Over the Edge

January 23, 2010
The young man teetered on the edge of the bridge, contemplating suicide as images of his 24-year-old life flashed before his tormented blue eyes. The rollicking waves below looked as bleak and uninviting as hell, but anything was better than the hell on earth he had created for himself in the heart of The Bronx. If only he had listened to his family; then they wouldn’t have abandoned him, and he would still be speaking to his father. But if that were true, then now he would be sitting in a dingy office, cramped in a swivel chair, sweating over a computer keyboard while following in his father’s footsteps as an electrical engineer. The young man clenched his jaw at the very prospect of it. He hated office work, computers, and any kind of sedentary drudgery. The raw wounds in his heart still festered, inflicted by the bitter, discouraging words his father had thrown in his face over two years ago, while pride and ambition burned white-hot within the intimate passages of his mind.
The man had been born with an intense yearning within him, not to be shut up in a cubicle for eight hours a day, but to be standing in the glaring heat of a spotlight. He ached to feel the hollow wood of a stage beneath his feet, to hear his own voice echo back to him from over the rows of velvet seats, to watch as the audience wept or cried at his actions and facial expressions. How desperately his muscles itched to gesticulate his hidden inner feelings to a captive crowd while his tongue hypnotized the onlookers with rich dialogue. Violently his hands would pantomime his thoughts; the audience was his, and he their master.
Regretfully the man stared down at the foamy caps of churning waves. And so he’d had it out with his father, and suffered through the tears of his mother. He’d borne the shame of being outcast by his family, turned out onto the streets of New York City with no money and not a cent to the name he longed to see in bright neon lights. After weeks of going hungry and sleeping in doorways he was finally accepted at the Academé Theatre Company, but only as a stage boy sweeping the aisles and fixing props. It was better than nothing and he could see the professionals at work, observing their every move and listening to the echoes of their voices while their fluttering costumes disturbed the dust he was cleaning up. He had pleaded for one of the directors to get him a small part in A Streetcar Named Desire and had reveled in his 5-second performance for weeks, but it was over now and his aspiration to act was worse than ever.

The young man took a switchblade from his pocket and began cutting away at his clothes, hoping that when his body washed up on the polluted banks of the East River it would appear to the FBI that he had been killed in a street brawl. He would use the knife to pierce his chest below the ribcage and then heave himself over the side. The knife would sink in the river muck, and his taxi would be found on the bridge in the morning along with the bloodstains. There would be a small column in the paper briefly explaining his death, perhaps even a picture of him as he had last looked, and then he would be forgotten forever as weeds covered his gravestone. There seemed to be no comfort in the world, only the grim fact that his body would be claimed by the cold earth from which it had come.

A final thought flashed through the smothered feelings of his conscience as he stripped off his jacket. He could still repent and go back to his family, admit he was wrong, and plead for forgiveness. There was always room at the table in his mother’s kitchen for another person, extra space in her heart for a lost son. His stomach heaved. The knife blade slipped and nicked his wrist; several crimson droplets glistened against his white skin. He gritted his teeth, guts churning as he straddled the guardrail. Staring at the lapping waves, a shudder convulsed him. He gripped the knife harder, his knuckles turning white; better get the dirty work over with before he became too cowardly to do it. The wind roared and howled in his ears as he placed the tip of the blade into the soft flesh of his heaving stomach. “Lord, forgive me…”

Suddenly he heard it, the voice of a young child screaming in fear. It startled him and he dropped the knife, watching helplessly as it toppled beyond his reach into the hammering waves. He glanced about quickly and pinpointed the source of the noise: a small child at the opposite bank of the river, flailing helplessly in the icy water and crying for help. Without thinking he dove over the side. The sudden shock of the cold water nearly paralyzed him and cramped the muscles in his stomach, but he continued towards the bank with fast, clean strokes. For a second the child’s head went under and he lunged forward, stripping off his shirt and tossing it ahead. “Grab it! Hold it tight!” he ordered over the roaring wind. The child weakly seized the floating piece of fabric. Grasping one of the sleeves in his teeth, the man dog-paddled towards the muddy, littered beach, fighting with all his strength as the cruel wind howled and tore at his shivering body. Numbness crept over his legs as his feet touched bottom and sank in the river muck.

Crawling onto the oozing soil, the man attempted to stand but gasped as pain shot through his thigh. Gingerly he pulled the child onto dry land; a small, thin girl not over seven and desperately thin. Shivering, she threw her small arms around his neck and sobbed into his chest. “Oh daddy, daddy! You saved me! I knew you would come back! I knew you would!”

The man swallowed and gently caressed the trembling shoulders. “Take it easy, kid. I’m not your daddy. I don’t even know your name.”

“Oh no, it is you, daddy! You saved me! Thank you, daddy! Thank you! Mommy will be so happy now that you’re back!” The man blinked and swallowed hard, fighting back his own emotions. “Please, honey, just take it easy. You’re very frightened now and you need to rest.” He tried to brush the child away, but she hugged his neck and repeatedly kissed his unshaven cheeks. Giving up, he wrapped his arms around her wet little body.

“Annie! Annie!” Frantic footsteps echoed on the ominous bridge above and he looked up to see a woman leaning over the side. “She’s down here,” he shouted. “She’s safe.” The woman groaned audibly and hurried down the footpath, nearly tripping in her eagerness until she reached the muddy duo on the polluted shore. “Oh Annie! Darling!” The child rushed into her arms, leaving the man in the cold mud. Blushing, he staggered to his feet and tried to make himself halfway presentable. The woman gazed at him out of tear-stained eyes. “Who are you? What are you doing with my Annie?”

“Daddy saved me, mommy!” the little girl exclaimed. “I was on the shore looking for bottle caps for my collection and I fell in, and daddy saved me! Isn’t it wonderful, mommy? He’s back now and now we can be happy again!”

The man groaned softly and sank down again on the beach, gritting his teeth as pain stabbed into his leg. The woman rushed over and peered intensely into his face. “Forgive my daughter, sir. She doesn’t know what she is talking about.”
“It’s all right.” He closed his eyes, the heat of the moment sweeping over him. The woman touched his shoulder. “Sir, I can’t thank you enough. She went missing nearly two hours ago and I didn’t know what to do. Thank God you were around to save her.”

“No,” the man said softly, staring at the mother with his intense blue eyes. “Your daughter saved me. I was about to take my own life tonight.”

“Come home with us,” said the woman, smiling. “I’ll give you some hot soup and we can have the doctor look at your leg.”

The man staggered to his feet. “Thank you. I owe my life to your daughter.” He grasped her hand tightly to keep from falling and grinned a little. “I don’t know about you, but I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“Yes,” replied the woman softly. “But you must stay. My girl needs a father.”

The man ran a hand through his thick hair. “I would be glad to. You saved my life and I’ll always be grateful.”

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SergeantKirby said...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 7:28 pm
Um, this is good.. sort of an anti-climactic ending, though. The rest of it is very entertaining, but it would flow better if it had a more dramatic ending.
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