GOING ON SIXTEEN • by Kyle Bilinski

We were up on the bridge in nothing but our underwear, our clothes in piles at our feet. Landon traced the shape of my body with his blue eyes, and I remember feeling like a woman for the first time. Hot as it was, my arm hairs stood erect, my nipples hardened so much it hurt. We climbed the wood railing and stood, toes clenched, holding hands. The Deschutes River looked black and cold; the current moved briskly. The slightest breeze could have tipped us over, but there was no wind, none at all.

I asked him one more time about the warning etched in the railing: DANGER: SUBMERGED OBJECTS. NO JUMPING. There were remnants of red paint around the five words, but the rest had peeled or chipped away. Once again Landon told me not to worry. He reminded me of the times he’d jumped with his brothers. For a while we simply stood on that railing, the sun blaring down on us — my slight cleavage as white and untouched as his thighs. Silence passed and our clammy hands glued together.

Then Landon started a slow count to three. One. Our hands swung back and forth. Two. Our bodies were already in motion. But instead of three, he said that he loved me. No one outside of my family had ever said that before. Landon was the first. When his words reached my ears, we were still looking at one another, smiling like fools. Then, once our feet left the railing, I looked down at the river. That’s when I saw it: the pointed bow of an aluminum fishing boat thirty feet below Landon’s toes. The boat had snuck up behind us and was moving with the current, down river. I tried to yell, but it was too late.

Someone once told me that horrible things happen in some foreign time where details become as sharp as broken glass. It took a long time for us to fall, and I remember everything. Sometimes I dream that we come up out of the river still holding hands and I tell Landon that I love him back before taking a breath. The next part almost always turns out the same: he pulls my body tight against his own and slings his arms around me. That’s when I wake up. There’s never a boat in my dreams. But I was the only one to hit the water that day. When I surfaced, his hand was gone, and the horrified looks from the fishermen revealed that he had not survived the impact. He left me alone in the river, and the frigid water made me gasp for air. I have never been so cold in all my life.

Kyle Bilinski lives in northern California where he works as a flight attendant and painting contractor. He is also an MFA candidate at Pacific University. Some of his stories have appeared in places like Overtime and Black Heart Magazine, and one of his poems is forthcoming from Cloudbank. What’s more, he wears a beard, collects stamps, and plays bass and harmonica.

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