The Nature of Loss by Julia Gagliardi

The only drama in Poughkeepsie occured at sundown. Chronic silhouettes of clouds were herded towards the steel cantilever deck of the High Bridge on the Hudson River. Rose-tinted film formed 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 passerbys 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 pale 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. Nora picked at her nail, and 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,” she 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 if the sun itself had been pulled underneath by a dark hand. Street lights mumbled and chattered above their heads. 
Nick yawned and gazed at the Hudson River. “I wish I’d seen it,” he said. 
“You didn’t miss anything,” Nora spat. “But you usually miss them, anyways. It was a perfect sunset, just all the other damn sunsets here.” Nora nodded towards a bench down the dirt pathway. A young man was pointing a camera lens towards a copse of trees to capture the last of the sunset poking through. “Why do people take photographs of a phenomenon that occurs 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 was wearing blue or green or even yellow, it would have still looked dark in the night. 
“You say that as if it’s a bad thing,” he said, and leaned over the handles of the bicycle towards Nora. 
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, when he tipped too much half-and-half over the rim. “Don’t you think it is?” she asked. 
Her knuckles gripped the edge of the bench seat. They paled to a bleach white as the air thickened to black around them, the night absorbing everything around the twins. The river and Nora’s bicycles lost their outlines.
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 a chest of drawers 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. “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 as Nora clambered on the seat of her bicycle. His eyes and shirt were luminous. 
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!
Nora could not turn around. She could bear to hear his voice, but would not look at his face. But she felt weightless. She felt that if she pedaled any harder she’d be flying. Then Nora shut her eyes, the wheels and screws of her bicycle cawing in protest. The air rushed around her and enclosed her like a shell. She hoped the air around her would calcify into an oyster 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. She was flying westward. Her bicycle mushroomed from the paved road and Nora sunk into the seat. 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. Dirt continued to spin off of the bicycle wheels, dirt breeding dirt. Nora flew above the High Bridge, past the tooth booths and above the city of Poughkeepsie. The streetlamps and lit windows whined beneath her feet in a high chant. 
A thousand feet below, Nick wheezed underneath the belly of the bridge. His bicycle slept sideways on the ground, and he saw his sister’s silhouette fluttering like a burnt-black curtain against the mascarpone moon, and then out of sight.

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