I always thought that jumping off a bridge was a little dramatic. That’s why sitting on the edge, looking down over the Mississippi River was a little ironic for my tastes. One of my friends once told me that hitting the water from this height would feel like slamming into solid concrete. I don’t think he thought I would take this information with the intent of a practical application. Apparently, once I hit the water, my bones would shatter and my organs would rupture, and if I didn’t die from impact, I would be injured enough to drown. In the dark, the heavily polluted river looked black and endless, more like a thin lake than a river. Cars would drive past me occasionally, but none of them stopped for the pedestrian that managed to climb up over the fence and made his way over to the edge.
I knew it the moment that I was on the other side of the chain link; I really didn’t want to jump. I still teased the edge, but I didn’t want to. That’s what I thought I would tell people if they came to my aid. They didn’t, so I was left almost entirely alone. People were never helpful. When I tell them what’s bothering me, they decide to ship me off or wonder if I should be locked up. Then they leave me.
“Hey—man—“ I thought it was brilliant that there was some Good Samaritan but I didn’t bother to turn around, “—are you going to jump or not?”
“How’s that your business?”
“Well, it’s just really hard to climb back over once you change your mind and you might need help.”
“—Look, lady, I don’t need help.”
“Lady?” She poked the back of my head through the chain link. “I’m twenty—you look loads older than me.”
“See? So what’s the deal?”
“Well, I just want to know why you’re sitting on a ledge in the middle of winter. There’s usually some reason. Most people don’t go ‘oh look, there’s a bridge with super high chain link preventing people walking or biking from falling, I’m going to climb on the other side and sit there for an hour! That is the height of excitement! It’s certainly not a way to get a good high though—or silence. Unless you jump.”
“I have not been out here an hour.” I snapped, “You have no idea.”
“No, I don’t. You could tell me. That is, after we get you back up and over.”
“I think I prefer being here.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not a psycho killer or anything.”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking.”
“Then again, that would be rather convenient wouldn’t it?”
“Me being a psycho killer would make the whole life or death thing easier for you. Either survival would kick in and you would try to overpower me—therefore you want to live—or you die.” She giggled, despite the situation, “Sorry, I think we forgot to take our meds today.”
“I’m not jumping tonight.”
For a moment, there was only silence.
“Then let’s get you back on this side.” She didn’t sound patronizing in any way, like other people did when they were talking me down. Those people always talked to me like I was a small unreasonable child. The stranger, however, sounded like she was simply having a conversation, “Sleeping on that ledge would be horrible for your back—and you might fall.”
“That would be such a tragedy, wouldn’t it?” My reply was dry, but it seemed to go straight over her head.
“Definitely. I don’t like losing new friends.” She smiled, “You definitely would have died—Houdini refused to jump off Eads, you know. He thought it was a looonnnng way down. Which it is. Makes me dizzy even thinking about it. What a tragedy—”
“Friend? I’m not your friend.”
“You engaged in conversation with me. You are now my friend,” she announced cheerfully, “it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do. I only get new friends every once in a while. Usually I have to wait until New Years or Valentines Day. Hey are you hungry?”
It took my mind a moment to catch up to the question, “Uh no.” I was lying.
“Liar. Everyone’s hungry by the time they get here.”
Shit. “Erhm well—“
“Come on, then, up, up, up.” She hit the chain link with every repetition of the word.
I found myself stumbling up and facing the girl. She was bundled up in a black coat with a horrible lime green scarf drawn tightly around her neck and a bright red beanie pulled down and over her ears. She stuck her hand through the chain link. “Take a step off my hand. No, it won’t hurt, just go up.”
I shrugged. It was her fault if I accidentally broke her fingers, and I stepped up, finding that she supported me long enough to grab at the bar at the top. It was harder to get back over, and I found that I fell, hitting my knees and scraping my hands. I looked up at my semi-sort of—not really savior, and she smiled down at me. I expected her to hold out her hand or something but instead she just turned around.
“Come on—we’re getting some pie.” She linked arms with me when I caught up and I felt like we faded from one place to the other, sitting at a southern fried shop with a large piece of coconut cream pie in front of me. Green Scarf was finishing off her fourth plate, this time a slice of chocolate silk. She ate with a relish, like that slice was the first piece she had that week. “So are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
I rolled my eyes. “Seriously?”
“As the plague.”
“Fine. I lost my job, have nothing in savings, my parents have disowned me, my girlfriend left me and my brother, who is better at everything than me, will be getting everything.” I winced. When I listed it in a clinical way, it didn’t really sound like much at all.
“—Hmmm. That sucks. Although, shouldn’t you have put money in savings if you could?” She didn’t seem particularly judgmental, only curious.
“I did—not enough but I did.”
She nodded, “Shame you won’t be using it then.”
“Up for some drinks?” She called over the waitress, tipping her generously before tugging my arm to leave.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up to a fluffy white cat with a smushed up face resting comfortably on my chest. Its yellow eyes seemed to be searching mine, almost like there was a mouse behind my head. I blinked. The cat blinked. I blinked again. Slowly I rose, trying not to disturb the cat and placed it on my lap. It bit me and jumped off.
“Arthur Miller Jr.! That was rude!” Green Scarf called out from her position at the kitchen table.
“You named your cat Arthur Miller?”
“Jr.” She added, “—I like Arthur Miller. Except The Crucible. I don’t know why they teach his worst work first in high school, it’s like they don’t want us reading or watching plays—“
“How did I get here?” I asked, even though I vaguely remember shots and stumbling into an apartment. It didn’t seem completely right though. The memory was pretty hazy, even for alcohol, almost like I decided that it was what happened. It was like the morning Sheila left with all of her things. She was shouting at me, telling me that she couldn’t take it anymore, telling me that I needed help, real help—
“Don’t you remember?” She pulled at the green scarf as if it was choking her. I wondered why she didn’t just take it off.
“Yeah, I was just seeing if you’d lie.”
“You have a sense of humor! I knew it! It was just lying somewhere deep in that bitter and entitled soul of yours. You need one of those for this life.”
She pressed a glass of water in my hands. I stared at the slice of cucumber floating in it for a moment before taking a tentative sip.
“What about coffee?”
“Coffee dehydrates you. Drink a glass of water before you drink coffee. It’s a better hangover cure.”
“So do you think that jumping was a mistake?” I asked feeling fairly calm since the headache suddenly went away.
“Eh—I’ve had better.”
“Some lady decided to stick her head in an oven after she published an awesome novel.” Green Scarf played with the ends of her accessory freely. “It’s sad—you could be the top of your class, brilliant in every way, and still be done in by mental illness—and that sadness. Poor thing—“
“You mean Sylvia Plath?”
“What is it with suicidal people and knowing who she is? I should add it to the handbook: ‘don’t read Plath while depressed’”
“Wouldn’t that kind of kill the business?”
“Saving people from killing themselves.”
“Oh I didn’t save you.” Green Scarf pulled at her scarf again, clawing it from the inside out as if it were a collar that she couldn’t shake off.
“Why don’t you take that off?” I reached for her but she shook her head, a plastic smile stretching across her face. I supposed it was time for me to ask her what she meant, “What?”
“I didn’t save you. Watched you jump right then and there—no hesitation—swallowed a whole bunch of pills—your doctors had you on a lot, anti depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, and you paired it with your wine for good measure. Seemed that you were pretty committed. If it weren’t for me you’d have never left the bridge. We can’t have haints running all over.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Old term. I forget how long it’s been. Haints are haunts—they’re ghosts, my friend.”
I frowned, trying to go over the events in my head. I remember climbing over the chain link. I swallowed a few pills—more than a few—and then swigged the last of the bottle, tossing it into the river. The image skipped and twitched in my head like an old film reel but I felt the ledge, rough under my fingers as I considered it, a small voice whispering in my ear. It was only then that I saw the girl in the atrocious green scarf, almost guiding me down until she was stopped, choked by a green scarf dangling from the ceiling—she told me she had a shorter drop than me—I didn’t believe her. Where did the ceiling come from? Where did anything come from? I never solved that mystery before impact.
“All those voices must have driven you crazy.” Green scarf’s voice sounded so melancholy suddenly.
“From that high up, you’ll feel like you’re hitting concrete.”
“No one will stop you.”
“Hey man, are you going to jump or not?”
My friend—he was right. It felt like concrete.ns 22.214.171.124da2