Short Fiction

Girlfriend Pushes Man off Bridge, Headline Dec 13

By Chris Naff

When Jimmy McCloskey hurtled toward the grey-green bay below, he immediately forgot the vicious fury roiling in his chest moments before; he forgot the pain in his ribs from the steering wheel when that piece-of-shit Hyundai she bought–bringing their debt to the no exit level–skidded into the black and yellow striped bridge barrier. A few times since, when he closes his eyes, he still sees black and yellow stripes. It would have solved so much if he had just drowned.

Later, with the shrink, he will be unable to recall that last tussle the witnesses described, when they crawled out of the car. He won’t remember her push, or his grab–depending upon which witness you favor. Nor does he recall the rage-filled epithets they were reported to have been slinging at each other, each of them ragged and bleeding inside and out.

He only remembers thinking of junior high diving club as the dull, barnacled bridge abutment scrolled by in slow motion on the way down into the murky chop. That wild and contained feeling, all at once, of forming yourself into a perfect arrow, slicing into the water as a perfect line. Spreading your arms like an underwater eagle, the whole afternoon, your whole life ahead of you. Blue sky.

Thinking about the dive and completing it were always two different scenarios, his coach had always told him. “You know you’ve got it, if you can hold on to the image, Jimmy. Hold on to that picture of you slicing through the water.” He had held onto it all the way through to junior year of high school–the full-body sense of the perfect dive; the poster-size, full-color picture of him in college, full-ride; the picture of him in law school and after. Pro-bono work on weekends for the families at risk–the same programs that helped Moms get out of her own plunge and helped Jimmy find diving.

When the boat picked him up, he was crying, clinging to the pier. “Hypothermic and delusional,” he heard the paramedic say into the small black mike on his lapel. No more delusional than normal, Jimmy thought to himself.

He skipped the last night of practice before the Regionals to be with Ashleigh. Diving was cool, but Ash was a warmer, more luscious plunge–volatile and dangerous, but comforting, too–arms around him, love. “You don’t know love,” his Mother had shouted as he headed out the door. “That girl will drag you with her off a cliff.”

Cliff. Bridge. Moms had seen it coming. She was gone now, lucky that. Two years after he didn’t make the team Senior year, after he didn’t graduate from high school. A year after Jimmy and Ash moved out of the house on their own. Before Ash bought that damn car that would never come back from the shop because they’re broke again: bail, fines, and medical. Ashleigh’s big vision was what? He wondered. A guy and a car. Or, maybe it was the diving champ and a way out of town, originally.

Two days later when they release him from “observation,” an orderly wheels him (hospital regulations) out of the front door. “Anyone pickin’ you up?” The guy asks him. “No,” Jimmy says, “short walk.” He doesn’t yell back “Pick me up? She didn’t even come see me.” He doesn’t want to be readmitted. He sees doubt flatten the man’s mustache.

“It’s all about your vision,” he hears the old coach in his head. “See yourself slice. See yourself, both arms in the air, when you win.” He wonders if the coach is still alive, the last someone who had believed in him once.

Out on the street he makes a left turn–away from the bus stop, the opposite direction from the apartment. A block down he stops on a broken slab of sidewalk pushed up and tilted akimbo just before the alley. He shuffles to the edge where the flat troweled edge looks like the smooth ribbon edge of a diving board. He curls his toes inside his shoes and takes in the wide expanse of possibilities in this moment. He summons up that full-body memory from the fall–the vision of a perfect arrow, slicing on his way down into the water. He visualizes that universal gesture of joy and gratitude, arms up, pumping that blue sky. He steps off the curb, and away.

 

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