The Bridge

Doreen has cow eyes. It's those foggy brown irises. I can't stand to look at them or the rest of her. People call her slender, but they know she's gaunt and bony. She wants me to talk to her, but I don't turn my head, and I'm not about to. Personally, I'm just happy to stand on the bridge and look out at the Miles.

--Did you hear Spencer and some of his friends came up here the other week and one of the guys who they were with hit the water wrong when he jumped off? He almost drowned except Spencer jumped in after him? she asks her breath coming out too hard in a sort of snort and sliding up my nostrils. It smells like cheese.

--No, I didn't.

--Yeah, well, he said he's never bringing that guy out here again, except he scored for Spencer the other night, so they brought him back and it was okay that time.

I turn my head and Doreen is chomping her bottom lip and for a second her gesture looks like Mira in the dark. I swear I'm not hallucinating, but she always was a nervous girl and making those little anxious movements--Mira that is. But she's across the ocean now, and I'm not going to give her the satisfaction of my memory.

--Do you ever hang out with those guys anymore? Doreen says, growing restless as she does whenever she's not talking. Silence is a frightful thing.

--No, I don't.

--What happened? Used to be I never saw Spencer or Lee without you right behind them. Her breath hits me again. A waft of warm brie.

--I haven't seen them for a long time I say turning to look in her eyes for the first time since we'd come up here. I stare into her cow eyes, watch her lip flutter as she edges closer to my body. She's waiting, but I'm not going to do it. I turn back to the water, see the haze of Easton to one side, the shimmer of St. Michaels to the other.

It's been a long time since I've seen Lee or Spencer, though. Well, relatively. I'm only twenty and it's about nine months since I'd last seen them as far as I can remember. That's a long time for a young man, especially when you're talking about people you've seen almost every day of your whole life. We drove from Lee's house in Saint Michaels to the bridge here, the day after Mira left, and Lee and Spencer we're going to jump. But Spencer and Lee weren't just jumping off the bridge this time. They were jumping off of the side of the control tower and into the canal, which no one had ever done before that we knew of. It's about thirty feet up instead of twenty, so it's a good difference and probably pretty intimidating -- I don't know because I don't bridge jump. I can't do it. Hell, I'm still afraid to go up in an airplane, but Lee especially always wanted to jump off the control tower.

I watched them from the platform near the canal side right next to the control room. Spencer and Lee were up on top. I couldn't see them, because there was a gutter that jutted out about two feet, and in order for them to jump into the canal they'd have to hurtle over the gutter. They were up there just laughing and talking like this was no big deal.

I was gazing out at the water, just like I am now, and then there was this intense silence, this break in the laughter I'd been hearing. Without any warning I see, barely inside my field of vision, Lee, fly right over my head. He did it without any 1-2-3 count, but those are the kinds of things silence does to most people. He flew off the control room and arched high up like he'd stay up forever, only to fall back down again and plummet towards the water until he dropped below me and kept on going for the dark surface of the Miles. He dropped just like an inanimate object, like someone could've dropped a bowling ball off the roof and it would look just the same getting smaller, more distant, a black speck in a sea of tar--

I feel Doreen's hand on my back and I know what she wants, I mean, I know she's been wanting it for years. So I turn around and I go at her so fast I think I'm going to headbutt her, but I kiss her instead, and not soft and gentle, but hard, like my tongue is trying to get through to her insides. I grab her body too and do what I can with that, but as soon as it starts, I know I can't go on--she's just no Mira, and this is all wrong, so I shove her away.

--What's wrong? Doreen says. I can hear the tears in her voice.

--You are, I say. She starts crying and holding her face. She reaches her hand out to my shoulder, but I just shrug away and let it fall. I say, if you're going to cry like that could you do it somewhere else? And boy does she explode.

--You fucking asshole! I'm getting the hell out of here and I don't ever want to see you again, just like your goddamned girlfriend and all your fucking friends!

I could kill her right now, but instead I start yelling all kinds of obscenities at her and take the Certs out of my pocket. I rip the wrapper and start throwing them at her. Get the hell out of here cheese-breath! I say pelting her with mints. She starts crying some more, and I watch her till she disappears under the curve of the bridge walking toward Saint Michaels. Besides, I haven't wanted to touch a girl since Mira left. Once you've had a girl like Mira, well, everyone else is just going to be wrong.

Doreen is wrong too. They didn't abandon me. They didn't. I just didn't want to follow them where they were going. What was I supposed to do anyway? The three of us were on the bridge, Mira, Lee, and I. It was late and we were drunk and we wanted to look at the water. At least I did, I just wanted to look down at the water. And we were talking and smoking, and even though it was summer it was cold, because this was like three or four in the morning, so we're all good friends and we had our arms around each other, the three of us. But there's a geometry to two versus three. Two people and it's easy to snuggle up and keep warm, but with three, there's always two people really close and another one just holding on, left out but keeping them warm. There is no equilateral triangle where everyone's happy. It was dark and I was drunk and I almost couldn't tell who was who at that point it was just hands and limbs and cold and breath, and someone had Chinese food breath, like the smell of Orange Chicken. It was just the three of us and all quiet now and I still wasn't sure if I was going to take this year off of Washington College to go to Italy with Mira, and we were all laughing and joking, when all the sudden it got really quiet and I was deciding about Mira and what I was going to do when it happened and, well, I couldn't follow after what happened in that next moment. We three were drunk and when he, she, I . . . when we . . . I had trouble breathing. And what was I supposed to do when Lee and Mira wanted to continue on, to repeat it?

Once you've broken the surface, it stays broken.

I'm tired of thinking I think to myself. So I take out a cigarette and light it up to pass the time. I've got plenty of time to pass nowadays, and Doreen is gone so at least I can look at the water in peace. I wonder what Mira's doing though. It's getting late and I should go back down the bridge and go home to Easton, but I don't think I will. Hell, maybe I should just jump. I mean, if all your friends jumped off a bridge . . . no, I think I'll stay here awhile. It's a nice quiet place and you can't beat the people.

Just for kicks, I take out my last breath mint and drop it into the water to watch it fall through the night air, like Lee had that night on the bridge. I watch it fall, and as it hits the water I see it grow bright, glowing, phosphorescent. There must be some hidden light below the water to show wayward boats the path beneath the bridge, and I had forgotten how that light hit Lee too. When he jumped off the control tower and landed in the water, that light hit Lee's body as if he had ripped a hole in the dark skin of the Miles, and his whole body was glowing, phosphorescent, suspended in bright fluid, like an airplane conjured from darkness by the lights of the runway, and I look out at the horizon of the Miles thinking about where it begins to empty into the Chesapeake, which in turn flows into the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and I test my weight against the railing, my eyes bearing down on all that dark water.

About the author:

Emmett Stinson is a writer in Washington, DC. You can reach him at .