A man contemplating suicide encounters a street kid with a different point of view
Third Place - WDC Rhythms & Writing Contest
Evan sat on the girder under the bridge, concealed from the traffic above. He looked back on the mess that was his life, wondered how it had come to this, a runaway disaster like a locomotive with no brakes heading down a steep hill to the inevitable crash. No signals, no switches, no sidings, just a straight one-way path from failure to failure, from bad to worse.
He stared at the river, shining flat and tinny below, weakly reflecting the few lights remaining in the buildings on the shore. He knew it was some twenty feet deep here on the downstream side of the bridge. Deep enough. Just to be sure, he had lugged down a couple of cement building blocks and had a hank of quarter inch nylon rope in his pocket. He had failed at everything else, he damn well wasn't going to fail at this.
The sky, what he could see of it from under the bridge, was overcast. Figures. Couldn't even be stars to see on his last night. He fished in his pocket for the nylon cord.
"Hey, mister, whatcha doin'?"
Startled, he almost dropped the rope.
A figure emerged from the gloom, a skinny kid walking confidently along the girder.
"You gonna jump?"
"What the hell do you care?"
"Ah, I dunno. Never seen anybody jump before."
The kid--he guessed it was a girl from the small bumps in profile--sat down on the girder a few feet away from him, well out of reach.
"Cement blocks. You've thought this out! Pretty smart, mister. "
"Probably only smart thing I've done in my life. Now take off."
"Nah. I wanna watch. I get it -- tie the blocks to your feet or wrists, grab the blocks, jump off. Down you go. One way trip. No changing your mind. No way back. Smart."
Actually, Evan hadn't thought that far. He had planned to tie the blocks to his ankles, but hadn't decided if he should throw the blocks off first, or hold them as he jumped. He hadn't thought of tying them to his wrists, and going in head first. He decided feet first was better. At least he'd die right way up.
"You want to watch a man kill himself? What are you, some kind of pervert? This is a private thing. Now get lost."
"Why you gonna do this, anyway? You're dressed nice. That suit cost some bucks. Shoes too. Me, I'm in seconds from the Sally Ann. My old man took off when I was a kid. My mom's shacked up with some creep who looks at me funny, so I'm hiding out till he's gone. And you're the one who's gonna jump? How come?"
"Christ, how old are you, anyway?"
"I'm eleven. How old are you?"
"I'm 37." He wondered why the hell he was talking to this little voyeur. "Going on 150."
"That bad, huh? Wow, I hope I never get that old. You're even older than my mom. She's twenty-five."
"She had you when she was, um, what, fourteen years old?"
"I guess. How 'bout you. You got an old lady?"
"I had a wife. She left me. It was my fault. I gambled away our savings."
"No way! Hey, then you started snorting coke and binge drinking, right? My dad did that before he took off."
"Holy crap, kid. You're pretty damn blunt."
She shrugged. "It is what it is. So, you do that stuff? Drugs and booze?"
"No! Well, some booze, yeah. Can't say I liked it. A couple of drinks and I fell asleep. Couldn't even be a successful drunk. Lousy gambler. Lousy husband. Lousy salesman. Stole money from my company and got caught. I'm even a lousy crook! Lost my money. Lost my wife. Lost my job. Lose my freedom if they find me." He sighed deeply and started to tie the rope around one cement block.
"Wow, you are like the most total failure ever, right? Guinness Book of World Records failure! You got kids?"
"Didn't I tell you to take off? No, I got no kids."
"Too bad, they might wanna watch you jump."
"Kid, you are just crazy scary, you know that? I should come over and throw you into the goddam river."
"No, thanks. I got lots to live for."
That struck Evan as totally bizarre. A 'ho for a mother, an deadbeat absentee father, dressed in second-hand clothes, wandering around at 2:00 am, and she has lots to live for?
"Like what? World like it is, what in hell does a skinny eleven-year old girl have to live for?"
"One time playing Hide 'n' Seek in Davey Petersen's house, I found this gun in a desk drawer. I hid under the desk and stuck it in my mouth. I thought, 'One flick of my finger, one little tug, and lights out, end of story.' No more bullies at school. No more fighting with mom. No more creeps looking at me funny. No more going hungry or eating PBJ sandwiches for a week. Like you sitting here, a one-way trip.
"But then, I thought, hey! I'm only eleven. I started to wonder what I'd be like at twelve, or fourteen. I guess I'm pretty, an' maybe I'll grow boobs and get beautiful. An' a gun might make an awful mess of my face: I wouldn't be pretty if I did that. An' there's this kid, Kenny, he's pretty cool and I think maybe he likes me, and I wanna see where that goes. An' school sucks big time but I get good grades when I work at it, and I got a couple friends who'd miss me.
"And the big thing is, I'd miss out on whatever might happen in my life. I wanna know what comes next! Might be good things, y'know? Kenny, he says life isn't like being on a railroad track, straight ahead with no turns. He says we're like swallows, free spirits who can fly wherever we wanna go. I like that. Rest of my life, I wanna see where all I can fly."
"Oh." It was all Evan could think of to say.
"Anyway, mom's guy has probably left and I gotta get home. Can I get by you now?"
Even clung to a vertical girder and leaned back. She scrambled nimbly over his cement blocks and his feet and along the girder.
Out of reach on the other side, she stopped and turned. "Ask me, drowning is a really horrible way to die. Takes a long time. Struggle to breathe, suck in water, gag--ack! ick! Gun's messy, but it's quick. Bye, now."
Bemused, Evan watched her face into the darkness under the bridge. That kid couldn't possibly have been real! But still....
He looked at the rope in his hand. He looked at the cement blocks sitting on the girder. He thought about the eternal hope of youth, that the story was not finished, that there were other chapters. What does come next?
He looked out at the sky. Sometime along there, the clouds had gone, and the sky was full of stars.