It was a hot morning and Juliet opened the door to her camper trailer and looked out at the wilderness and thought it was good. The day seemed like a nice choice for the end of her days.
She picked up Derek’s old walking stick, and stepped out of the trailer and started along the hiking trail.
Before long, she bound her long, brown hair into a pony tail for comfort, and continued. She went past large trees and crumbling boulders and draws that ran down the side of the mountain.
She paid little attention to direction, just walked. As she did, she thought of Shakespeare’s Juliet and how she had ended things.
Juliet had killed herself because of Romeo. She understood her pain, and now this Juliet, she told herself, will do the same. She would let the pain out of her life the way you would let the puss out of a wound.
The trail split. One branch continued straight, the other climbed up into the rocks, and that was the branch she chose.
Up she climbed, having to use her walking stick to help her. The trail narrowed and the trees came in tight on either side.
Juliet looked up the trail and could see a spot of light between the shadows of the trees. It was way up and would require some time to reach.
What she hadn’t thought of when deciding this would be her last day on earth, was how hungry she would be by skipping breakfast. She had assumed she would find a high point for jumping much sooner.
She paused and thought of her Romeo, Derek, and how he had jabbed a knife into his breast and had left a note saying he had died for her. That he loved her and cherished her, but that he couldn’t get his head right, and with her name on his lips, he would leap into the wild dark nothing.
When Derek plunged the knife into his heart he might as well have plunged it into hers. Derek had always been covered in shadow and regret that couldn’t be defined. They had an argument only hours before his final moments, something silly, something so silly she couldn’t remember the gist of it.
His note read that he loved her so much he had taken his life, and now she was sure she could not live without him, that the torment she felt would crawl down deep into her blood and bones and would live there like a parasite.
Juliet did not intend to feed that parasite. She would shorten its days of feeding.
Her stomach growled with hunger, and she climbed.
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The trail became so narrow and steep, she began to crawl on her hands and knees, still clutching the cane. The boulders on the trail tore her pants and scraped her knees. Sweat poured off of her, even though she was out of the direct heat and was in the shadow of the trees.
Finally, she came to the top of the trail. She managed to stand, taking deep breaths. She felt so exhausted she put her hands on her knees and bent over to recharge herself. Blood pounded in her head and made her temples throb as if something inside of her was trying to dig its way out.
When she could breathe again and the blood was no longer pounding, she saw that she was near the edge of a high cliff, and beyond the cliff the sun burned like a flaming coal. The sky was an impossible blue, and as she walked to the edge of the cliff, she looked out and saw the trees below, and on the sides of the mountain. They were green as Ireland.
She leaned over and looked straight down.
It was a long drop. The rocks stuck out from the sides of the mountain, waiting on her.
The air cooled suddenly, and a fresh wind blew across her. With the wind on her face, something changed. She knew then, in that moment, that she didn’t owe Derek her life. Didn’t owe anyone. The cool air, the blue sky and the burning sun, all the shadowed green before her, revived her. If the air could change and the sun could rise and sink and rise again, so could she.
It was as if a portal of truth had opened unto her.
I am not an extension of Derek and his death. I am not a follower into the gloom.
Sadness swept over her, but found a compartment inside of her. She knew she must live, because life was beautiful, full of raw spots, but beautiful.
Juliet took a deep breath, turned, and started back to the camper. She was hungry. She was unchained.
By Joe R. Lansdale