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The First Four

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It seemed like a good idea at the time; Cynthia had never been huge on heights, and though she didn’t really believe in any of that “confronting your fear” type shit, there was something almost poetic about ending her life by doing the one thing she had always been afraid would happen. Cynthia never had a problem standing on the balcony, looking across at the other apartments, or even far off to the horizon. Even planes hadn’t bothered her, as long as she didn’t watch the takeoff and landing. But looking down, seeing the street and the cars so far below her very feet; that sight used to send a spike of fear right through her core.

Today, though, Cynthia had drowned the fear in enough booze and nicotine that she thought she could do it. She could step onto that ledge, look down, and then jump. She had nothing left, after all, and the heights that had always plagued her might as well finally take her.

Cynthia put down her glass and stepped up onto the bench. She took a long drag of her cigarette and then dropped it off the balcony, watching it flutter down to the street below. Suddenly the vertigo hit her, sending her head swimming and her blood pounding. She gripped the railing; trying to make her foot move. She just had to lift it up, over the railing. She was already on the bench; just one more giant step and she’d be there.

It could have been minutes, but probably not hours, before Cynthia finally moved her foot, backwards, off the bench. Her knuckles were white from more than just the chill wind as she finally managed to peel her fingers off the metal railing.

Even today the fear was still more powerful than her despair, her will, her need. Cynthia picked up her glass and took a fortifying gulp. Then she pushed herself away from the bench with more force than was necessary.

She had a Plan B; she always did. It wouldn’t have the poetic quality that defeating her fear would have, and it wouldn’t be as dramatic for the bystanders, but it should work just as well. She had given Teresa the rest of the day off, so no one would find her in time to stop her.

Cynthia crossed to her bed and opened her bedside table. There lay the small bottle of pills, orange with a white lid that seemed almost too bright in the dark shadows of the small wooden drawer. She had been tempted before, but had never yet opened that bottle. Today, it was her Plan B.

It took her several tries to swallow all of the long white capsules, but she finally managed to finish the bottle. Then, less dramatically than she had planned, Cynthia Swann Griffin laid down to die.

-o-

She woke to bright lights, but Cynthia wasn’t a huge believer in the pearly gates. It took some time, but finally the view above her resolved itself into the standard fluorescent lights and gridded ceiling tiles of so many cheap public spaces.

The variety of beeps that eventually reached her ears was similarly familiar, from Gil’s bout with prostate cancer. She was in a hospital. Cynthia had to resist the urge to sigh; her doctor had assured her that those pills could kill an elephant. And yet, somehow, Cynthia had failed as surely as her marriage had.

It came more slowly, but she began to make out words.

“It’s a terrible excuse for a reunion, but here we all are!”

“You? Brenda?”

“Now we’re in our prime!”

“Maybe Gil’s not the problem. Maybe loneliness is”

“I don’t have anything! I’m Monique’s mother!”

“-revenge! I am talking about justice!”

Cynthia didn’t know what happened, only that the loud voices suddenly cut off and someone grabbed her hand. Had she made a noise? Moved?

“Cynthia?”

“Cyn?”

“Oh, Cynthia!”

The voices chorused her name, and Cynthia felt as though she should know them, but the memories weren’t solidifying as they should. Her hand was squeezed, and then other other one was grabbed. Someone grasped her leg, warming the cheap sheet that covered her.

The three voices spoke at once again, each one babbling something different. It was Elise who’s voice she recognized first. Cynthia had seen every one of Elise’s movies; the only way she had kept in contact with the girls.

And, in an instant, Cynthia knew who the other two had to be. Annie and Brenda; the four of them together again. They must have gotten her letters: must have come here to the hospital to see her.

At once Cynthia was grateful for their presence at her side once more and mortified that they had seen her at her weakest moment. This was not how she wanted to be remembered; this is why the balcony would have been so much better. The woman in this bed was weak, a coward, not the strong, determined, Cynthia that they had known.

Brenda, of course, was the one who won out the three-way battle to speak first, and even as she realized that, Cynthia wondered how she couldn’t have recognized all three of them instantly. She could now hear so clearly the girls they had once been in the voices surrounding her now.

But Brenda was still speaking, and Cynthia forced her attention to those words.

“-Cynthia all three of us understand why you did it; believe me. You’re not the only one here who’s gone through this!” Brenda was saying.

“We had an idea!” Annie burst out.

“And you have to join us,” Elise said, squeezing her hand again. Their faces were beginning to come into focus above her head, and Cynthia could see the girls they had been. But also she could see the years, the lines, the pain, just as she had seen in her own face in the mirror. These weren’t the empty platitudes of her usual social circle. These women - these wives - knew exactly what she had been going through.

“We helped them rise. We can help them fall.”

“Are you in?”

Cynthia’s voice cracked on her first try, and Annie quickly let go of her hand to offer her a glass of water. After a few sips, Cynthia cleared her throat properly.

“I’m in.”