Saturday, April 21, 2018

By The Bridge


BY THE BRIDGE
By William Bowles

     I'm driving through some small town-- nowhere, really; It's not even on the map I have on the seat next to me. It's not my destination, either. Just one of the points along the way. But it's really late, so I'm trying to find a motel.
     Along the way, I come across this big, steel bridge over a river. Parked on the side by the bridge is a car. It's a dull, bluish four-door. No emergency blinkers or anything. It's just sitting there.
As I pass it, I see her. She's standing by the edge, looking down at the icy water below. I can't see her face, but she seems... sad. Empty, somehow.
     I slow down and pull over onto the shoulder. I stop, put on my blinkers, and get out.
     I walk over to where she's standing. I don't know just why, but that's what I do.

     "Hey," is all I say at first.
     She looks over, only mildly surprised. "What do you want?" She's not rude, just a shade suspicious.
     "Mind if I sit here for a minute?"
     She gets a bit defensive. "Oh, you gonna try and talk me out of it? You think I need you to save me? You think I want you to?"
     I feel my shoulders and my posture slacken a bit. "No. I just... I just wanna sit here for a bit. That okay?"
     She gives me a look. I think she's going for skeptical, but I don't know. People can be hard to read sometimes.
     "Oh? So you just don't care, then."
     Now I'm a tad frustrated. But mostly not with her.
     "No, it's just..." I take a breath. "At the moment, there's nothing I'd want more than for you to not go through with... this." I gesture towards the dark, churning river. She rolls her eyes. "But I can't make the choice for you. And I'm not here to try. I just... I just... Look, it's been a rough few days for me, and I just want someone to listen to me. Just for a moment."
     "You think you've had a rough time?" she retorts.
     I laugh. There's no humor in it.
     "You have a point there. It's just, there's two ways this can go, if you let me sit here. One, I get to talk to someone for a bit. And for what it's worth, you get to know that you made someone's day a little bit better before you go. Two, maybe, somehow, you find some reason not to do it. Not for me. Not because I stopped you. But because, maybe you'd have found something better than ending it." I sigh. "I dunno. I mean, if you've made up your mind, what have you got to lose. If nothing else, I'd appreciate the company."
     She hesitates.
     "I'm not trying to do you a favor. I'm asking a favor of you. I just really need this. If it's okay with you."
     She lets out a sigh, and nods.
     I walk forwards and sit with my feet dangling over the edge. She sits, too-- about ten feet away, knees pulled in close to her.

     For a while, there's only silence. Aside from the cold lapping of waves against the rocks and the bridge supports below.

     "So..." she sais. "What's your deal?"
     I absentmindedly pick up a bit of indistinct debris and toss it out into the water. I don't like the feel of it-- seeing it fall down, down to the blackness.
     "I just... I don't know what I'm doing anymore, ya know? It's like..."
     I don't say what it's like. I just trail off.
     She nods. I think she knows what I mean, but suspect she doesn't want to admit it-- like that be me winning a point, somehow. Not sure why I think she thinks that. I just do.
     "I just want someone to listen. Just once. I mean, people hear me. But I don't think they're really interested. Like, they listen out of some sense of obligation, but they're not really invested or whatever. You know what I mean?"
     She nods.
     "I don't know what I'm doing. It's been a long time since I've had any idea what I was doing. I don't know..."
     She nods again.
     "How 'bout you?" I ask. She doesn't respond. She just keeps looking out into the blackness of the world just outside the dull yellow glow of the street lights.
     The conversation isn't about her. I don't know that, but she does.
     "I just want to know that it all worked out, or... something like that. I don't know. I want something-- just one thing-- to work out the way I had hoped. Or if not, at least something else just as well."
     She nods.

     The talk goes on like that for a bit. I say something, she says nothing. I say something else, and she remains quiet, but understanding. Then I run out of things to say. Or rather, things to be said there and then.

     I stand up.
     She stands, as well.
     "I think that's about it," I say. "Thank you for listening to me ramble on."
     She nods. "Yeah."
     I shake my head.
     "No. I don't think you understand. I've needed to be able to talk to someone, just really talk to someone-- open and honest like that for a long time. It really meant a lot to me that you listened. Thank you."
     She says nothing. But it's not the nothing of someone with nothing to say. It's the nothing of someone who doesn't know how to.
     Somehow, she knows what to do. She steps forward and puts her arms around me, and I respond in kind. I didn't even know how much I needed a hug, but as I'd said, I it was a long time since I knew anything.

     After several seconds, she steps back.

     "I'd better get going," I say. I have nowhere to be, but I feel it's time to go.
     She nods.
     "Maybe... I'll see you around some time?"
     She nods, and smiles. Her mouth smiles, that is. Her eyes do not.
     I take a few steps towards my car, and she sits by the edge, her feet hanging over. I want her to come with me. I want to stay with her. But neither will happen. Not tonight, at least.
     I don't like walking away from her, leaving her where she was before I came along. But something's different. There's something different about her. I like to think that maybe she changed her mind. I hate to think that she might still go through with it. More over, I hate to think of her suffering in any way. I just want things to be better for her. I love her. Maybe it's just in the moment, but this night I love her in the way you do when you care about someone else's well being more than your own.
     As I get in my car, I hope she takes this chance to try again-- to keep on going.
     As I turn the keys, I hope and pray that life gets better for her.
     I also secretly wish that she'd come with me and leave behind the bridge and the bluish car and the cold, black night... but that's just for me. That's what I want for me. And while our talk was for me, the leaving was for her. And so I left.

     I don't know if she went through with it or not. I hope she did not, but I don't get to make that choice. It's one of the many things I don't know. But that's alright. I wasn't there to save her life. I'm not even sure if she saved mine. Our pathes crossed for only a moment, and perhaps that crossing changed nothing. No lives were saved. Most likely, none wer in peril to begin with. Not all stories are about losses suffered or losses prevented. Maybe it's enough just to be heard.

     So thank you for hearing me.







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