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Before by Greg Shemkovitz

Before by Greg Shemkovitz

Fiction, Vol. 8.3, Sept. 2014

Paul was flying, weightless and limp like a ragdoll or maybe just a rag, a limbless and ragged piece of debris, suspended for a moment—though it felt so much longer—above the murky Schuylkill, and yet somehow he felt free like, for once, this was all he had to do—fly—because before he was flying, he was riding his bike as he always had across the Walnut Street bridge and into West Philadelphia where he had once worked at a museum, studying seeds and soil. Only, he wasn’t going to work this morning before he began to fly. Instead, he was merely riding, as he always had, following the same path across the Walnut Street bridge and over the murky Schuylkill, because before he was merely riding this route, he was commuting to the museum where he looked at dirt and seeds, where until now the funding had run out, as they put it, and he was left with only time and no dirt or seeds to study, so that every time he crossed that bridge, he looked at the murky water and asked himself if he could do it today—could he fly? Because before he rode to study that dirt and those seeds, everyday he would say goodbye to his girlfriend, Cynthia, who walked to her job in the opposite direction, away from the Walnut Street bridge and the murky Schuylkill, and he would fight the urge to say, I love you, out of desperation because before the funding ran out and the seeds and dirt were left unstudied, and before he had to promise—it was always he who had to promise—that he would be better to her—in what way he did not know—she had admitted to an affair with a colleague, and now Paul had clutched to the moments he had with Cynthia, those times before work, as they sat sleepily across from each other over bagels and brie before he had started riding his bike on the path he took to a job he no longer had but could not tell her for fear of losing her again. It was before he was flying and before he was desperate—a paralyzing fear that loosened each time he crossed the bridge and the murky water—he was in love, seized with certainty that she was the one, even if he would not use those exact words on her, and he made promises of a life together, of a house and a car, even though they did not need one, and of children if she wanted them, because he was going to do something great with his work, someday, if only she believed and would have him. Although he knew now that she would never have him, not without the seeds and soil and unbroken promises. And for weeks now he could not tell her that he had not done what he promised but instead let that time and that funding run out, and he wondered for how long he would keep it a secret, how many times he would have to cross that bridge, asking—no, daring himself. But now Paul was flying, his body limp and loose and weightless, carrying him over the murky Schuylkill, now only a breath away, and yet a moment ago—before it all ran out—his body so tense, his thoughts so terse—could he do it?—and a car or a truck or something solid and squealing, heavy and angry, had shoved him off his bike and over the railing and out over the murky water, telling him to get on with it, just do it already, before it’s too late.

Pyro by James Winter

The Fishermen by R. M. Schmidt

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