The wind played music with my bones. Like a xylophone.
“It’s cold in hell,” he said, “Let me tell you.” He shook his head, taking another puff from his cigarette. He throws it into the ocean and it fizzles out into the darkness. Hands in pockets, overcoat. Leaning on the sidebeam, night blows past.
“Sure is,” I tell him. I lean forward, threatening.
He bursts out laughing.
I stare at him, my brow furrowing. Barely recovering his rancorous chuckle, he tells me, “Little girl, you don’t know cold.” He taps the rattling metal. It resounds like a rib cage. “The Golden Gate Bridge? The bay? Heated pool.”
He gestures towards the abyss. I jerk my head up, wincing. He rubs his hands together like dry sticks. His pale lips curve.
“Ice burns my skin these days,” he tells me. “I get numb.”
He takes a seat, swinging on the red ledge. He waves his arm for me to join him, but I keep standing. The air current makes me shiver.
“Yeah,” the man tells me, “The guys up there—”
“Sure, up there. Too snug down there. You want exile?” He raises his eyes, pretends to snatch a star between his pointer finger and thumb, rubs them together like crushing sand. He flicks it away. “It can get damn chilly in the sky. The guys there tell me, they tell me it’s like spears—the cold—stabbing at your skin. Another says it’s like a blanket, but you pull it up all over your body, thinking it’s going to be all cozy, then you’re cold-dead, but you’re not dead, you’re alive and frozen. One told me that it was like a lover, whispering into your ear, ‘I hate you, I hate you,’ and stitching those words along your heart. He—”
“Why are you here?”
“Why, I’m on parole,” he responds unfazed. He grins and asks me, “Why are you here?”
I lunge and slap him, my hand phasing through him like water. I almost fall off, and I wobble, heart rate readjusting.
“That’s what I thought,” he smirks.
“I’m not going to be here in just a little while,” I answer.
“Well, I suggest you ought to rethink.”
“I don’t care what you suggest,” I say.
He shrugs, asking, “What’s so wrong with your life, anyway?”
The galloping breeze fills the silence.
“Go on, tell me, what’s broken, unmendable?”
I hesitate before telling, “My only friend left me—”
“Sorry, what did—”
“Bent,” he says, “Not broken. There’s always redemption. Against all odds, I’m a believer in forgiveness. If not, there’s replacement. As will be with you.”
He juts his bottom lip out and nods.
He asks, “What else?”
“What? Your mom’s what?”
“Dead,” I spit. The cold shakes my body.
“Dead?” he nods and sighs happily to himself. “If I’m from hell and I don’t know her, then I’d say she’s doing mighty fine right now.”
I let out breath and finally sit down on the railing.
“Good for you,” he sees and says, almost muttering to himself, “Good for you.”
Then he resolves, “Imagine this, if you could do that for me: you go through a rough patch, parent sick, can’t afford to pay for their care. You stand there over that there edge, and you realize that people out there really don’t think life is priceless. ‘See, if life was priceless,’ you’d reason, ‘then they’d save them out of the God-graced-goodness of their heart.’ But they don’t, do they?”
I stare. He understands, proceeding, “Yes, imagine that. Everyone leaves you, ‘cause you’re such a weight on everybody else. You can’t carry two loads, so people feel like they have to share it with you when they’re around. They don’t like your cigarette smell, besides. One of those days, you spill hot coffee on your lap, and you think it’s the end of the world, and the coffee-spilling gods have damned you to burning legs… but then, oh the most terrible thing happens. The coffee feels cold, numb, and it reminds you of the wind at the great golden bridge, the misty bay. You kick the cup and storm out that door. You walk your way up, many more miles than you usually walk, but your dedication is concentrated on the sole sentence: ‘one last time.’ You whisper it incessantly as you make your climb. One last time, one last time. All for that frigid coffee.
“You reach a spot near one of the high cables. You’re alone again, wet pants and dry hands. Nobody but that wind, and you jump, ‘cause who else is going to want you, what else are you going to do?
“You jump, and on the way down you get a single thought, and it goes like this, imagine this for me: you spent all this time dying over what comes next, what comes next. You’re falling with your eyes closed, and you think to yourself: ‘I jumped. What now?’”
The man’s eyes turn icy. I shiver.
“What now?” I echo.
“Then,” he barely coughs out, clenching his hands, panting, “you think of all the monsters and the flames that you’re going to be with, for this. Visualize it: you hit water, like glass, and you get there, waking up, and the demons there have murdered and massacred, and you stomp your foot and lay in the unsurprising cold, thinking. Knowing you’re a killer too.”
He pulls up his coat and stares out at the moon.
“Hey,” I ask, “How did you end up there, anyway?”
I nod. He comes closer on the metal tightrope and pats me on the shoulder. We both look down at the void of rushing water, far below. His face fades into the wind, and I know his time here is fleeing too. I try to grab him, to embrace him, but he melts into the blowing air, nobody but the wind. His final act: he scoots next to me and pushes me off.
I fall backward and land on my bottom. I feel the cement for heat. I walk home.
Image Wattewyl, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited to fit banner)