Hell’s Gate by Zoe Coats

The sky was hemorrhaging, its colors transfused with bloody light. In the distance, factories and steamboats chugged on, engaging in the dull rhythm of a life that I had long since left behind. It was pretty as a picture, and I could not stand it.

My funeral procession trudged toward Hell’s Gate, mourning the woman I used to be. They wore top hats and suits and a false sense of security. They didn’t see me watching from above. They didn’t know how I despised the lot of them—they who pretended to know me, but ignored how I was falling apart.

There was Gabriel, with his sad eyes and messy hair. He hadn’t even bothered combing it for my funeral. We had good nights together. Late nights with cups of tea and scribbled notes. Gabriel was an aspiring writer, and I was his muse. He was an atrocious writer, but the world would crush his dreams soon enough, so why should I? And there, with the umbrella, was Christian, one of the most…capricious men I’d ever met. Our adventures could fill several of Gabriel’s books, and our tears just as many. He followed the wind, and I followed him. That’s how the story goes. And Arthur, poor Arthur. Does your wife know the way your wedding band glints on my bedside table? There he was with his dapper hat and polished shoes laced so tight he could no longer feel his feet. But feeling wasn’t important to Arthur, only logic. He approached life like a gentleman, letting it tell him what to do. There were others too, men I’d known intimately, though they only loved me for my pretty face.

I spotted Edouard huddled at the back of the procession, shrouded in his own guilt. The sheer audacity of his presence took my breath away. Well, not literally, seeing as I can’t breathe anymore. You see, Eddie is the reason I’m dead. He was the one I chose, the only man I ever gave my heart to. He took my heart and clenched it tight, wringing it out like a wet towel. How dare he show his wretched face! But that wasn’t the worst of it. No, Eddie was a storm unto himself. He lulled you into thinking you were safe, then fell upon you like a thunderclap. 

Eddie denounced me as a “woman of the evil life.” The Church condemned women like me, and said that a little more piety would fix us. They put me in an institution and called me a nun. As if that would change anything. That place was a leech, bloodletting me for my own good. I faded into the colorless wallpaper, diminished to a faux flower. I lost the vivacity that so many men had praised me for. Eddie had stolen it from me. Looking at him now, my spirit has not improved him much. He looked like a worn shoe, sole-less and ready to be thrown out. And throw him out I did.

Eddie came to visit me at that place of eternal darkness. He said it was for the better. Better for him, he meant, because he would not have to share me with anyone else. “Jealousy is an ugly color on you,” I told him, and his face contorted with rage. I turned my back on him then, though he waxed poetic about my hazel eyes and luscious brown hair. Finally, he left me to my solitude. I think we both died that day. 

On the bridge, Eddie looked up, as if he could feel my eyes of judgment upon him. I instinctively averted my gaze, although I knew he could not see me. Finally came the pallbearers, carrying my casket as if it would break. The casket was open of course, just as I’d requested. Exposing for all to see, what Eddie did to me. My head rested gently on a pillow, severed from the rest of my body. From this distance, though, I almost looked whole. The mortician had placed the two halves of me so closely together, the chasm was barely visible. I wonder if any of the mourners even noticed. They had never seen the chasm inside me, though they claimed to know me. Why should they bother to listen to a lowly whore? I was pretty as a picture, and worth nothing more. I was an interruption from the dull mythology of life. A secret message to be hidden away in a glass bottle, thrown into the sea when it no longer means anything. Eddie alone had seen my broken halves, but he had only separated them further. He amputated my heart from my mind, and told me it was better that way. And as I bled, I watched. 

I watched a younger me swing dancing at the local club, the air permeated with the effervescence of sparkling cider and a life well-lived. I saw myself at age ten, sitting alone under the big oak tree at my grandmother’s house. Why has it been so long since I spent time alone? Have I come to detest my own company that much? At age 6, I’m pretending to read a book as I watch my older sister leave in a dinged-up jalopy of nostalgia and anticipation, the sensation that has followed me ever since. My sightless eyes saw everything—the way I passed the world by, too bright to burn for long. I wasn’t made for the solace of a long, dull life. 

People always want to know what death feels like, because they are afraid to feel it for themselves. Well, it feels like taking a deep breath and realizing the air is no longer polluted. I exhaled slowly, no longer in a hurry. I finally caught my breath.

I looked down for the last time as the procession passed through Hell’s Gate. The nuns would have been proud.