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The world blurred for Jenna as she stared out at the smooth emerald pastures from the bridge. Why is everything about control when it comes to fear?


               Surely, it’s rational to fear death, she thought. Jenna turned her head, and a flock of geese glided down over the troubled waters. She stepped up to the ledge with bungee rope wrapped around her ankles.

               The instructor behind tightened the cord until it dug into Jenna’s skin, 'Are you good?’ he asked.

               Jenna turned a pasty white. Her steady breathing shortened. What the hell am I doing?

               The horizon appeared so clean, so defined. Green, yellow, white, and a shade of blue became a haze of light and dark. The world no longer appeared full of absolutes and certainties for Jenna as she prepared to let it all go.



A few weeks earlier.

Jenna’s blood turned to ice at the sight of her fiancée, Francis, who jumped out of bed naked next to another woman. ‘It’s not what it looks like,’ he begged.


               Words clogged in Jenna’s throat as she rushed downstairs into the kitchen and slammed the door. She slapped herself once, then twice, over and over, trying to knock the recurring image of what she saw out of her mind. Her chest shrank while her heart hammered faster, louder, harder.

               Francis ripped the door open, out of breath in his black dressing gown. Jenna smacked her palm against his sweaty face. A greasy residue soaked into every indent, every line and fingerprint as if she had been marked or branded by touching him one last time. 'How could you?' her voice echoed.


               Jenna watched Francis jump between anger and sadness like he was auditioning for a part in a play without knowing the script. 'You're always at work', he started, 'I'm sorry', 'It wasn't my fault', 'I was lonely', 'It was an accident' — the symphony of apologies and excuses that excreted from his slithering lips made Jenna feel filthy.

               The house they had decorated together for the past ten years shuddered and melted away around them like too much frosting off a cake with no substance.


               Jenna pushed past Francis into the hallway. He grabbed her and she locked eyes with him. Her marble-eyed stare told him what her lips could not. Their relationship is over.


The early nightfall of winter released an eerie fog that crept from the crevasses of the village a few miles off the motorway. The two-hour drive to her parent’s house passed in a blink of an eye as Jenna fought off the thoughts of Francis's betrayal and the demons it unleashed in her mind.

               Jenna pulled over outside a lively pub full of young families and couples celebrating. ‘The Foggy Bottom Inn’, Jenna read the sign with an awkward stare. As a deep haze shrouded the other houses, a shop owner came out from the store opposite.

               ‘Excuse me.’ Jenna shouted getting out of the car. The owner jumped rattling his keys. ‘Can I quickly get a bottle of wine to take home?’


               The man’s eyes looked otherworldly as he breathed out a long sigh. ‘I’m surrey, yung lady. It’s all lucked up.’


               ‘I just want a bottle of wine to take home.’ Jenna pulled a twenty-pound note from her purse. ‘Don’t worry about the change. I’ll be quick.’


               He took the money, nodded as he opened the door, and then turned on the light. Jenna shivered, passing him into a bright white store. The aisles weaved like a miniature labyrinth. Jenna wandered to the alcohol section and meticulously studied each bottle of wine.


               The lights flashed. Jenna grabbed her head as a sharp pain pinched her brain. She looked down the empty aisle when a woman passed her from behind and made her jump.


               ‘Argentine Malbec?' the stranger asked. Jenna squinted at her. 'Are you having red meat?'


               Jenna pursed her lips. 'Excuse me?'


               The woman pointed at the bottle. 'Malbec,’ she said. ‘It’s good with red meat.'


                'Umm – No, I’m – umm, vegetarian.'


                'Ahh, so it's best to have Pinot Noir. New Zealand ones are the best.' The stranger pointed to a pinot noir next to her. ‘That’s my favourite, goes best with Pesto Trofie – y’know, the pasta? '


               'I know what Pesto Trofie is,' Jenna said, picking it up. 'Thanks.'


               'I'm Euphoria.' The woman said. An aroma drifted off her that both enticed and repulsed Jenna. 'Friends call me Ria.'


               ‘So, I will call you, Euphoria,’ Jenna said with a soft smirk.


               Ria's jet-black hair contrasted the bright white aisles like ink from a magic marker on a whiteboard. 'Are you doin’ anything tonight? My plans just fell through. Wanna – go opposite for something to eat.' She pointed at the entrance.


               Jenna studied the red wine Ria recommended. Her sweet citric scent left a cheap artificial taste in Jenna's mouth. She stopped reading the bottle and stared into space. ‘Are ya gonna be lung, miss?’ The shop owner said outside, rattling his keys.

               ‘I’m coming,’ she replied slowly. The stranger tilted her head, and Jenna thought about what her mother said about her not having any ‘real friends’. Her stomach tightened then thundered a protest for food. She pulled her face into a bashful smile. 'You know what. I am – I guess, I can – yes. I can go for something to eat. I'm Jenna.'


               'Ria.’ She repeated and held her hand out. Jenna looked at her palms, still numb from being tainted by Francis hours earlier. She clutched onto the bottle and nodded. 'Nice to meet you,' Ria said.


               Jenna watched how Ria walked with a gentle sway ahead of her. Jenna noticed how Ria’s hips didn't appear attached to her torso, and she glided past the shop owner.

               ‘Thank you,’ Jenna told him as he turned off the light behind her.

A chilling gust of wind brushed between them while they crossed the street. 'Are you from around here, Euphoria?' Jenna asked, putting the bottle of wine in her car.

               'Not exactly.' Ria waved her arms towards the clouded houses. 'I simply drop into this village from time to time.’

               Jenna took in the sudden warmth and rich odour of ale as they walked into the Foggy Bottom Inn. A dim glow lit the low-ceiling pub as they squeezed by a group of people waiting at the bar.


               ‘How about you?’ Ria asked as they came out into the dining area. ‘Are you from around here?'


               A hostess asked how many people will be dining. Jena held two fingers up, and she directed them to a table. ‘I grew up here,’ she answered, taking off her coat. ‘My parents live a few miles away.'


               ‘Lucky you.’ Ria shuffled into the middle of a booth. A waiter followed and handed out a menu. ‘I would have died to grow up around her. Can you order us two glasses of rosé?'

               'No, I'm not drinking, Euphoria.' Jenna shook her finger as the waiter looked at her with a raised eyebrow.


               ‘Don’t worry.' Ria laughed, 'They’re both for me.'


               Jenna chuckled. 'Just a lemonade and two glasses of rosé, please.' The waiter took long steps away from her and rushed back into the kitchen.


               They ordered and ate their dishes while Ria talked about all the villages she had visited. Jenna drifted from time to time as her headache passed with every sip of chilled rosé. Each time she thought about Francis, Ria slapped the table, clattering the cutlery making Jenna and the people on the table next to them jump.


               Laughing at one of Ria's stories, Jenna got struck by the memory of what had happened earlier. 'What's the matter?' Ria asked softly.


               Jenna's face crumbled as she leaned forward. 'Ten years. Ten years I was with this guy, Euphoria. Ten years and he just threw it away for what? For him to go off with some floozy. Was it me?'


               Ria reached over and her hair draped over the dirty plates as she placed a gentle touch on Jenna's shoulder. 'Don't be so hard on yourself. It's not you. I'm sure there is more to the story than you know.'

               The waiter came to clear the table. ‘Are you finished?’ Ria nodded and asked for another two glasses of rosé.

               Jenna wiped her face. 'What do you mean, more to the story?'


               ‘People don't see, Jenna.' Ria typed her fingers into an imaginary keyboard in the air, 'We interpret. We don't take in what happens– We take in the implication of what happens. Everything in our world is a story.'


               Jenna winced, and her feet pressed against the ground. 'What do you mean?' She repeated.


               'We don't interpret what's real, Jenna. We only take in how it affects us.’ Ria paused. ‘You don't care this guy cheated on you. You only care about the time he stole from you.'


               'That is so not true.' Jenna tightened her fingers on the side of the table to push away. 'It's been great to meet you, but I'm going to leave now.' Jenna scanned the room for the waiter to split the bill.


               'I must have said something true if you are upset by it?'


               'I'm not,'– her voice boomed and families around her stared. She lowered her voice, 'I'm sorry.' Jenna looked at the door to the pub and raised her hand as the waiter passed by, again.

               ‘No, it’s fine,’ Ria said. ‘I say the wrong things sometimes.’

               ‘No, Ria. You’re right.’ Jenna took a deep breath. 'My mother always used to say, ‘If you can’t be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with.’’


               ‘Sounds very wise,’ Ria said. ‘What’s she like? Your mother.’

               'She is – I’m her only little girl, her darling. She only wants the best for me.’ Jenna sighed. ‘She’s the one who introduced me to Francis. So perfect on paper, she told me.’ Her eyes glazed over as she touched her chest. ‘She is always there. Living her life through me.'


               Ria nodded towards a family sitting nearby. 'People use their kids too much to give themselves a sense of purpose. Oh, everything I do is for the kids.' Ria raised the back of her free hand to her forehead. 'You don’t know what it’s like because you don't have kids,' she scoffed. 'Why do we need children to have a purpose in life?'

               ‘I always figured we are here to build a better world for our children?' Jenna echoed what her mother used to tell her. ‘To pass on a little bit of ourselves when we are gone.’

               Jenna looked over at the exit again, then held her hand up to the waiter who finally stopped. 'Excuse me, could I have a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream?'


               'Absolutely.' The waiter jotted down.

               'We can share it.' Ria said with a wink. The waiter wrinkled his brow when Jenna asked for two spoons. 'I guess they don't like sharing here.'

The pub quietened down after the families left. 'My mother always said we make life fit our belief. What do you think?’ Jenna said, ‘What do you believe in, Ria?'


               'I believe in love,' she announced as if she were about to break out into song. 'The incandescent beauty of the eternal liberty of expression and love.’ She sipped her drink and wriggled her finger to bring Jenna closer. ‘Tell me, what would you love to do? Something, anything that your beliefs would never let you do– like, ever? '

               'Bungee jump.' Jenna said confidently. ‘My mother and Francis would hate that. And you?'


               'Kiss you, right here. Right now.'


               All eyes around faced Jenna as if a spotlight had landed on her. She leaned forward and whispered, 'Kiss? Wha– why?'


               'Call me spontaneous, call me rebellious, call me curious – all I know is that I won't see you after tonight, and if I wanted to do one thing before I disappear, it would be to breathe a sense of love and joy back into your spirit with a simple kiss.'

               Jenna closed her eyes and reached out her lips. Her anticipation waned as the kiss did not arrive. She opened her eyes, and the booth was empty. ‘Ria?’.


               The waiter arrived with Jenna’s chocolate brownie and vanilla ice cream. 'Are you okay, miss? '


The bungee cord cut off the circulation to Jenna’s feet. The lingering memory of that night in the village hovered in the back of her mind like a vivid dream. Whether real or not, it brought her here to this moment, looking down at the rushing foam on the river below.

               'When you feel like you're about to hit the bottom, you'll bounce right back up,' the instructor said.

               ‘Sounds like life!' Jenna said with a shaky grin.

               Jenna closed her eyes. It's not about the fall, Jenna thought. Her heart battered in her ribcage like a falcon trapped within, fighting to escape. To be free is one thing; to feel free was another. The freedom to drop, to die but to rise and be reborn. The freedom to kiss and to love once again.

               She took a deep breath and leaned forward to kiss the air.


               Time froze, and her spirit rose.


               All that she lost was found in that single moment of euphoria.

The End

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