going too far. He killed a girl; I took her hair. He only knows of my existence because I was the shadow that motivated him to kill her; I only know him because he helped me get some of the hair that I’ve been staring at for the last few years. He had promise, the potential to lead me to more; I didn’t tip off the cops.
We were symbiotic.
Just as the sun was slithering away, I stood just beneath his window. They would be able to see out, to see me and what I did, but I knew that they wouldn’t.
Two men squeezed into a golf cart with campus security zip-tied to the front will pull up to the emergency kiosk. They’ll slow, eyes already skeptical but scanning the apartments and the sidewalks for some indication of distress. The light above the kiosk will still be flashing blue. It’ll be the strongest light source, so at first they won’t notice the note. They may not even notice it until they go to turn the light off.
I came here, to the bridge, to wait in the darkness and fantasize.
She will cry, and her hair will become matted by her tears. There will be mucus spewing from her nose, and she won’t bother to wipe at it because she will be so distraught that her boyfriend is being hauled away, despite the fact that “he didn’t do anything!” He will look at her as the cops pull him away, and he will no longer love her.
That’s what I think then, leaning against the railing of the bridge. But in a few days, the sun will see her in this very spot, and she’ll actually be crying. She’ll be a goddamn ideal of beauty with her cheeks going flushed and the tears dripping down the arch of her skinny nose. Her hair will be smoothed back and trembling against the small of her back, so scarlet it’s brighter than the autumn on the trees. Her eyes will be locked on him—but not really. That’s just what she wants him to believe. What she’s really looking at—what she’s really locked on to—is the ring he’s dangling in front of her. It shines more coldly than her tears.
He will be grinning when she finally nods. His eyes will be so squished up from that smile that they look black. No jail for me, they’ll say, I’m innocent.
Even with all the not-knowing that I have as I lean across the bridge, I can already feel the despair of the future. It feels like the cold, black iron of the railing wrapped itself in the chilly air and shoved itself into the pit of my stomach.
I dip my hand into my pocket and tug at the hair in my pocket. The disembodied pony tail is far too eager to be free. The strands slither out and wave, tentacle-like. I cradle them in cupped hands.
Her hair is one of the prettiest shades. I’ve always had the deepest of appreciations for that shade of dark brown that borders on some sort of black. My hair was never that dark. It was thin and mousy, and I hated it when it was there. Now I hate it because it’s gone, and no one can even guess the color that it used to be.
Even after frizzing in my pocket for a week, her hair is still soft. I smooth it down a little, and it looks like it has the potential to become as sleek as it once was.
I feel the blue thing that’s been latched on and spewing adrenaline into my body for the last seven days begin to pull away. I imagine that if I were able to watch it happen, it would be like a syringe drawing from a vial. The blue hollowness mingles with the wrought-iron despair.
The pony tail jolts in my palm. A few frazzled hairs trickle into the water below. This encourages an uprising. Her hair inches up to the edge of my palm. I twist my wrist in a “No, please, come back” sort of way, but it doesn’t listen. Strands leap from my hand and entwine on their way down. The last of the evidence that the girl on the bridge was ever a real person cascades down the side of the bridge, dives into the water, breaking the surface tension and calling to creatures already acquainted with her DNA.
I watch the fish flurry around the dark, sodden mass at the surface until they lose interest, and her hair dances its way to the bottom. I stare until it’s joined the darkness at the bottom of the Lakes, but I am unable to look away—
Red and blue lights windmill down the street as though they help to propel the cars forward. I can hear them diving through the air, angry and aerodynamic, just flashes of black and white, red and blue. I can’t remember if I mentioned his girlfriend in my note.
The shadows lengthen along the paths to the Lakes. They reach out to me like old friends and lift me up with gentle hands, carry me along with them. For a moment, I see a shadow with a grin and a flashing silver wave standing off to one side, but when I look, there are only the wind and the trees.
My head’s down, but I can hear them running toward me—the slap-slap-slap of their running shoes pounds through my head. I drag my head up, balancing it on the end of my neck, so I can squint up at the sun.
My eyes betray me.
Braid Girl and her blonde companions. Their hair’s going behind them, swinging and kind of sparkling in the sunlight. One of the blondes glances at me, and my heart swells. It crashes along to the beat of their stride. My hood slips back about an inch, and I can feel the sunlight on my scalp.
Her eyes flash to my hair.
And then away.
For a second, I think about stopping them, asking them something, pretending I’m new here, like the last few years of classes never happened. I won’t even look at their hair until the timing is right—
I tuck my head between my shoulders. The three girls continue past, the blonde who looked at me accidentally bumping my arm in her attempt to not make eye contact. I turn and stare after her, my head still tucked low.
The wrought-iron in my chest vibrates from our collision.
Very slowly, my body turns, and my neck cranes, look-look-looking toward the Lakes.
The blood’s still on the bridge, and the shadows whispering back to me draw me in like a magnet. Part of me scowls at the connection. The other portion is frostbitten from the frigid wrought iron. This is the part of me that saw the boy propose to the redhead and didn’t turn away.
I find myself leaning toward the runners. I feel that I am so close that even Braid Girl and her cohorts’ hair is fluttering in my grasp—
Best not to go too far, though.