The Brink

by Noelle Mills

The ocean wind roared in my ears. Gulls screeched above my head. The fog was rolling out, revealing the raging, mirthless sea beneath. I ran my hands along the red railing, peeling paint off the bridge. Cars honked behind me, but I didn't hear them. Funny how at the end of my life, I heard nothing, only silence. Repetitive thoughts filled my mind until the only thing I could do was think..

I was done thinking. This was it. I placed my boot in the tiny space in between the rods, and yet I pondered once more. I asked myself again, yet saw no other option. Yes, I answered. This would be it. My last step. My last breath. I slowly inhaled the salt air and savored the taste, for it was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. The first thing I tasted was the salt but mixed with sweetness, but it was a false feeling like that of bitter chocolate. The aftertaste hit me with unpleasantness. The salt burned my nostrils and throat. Then the emptiness returned. No taste, no flavor, no... life. All I tasted was the empty space between life and what lies beyond. I gripped the railing tight enough for my knuckles to turn white. In one swift movement I put my leg over and swung the other to join it. I was facing the cars, my back towards Alcatraz. One slip and I would fall down, down, down to the hungry sea below. I regarded the people with busy lives, completely ignorant of all others. Carefully, I brought my right foot behind my left and turned to face fate. I breathed in one last time. My knees bent as I prepared to meet fate.

"Hey man, what are you doing?"

I choked and nearly lost my grip I was so startled by the voice. My fingers ground into the metal. I turned my head to where the voice's owner was. A girl, maybe fifteen or so, was leaning with her arms folded against the railing. She rested her chin on her hands.

She wasn't looking at me; instead she was staring off into space absentmindedly. She was wearing pink sunglasses on a head of short, straight, silver hair tossed by the wind. A small white rabbit tattoo was peeking out at me from behind her ear. The girl wore grey acid jeans, a cherry red T-shirt and a white hoodie. A combination I would only expect to see in San Francisco.

For a moment I stared at her, shocked that anyone noticed me, let alone this girl.

"I said, what are you doing?" she repeated, and she turned her hooded eyes towards mine.

I blinked away my trance. My clever response was "Uhhh..."

'"Cause it looks to me like you're about to jump off the bridge," she said casually, turning her head back to the rolling sea. The angry sky clashed against the startling green of her eyes.

"Yeah. Yes. I'm going to jump off the bridge."

She rolled her eyes and shook her head in a small gesture. "No, you aren't," she said, quite solidly.

"Yes I am!" I yelled. I had no real reason to yell, but for some reason I did. "Go away!" I spat at her.

"No." She placed her hip on the railing and swung her legs so she was sitting on it. She leaned back, casting an eye in my direction, a smirk flickering briefly across her pale face. "Because despite all the reasons you want to die right now, your instinct to cling to life is still stronger."

"I know what I'm doing!" My voice filled with torrents of rage.

She peered over at me and then down at the water. "No you don't. If you did then your broken, twisted body would already be floating in that water or sinking to the bottom of the bay."

"You haven't stopped me. I'm still jumping.. .you're just distracting me. Go back to your life, you senseless child! Leave me alone!"

Ignoring me completely, the girl glanced back down, absorbed in the ocean below. "You know," she said, more to herself than to me. "My mom always told me that if you jumped off the bridge then you'd finally realize that the only problem in your life that you can't solve is that you've just jumped off this bridge." She chuckled under her breath.

"You don't know me. You can't possibly know what I've gone through!"

She shrugged again. "I don't really have to."

"Look," I said, my anger growing stronger by the second. "You don't know about my life. There is nothing left for me," I said, somewhat distantly.

She looked at me, and I held her gaze, matching it with my own. Her eyes though, looked so vulnerable. I had seen eyes like that before... every time I looked into the mirror. For what seemed like forever, we held that connection. Something in me just couldn't let it go.

"No, you're wrong," she said, eyes still locked on mine. The emerald eyes trapped me there. I felt like she could see into my mind, see into my heart, and soul. I wanted so desperately to look away, but I couldn't. She had me trapped. Then she whispered "You have one last thing to live for."

"And what is that?" I asked. Her green eyes danced like they were on fire and I saw what she was saying, what she was about to do, in those eyes.

She never broke my gaze, but held it firmly, clinging to it. "You have to save me."

With that she kicked out her legs and pushed off the side with her hands.

And she fell.

I lunged out and caught her arm. The weight of her nearly pulled me with her, my fingertips straining every muscle in my hands as I clung to her and the railing. She was tiny and yet so heavy. I felt her struggling in the air. "Grab onto my arm!" I yelled. She did, her nails dug into my skin, making me scream and I nearly dropped her from the pain. "Alright," I said. My chest was rising and falling rapidly. I was so afraid I was going to drop her that my legs wobbled and my hands became slippery with sweat.

"Climb up!" I shouted down at her. I suddenly realized I was squeezing my eyes shut, but at that moment I opened them and looked down into her face. Her eyes were wide with both panic and pain. The fog from San Francisco was rolling in far beneath her.

She let go with one hand and swung it up above the other, grabbing my shirt sleeve. My heart stopped as I heard a tearing noise. I waited to hear the rip and scream soon to follow, but the fabric held. I grabbed her belt when I was sure that she had a strong grasp. Her fingers clawed down my back and her weight left me as she slid back onto the bridge. I pulled myself back to the edge of the bridge.

My legs were shaking uncontrollably as I followed her over the rail collapsing back onto its safety. My arms hurt and ached all over. Hands on my knees, my mind racing, and heart going into overdrive, my body just collapsed. For a moment the only thing I could hear was a dull ringing in my skull. I hit my shoulder on the metal columns, my face pressed against the cool concrete. She was sitting on the sidewalk cradling her arms, legs crossed and eyes turned upward. Her gaze flickered to me when I spoke.

"Why did you do that?" I asked breathlessly, as the ringing subsided. My heart was still pounding out of my chest.

She looked back up and waited for a long time before answering. "Why did you stop me?"

I stared, open mouthed. "What are you— You're nuts! You're the freakiest person I've ever met! You just jumped off a bridge and–"

"You're kidding, right?" she interrupted dryly.

I never finished my sentence. For long moments we were both silent, staring at each other, trying to catch our breath.

"You don't have any reason to," I told her.

"Neither do you."

"You have no idea, okay!" I yelled, throwing my words like stones and jabbing my finger in the air at her. I sunk down and put my head in my hands. Through my fingers I glared at her. "You have no idea what my life is like. You don't know the pain that I live with everyday."

She smiled with half her mouth, while the other half frowned. "Did you see it?" she asked.

"See what?" I snarled.

Her eyes dropped. She turned away from me and sighed. I heard her mutter something.

"Sorry, I didn't catch that?"

"It doesn't matter," she huffed.

"Fine."

Silence, and then the impact hit me. When I arrived here today I had nothing left. But now, I had everything left. Every freaking thing in my life left. Nothing had changed.

The girl swung around. Her eyes were cold, guilty, salty, and frosty, like the bay had frozen over and had settled in her eyes. "Are you still going to do it?" she asked her voice fiery and icy at the same time.

I looked away from her, out to the bay, into the freezing, bottomless depths below and suddenly a chill ran up my back. A break formed in the clouds from overhead and a single ray of light shot through, glittering gold on the water.

The girl waited for the answer, but she didn't need to. She already knew it, long before I did. She probably knew even before I had lifted my foot.

"No," I said finally.

She nodded, stood up, and brushed herself off.

I came to the bridge this morning knowing that my life would end in the bay far below the bridge. I understood that my bones would splinter and break, my lungs would collapse, and my broken empty heart would be crushed by the force of the fall. I knew the impact would bring the tearing of my flesh and that darkness and cold of the frigid water would suffocate any last bit of life left in my body. All of that was just a moment of agony to end what had been a year of crushing pain and darkness. In fact, it seemed the right choice.

Now as I lay here with my face against the cool concrete, I notice my struggle to find enough air to inflate my lungs, that my heart beats as if it was in a vice grip and that my body aches as though it has been ripped and torn apart. And yet with each short breath I can't help but notice that the darkness that had buried me so deeply for the last few months lifts ever so slightly. I keep my eyes closed and breathe in the salt air in long breaths and picture the green eyed girl's face, her calm-expression on the bridge and the fear as she dangled from my arm. As I regain control of my muscles and slide my arm out to touch her, she's gone.