Red Teeth

Janelle Hyde

 

I was in my junior year of high school when I realized it took my Honda CR-V fourteen seconds to cross over Highway 52 while on the County Road 30 bridge. I used to count it over the sound of my jazz radio, or on hard days, silence. I started to glance over and watch the traffic below rumble and groan with its summons. I could see large trucks drive by with the occasional dumbly lit signals, begging to be allowed over by the cruel parade of sedans.  

Before the sun had a chance to kiss the cold Minnesotan winter roads, I crossed the bridge. Muddy snow clung to the curbside with a desperate plea, accompanied by an empty bag of chips. The sidewalk, gray and glittering with old gum, blended in with the smog created by the cars below. Engines and horns under me were embraced in a stale void that I had come to be acquainted with. The traffic was almost like a herd of cows: shuffling and groaning. The cattle dog was nowhere to be found, but maybe that was okay today. I could feel the trembling of the ground behind my eyes when I was trying not to cry. I started to wonder, perhaps, if there was some sort of relief I could find from the end of things. 

From west to east I’d cross the bridge, and from north to south I saw Death staring at me with a mouth disguised as tail lights. She smiled with red teeth. She smiled with a beauty I had never seen before. A temptress, I called her, but I did not mind the beckoning. The gentle pull toward the bridge was warm and filled me with an affection that did not make me sad anymore. In my car, the shaking of the tar beneath my tires started to tell me that everything was going to be okay, and as Death became a personal passenger in my car in those fourteen seconds, I believed them. Coaxing whispers, hidden within swerves and beeps, became louder than whatever tasteless jazz piece I had been listening to. Death reached over with a fingernail coated in gasoline and turned the music off. At the time, I made no advances to turn it back on. 

My enticing friend lingered for only a mile after the bridge before she disappeared into both morning and afternoon. I went on about my day. My high school held no sentiments for me, and while the feeling was mutual, it was probably why I started to wonder if I should visit the bridge on foot. I wanted to stop and stare down at Death; maybe have a conversation, maybe take her hand. I remember thinking the bridge was only a thirty-minute walk.  

The bridge was a twenty-eight-minute walk. Out of breath, I stood on the sidewalk. While driving, the pavement appeared to be grey; as I clutched my bag close to my chest and stared, I could see a white concrete absolutely peppered with grime. She was standing there, watching the cars beneath the bridge pass by unknowingly. I kept my eyes on her as I approached. The smell of gasoline rotted in my nose, making me crinkle my face and cough. It was chilly; I wished I had brought a warmer jacket. I wished for many things, but nothing could be done now. I stood on the bridge and set my eyes down on the void underneath me. I could almost taste the carbon monoxide kiss my lips and call me closer. 

My hand rested on a silver-plated railing. Warm skin made the frozen metal sweat. Death turned to face me, silent. It was at that moment, following hundreds of taillights, that I realized I would be met with nothing. Nothing: an overwhelming emptiness that hid behind smiling red teeth. The faint burning sensation my hand felt while on that chilly railing, the smoky smog that made my lungs hurt from coughing, the flavor of busy morning traffic in my mouth, and the sound of the groans and grumbles from old trucks that tickled my ears and made me want to cover them, would turn to nothing. The relief brought from the end of these, as Death promised, would never come. An end only provides an end. Her gifts of freedom and elevation from pain are merely a facade: a sweet lie that wipes away tears with hands made out of razors.  

It took me twenty-nine minutes to walk back home. The pain from cold blue fingers made me smile in a twisted way that made sense. Chet Baker sang in my ear, his trumpet swinging its tune, and I decided that maybe my jazz was not so tasteless after all. The warmth from my home stopped me from my shivers, enveloping me in a newfound sort of comfort. I could feel everything— the way my hair rested on my shoulders, the blue jeans against my shins, the way my cheeks bent whenever I smiled, and the soft steering wheel against my hand when I drove over the bridge the next day. I was alone in my car— Chick Corea excluded— and kept my eyes on the upcoming stoplight that glowed a healthy green.  

About the Author:

Janelle Hyde is a sophomore at UW-River Falls majoring in Professional Writing and minoring in Creative Writing. She is from Maple Grove, MN and spends her time writing poetry and creative nonfiction.

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