They stand on the bridge above the dark river. They agree this is the spot from which she jumped. One of them thinks she dove with grace; the other imagines a clumsy stumble. They argue, then do not speak all the way home in the cold cab.
He puts the cab in park and watches them walk onto the bridge. It is cold tonight. He bangs on the dashboard to start the heater again, rubs his hands together. The meter ticks a slow rhythm. He picks up his book from the passenger seat and opens to the folded page.
They think the cold dark river below them should make more noise as it rushes on into the night. They see city lights in the distance. They agree that it was from this spot that she jumped. One of them thinks that she climbed up to the top rail, dove, majestic. The other imagines a clumsy stumble.
“She would have wanted to go out in style,” the first says.
“No, she just wanted it to end. You didn’t know her like I did.”
“Then why didn’t you save her?”
They stand, hating each other, then fume in the cab home.
He watches them walk out onto the bridge. He fiddles with the heater, bangs the dashboard. Come on. He rubs his hands, friction creating temporary heat. He blows on the tips of his fingers that stick out of his gloves, pulls his cap down low over his ears.
The darkness tonight is like an emotion, suffocating.
He opens his book, eager to get to the end, but it has been a strange day, busy, and he has had little opportunity to read. The words on the page are smoky in the dim light of the cab, and his eyes dart around looking for a place to rest.
He reads, quick and impatient.
The dark river far below them sings its song as it rushes on into the blackness, carrying heavy floes of ice. The cold winter night filters the distant city lights – they are like sparks, like tiny pieces of glass embedded in pavement.
He places a hand on the icy girder. It is smooth. He thinks of porcelain, or plastic, but it is iron.
“Here?” he asks.
The girl nods.
“I think she climbed up to the top rail,” he says. “I’ll bet she did a swan dive.”
“No. Her creativity was gone. She just wanted it to end.”
They are silent. Then he says, “I think she dove.”
“You didn’t know her like I did,” she says and shivers.
He sighs. His breath fogs in front of him, then fades into the blackness above the river.
“Then you should have saved her,” he says.
They stand for a moment, and he grabs the beam, climbs up to the top rail. He holds on with one hand, spreads the other out wide. He balances, looks out into the winter night.
“No, she definitely dove,” he says.
The girl turns, walks away from him toward the end of the bridge where the taxi waits.
He scrambles down and follows her. He moves with purpose but makes sure not to chase her.
“I hate you for climbing up there like she did,” the girl says when he catches up.
Exhaust glows red in the taxi’s tail lights. They climb in. The heat in the car is broken and they can see their breath. He reaches to put a hand on her leg and she stiffens, so he pulls back. They are silent all the way home.
The couple walks away from the cab into the night. The lights on the bridge are stark with a faint hint of orange. He watches as the man walks just behind the woman, following. Once, the man tries to put a hand on her shoulder. It is impossible to tell if she shrugs him off or he thinks better of it and stops himself.
Christ it’s cold. Bloody heater. He slams the dashboard, fiddles with the knobs. Nothing. He pulls his gloves on, the fingerless ones, rubs his hands, blows on them so hard his breath sounds like wind, or steam.
He feels the cab idle beneath him, the slow vibration he feels in his ass long after he finishes a shift. Sometimes he wakes in the early hours of the morning, his tiny walk-up apartment silent but for his breathing, reaching out for an imaginary steering wheel. Or sometimes he sits up in bed, startled, pushing hard at a brake pedal that isn’t there.
Like his kids aren’t there.
He picks up the book from the seat next to him, runs a hand across the raised letters of the title. He fans the pages until he finds the folded one, near the end. He wishes he had more time to read, but today has been crazy.
He watches the man and the woman, tiny now in the distance out on the bridge, and the man climbs up on the railing, spreads his arms wide to the emptiness over the river. Oh for Christ’s sake. He puts the book down, grasps the door handle, but the man climbs down.
He cracks the window despite the cold, and lights a cigarette. The light from the flame flickers across the roof of the cab, a tiny sun in his universe. He inhales deeply, feels the burn, blows the smoke toward the crack where the steel-tasting breeze sucks it into the sky.
Let the mayor do a twelve hour shift and not smoke in the car. Can’t be done.
They are coming back to the cab now. He takes one last drag, flicks the cigarette out onto the street. He sees the cab’s exhaust glow crimson in the tail lights. His discarded cigarette lies smoking on the pavement.
He wonders what his son is doing right now. Where he might be. He looks at his hack license on the dashboard, at his picture. His kid probably looks a little like him by now.
The couple is back now, opening doors, climbing in. There is something between them, bigger than before. It is a weight, like the darkness over the river.
“Where we started.”
He watches in the mirror as the man reaches out to her, but the woman turns away, slight but noticeable. She stares out her window.
- The Story Behind the Story: “On a Bridge, At Night” - June 12, 2017
- “On a Bridge, At Night” - November 27, 2016