He walked aimlessly across the bridge. Above his head, winter stars formed a cold veil over the town. Frosty air burned his cheeks, but he didn't care. Being able to feel the cold meant that, despite everything, he was still alive.
Frances had said once that crossing water was symbolic. In Japanese gardens, stepping stones or little bridges over streams were there for a purpose; demons were unable to follow you across. Which was fine, but it wasn't demons that were haunting him. Even a river this wide couldn't stop shameful memories from dogging his heels.
The phone rang. He reached deeper into his coat pocket, pressed the answer button. 'Hello.'
It was her. Elianne. He felt the winter cold slide down a little further between his shoulder blades.
'Aren't you coming to see me tonight? I'm lonely.' Her voice was soft, the tone wheedling.
'I, er, I'm busy.' A couple of weeks ago he'd have been round there as fast as he could. And she would have been waiting for him, as he now knew, she waited for them all. He'd never be able to get Frances back, and he didn't feel like playing Elianne's games any more. 'What's the point,' he said, voicing his feelings for once.
'I beg your pardon?' Instantly her attitude changed, and this, he now knew, was the real woman beneath the carefully fabricated layers of disguise.
'Well, you got what you wanted from me, didn't you? So why bother. You took the woman I loved and it's you I've to thank for my job going down the pan. Do you really think I'd want anything to do with you ever again?'
'But we're so good together.' Again, she purred. 'And it was a dead-end job; a hopeless relationship. You said enough times that you felt trapped.'
He had, that was true. Just thinking about some of the confidences he'd shared with her made him feel a renewed sense of guilt.
'And I can find you something, no problem. I've always been good for you, haven't I?'
Only when I did as you asked, he thought, but didn't so far as to say it.
'Here I am,' she went on. 'All alone. I'm wearing those silk panties you bought me. The black ones, remember. With stockings too. You'd love to rip them off me, wouldn't you…'
Her voice was warm and breathy. His ear burned as she continued, bringing vivid images to mind of exactly what she was doing, and what she wanted him to do.
'Shut up,' he snapped. 'It's finished. Just leave me alone.'
'Think of what you'll be missing. Think how it'll feel to have no-one. And to be a nobody for the rest of your life.' The vicious tone was back, the claws unsheathed.
'Piss off, Elianne. I never want to see you, or hear your voice, or even think of you again. Goodbye.' He pressed the red button. The line went dead. Call ended, the display said, the little light fading to nothing. She'd ring back, of course.
And he suddenly remembered that this number was her only path to him. She'd bought him the phone as a present for his last birthday. Before he had a chance to think about what he was doing, he hurled it away, across the darkened meads and the cold black water. As it flew, he heard the jaunty sound of the ringing tone, then a faint splash.
He let out the breath he hadn't been conscious of holding. He was free now. Free to make a new life; to succeed or fail, but on his own terms. Maybe Frances could forgive him, maybe not. Time would tell.
As he strode away he thought of the siren voice serenading the fish, and the deep, dark secrets of the river mud.