Antipodean – by P. Bona
Jordan leaned over the guardrail and stared down at the electric blues and reds of the streetlights glinting off the surface of the river below. The rail was frigid beneath her fingers; she clenched them once, twice, three times. She’d read somewhere that it wasn’t the impact that killed you when you jumped from this height, but the fall. Looking down, she wondered if it were true.
“I’ve decided I’m a revolutionary,” said her friend, a bid for her attention. When she glanced over, Aliyah was leaning back against the rail, arms spread wide and head tipped up to the sky. Her coat was only a shade darker than the rusty red of the chipping paint beneath, but the lights from the buildings at the bank of the river caressed the curve of her shoulder, seeming to set it aflame.
Jordan followed suit, spinning around slowly. The sky above them was the dull orange-pink of a city at night, stars hidden away in a blanket of urban light pollution. “A revolutionary,” she mocked flatly, trusting Aliyah not to notice. She could imagine how this conversation would go, but there was nothing stopping it once it had started. She fished a cigarette from the pack in her pocket, settling in for the long-haul.
The smoke was acrid, burned her throat. She wanted to say she didn’t know why she’d ever had the urge to light a cigarette at all, but she knew herself better than that: it was simply that no one, now, could tell her she wasn’t allowed.
“Share,” Aliyah said, the moment the cigarettes were back in Jordan’s pocket. She held out a hand, and Jordan rolled her eyes but dug them back out without comment.
Aliyah pulled a lighter from the back pocket of her jeans, because of course she had never once bought herself a pack but was ever-prepared to smoke Jordan’s cigarettes, as if that way, it didn’t count. She grinned and then took a puff, her loud pink lipstick leaving a ring around the yellow filter. After a beat, she pursed her lips and blew, a cloud of smoke dancing out before her. “Anyway, yes, a revolutionary,” she continued, prepared as usual to follow the thread of her own conversation to whatever conclusion she had imagined when she’d begun. Jordan sometimes wondered if she were truly a necessary contributor to the dialogue at all. “I’m gonna change the world.”
“Yeah, sure.” Jordan snorted to herself, a sound her mother had told her was undignified as a child, which had made her all the more determined never to stop. “Change the world how?”
“Who knows.” Aliyah spun around and jumped up onto the bottommost rung of the rail, her cigarette dangling from her lips. She tipped over the edge, precarious as always. Her wavy blond hair tumbled downward, reaching out to the river. Jordan wondered if she’d be able to catch her in time if she were to slip, and she knew without a shadow of a doubt that the thought had never crossed Aliyah’s mind. “Maybe I could invent something. Or cure something. Write the next great American novel, whatever. Who gives a shit what? Something important.”
She rolled her eyes again, flicking ash from her cigarette. “You’re not a revolutionary. You’re a bored and pretentious. There’s a subtle but important distinction.” When Aliyah huffed her offense, Jordan could see her breath. She wondered if it was smoke or just the cold.
“Which is fucking what?”
“I dunno.” She shrugged. “Impotence, I guess.”
Aliyah hopped down and sidled over to her, throwing an arm around her shoulders. She was shorter than Jordan was, had to prop herself up onto her toes to do so. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a ray of sunshine? Because you’re just so damn chipper, Jay, it’s an inspiration.”
Jordan laughed. She leaned into Aliyah, who somehow managed never to wear the appropriate amount of layers for the winter chill and yet also never feel the cold. “I don’t aspire to be anybody’s source of inspiration.”
“Yeah? What do you aspire to be?”
It was almost laughable, what came to mind. As a kid, awkward and gangly and shy with eternally sticky fingers and dishwater-brown tangles, she’d wanted to be so many things. A writer, sometimes, or a teacher. A scientist, though she’d never cared much for science at all. A famous actress, graceful and elegant. And now, well…
“Nothing,” she settled on, finally. She flicked her cigarette into the river, watching the warm glow of the cherry arc downward before the wind put it out. She looked over to Aliyah, who had her head tipped up once again. Jordan wondered, not for the first time, what the hell it was Aliyah saw when she looked up. “You?”
Aliyah closed her eyes, lashes casting shadows down across her cheeks. She made a contented sound. “Whatever,” she said, “anything,” and took a drag of her cigarette. She always finished more slowly than Jordan did when they smoked together, as if she were savoring it; Jordan felt like, when she smoked, she was racing toward the finish line.
She shook her head, an errant tendril of hair tickling her skin, and turned around. Aliyah could be anything, of course. She could be everything, if she wanted to. And Jordan, well… Jordan could still feel bite of the metal rail through the wool of her gloves like ice, and when she looked down once more at the river, she wondered how cold the water was down at the bottom.
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