This story is available as an eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., but since it’s very short (and online retailers don’t give me a pricing option lower than 99 cents) I’ve decided to also offer it here for free for those who don’t mind reading onscreen rather than an ebook format. That said, if you read here, I’d very much appreciate a review on Amazon!
by Inanna Gabriel
Shakespeare was a liar.
The picture he painted of Ophelia, floating beautiful in that stream, surrounded by a corona of fair hair and petals. Ophelia, going down for the third time, still singing nonsense and naming wildflowers. So tragically romantic, so poignant, so moving. Such bullshit.
There’s rosemary; that’s for remembrance.
I remember, and it’s not all songs and flowers.
You can’t really sing and chatter while your lungs are collapsing; while the water inside them is filtering into your bloodstream, bloating your veins until they start to burst. That’s what I remember.
And there are pansies, that’s for thoughts.
What was I thinking? I was done with that life; I still don’t regret that it’s over, and I won’t go into my reasons here. The woes of that life don’t belong here on the other side. But the woes of that death… That’s another thing entirely.
Ophelia fell into the water while trying to hang a garland of flowers from a tree. She sang to herself, even as she drowned. The songs and the poems don’t tell you that even when you really want to die, your body will fight you every step of the way.
I fell from much higher than Ophelia’s tree. Odin’s Gate Bridge is wide and high, Declaration River below nighttime black, the silver moon and city lights sparkling on its inky surface, glittering like dark glass.
There’s fennel for you, and columbines.
After a long search I did manage to find fennel, in the produce department. It was some weird vegetable that looked like a giant, mutant green onion. Nothing tragically romantic about that, so I left it. The columbines I had, though, and daisies, and violets. I wore a chaplet on my head and a daisy-chain around my neck. With a bouquet in each hand I climbed the railing, leaned forward, and fell.
The water was cold; much colder than I’d expected. I thought it would stop my heart right there, but alas, there was no such mercy. I crashed into the water, its surface solid and bruising, as hard as the glass it resembled. And then I sank through, plunging deep into the river’s icy underworld.
I expected that would be the end of me, too. But no.
I held my breath against my own will, and floated back up to the surface. I tried to sing an Ophelia song, Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny, but my teeth chattered and I couldn’t catch my breath.
What they never tell you, what they don’t warn you while they’re giving you all the water-safety lectures, while they’re telling you to wear your life vest, to wait an hour after you eat before you go swimming, what they never mention is how damned long it takes to drown.
They don’t tell you that it’s not just one deep breath of water and you die. Think about how long you can hold your breath; you can go that long with your lungs filled with freezing water, too. But it’s a hell of a lot more painful.
If you’re unlucky enough not to pass out right away, you can feel the water inside of you, can feel it working its way into your bloodstream. At some point your throat will start to close up in a vain effort to keep the water out. What your stupid body doesn’t realize is that that keeps the air out, too, were there any to be had.
While your throat is closed, some water does still get in, but it mostly goes into your stomach. Now you’re not only choking on the water, frozen from the inside by it, but you’re puking it, too. Except that since your throat is closed up, it doesn’t go anywhere but right back down. Until it rips your esophagus open, anyway.
And all the while, you’re still trying to breathe. Even though you wanted this, even though you did it all on purpose, wanting nothing but to become Ophelia and to float away in your flowing white dress surrounded by flowers and a corona of honey-colored hair. The breath just keeps fighting and fighting, no matter how much you want to make it stop.
Too much of water has thou, poor Ophelia, and therefore I forbid my tears…
Gradually, you do start to sink. And eventually, the pain does start to fade. Now that you’re traumatized beyond all return (and you were already killing yourself when this started, so you were pretty fucking traumatized to begin with), you are at last rewarded with the end to it all that you were looking for.
I did have my Ophelia moment, floating along, surrounded by flowers. I didn’t look quite as beautiful as she did; nobody ever pictured the whites of her eyes red with blood, her lips blue and cracked, a fireworks display of broken capillaries flashing fire on the porcelain white of her pale, dead cheeks.
Nobody ever wondered if there were leeches in that brook.
Only half an act after her flower-gathering show of insanity, Ophelia is found dead. She is mourned, she is revered.
Meanwhile, I’m still unidentified, still misunderstood. The police who found my body, even the reporters who covered the story, all of them missed the reference. Even if I wasn’t recognized, I could have at least gotten some nice tragically romantic headlines for my pain and suffering.
Modern-Day Ophelia Plunges to Death From Bridge: They Say She Made a Good End…
But no. I get crap about a Jane Doe and speculation about whether or not the death was accidental. Of course, they doubted Ophelia’s motives, too.
Shakespeare never said anything about Ophelia lingering about, watching the rest of the play, either, and yet here I am. I sought to abandon, but gained only distance. I wanted to be forgotten, but instead am merely unknown. As long as I remain Jane Doe, then I remain here, a mute witness to my own anonymity.
It was all a lie. It was all a terrible, misleading ruse.
Doubt truth to be a liar…
I watch, and I wait. But I had my reasons. I’d do it again. I might not even change a thing.
…But never doubt I love.