On the Bridge




Lara grabbed the fencing links and tried to shove her foot into one of the square openings. The toe of her boot wouldn't fit and the fence wouldn't give. She turned around and leaned against the fencing. Tears streamed down her cheeks. After a moment of frustrated helplessness, she reached down and pulled off first one boot, then the other and threw them down onto the pavement. She turned again. The wire dug into the flesh of her soles as she climbed to the rail at the top.

Behind her she was vaguely aware of the late night traffic on the bridge as she grabbed the cables above her. She held tightly as she stood and faced the moonlight upriver. Her long full skirt and loose blouse whipped and billowed in the cool night wind. Her tears continued to fall, but Lara felt some of the tenseness flow out of her. She remembered standing on the roof outside her bedroom window as a kid. How long ago had that been? Too long ago, too long since she had let herself fly carefree in the night wind.

A car horn beeped insistently behind her. Lara didn't bother to turn.

"C'mon lady, let's see you jump! Go ahead!"

The young man's drunken request was accompanied by catcalls and guffaws from the others in the car. They continued to urge her to jump for a few minutes, but after getting no response in either the form of a jump or a spoken word, the car squealed away leaving a trail of rubber on the road.

Lara closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The air was fresh and the scent of wet earth was stronger than the daytime scents of macadam and exhaust. Lara felt her grip on the cables above her weaken. Instinctively she squeezed to reassure her hold. The action caused her body to bow out slightly. She opened her eyes and looked down at the river below. The water flowed smoothly, with only gentle ripples at the edges of the river where an occasional rock jutted above the surface. At this time of year water covered the treacherous rocks that lined the riverbed. It looked peaceful. She knew it was deceptive.

How hard could it be, she wondered. All she had to do was lean forward more and then just let go. It would be like flying. More like flying than standing in the wind. The rocks were far enough below and close enough to the water's surface to insure a quick end. Any pain she might experience would be brief, surely easier than the pain she felt now, would undoubtedly be feeling for a long time to come if she didn't let go.

The sobs that she'd managed to keep in check, now erupted as she thought of the events that had brought her this unrelenting pain. The same argument that had tormented her for the past few months pounded away the small sense of peace that she had found atop the bridge.

Death Angel. That's what I am. Everyone calls me that. I was just fooling myself to think that I was helping those in need. I wasn't easing death, I brought it.

No, that's crazy. I did help. I didn't cause anyone's death. Certainly no one's at the hospice. Not Conor's. Not even Harold's or Alyssa's.

I attract the dying. I am attracted to the dying. I don't help anyone by being there. I am a Death Angel. If I let go, no one will care after a month. The hospice will get another volunteer. Tim has a dozen applications at the store. He can fill my position tomorrow. There is no one who loves me any more. No one will miss me.


"Angel Bird."

The name her father had called her as a child was spoken softly, yet the sound of it, the voice that spoke, pulled her from her argument. Still, she didn't turn, didn't move at all other than to shudder with a sob and gasp for air.

"Come down, Lara."

She felt a light brush against her leg and saw a hand reach up to her. Like the argument, her desire to stand and "fly" dissolved. Lara wanted only to stand firmly on the ground again. She held his hand as she backed down. Once she felt the cold pavement beneath her feet she looked to see who had spoken, to see if it was truly who she had heard.

It was. He was still holding her hand and reached for the other one. His smile, though it barely touched his lips, lit up his blue eyes. She remembered thinking, when she first saw him a year ago, that his eyes were like a summer sky. A lock of dark hair fell in a loose spiral across his forehead into his right eyelashes. He needed to let go of her hand for a moment to brush it back in the light gesture she had memorized. She tried unsuccessfully to stop the sobs and fought the urge to bury her face in the black silk shirt he always seemed to be wearing.

Sobs convulsed her again. He stood silently holding her hands as her grief poured out. After a few minutes she fought for her composure again. When she had reduced her crying to silent tears, he reached out to hold her chin and tilted her head up so that she looked him in the eyes.

"It's okay to cry, Angel Bird. You don't want to jump. Let the tears out before the pain makes you do something you don't really want to do."

"It hurts so much. Maybe I do want to."

"You don't. That's why you came down when I asked. If you had wanted to, you would have. No one in his or her right mind wants to jump. Not really."

"Not even you?"

"Not even me."

She knew he was right. She didn't really want to jump. No one would. She only wanted the pain to end and she didn't know how to end it.

He still held her chin.

"It takes time, Angel Bird. You know that. Time makes it, not go away, but manageable, tolerable."

"Before it gets to that point, someone else dies. I'm an angel of death."

He laughed. Even before his looks, his laugh had attracted her, made her want to get to know him. Even now, feeling as miserable as she did, it made her smile.

"See. Even you realize how absurd that statement is. You need to get away from the hospice for a while, Lara. Maybe permanently. You have been a treasure, being there for those who would otherwise be alone at the end, but if you begin to believe this "angel of death" shit, you're not going to be much of a comfort to anyone. Get away for a while. When you come back, try helping in a way that isn't directly involved with dying."

"I don't know anything else."

"You know about surviving. You can help those who are left behind. That's partly why I'm here tonight. You know Sam, don't you?"

Lara pulled her hands away from his and held them over her heart as if someone had just grabbed and squeezed it. A wave of grief, different from what she had been feeling, washed over her.

"Yes. We met a few times. I know who he is."

"And who he is to me?"

"Yes," she whispered.

Lara watched as the smile faded and the summer sky grew cloudy.

"Lara, I was incapable of thinking reasonably. I kept seeing what was going to happen to me and I couldn't face it. If I had been capable of rational thought, I never would have left. I would have fought the fight I was given. But that ability was taken away from me. Can you accept that? Do you understand? Do you believe me?"

He had taken her hands in his again and held them together at his lips.

Lara considered what he told her and then nodded.

"Would you do me a favor?"

"A favor?"

"Yes. It will mean very much to me and it might show you how else you can help those you want to help."

"Okay."

He kissed her hands and let them go so that he could reach into his pocket. He pulled out a small box and handed it to her.

"Give this to Sam. He'll know what it is. Tell him I gave it to you tonight. Tell him I couldn't think rationally, that I didn't want to leave him. Tell him that nothing this represents ever changed. Never!"

Tears spilled onto his cheeks.

"Please, Lara, make sure he understands that."

"I'll do my best."

"That's enough. You can do it."

He closed his eyes as a sob escaped from his throat. After a moment he spoke again.

"When you're sure he understands, tell him he has to let go. He has to let me go. He is holding me here and he is keeping himself tied to emptiness. He needs to live his life again. Help him, Lara. Help him to become a survivor."

Sobs rose again as Lara nodded and held up the box.

"I will."

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket waved it at her. The smile was back with a hint of mischievousness.

"Here. Wipe your eyes. Your face is a mess from crying."

Somehow a chuckle came out instead of another sob.

"Thank you, Conor. I'm sure it is."

Lara wiped her eyes and cheeks as Conor responded.

"Thank you, Lara. Thank you."

When she pulled the handkerchief away from her eyes, she stood alone on the bridge. Her boots lay on the pavement beside her. In her right hand she held a white handkerchief with the initials CS in the corner. Her left hand clutched a small box.

The sun was rising at the end of the road.

Copyright 2003 Airycat