“Momentum” by Jaclyn Pahl

Fiction, Short Stories

Tendrils of purple vine, voices floating on temperate air—Findlay park, empty in the cold morning dew, was now brimming in the warm embrace of midday.  A myriad of people passed through the park.  Many of these people moved with a brisk liveliness, a purpose.  A minority of others moved slowly with slumped shoulders, a concede in their walk, a relaxed sort of tiredness behind their squinting eyes.  These people were heading home.  A woman with black hair moved like failure and was headed home to a cramped, cellar-sized apartment, or perhaps she was going to a more spacious dwelling, which she shared with strangers or with family, or, else, maybe these tender horizons were still another train ride away.  If you really look, you can always identify the people going home.

In the park people stood around each other in awkward, misshapen semi-circles, like candlesticks placed by a self-conscious altar boy.  Children ran over patches of grass, the rapidity of their movement leaving behind them colourless trails, like heat from a flame.

The sun was low.  The early afternoon light was brimming with humid freshness.  The shadows were soft upon the brown, uneven earth.  The light was long and hazy.  Each patch of sunlight was blurred around the edges, as though rendered by an Impressionist.  The green undergrowth glowed translucent under the afternoon light.

In the midst of the park’s activity, two men sat still and focused under the shelter of two oak trees. One man placed his queen carefully on the board, taking the other’s knight.  Mere moments ago the younger of the two had been engrossed in the game, each move the sole occupier of his attention, but now awareness called him to accept the inevitable.  Two ebony bishops and a queen held his king cornered in the right edge of the board. He had only his rook left, save for a few forgotten pawns. These next few moves would determine when the end would come.  He looked up, losing interest in the strategy of the game, and glanced at the man across from him, who was his senior by quite a few years. The older man knew that he had won, but the end game, the closure, he always found to be the most difficult part. He glared at the board with tense, full eyes.  How to frame the king such that another move was impossible?  The task overwhelmed his concentration.  Resigning momentarily, he broke his focus, and upon glancing up, noticed the younger man had already lost interest in the game.  The older man then looked around, remembering his surroundings, and became aware of music drifting over the park from afar.  The beat was barely audible from the distant stereo from which it emerged.  Thump, thump, thump. Checkmate.

Parallel to the park walked two young women.  Their burgeoning friendship would be short-lived, despite that they shared much in the way of experiences.  The woman on the left walked slowly.  A stoic comfort was compressed behind her dark eyes, but beneath her atropine exterior there lie a gentle stirring.  Permeating her demeanor was an anxious resistance, an inability to accept the evils of the world.  The other, to her right, was a somewhat frenetic young woman.  Detectable in every flick of her cigarette was a restless hunger.  A palpable fear, like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  She had a gnawing feeling inside that something dark and destructive was nearing.  In this moment on the sidewalk the two felt connected.  They laughed as time slipped away.  There is a lushness to young friendship, a kind of magic. The same kind of magic that makes summer feel eternal.

Strange things swell in the heat of summer—an idea bursts forth.  The former of the two saw in her mind a vision of the day unfolding. She could see the gold sunshine become empty darkness, but not in the gentle way of a gradient.  The sun did not sink evenly behind the forested trees and slip gently beneath the horizon.  The day twisted and tautened into night.  The evening pulling strong against the day, the light becoming angular with tension.  The day became distorted, strange, and when the last bit of light slipped away and the night finally moved over the earth, it was an empty darkness, like a shadow. A gaze, a vacancy—two headlights flare and move with heat over a road.  A dark like this needs whiskey.

And opposite the two women, up the street walked a father with his school-aged daughter.  She ran ahead of him, the pavement scuffing her white sneakers. She departed from the sidewalk to run through a bush on a bordering property.  It was tall enough for her to run in circles around without her head hitting the branches.  As she frolicked she began singing a playtime song.  “Are you the sunshine? Are you the rain?” Her father watched her carefully.  When he was her age, he would sit with his sister next to the Port Island River most afternoons during the summer.  The air was black, hot with the smell of sewage and rot.  He can recall seeing a body surface in the river.  He never would forget it.  The slow pull of the water shifted its weight uneasily—grey, brown, yellow, purple, plump and bloated, covered in grime and matted hair.  His sister denies that this ever happened.  And maybe it didn’t, he sometimes found himself thinking.  The memory was too vivid.  Nothing in the real world looks that vivid, he’d concede.  In a strange parallel memory, he can remember standing with his mother on a street corner when he was eleven.  As he stood, a passing bus ran over his foot.  The vehicle was moving so fast that, although he felt its pressure, it didn’t hurt.  In shock, he told his mother what happened.  Over the blaring of horns she simply rolled her eyes.  This he was sure did in fact occur.

 “Come out of the bushes,”he called to the child.

Diagonally the two groups approached each other at the intersection beside Findlay Park, where the two men still sat contemplating their game of chess.  It was not with all the white rush of a flooding river, or the uproarious thunder of a jet plane, that metal meetingmetal.  Instead the crash was quiet.  No one could remember the sound that caused them all to look toward the middle of the intersection.

On the road lay a cyclist.  His limbs askew over the street.  His bicycle lay limply at his side, titanium twisted into knots.  The car that had crashed into him was parked at the angle at which the driver had tried to swerve, spread diagonally across the intersection.  The vehicle’s chrome sparkled under the beating sun. As the driver-side door opened, a woman stepped unsteadily out onto the road.  The cyclist did not move as she approached him.

JACLYN PAHL is an aspiring writer and journalist.  She was raised in Edmonton, Alberta.  She now resides in Toronto, Ontario, where she attends the University of Toronto.  She loves to read, watch films, and visit libraries.

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