[FICTION] The Bridge
He sits at the edge of the bridge with his back against the railing, his legs dangling as he stares at the water swirling three hundred feet below. There’s a cigarette perched between his fingers, a thin plume of smoke trailing up toward the dimly lit sky. As he takes a drag, someone asks him if he’s all right. He shrugs but doesn’t answer. He isn’t all right when he thinks about it, but he feels fine. Or maybe he’s just numb.
After a few more drags, he taps the ash off and watches it fall. It disappears before it hits the water, blown away to mix with the smog blanketing the city. For a moment, he registers that he’s sitting on the edge of death, but he can’t bring himself to care. Instead, he inhales another lungful of smoke.
Holding the cigarette between his lips, he pulls up the sleeve of his wrinkled black suit, revealing a tarnished nickel chain around his wrist. Some of the links have been replaced over the years with small paper clips and bits of bent wire, giving it an odd, mismatched look. It’s the most precious thing he owns.
He remembers the exact date he got it, the ecstatic look on his little brother’s face, everything. Every moment they lived together, all etched into his mind forever. It doesn’t take him long to get lost completely in the memories, a breath of putrid smoke bringing him harshly back as he gags and chokes. When he looks, he sees the ember burning away at the filter and wipes the tears from his eyes. He flicks the butt off the bridge. It disappears before it hits the water.
There are four left in the pack. It’d be a waste of money if he didn’t finish them, so he smokes his way through them all and lets the butts fall into the abyss. When he tries to light the last one, though, his lighter won’t spark. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t get a light. He shakes the lighter and sighs, getting up to try and flag someone down.
“’Scuse me, have you got a light?” he asks a woman passing by. She’s beautiful, her face filled with life where his is dull and empty. To an onlooker, he probably looks older than her, even though she’s in her thirties and he isn’t even old enough to drink.
She gives him an odd look, “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m on my last one and my lighter just died,” he tries to sound lighthearted.
She pulls a lighter from her purse and hands it to him. “What’s your name?”
He shakes his head and lights his cigarette, holding the lighter out for her to take back. She tells him to keep it, “How old are you?”
She looks surprised. He catches her staring at his bracelet and tugs his sleeve down over it.
“Where’d you get that?” she asks. She doesn’t sound like she’s fishing or trying to guilt him into not jumping. She just sounds curious. He decides to risk it.
“My little brother gave it to me,” he sighs. “It’s really old.”
“I can see that,” she chuckles. “How old is he?”
“Dead. I just got back from his funeral,” His voice is void of emotion. “They found him in bed. He’d slit his wrists.”
Her eyes widen, and she crouches down behind him like she’s going to spend a while there, “I’m so sorry. That must be really hard for you and your family.”
“His crack whore mom didn’t even show up,” he scoffs. “Have you ever delivered a eulogy to an empty room?”
She nods and reaches through the bars of the railing to place a hand on his shoulder, “You sound like you’ve had a rough time of it.”
He gets lost in thought again, and after a few moments he lets out a heavy sigh, mumbling to himself.
“I tried to adopt him when I aged out,” he says. “His social worker said I wasn’t a fit parent because I was working two jobs to try and support myself. But she left him with them. Even after he said they were bad people.”
They talk until a chill starts to nip at the air. The woman stands up, “Let’s go get a cup of coffee and keep talking.”
He shakes his head, “I spent my last eight bucks on the cigarettes.”
“I’ll buy,” she extends a hand over the railing for him. “Come on, it’ll get us out of the cold. I’d love to keep talking with you.”
He takes her hand to climb over and steps up onto the rail. His stomach drops a little, freezing him in his place. Somehow, that extra two feet seems so much higher, so much closer to death than he was a moment ago.
“I’ve got you,” she says gently. He nods and lets her help him over, clutching her hand a little when he’s made it to the safety of the sidewalk. She gives it a squeeze as they walk.
“You never told me your name,” she says. “I’m Layla.”
He smiles a little, glancing at the lighter in his other hand before he answers.
N. N. Islam grew up in New Hampshire living with her Bangladeshi father and white mom. Her town lacked diversity and she had a few issues with the ignorance of others while she grew up. She started writing as a way to deal with that, as well as to help her through the coming out process and other life struggles.