An Unwilling Promise
I hadn't realized the little red Honda in front of me had stopped. Too engrossed in the baseball game on the radio while shoving McDonald's French fries in my mouth I reacted to late. As I exited the car with an apology on my lips, my words fell flat as he walked away, ignoring me.
Annoyed, I followed him, still clutching my insurance papers. As he climbed over the hand railing of the bridge he looked back at me and I could see fear in his eyes. But behind the fear was determination. A determined man is a dangerous man as I would soon find out. As he leaned forward with his head down, he hesitated, holding on with his hands behind his back.
“Hey, be careful, it’s just a little fender bender.” I said, trying to sound friendly and casual. But my words rang lame and fake.
“Tell Maria I’m sorry," he said.
Confused by the rapid change of events, “Who’s Maria?” I asked, trying to initiate a conversation.
“Just tell her Tony said he was sorry,” he said.
“Sure no problem, but I can’t give her the message if I don’t know who she is, why don’t you let me help you and we can discuss it together?” I asked, extending my hand to him. “Just tell her I’m sorry," he insisted, ignoring my hand.
“All right, Tony, I will, sure. But I’m sure she’d prefer it came from you.” I referenced every police
drama I had ever seen on TV for the right thing to say. Although the fact there’s always one suicide attempt every season I came up blank.
“No, she wouldn't.” he said
Behind me, traffic had stopped. A crowd had formed, but no one came forward, they just sat and watched the spectacle that was unfolding.
“You’ll tell her?” he asked.
“Tell her you’re sorry? Yes, but as I said…”
“I need you to promise.”
“Okay yes, I promise. Now, why don’t you…”
He turned to the water below, unfurled his hands and was gone. Free falling into the evening sky, content in his belief that a stranger would deliver his final words. An unsuspecting witness might have assumed him an adrenaline junkie bungee jumping.
His last words to me were, “Thank you”
He didn’t scream. If he did, the wind carried it away. I rushed to the railing only to watch him hit the water. The splash is barely audible. Any hope of survival diminishes as his lifeless body bobs on the current like a rag doll. Broken and shattered.
Regurgitated French fries followed his trajectory and for a moment, I hoped I didn't vomit on him.
Behind me, chaos had broken out on the bridge. People had abandoned their cars. Cell phones in hand they stood on the bumpers of their cars craning their necks for a better view. Turns out jumpers made for good social networking. Everyone wanted to tweet or post the news first.
Within minutes the police were there, chasing the death seekers away. Above me, helicopters circled the night sky, lighting up the water below while the coast guard recovered his body. The police questioned me until satisfied it was indeed a suicide.
That evening, I relived it all over again as the news broadcast the coast guard pulling Tony’s body from the Hudson. Identified as Anthony Martinez, friends and families claimed his wife had recently filed for divorce. He left behind a three-year-old son.
“You Promise?” he asked.
“Yes.” I lied.
A promise I was unwilling or unable to keep.
He never said why he was sorry. I assumed Maria would understand if ever given the message.
And how had it become my responsibility to deliver his last words? I didn't want that burden nor did I ask for it.
The nightmares lasted for days. It’s not every day I was witness to a complete stranger jumping to his death. Most nights, they were the same. As he leaped, he would turn to me, only I’d be the one looking back and I would watch myself jump. Now I’d be the one who’s falling, the water rushing towards me. But unlike Tony, I would scream the whole way.
On good nights, I'd wake before I hit the water.
Most times, I didn't.
A year would pass before I would think of broken bodies and broken promises. One morning as I walked the same bridge where one man died and another bore witness to it, a woman stood at the railing holding a small child.
It was the same place I stood that night. But unlike me, no one stood before her, poised to jump.
She released three yellow balloons into the air, instructing the little boy she was holding to do the same. The wind took them away over the water, ascending higher and higher until I could no longer see them.
As I passed her, I whispered, “He said to tell you he was sorry."
She turned as if to say something, but I didn't stop.
About the author:
C.K. Black resides in Sherman, CT. His work has appeared in The Rusty Nail Publication, Tales of the Zombie War, 50 Word Stories and most recently, Page and Spine Magazine. When not working a full time job, he devotes his time to the completion of his forthcoming novel.