Matt wondered what sound Abby made when she hit the rocks below. How had she chosen the spot where she would go over the railing into the air for the last few seconds of her life? Did she agonize about which one would be most effective, as she did when going through recipes every night for dinner, trying to decide what to make, and then settling on something that took hours to cook and barely touching it afterwards? How had she gone over the railing? Did she look forward and flip herself over headfirst, her view shifting from sky to horizon to the gorge rushing up at her? Maybe her eyes were closed. Or she sat on the railing, the abyss behind her, and simply tipped back. Perhaps she parked her car, ran across the road, grabbed the railing and hurled herself over, like she did when mounting the balance beam in gymnastics when she was a child.
Abby’s body was broken. The years of anorexia had left scant flesh over her tiny frame. Her mother wanted an open casket for the service, but the funeral director was able to convince her not to, the mortician having no way of putting Abby back together. Her left arm, severed at the shoulder, was tucked into the sleeve of the blouse her family buried her in. She was already a skeleton, shrouded in translucent skin.
But Abby was Matt’s skeleton to love. A skeleton whom he wanted to transform into the person he saw inside Abby. A skeleton he thought would save him.
Matt pulled his wind breaker tighter about him and tugged his baseball cap down on his head, as the northeast wind gusted up, swirling little bits of gravel into mini twisters around his ankles. The first snow storm of the season was ravaging its way through later on that night, and slated to last the next couple of days. The crazies would come out tomorrow, sliding and crashing into each other, mailboxes, telephone poles, having forgotten, or never even experienced, the havoc of a nor’easter.
He leaned against the cold, black wrought iron railing, and gazed down into the rushing water at the foot of the gorge, smashing and spraying up over chunks of granite. Shuddering, he hugged himself, more against the internal chill than the whipping wind around him. Speaking in a restrained tone, Matt pinned against the door of his and Abby’s apartment, her father blamed him for her death. What her father didn’t account for was when he put his hand on Matt he cemented Abby’s story, that her uncle had abused her, and that he knew about it and did nothing. Still, did she sense Matt’s need to be loved by her, as he loved her. Did it overwhelm her?
“Matt?” Hearing his name startled him and he stepped back off the curb onto the road. He turned to see Abby’s former roommate, Emily, approaching him from his left. She stopped a few paces away, and leaned one handed against the railing. “How long have you been out here?”
He stepped back up onto the curb and looked down into the gorge, before tipping back his head and peering into the grey clouds. “Storm’s coming,” he said. The first flecks of snow started drifting downward and another gust of wind swept across the bridge, sandblasting the two of them. “How much do you think we’re going to get?”
Emily straightened and stepped closer. “Anywhere from a quarter inch to four feet, I guess.” She stopped beside him and looked out over the edge. “You didn’t answer my question.”
Matt shrugged. “I was thinking that I’d like to put a memorial down there for her, this Spring,” he said, pointing to small bit of land that jutted into the river. “Nothing too fancy. A little stone with her name on it. Maybe a quote.”
Emily let her head flop. She had been over the matter with Matt before. The town wasn’t going to let any kind of memorial be put there. Not even a temporary cross to suggest the passing of a person. It was too touristy an area. The gorge brought all sorts of people to it, and with them lots of money to spend in nearby souvenir shops and restaurants. She had asked her mother, the town’s tax collector, who said even suggesting it to the selectman would create a stir, providing fuel for the local paper in which there were bound to be numerous editorials and letters to the editor. No, there had been enough of a field day with Abby’s suicide. The way the press covered it, one would have thought that it was the first time it ever happened out here at the gorge, not the at least once annual event that it was. Most of the letters were unkind, focusing on the question how one person could be selfish and destroy a community’s image, how one person could soil the one thing that aided in the town’s survival.
“I know, Em. The town will never allow it. Doesn’t mean I can’t imagine it there.” Matt sighed and turned his back to the railing. “Still, it’d be nice if I could at least do one thing right by her.”
Emily reached out her hand. Matt pulled away before she could make contact. “You should get home. This is going to get bad quick,” he said. He stepped off the curb and angled across the bridge for the parking area, rolling the collar up on the back on his jacket and cramming his hands into his jean pockets.
“It’s not your fault, Matt. There was nothing you could have done for her,” she called out through the increasing wind.
He turned to face her once he was on the opposite side. “You’re right, Em. Absolutely right. There was nothing I could do for her.”
Matt watched the bridge bend around the curve of the road as he headed back to his
apartment. Already the snow was beginning to gather on the road, the wind forming white serpents slithering down the cracked asphalt. His mouth twitched upward when he thought of how Abby liked to drive through the snow, especially when it was dark. She said the snow falling in the night were like stars, and it made her feel like she was on some sort of space ship heading away from earth. He wondered if that was what she visualized between the bridge and the gorge. He tapped the radio on and sped up. Maybe tonight would be a good night to finally check out the bar below his apartment. Have a few drinks. Meet a few more of the locals. Maybe even laugh about something.
Matt pulled into his parking space by the dive dumpster at the rear of the building. Before he opened the car door he could tell it was karaoke night. Some drunk was already on the stage trying to belt out a country song, the laughs and blank spaces slipping through the cracked open basement windows. To have a drink, or not to have a drink. That was the question. To jump off the bridge or not to jump off the bridge. That was Abby’s question. He knew how Abby answered it.
But he didn’t know his answer.
No. No drink. A frozen pizza with a coke. That was the responsible thing to do. With the weight of Shakespeare, Early American Literature, and Modern Poetry, he trudged up the back stairway to his apartment to settle in for the night. If he was in bed by eight he could be at the gym at school by four in the morning, and then complete his assignments in the library, or draft excuses as to why he should have another extension in time for his meeting with his advisor in the afternoon.
Matt sat in the corner chair, holding his pen in a white knuckled grip against his notebook, waiting for his advisor’s decision on his extension request.
“Have you thought of writing about the experience?” his advisor, J.P. Doyle asked. “It might help you get back on track with your academics.”
Matt looked up from his notebook and stared into his professor’s eyes. Keeping his vision fixed he capped his pen and slipped his things into his backpack. He hoisted it onto his shoulder, knocking the chair askew. “Ask your wife how important academics are. Didn’t she hang up on you last week when you wouldn’t go home?”
Doyle folded his hands on his lap and leaned back in his leather chair. “What do you think Abby would want you to do?”
The two men stared at each other, Matt’s frame taut with pent up energy, ready for flight, while Doyle crossed his right leg over his left, tapping a pen on the blotter on his desk, perfectly balanced on the razor thin tension. At the slight dropping of Matt’s right shoulder, Doyle motioned to the empty chair.
Matt let his backpack slip off down his arm, and crash to the floor. He plunked down in the seat, wishing it would consume him. He hunched over, cupping his hands, his head down, avoiding Doyle’s eyes. What would Abby want him to do? He shook his head back and forth. “I don’t know,” he said, barely above a whisper. He raised his head enough to see Doyle’s face, feeling the stinging sensation in his nose that was the precursor to him crying. He pinched the tears back with forefinger and thumb.
Doyle leaned forward to be on Matt’s level. “What do you think you want to do?”
Matt didn’t respond. He looked out the window, at the edges of thin clouds. But he didn’t see any of this. The bridge is what he saw, suspended in mid-air, enveloped by white flakes. And him midway on it, grasping the railing, and gazing down into the abyss. He raised his left leg over the iron.
“Well, at least you’re smiling,” Doyle said, leaning back up. “First time I’ve seen that in a while.” He sighed. “I know it’s been rough for you. I’m going to give you a two-week extension on the Bible as Literature paper. The deadline for Modern Poetry sticks.” He jotted something down in his planner. “Do you know why I push you?”
Matt rose from his seat and reached down for his backpack, shaking his head no.
“It’s because I know you can do better. And I know that you know you can, too.”
Outside Matt zipped his jacket up to his neck and donned his gloves. Only a week past Thanksgiving and winter had settled in. A thick blanket of snow covered the ground with another storm starting that night. If he left for the bridge now he could be there in just under an hour. Gone in an hour. He stood at the intersection of two paths, one leading to the library where he could write his paper and continue on with life, and the other to the parking lot. Under the thinly veiled sun he turned his vision back and forth between each one, his feet still. His mind alternated between thoughts of how Abby had saved him from their synched traumas, and how he had the ability to push himself as did Doyle. Then the realization. Doyle had pushed him in a way not intended, not by asking what he wanted to do, but by asking what Abby would want him to do. The man deserved more than to read about his plunge in the newspaper, the scathing letters and editorials on selfishness. Matt turned to the library.
He didn’t know how long he had been asleep, but it was dark outside. The walkway lamps weaving the path by the pond illuminated the storm. He stretched his arms out, spreading his fingers. Looking down at his laptop he realized he had finished the first and final draft of the paper. Reading the last paragraph, he didn’t remember writing it. He noticed a couple of words were missing, filled them in, and printed it out.
Outside, the pinpricks of sleet slapped him against the face. He chose to feel the sensation and not roll his jacket collar up as he walked back to the faculty building. By Doyle’s office, he took one final look at the cover page and slid the paper under the door, and then deposited his English text books on the side table in the waiting area.
Back in the storm he walked against the wind, past the path to the library, heading to the parking area. He circled the pond, and through the cluster of dorms. As he ascended the steps to the lot he heard someone call his name, but pretended not to hear. He continued up the stairs, and then felt the smack of a snowball against the back of his neck. He shook his head and felt the remnants of it slither down between his clothing and skin, shocked back into the moment. Turning around he saw Emily coming up the stairs behind him. She stopped a couple of steps below him. “You’re not driving in this. The roads are horrible. There’s already been a pileup at the foot of the hill.” She reached out for his hand. Matt looked at her outstretched arm, not moving. Emily leaned closer and tightened her fingers around his. “The bridge will be there tomorrow.”
Darren A. Deth resides in Lewiston, Maine with his wife, Christine. His work has appeared in Pentimento Magazine and Zest Maine. He is a 2008 graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program. His day gig is as an Assistant Program Coordinator for New Beginnings, an organization devoted to working with homeless youth.