My girlfriend imagines butterflies. She pictures little painted wings falling to the ground, beating against the cement, unable to fly. They're failed attempts, she says, weak tries at propelling their bodies up after their disappearing souls.
Their tiny, winged spirits float away, Sara says—And they never come back.
What? That's terrible, I say trying to imagine what it'd be like to watch my own soul float away from my body.
Sara tells me it's like sprinkling rose petals across a wet bathroom floor on Valentine's Day—the rose is now ruined. Pieces of a whole. Torn. And she explains that, like the rose, this is sad because the butterflies aren't dead—they're only dying.
Death is fine, Sara says. It's the dying part that's terrible, the part where you begin to float away, but your body stays behind, a dead weight left for everyone to stare at.
She can tell I'm sick of hearing her say this—but she believes it, my girlfriend Sara—and she wears heavy shoes.
Sara owns a horse back at her parents' house, or at least she did. The horse belongs to her little brother Ivan now, but when it's sick, he calls asking what to do.
And my girlfriend, it's always the same with her, no matter how slight the injury.
Take him out to pasture, she tells him. He's suffering.
Sara's left foot is wider than her right by half an inch, making it hard to buy her shoes. But that hasn't been a problem lately because, my girlfriend Sara, she's been afraid to take her Dr. Martins off for almost an entire year.
She says, They're the only thing keeping me from floating away.
She doesn't want me to leave. Sara loves me too much. She says it too.
I love you like a thousand pound boulder, she says. You keep me grounded.
What does that even mean? I ask, and we both laugh.
But honestly, it's over. I can't risk being with someone who's only with me because she wears boots that weigh more than my hands, maybe more than my hands holding my heart.
I can't gamble on that.
Because—what if someone were to untie Sara's Docs while we're eating dinner? A forkful of spaghetti and POOF. She's gone.
There goes the wedding plans.
How would I tell my parents that their dream of watching us walk down the aisle floated away between mouthfuls of ACME brand pasta?
So, I tell her.
This isn't going to work, I say.
Sara looks down at her feet, says, You have to leave. I don't want you to see this.
Wait, it's not like I don't understand your fear, I tell her. It's just that I'm starting to believe you. I beginning to think you're going to float away if you take those things off.
Sara doesn't look up, keeps staring at her shoes until I do too. It's only then I notice they're wet with little splashes.
Don't do that, I say to her, but what I'm thinking is, Go on, Sara, cry your eyes out. Because I'm starting to believe you more than I should, and it's almost like the only thing keeping me here are your stupid shoes.
Sara, I say, and she starts to bend down.
Wait, I understand, I do, I say. I saw what happened to you at that amusement park. That would scare anyone.
That's when Sara really begins to cry.
She doesn't talk about what happened though or about us—Sara begins to tell me about the butterflies. About heavy bodies. Rose petals. About light-as-a-feather souls.
Then, like Sara's had enough with dying butterflies, rose petals, and me, she begins to fiddle with her laces and I have to bend down to retie them.
But they're wet, the laces, and I'm not sure I can do it.
We drove an hour to the amusement park, taking Sara's little brother Ivan there for his 11th birthday. He played half the afternoon on some an obstacle course, and Sara chased him through the thing, swinging from rope to rope on it, because she's fun like that.
I watched Sara jump around the course, high above the ground on a crazy assortment of ropes and nets, getting closer to catching Ivan.
I watched her lunge.
And in slow motion, I watched her fall.
Sara swung over a part little kids couldn't, grasped nothing, and fell through the air, then onto her back with a wet crack, hitting her head against a piece of unprotected cement.
The blood poured out of her like a broken egg, encircling her head, and every kid and parent looked away. They assumed Sara was dead.
I thought she had to be. She was so white. Anyone who saw Sara would've thought the same thing.
Sara thought she'd died—even after the doctors stitched her up and released her from the hospital a few days later. She'd convinced herself that the only reason she hadn't floated away from this world was because her shoes were so heavy they'd kept her on the ground.
Your body or your soul? I'd asked.
And Sara said, Both.
I'd bought Sara these big maroon Dr. Martins the day before the accident. We were looking for a gift for her brother Ivan and found them instead. She'd wanted them so bad that I went back and got them just so I could surprise her the next morning before we took Ivan out.
You should have seen her. The smile. She loved them.
I think they were on her mind when she fell. At least, I tried telling Sara that, but she didn't believe a word—and honestly, neither did I.
In the hospital, it was touch and go the first hour. Sara had lost so much blood they didn't even have time to take her shoes off.
And all I could think then, when she was bleeding out, was that Sara's pale skin seemed a lot paler in comparison, against the maroon leather, like she was a dead wicked witch who forgot to fly away before Dorothy's house crushed her, like she'd forgotten to click her red heels together one last time.
They're heavy things and Sara refuses to take them off. Therapy. Sleep. Showers. She keeps those suckers on.
Sara unties one shoe then the next.
Because I can't bring myself to lace them back up. I can't.
You don't have to do that, I say. It won't change anything. Really, it's okay.
I tell her this because I don't want to break up, not because she wears heavy shoes or because she can't get over her fear—I tell her this because I am afraid.
Of what happens next.
I tell her it's okay, that it could be just a temporary break or not one at all.
She doesn't move when I say it, but if she were to, if you were to watch Sara walk, you'd swear she didn't lift a foot. Not at all. More like the opposite. Like she's trying to keep her feet on the ground, as if gravity no longer existed, like she has to fight to stay here, pushing one foot down after the other just to keep herself from drifting away.
She's so pale too, if you look at her.
And really what happened to Sara could happen to anyone.
It's a thin string tethering us together.
And I understand better than she does now, I think. Because I see her struggle.
I get it, I do. I understand it's sad to see butterflies fall to the ground or red balloons float away. All of it. The rose petals too.
So, I tell her, Don't step out of those shoes. Not for me.
But Sara, she doesn't listen.
And then it's over. Between us.
BIO: Christopher David DiCicco loves his wife and children—and writing short stories in the attic of his home in Yardley, Pennsylvania. His work has recently appeared in Nib Magazine, Intellectual Refuge, Sundog Lit, Cease, Cows! and Bohemia Arts & Literary Magazine—and is forthcoming in The Cossack Review, Flash Fiction Online, and WhiskeyPaper. You can follow him on twitter @ChrisDiCicco or visit him at www.cddicicco.com .