A short story by Kevin Naulls.
Bronwyn just leapt to her death.
Carley is screaming like a child begging for her mother’s milk, Rob is trying to explain how fucked up this is in the simplest terms, and I can’t help but wonder if it was the impact that killed her of if she was dead all along.
Amidst the panic, the deafening and painful shrieks, and the sex date I’m in the middle of cancelling, not one of us had made the journey to the sidewalk, smeared with the brain of a friend who was with us just a second ago. And not just a guest we asked to come because we needed a fourth, or because someone desperately needed an eleventh hour date. Bronwyn was our good friend. I guess she’s now our good dead friend.
It has only ever been the four of us for as long as I can remember. At least, until now, when a crowd has begun to emerge down below—each person rotating between dialling 9-1-1 and taking photos. My mind starts to drift, wondering if Instagram has a policy against oozing brain matter. If these people were smart, they’d set their accounts to private, just for now.
Carley hasn’t stopped fidgeting. In the last 10 minutes (God, has it only been 10 minutes?), she has smoked three cigarettes, lit every scented candle in the house, and has begun experimenting with mixology. Before today, I didn’t know gin and bourbon could blend to form such a calming elixir.
I keep looking down, hoping that it will somehow encourage me to make the first move. “We’re out of egg whites,” Carley tells me, clutching an empty egg carton as if it needed the hug. This turns into a much larger discussion about how ridiculous it would be to make an old-fashioned without egg whites.
I didn’t have the heart to say anything to her. After all, we all grieve in our own ways. The police will be here any minute, and we’d have to answer a lot of questions we didn’t want to answer, nor had the answers for.
I excuse myself to the bathroom—a bathroom so void of warning signs, I’m confused. Where are the bottles of prescription anti-depressants, or the pilfered nondescript pills we’d snort in university because we couldn’t afford cocaine. Nothing. Just scented soap, ample toilet paper, and monogrammed towels. All signs of a highly functioning adult. But something made her jump. I can’t help but think joining her would be the only way to get my brain to stop asking these questions. But how insensitive would it be to play the victim, when a neighbouring foxhound is currently nosing around Bronwyn’s cracked skull. I have nicknamed her Captain Grey Skull now, because I’m designed to avoid life’s problems by dipping into nostalgia. Carley’s cries have become louder, and for a moment I can escape the breathless thoughts racing through my own head. Relief from a friend who seems to care more than I do.
When I leave the bathroom, Rob is lying down on the couch, with one arm slung over the edge, and the other taking a drag, smoke rushing into the air as if to signal someone—anyone—out there who could help us in here. Carley is frantically looking for a super fine sieve. The last thing we need is pulp in our Bronwyn cocktails. I’m still not saying anything. I can’t. I just know that anything I say will be construed as apathetic. I walk over to the balcony and stare, hoping the police will arrive any second. But they don’t come. There are new faces, and some have lost interest, but nothing seems more important than the girl on the sidewalk. And yet, we still can’t move our legs toward the elevator. We are trapped in Bronwyn’s apartment, because we don’t know what we’d say when we got down there.
Rob gets on the phone again. He calls the police, and asks them where they are. The conversation lasts all of 30 seconds, and most of it is in the form of cursing. I can’t help but answer for the cops: “It’s not like she’s going anywhere. It’s not like we’re going anywhere.” Rob hangs up. He turns into the microsuede couch cushion, trying to avoid me. We’re all not friends right now. We’re all just trying to bide time before the police come. But in a city full of sirens, this street is completely silent. Even the gawkers can’t do anything but stop and stare.
Carley excuses herself to the bathroom, likely to make sense of this whole thing like I did. She won’t find anything, but I won’t be the one to tell her that. Rob has begun to sob into the pillow, trying to remain the brave one. But feeling helpless will have that effect on you. I light a cigarette, hoping to cloud my judgment a little bit. Right now, I would take anything, because these Bronwyns aren’t numbing my brain enough.
I walk into Bronwyn’s bedroom, which has been meticulously cleaned. But that says nothing of advanced planning, because she has always been neat and tidy. It’s all very yuppie-went-to-an-antique-fair, but despite it’s cleanliness, it looks lived in. And that’s what you would say about Bronwyn, too: clean, polished, but she has lived. At least, that is what you would have said about her.
Rob motions to me for another drink. There are three pitchers of Bronwyns, and three of us. In memoriam, I think to myself. Carley walks out of the washroom, with signs of crying. She looks like she was crying for hours, but we have only been mourning for twenty minutes. She says, “there’s nothing.” I tell her, “I know.” And before I can realize what’s happening, Carley falls to floor. In between consuming every toxin in the bathroom she could find, and vomiting in her mousy Polyanna way, she managed to ingest enough to kill her. I tried to catch her, but she fell like a board, showing minor signs of limping. She was dead. And all I could think of was, “and then there were two of us.”
Rob chivalrously drapes a pilling Hermes throw over the body. Let’s ignore the problem at hand, because that’s been working really well for us so far. But I can’t be constructive, not when I am just as destructive as Carley, Bronwyn, and Rob, who I imagine is thirty seconds away from doing something really stupid.
“Hungry?” I ask him, hoping to remove myself from the room that contains a lumpy body under a throw that costs more than my last 30 haircuts. He waves me off, waiting on the phone, hoping to talk to someone more sympathetic than the last emergency operator. I pick at the chicken we ate at dinner, and pour myself another Bronwyn. “I guess we should make a Carley,” I tell Rob. “She would have wanted it that way.” He isn’t even looking at me at this point.
Even I was starting to wonder what was taking so long. I mean, it had only been thirty minutes, but I figured a jumper is always a pretty high priority. And in such a beautiful Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress? Where are the newshounds to document this poor little rich girl? Everything seems slower and less logical when you’re in a room with a dead girl. A dead girl who was my friend. And a man who might as well be dead, because his eyes have become darker by the second, and his face so clammy with tears. Rob is screaming at an operator. We’ve reached the hysterics point of the evening, except we still haven’t gone down to look at the Bronwyn show. We can’t leave Carley, we remind ourselves. Rob begins to threaten who I can only assume is an underpaid emergency worker. But Rob is just a tenderfoot, and you can hear it in his voice. Even though he’s threatening to kill your family, he’s really just saying please come faster, because I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Rob can’t take the frustration and throws his cell phone out the window as far as he can. A noble gesture, but what if they wanted to call? No one is thinking clearly right now. I’m six Bronwyns in, we’ve been waiting for 40 minutes now, and anyone who has wanted to lend a hand downstairs has done so, and can say so tomorrow and for the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, we’re losing it in a mid-century modern apartment, complete with Barcelona chairs, a Noguchi coffee table, and a dead woman in a pile on a Turkish rug. I open my wingspan for my Architectural Digest photograph, but Rob reads it as a signal for a hug. A hug that lasts 20 seconds, but feels like a lifetime. “We’re not making it out of here alive,” Rob says. “I know” is my only response. He’s right. Whether we off ourselves here, or die when we’re 90, we are never going to forget this. We will walk without purpose for the rest of our lives, and everything that once made us happy will cease to have meaning. These things tend to happen when you’ve spent the Port and cigar portion of a dinner party trying to avoid a dead girl on the floor. A girl you didn’t kill, but can’t help but feel you’ve killed anyway. He’s right. We aren’t getting out of this one alive.
We both have reached the point where smoking inside has begun to make our heads spin. Our heads are spinning for so many other reasons, so we take to the balcony for fresh air and a cigarette. We haven’t smoked this much since college. We look down, and nothing has really changed—she hasn’t moved. Three noble souls have stuck around, waiting for the police. But I can’t stand here without grabbing Rob’s hand. He is not leaving me alone. I am not going to be the one to clean the mess. He inches away, but ends up gripping my hand for dear life. We‘re both afraid of what we might do.
We both begin to weep. It is our first shared experience since Bronwyn jumped, and we close the sliding door, giving Carley a proper burial. The air begins to feel cooler, faster. We remember what life was like before tonight. How we all became friends at school and vowed to be friends forever. And unlike so many friendships, we were friends, just like we said. I feel chilly, and Rob holds my hand tighter. In this moment, we struggle to find the words. And then it hits us, and we finally make it to see Bronwyn before the ambulance takes us away.