This story definitely requires a preface.
Several times I've worried friends and family alike by the somewhat depressing narrative of many of my stories. This one certainly requires explanation of exactly why I wrote it. But firstly, the best course of action would be to tell you why I'm not writing this story.
I'm not writing this story because I am in any way suicidal. This story deals in great deal with the idea of suicide, but this comes only from my imagination, not from any real urge I am feeling or have ever felt.
The reason I am writing this story is this: I write to put what I experience, hear, see or feel into perspective. To deal with what goes on around me in my own way. I love writing, and whenever I finish a work of fiction, my reality is brighter, even if what I write is on the 'Death, doom and destruction' side of the tracks.
I recently heard of a suicide at my place of work, and that got me to thinking about the concept. What causes it, what generates such despair that would make someone take their own life. But above all, I thought about what could prevent it. This story is what I decided could just maybe happen.______________________________________________________
Only the sound of pigeons cooing broke the silence of the early morning. Strutting about the bridges girders, fluttering down from around its pylons and pecking for scraps on the cement sidewalk that led along its edge.
I watched them flutter out of my way as I walked slowly down the bridge; tiny flurries of grey feathers flapping away like tufts of lint borne on the breeze. Some of them fluttered right over the side of the bridge, plummeting down out of sight and then rising easily back up again.
That would not happen for me.
My body would not fly back up over the railing, or spin around the high girders swaying above me. I would fall, and keep on falling until I stopped falling. I had no wings. I could not fly.
Yet another thing I couldn’t do.
Thoughts flashed through my mind like images seen inside a speeding train, there for one tiny second, and then whipped away into oblivion. My mother, shrunken and feeble on a hospital bed, telling me goodbye. Gone. My father, yelling into my face that it was my fault, all my fault. Gone. The doctor showing me the results of the test on a piece of paper attached to a clipboard. Gone. My wife, closing the front door and locking it. Gone.
All gone, all ended.
No tears ran down my face. My cheeks were dry. All I felt was a numbness all over myself, inside and out, as if I had been emptied of everything except my eyes, condemned to watch as I took this final, inevitable step.
Looking up, I realized, lost in my endless, speeding thoughts, I had already reached the middle of the bridge. But there would be an end to them soon.
Passing one final girder, I stopped and looked from right to left, all along the cement path that led back to either end of the bridge. No one in sight. No cars sped past. The street was quiet. Not a sound except the soft cooing of pigeons.
Walking to the railing, I leaned over it and stared down. Far, far below, the river flowed sluggishly between the bridge pylons, an ocean of black water swirling, tiny waves leaping above the water, as if beckoning to me to come down to them. It was so far down, I thought, such a very long way.
But then my memories once again began flashing through my head, battering the inside of my skull like jackhammers, one after the other. I could no longer take it. I give in. Anything down there is better than what’s up here.
Taking a huge breath, I took one step back, and then—
An electric shock buzzed through me at the sound of a voice, and I spun to see who it belonged to.
Standing just beyond the bridge girder was a tall man in sweat pants and an overlarge hoodie whose hood hid his entire face in the dim early morning light. Staring at him, I was silent for a long time.
“What?” I asked finally, wondering if he had been hiding behind the girder.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” He said, his voice sounding sheepish from beneath his hood, “But d’you have a light, by any chance?” He held up a hand, a cigarette held snugly between the middle and index fingers.
Automatically my hand slipped into my jeans pocket where I always kept my lighter.
“Yeah…” I said slowly, holding it out.
“Oh, thanks a lot,” the man said, taking a few steps and accepting the lighter from me.
Turning slightly, he slipped the cigarette inside his hoodie and held up the lighter, flicking it once to create a flame.
“I came down here for a quiet smoke,” he explained to me, handing me back the lighter and turning towards the railing. “And just when I got here I realized I’d left my dang lighter in the apartment. Pretty stupid, huh?” I nodded, but didn’t reply.
“Wow, that’s just beautiful,” breathed the man, leaning both arms on the bridge railing and staring out across the river.
Taking a long drag on his cigarette, he blew a long funnel of silver smoke into the air.
“This time of morning is very underrated, in my opinion,” he continued, indicating the horizon with the lit tip of his cigarette. “The sun’s already up, but once you’ve seen one sun rise, you’ve seen them all. But when that there ball just starts to turn gold, and the sky turns from gray to a million different blues…” He trailed off, taking another drag and blowing out smoke slowly.
“But I don’t have to tell you, right?” He said, cocking his hood back towards me, the red tip of his cigarette protruding out of the shadows. “You’re out here too, enjoying it just like me.”
I nodded, then, tentatively, “Yeah, this was always my favorite time of day.”
“There you go,” the man said, “We’re two of a kind.” He chuckled, lifting his cigarette holding hand. “‘Cept it looks like you got fewer bad habits than I do.”
I smiled bitterly, “You shouldn’t say that until you get to know me.”
“Fair enough,” he conceded, shrugging and turning back to the water. “Would you look at that,” he said after a minute, pointing out across the river.
Reluctantly I followed the direction of his pointing finger. Far away, almost out of sight, a lone gull was gliding a few feet above the black water, its body bright white in the morning sun, its wings flashing like bits of gossamer as they moved up and down. The contrast between the bird and the river was stark, but somehow they complimented each other, some indefinable beauty in the serenity of its flight, the purity of its color.
“Would you look at that,” the man repeated, taking an inhale of his cigarette and shaking his head as he blew out smoke. “Makes you glad you’re alive to see it, doesn’t it?”
Still almost mesmerized by the bird’s flight, I nodded, words forming before I could think about them. “It makes you want to have wings too. To be able to fly like that.”
He grunted in agreement, turning his hood in my direction, though I still couldn’t make out his face. “Nicely put. I never thought about it but it does, doesn’t it…”
Taking another drag on the cigarette, he choked and coughed out an amorphous cloud of gray smoke. “Damn things,” he muttered. “They’ll kill me one of these days, I know it.”
Without knowing precisely why, I laughed.
“What’s up?” He said, turning his hood toward me curiously.
“Nothing… Sorry… just… what you said,” I answered hastily, “Your choice of words. I’ve just got a weird sense of humor, that’s all.”
“Never a bad time to laugh, I say,” He said easily, leaning his back against the railing and blowing out smoke upwards.
“What about a funeral?”
He barked out a laugh. “Ha! Got me there. Or a wedding, while we’re on the subject of permanent ceremonies no one likes to go to.”
This time I laughed, remembering a few of the weddings I’d attended none-too-eagerly.
“Yeah, marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” I said, sidling over and leaning my back against the girder.
“Got that right,” he agreed, blowing a smoke ring out of his hood. “You divorced?”
“Not so certain, huh? My ex made sure I knew it was definite. She even signed the shoe she threw at me, made it hurt even more.” He laughed, tapping the side of his head, as if indicating where he’d been hit.
I winced sympathetically. “Yeah, mine’s a little more passive aggressive, if you know what I mean.”
“Not a clue,” he said, drooping his hood dramatically. “Wish I had yours. ‘Passive’ isn’t a word I’ve heard since the ring went on.” He raised his hand expressively, and I saw the glint of gold on one finger.
“So you kept the ring?” I asked involuntarily. Then, hurriedly, “Oh, uh, sorry, didn’t mean to—”
“Pry? Not to worry,” he said, waving his cigarette wielding hand easily. “Not really sure why I kept it on myself. It’s not for the good memories, I can tell you.” He chuckled, but less enthusiastically then before, as if he wasn’t sure what he was laughing at.
“I know what you mean,” I said, nodding and shifting over to lean on the railing. “There’s nothing worse than finding out you decided to spend the rest of your life with the wrong person.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, brother,” he replied morosely, arching his back over the railing and blowing smoke into the steadily brightening sky. “But I wouldn’t take it back even if I could,” he said, groaning as he stretched his back.
“Oh really? Why?” I asked, curious at this change in attitude.
“Oh I don’t know,” he said slowly, pausing to take a long inhale of his cigarette, now close to burning out. “It’s like, when something that bad happens, you gotta look on the bright side or you’ll go nuts, know what I mean?”
“Actually, I don’t,” I said, looking down at the dark water far, far below us.
“Like, if you really try and find the good that came out of it, even though it went really bad, you find out just how much you got out of it, like me. I lost my wife, sure, but what I learned with her I couldn’t have learned any other way. It’s like, it would almost be selfish to think of only the bad stuff. I don’t know.”
“So something bad had to happen for something good to happen?” I snapped, sounding angrier than I felt, but I couldn’t truly tell any more exactly how I felt.
I couldn’t see it, but the man seemed to be staring at me from inside his hood. “Sometimes that’s the way the world goes, man. Nothing you or I or anyone can do about it. If you only expect the good then you’ll drive yourself insane.”
Now real anger started to course through me. Who was this early-rising smoker to tell me how the world was? He didn’t know any more than I did, and at that moment, I didn’t feel like I knew anything.
“What if only bad things happen to you, and nothing good can be found, nothing whatsoever?” My voice cracked involuntarily as I finished, and I realized my eyes were beginning to burn. Furiously, I fought back any urge to cry.
He shrugged, turning to gaze at the river.
“Maybe,” he began, and then shrugged again, cutting himself off with a grunt. Sliding along the railing, I stopped right beside him.
“What? Maybe what?” I asked, something about his tone driving me on.
He was silent for a long time, long enough for him to flick his cigarette butt out over the water, and watch it drift down until it disappeared into the black wetness of the river.
“Maybe,” he finally continued. “Maybe you’re just not looking hard enough.”
“What—what does that mean?” I stammered, staring at him. He shook his head, slipping a second cigarette out of his hoodie pocket and searching for a lighter. Hastily, I retrieved mine and lit the end of his cigarette.
“Thanks,” he said, taking a second to inhale a mouthful of smoke.
“So?” I prompted him, trying to be casual though my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest.
Exhaling slowly, he watched the ribbon of smoke twirl away and dissipate before finally answering haltingly.
“When something really terrible goes on, and the world looks like it’s going to break all its supports and come crashing down around you, it feels like moving on’s the only good thing that can come of it. Not dwelling on things you can’t fix that’ll only break you more if you stay with them. Starting new, even if you don’t think there’s anything to start on.”
Turning to the river, the sunlight, now almost full morning, cut through the gloom of his hoodie to reveal an angular face, a strong jaw and a prominent, aquiline nose. He smiled sadly at me, removing his cigarette and stubbing it out underneath his foot.
“I know that’s what I did,” he said, “and damned if it didn’t work.”
I stared at him, my head clouded with too many thoughts to hold. But this time, the thoughts just hung there, seeming to wait for my move, my next step. Lifting myself off the railing, I took a couple steps away from it and took a deep breath, taking in as much of the fresh morning air as I could in one breath, and then turned back towards the river.
“You know, you might be on to something there,” I said slowly and then smiled at the man in the hoodie. He grinned back. Then, looking down at his wrist, he swore softly. “Aw hell, it’s later than I thought. I’d better get back or I’ll be late.”
Heaving himself off the railing, he paused for a second to look at me. I nodded.
“Yeah, I’d better be going too, I can’t spend all day watching the sun rise, can I?”
He laughed. “I’d take that job any day. Let me know if anything opens up, willya?”
I nodded, chuckling as I held out a hand.
“I will. Thanks for the talk. You don’t know how grateful I am.”
With a shrug, he shook my hand firmly.
“I like talking in the morning. I’m sure grateful to you for being my fence post this time around. But sorry, man, I gotta get going.” He turned and began sidling slowly down the sidewalk.
“I’ll walk with you,” I said suddenly, starting up beside him toward the opposite end of the bridge from where I started. He nodded happily.
“Always appreciate the company. Oh and hey! I never caught your name in all that conversation, did I?”
“No, you didn’t,” I said slowly. “It’s Jude, like in the song.”
He nodded, smiling, and began to hum the first bars of the song. Grinning, I watched the pigeons pecking their way across the sidewalk, oblivious to the two of us walking past them.
“So what’s yours, while we’re—” I began, turning back towards him, just as there was a loud sound like a clap of thunder, or the noise made by a pair of enormous wings flapping once.
Looking around in surprise, I searched for what had made the sound, but saw no birds anywhere in sight beside the pigeons. Looking up, I saw no storm clouds gathering in the sky above the bridge.
Stumbling slightly, I realized I’d reached the end of the bridge without noticing, and now stood in the road just beyond it. Then for the first time I saw that the man had disappeared from beside me. Looking back, I saw no sign of him on the bridge. Turning again, I saw him nowhere in front of me.
It was as if he had vanished into thin air, leaving nothing but the sound of pigeons cooing on the bridge behind me.