John Curtis

Slippery Reins

I pull up the car and turn the key, listening to the soft, rhythmic mutter as the engine dies. The wheel is slick in my grasp, coated with a thin sheen of cold sweat. I glance over at Mike and he just looks calmly back, pen poised over his clipboard in malicious readiness. I look out the window upon the gathering crowd, barely restrained by thin yellow tape, and feel a lurch as my gut rebels. I breathe slowly until the urge to retch subsides, and crane my neck to look up the tower at the center of the shifting mob. Atop the shining edifice of steel and glass stands a young woman, teetering at the brink with her arms spread wide, wavering in the breeze like a thin reed.

Mike pats me reassuringly on the shoulder, but I ignore him. I wade through the crowd, fighting the unruly tangle of arms and legs and voices. The lone cop hands me a megaphone but it slips through my sweaty grasp to fall on the hot asphalt, the dull clunk barely audible over the clamoring audience. I bend to pick it up, clumsy fingers fumbling with the handle. Raising the cone to my lips I pull the trigger, pointing the yawning maw at the woman on her perch. I can feel Mike’s eyes boring into my neck, can hear his pen scribbling relentlessly, dragging behind it a bright red stain.

My throat closes up. Spasms run through my hands, mingling and growing and spreading. I close my eyes. I breathe. Words begin to flow from my mouth, concise and eloquent, persuasive but not needling. I ride the tide of words, the ebb and flow, insistent yet gentle. The woman sways, her hair spread in a shifting fan by the incessant wind. Lightheaded, I glance back at Mike. He isn’t writing, just smiling steadily. I grin in return and turn around, brimming with relief.

I realize something is wrong when my guts twist, sending waves of pain through my stomach. The woman is falling. Her dress flaps wildly, a rhythmic counterpoint to the beat of her flailing arms. She falls, and my fear falls with her, dropping like a lead weight to settle heavily in the pit of my stomach. I turn away before I see her hit, but the thump is painfully loud compared to the now-silent crowd. My focus narrows to the car, the door, the handle, until the world becomes a fuzzy blur compared to the brilliant clarity of my escape. I can feel the mob’s eyes on me, a constant pressure that follows me to the car. My hands shake as I grasp the wheel. Mike leans forward, a comforting presence now that the ordeal is over.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Everyone loses their first one.”

That makes me feel better.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.