By Anton Rose
The body falls towards the river, cutting a pattern through the rain. It hits the water, and I shiver. I wipe the raindrops off my binoculars, and focus on the spray. The entry was messy, with no great shape to the dive. A six, perhaps. And that’s being generous. More like a five and half, now I think about it. As it fell, the arms began to flail, as if in a tragic moment of doubt. Too late.
I didn’t get a look at its face. Judging by the shape, I’d guess it was a girl, but it’s difficult to tell in these conditions. Questions like that don’t seem to matter now, anyway. Now the body is one with the water. The height of the drop from the bridge is enough to ensure there will be no thrashing underneath, no final, desperate fight as bodily instincts take over. Several broken bones, yes. Often a severed spine. From that high up, even the smoothest-looking water is like concrete.
In a few hours, someone will begin to worry. That’s if there’s anyone to worry, of course. But most people have at least one other person who might notice their absence. Then there will be telephone calls to waterlogged phones with no answer, attempts at contact over email or social media. There will be wild swings between doubt and reassurance, of thinking the worst, and holding onto hope. Eventually there will be calls to relatives, to colleagues, and finally to the police. Then search parties, and posters on lampposts, occasionally even an appeal in the local news. Depending on the weather, the body might turn up downstream, but most will be swept out into the estuary, and beyond.
Today is the fourteenth of February. My favourite day of the year. Christmas is a good one too, and New Year’s Eve is usually reliable, but there’s nothing quite so powerful as loneliness magnified by a day of cards, flowers, and displays of affection, all partaken in by other people.
Lost in my appreciation of the performance, I have failed to notice a man walking towards me. I’m standing next to a large iron girder, at the point at which several struts intersect. I thought I was well out of sight. Apparently not.
The man looks at me suspiciously, but there’s nothing in his eyes to indicate that he saw what I just did. He must have missed her go. He’s wearing a high-visibility jacket over some dark blue overalls. The rain splatters against his hood, which he lifts slightly to get a good look at me.
“Can I ask what you’re doing here?” he says, raising his voice to compete with the weather.
“Birdwatching.” I reply.
“Birdwatching. Looking out for rare birds.”
“I know what birdwatching is.” He says. He narrows his eyes.
I reach into my pocket and pull out a small, well-worn book. Scotland’s Best Birds. I open it at a page where the corner is turned in, and I hand it to him.
He holds it in his right hand, his thumb pressed up against the inner spine. With his left, he tries to shield the pages.
“White-throated Needletail,” I say. “This is the best time of year to see them. And they love this kind of weather.”
He stares at the book for another minute, and then hands it back to me.
“Well it isn’t really safe to be out here in these conditions.”
“Noted,” I say. “I was planning to be on my way soon anyway.”
He studies me again for a few more seconds, and gives half a shrug. He turns and begins to walk towards a van parked only a few metres away. How didn’t I hear a van approaching? And why did he park so close to me? I suppose he could have seen a reflection from the binoculars
I wait for him to leave.
When he’s gone, I put the book back in my pocket. I’ve never seen a Needletail in my life. Not that I would be able to recognise one if I did.
I make my way towards the edge of the bridge, climbing over the railings.
As I stand peering over, my body and my mind engage in a familiar dance. My knees tense and loosen; my toes grip the fabric of my socks. Another time, perhaps, but not today. I glance to my left. A hundred metres down the bridge, there’s another figure. Tonight really is the night. They teeter on the precipice. I wipe the raindrops from my binoculars.
* * *
Anton Rose lives in Durham, U.K., with his wife, Beth, and their dog, Rosie. He writes fiction and poetry while working on a PhD in Theology. His work has appeared in a number of print and online journals, including Structo, theNewerYork, and Jersey Devil Press.