Two months have gone by since we became invincible. The novelty is beginning to wear off. Quitting my job at the bank to be invincible full time may have been a mistake. I don’t know what to do with myself. Also, I don’t think Jasmin is handling it well.
“I can’t get used to not breathing,” she tells me without looking in my direction. Then, she sucks in a lungful of air and exhales. The breath mists in our frozen kitchen. “I can still do it. But, only for fun.”
She’s locked herself up in our apartment with all the blinds closed and the air conditioning turned up full blast. She wanders the place in her underwear all day. Sometimes I catch her holding her hand over the stove, waiting.
Brent and Scott aren’t convinced that this is abnormal.
“She’s a girl,” Scott tells me. “That’s just how girls are.”
Brent and Scott would probably disagree with me. They still love being invincible. During those first few weeks we jumped off a lot of buildings together. It was an amazing feeling — releasing yourself to the impossible height, air screaming past your ears, tumbling through space, chasing after gravity. And then the cool slap of concrete, the ground parting to accept our indestructible bodies. We would carve eight-foot chasms into the sidewalk, waves of street erupting from around our cannon-balling frames. Sometimes we would flatten parked cars, wrapping the twisted metal chassis around us like blankets. And other times, before she locked herself away, Jasmin would stand at street level and try to catch us. Those were the best times.
Always we would climb out of the wreckage and dust off our ripped clothes. We would smile at the spectators. I liked to go barefoot and wiggle my toes in the broken glass. I can’t speak for Brent and Scott, but I tried hard not to hurt anyone. I preferred to jump at night.
More than the jumping and falling, I think Brent and Scott enjoyed the getting up. They liked the attention. They liked freaking out normal people — “fragiles”, as they started calling them.
“We’re taking the show on the road,” Scott tells me one day. “We’re going to jump off some new buildings.”
Brent and Scott disappear for a few weeks. They send Jasmin and me postcards of the Space Needle and the Sears Tower, and later of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower. Always, scrawled on the backs, four words:
We jumped off this.
When Brent and Scott breeze back into town they’ve grown tired of jumping off buildings but have developed an interest in small-time crime. They ran out of money in London and had to mug someone. They picked the hardest man they could find and “started shit”. They let him pound away on their unbreakable skin until he was exhausted, all the while howling with laughter. Then, they stole his money and credit cards.
They’ve also been breaking into zoos.
“I’ve always loved animals,” Scott tells me.
What they do is slip into the cages to get a closer look. Scott tells me that the polar bears were surprisingly docile, not at all like they’d expected. They wrestled with apes and laid down with tigers. Brent was mauled by a lioness. He has a wild look in his eyes now that wasn’t there before he and Scott went away.
“I still flinch,” Brent tells me, “when the teeth are about to sink in. You wouldn’t think I’d flinch anymore.”
He tells me that sometimes he goes into the woods and knocks down hornets’ nets, just to be swarmed. He and Scott are planning a trip to Africa. They’re also thinking about robbing a bank.
I can’t talk to them.
I don’t jump off buildings anymore. I’ve switched to overpasses. The fall is shorter and I like all the noise. I like to wait until traffic is flowing at a good clip before I jump. Usually, I aim for the semi-trucks; they will throw you the furthest and my goals are always distance and velocity, to be pin-balled between as many chrome bumpers as possible, running up my score. Meet Joe Black-ing, Scott calls it.
Out on the highway I’m frequently reminded of the ocean on that first night. The cars snap around me, and glass shatters against my cheeks, and I ride the steel waves until the traffic grinds to a halt and I am washed up on the side of the road.
I remember that first night we drank case after case of beer. We could stay drunk and not get sick. Scott drove us down to the beach. It was dark. After Jasmin and I got out of the car, Scott and Brent made another pass, this time without seatbelts. They wrapped Scott’s car around a tree and exploded through its windshield. Yards away they stood up, hugging and high-fiving. Jasmin stroked my arm. She knew I’d wanted to try it, but wouldn’t let me. She still wasn’t sold on this invincibility lingering.
We went down to the beach and I built a fire. Jasmin picked pieces of glass out of Brent’s hair. We drank more. Scott had a bow and arrow in his car and he and Brent took shots at each other, Jasmin cringing with every snap of bowstring.
Jasmin is still locked up in our apartment. Scott and Brent have gotten dangerous. They’re staging fights in public now, epic brawls through city streets like something out of a comic book. They take turns pummeling each other, tossing each other through buildings, crushing each other’s heads into mailboxes. I get messages on my voicemail.
“Watch the news tonight,” says Scott. “It’s a doozy.”
I do my thinking on the highway. I stand astride the center line as the cars whip by, horns blaring. I found flecks of blood on my arms and face the other day and I know that it couldn’t be mine. I’m hurting people out here with my accidents. Not everyone is getting up and walking away. I thought dent-resistant panels, seatbelts, and airbags would keep everyone safe. I’ve been out wandering the thru-way for a few days now, maybe a week. Like Jasmin and breathing, I don’t need to sleep anymore. But I want to.
Newspapers are piling up in front of my apartment’s door. The headline on one reads “Forces of Nature” and has a color picture of Scott and Brent tearing up downtown. Inside, there’s a black-and-white of a smoldering ten-car pile-up, a snake’s tail of delayed traffic coiling into the distance. I wonder if I did that.
There is frost forming on the walls of my apartment. Icy bristles of carpeting crack beneath my feet. Jasmin has installed more air conditioners. There isn’t just one for every room but one for every window. I can barely make out the sound of running water over the thunder of their motors.
The temperature changes closer to the bathroom. Fog curls up from under the door with an audible hiss, desperate to escape into the cool air. She has installed high-intensity heat bulbs in all the bathroom fixtures. The shower is running, hot as it goes, too hot for anyone not invincible.
“Look at this,” she says.
Jasmin stands in the shower, soaked but not wrinkling. She is naked and her body is as perfect as ever, smooth, and dimpled with beads of water, a startling pale white The floor of the tub is littered with knives of all shapes and sizes, all of them bent or broken. She’s loosely holding a large butcher’s knife in her right hand.
She lifts a tangle of her wet hair and begins to hack at it with the knife. I jump forward to stop her, but not a single hair splits or separates from her head. She hacks and hacks, but the hair remains intact. Eventually, she gives up and offers me the knife.
“Do you want to try?” she asks.
Jasmin nods and drives the knife into the front of her thigh. The blade folds like tinfoil. She drops it with the rest.
“What am I going to do?” she asks. “I’m tired of this haircut.”
“I don’t know,” I answer.
“Get in here,” she says.
The way that she clings to me reminds me again of that first night at the ocean. Jasmin was the first to stick her hand into the bonfire. She let the flames lick at her hand, twirled them around her fingers. Scott and Brent loved this and ran back to the car to get the gas can. They played human torch on the beach, running around with arms haphazardly flailing. After, their clothes burnt down to smoldering rags, they dove into the ocean.
“Come on,” said Jasmin, and she took my hand and we followed them into the water. The four of us swam out as far as we could, and then we swam further. We swam out until only the beckoning lights of the city’s highest rooftops were visible. We swam out so far that it was dark enough to really see the stars.
“See you tomorrow,” said Scott as he swam out further, Brent trailing him, “If we’re not in Australia.”
Jasmin wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. We floated that way, gently bobbing on the current, born slowly out into the eternity of water. I could feel her trembling and I asked her, stupidly, if she was cold. She whispered into my neck that she wasn’t.
I must have been lulled to sleep by the waves. It’s the last time I can actually remember falling asleep. During the night we must have drifted apart, because I washed up on shore alone, my clothes drying stiff in the morning sun. I wonder if she slept too and if the waves pulled us apart, or if she felt my invincible grip loosen and swam away on her own.
It was my first morning of invincibility. The beach was empty where I’d washed up. I stood up, brushed myself off, and went looking for the others.
Jeff Hart (Jeff@cultureblues.com) read in The L Magazine‘s Literary Upstart competition last year. His work will be featured on the upcoming culture-blues.com, launching in July. He lives in Brooklyn.