"The Bridge"

By Brandon Smith

The bridge on Godfrey Street was normally flooded with traffic later in the day, but it was almost always desolate in the mornings. He knew this better than anyone; today wasn't the first time he had came here, but he was certain that it would be the last. The bridge was a large, two lane concrete structure connecting King's Hollow and the downtown area, two different sections of the city of Marwind Heights, over the strong tides of the Archseas river. It stretched for nearly a quarter mile long, and featured sidewalks on either side of the bridge with a red metal fence protecting walkers from traffic and a tall, chest-high concrete barrier protecting them from falling.

Wilson looked in both directions. It was still early, and the city was only now beginning to wake up. The sounds of cars elsewhere in the city steadily growing louder was like a sleepy, collective groan ringing out as another day began. Five more minutes, the city demanded, but those five minutes would pass like a dream for Wilson.

He remembered walking this same path each day since she left. He would wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush his teeth and then it was time to walk. Sometimes he would skip one of the first few steps, but walking was a staple. Coming here each day, stopping in the same place in the middle of the bridge where a thin line was drawn where two concrete barriers met, where somebody had graffitied a peace sign with purple spray paint on the wall, where he could look down over the side and see only the water beneath and no sign of the land. This was where, each day, he chose to walk away.

But not today.

Memories flashed through his mind as he walked across the bridge. He remembered her pleading, begging for forgiveness after he'd caught her with another man, but after Wilson refused, she called him horrible names and left to live with her real lover.

He walked slowly, each footstep deliberately measured. Wilson saw himself very clearly, wondering if she had been right all along after he'd been moved to a new project at work, one that had less than half of the resources of the original and a team that seemed content to tarry away with little being accomplished. His pay seemed to have taken a steady drop since then as well, but he knew that was because they were considering phasing a few employees, himself included, out of the company.

Then there was the night that he had tried to drown his sorrows at the tavern and left with two other men whom he had met at the bar. The three of them nearly ended up on the hook for public intoxication, property damage, and public nudity when the three were confronted by a passing police officer, and Wilson might well have ended up in prison had it not been for one of the men pulling out a knife and attempting to fend off the officer, giving him the time he needed to hastily stagger away as the officer handcuffed the man and wrestled away his knife.

Too much time, he decided as he finally reached that place on the bridge and absentmindedly ran his hand along the purple graffiti, had been spent here, thinking about everything but doing nothing. Today was finally the day. It had been a long sleepless night once he'd finally made up his mind, and now, dressed in an old dirty pair of jeans and a jacket with a wool insulation, with the warm sun- almost too warm- shining over his greasy, unshaven face and bloodshot eyes, and the smell of alcohol still heavy on his breath, Wilson was finally ready.

He leaned over the side of the bridge, just as he'd done so many times before, and gazed down at the icy water. It was too murky to see the bottom, but he knew that the tides would drag him down there, maybe even before he lost consciousness, if he was even conscious when he hit the water. To be honest, he wasn't sure how this was supposed to work, but it had worked for that girl a few years ago, so why wouldn't it work for him? A thin white haze had settled over the water, resting, as though it were waiting for him.

Entranced, Wilson put both hands onto the barrier and hopped up, careless and unskilled as he climbed, or as he lived life. His legs were shaking once he successfully clambered up and stood, staring down at the water, the toes of his boots on the very edge of the barrier. It was higher than he had remembered. Wilson gazed down, but he couldn't move. His entire body was shaking now, but was it with delight, fear, excitement, or anxiety?

"Hey, there. That looks a bit dangerous."

Wilson nearly fell off the bridge out of surprise at the sound of the voice behind him. He turned his body, not moving his feet, and looked down to see an old man standing there. The old man smiled up at him, but the wrinkles in his face held something much deeper than a smile. In it, etched across his face like scars, Wilson could see the regret of somebody who might have once seen someone else jump off this very bridge. His white hair hung in thin wisps on the sides of his scalp, and his eyes shone with a certain youthful light, even though they were sunken in a way that suggested that this old man was ancient.

"Why don't you come down from there?" the old man offered, reaching out a gnarled hand that was shaking almost as much as Wilson. "You might fall."

Wilson looked back at the Archseas, and then at the old man's hand. Nodding slightly, he took the old man's hand and stepped down, falling off the barrier to the safety of the bridge.

"That's it. You're still a young feller," the old man held Wilson's hand in both of his, still smiling and nodding. "Still got plenty of years in ya. Can you do a poor old man a favor, Wilson? Go home. Get some sleep. You need it."

Still shaking, even though he had lived, Wilson slowly began walking. He turned around only once to see the old man still standing there, smiling, and then faced forward. He turned around again at the end of the bridge to see the old man had vanished.

Wilson didn't look back the rest of the way home, unaware that although he couldn't see him, the old man continued to follow closely behind him. He had been watching Wilson carefully ever since the last one that he'd been responsible for succeeded in their suicide.

The problem was that more and more people were suicidal, and those were the ones that he always seemed to get. Each death added another wrinkle to his face and another year to his soul. Still, he would persevere as always and things would be fine. They usually were, and he had faith in this one. Besides, he had been with many different humans over the millennia, and he'd kept each of them safe.

After all, what kind of guardian angel would he have been if he didn't?