Well, yes, I did see the truck’s flashing lights at the end of the 394 ramp on my way to work. I might have even seen a shirt flapping in the wind on the Penn Avenue Bridge, but there’s always a homeless person there, so if I did, I didn’t pay attention. The truck looked like a utility truck from where I saw it, like something was broken and getting fixed. Usually I take 394 to work, but that morning traffic was stalled, so I went in the back way. I didn’t even try; if I had, I would have seen the police cars blocking the entrance ramps. But I didn’t.
I parked less than 100 feet from that truck, in the same parking lot, the same row, the same direction like always. I don’t see it, though, because it was behind me. So was the bridge. I walked next to a hundred stopped cars on the freeway, but I couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see me because the sound wall separated us. Even if they could, they wouldn’t have looked in my direction. Their eyes were glued to the fence above them. If I’d stopped at the top of the steps to the entrance door and turned around before entering the building, I would have seen what they saw. But I didn’t. That’s not my routine.
It’s the second anniversary of my start date at this job. I carry in a pan of warm brownies, fresh out of the oven and I put them in Mr. Fussypants’ old office. Mr. Fussypants was canned a few months ago after 35 years on the job. Came in that morning to work and left the same day with a box of his personal stuff. The office smells of warm moist brownies and caramel. Who can resist them? No one. And no one does, except Evil Sister Meano and the Prom Queen who don’t like me. But everyone else appreciates it. Big smiles in my direction and many thanks. They all came in hoards when I made the announcement, around every corner. It made me feel good.
And there were comments, about the drive in.
“This is perfect, after being on the road for 2.1 hours.”
“Worse commute I’ve ever had, worse than winter.”
“I hear they closed off 394 and no one is getting through.”
We are an office of CPAs and accountants. We like our numbers neat and precise and balanced.
Even me. I have my routine. Place my cell phone near my computer, start my computer, go to the lunch room and get a cup of coffee, log in, read email, look at my work list, move files around before starting.
Brownie in hand, we were all back at our desks in minutes, back to staring at our screens and calculating numbers and things. Same office, same sounds, key boards clicking, chairs creaking, an occasional person walking by.
Then someone yelled out.
“A Jumper! There’s a jumper on the bridge!” It’s a female’s voice. She’s at the same door I entered.
We get out of our cubicles and stand around her.
It’s a hot August morning and everything is frozen before us. It’s a man. He looks like a giant bird smashed against a car grill, except in this case, it’s a fence. His arms are out and fingers tightly woven through the cyclone fence, legs pressed back, the balls of his feet over the ledge. Policemen surround him, some close, some back. Below, all cars wait. Only the blue and red lights flicker across the bridge.
We stand at the window, mesmerized.
No one says a word.
I’m freaked out just seeing him suspended in air. My own fingers feel like they’re slipping and my body rocks forward just thinking about being out there. Why would he put himself in that position? I wonder if once he got out there and saw all those moving cars he got scared stiff and now can’t move. You can tell he’s been out there a long time because you can’t stop freeway traffic that fast.
A thought pops into my head. “You don’t think that’s” I pause and whisper “Mr Fussy pants?” People look at me with blank faces, then back out the window. We lean forward to get a better look, but he’s too far away to tell and we lean back again.
And then the jumper’s hat falls off and he makes a quick grab for it. We inhale sharply and put our hands out, waiting for his feet to slip next. An officer races closer. The jumper’s hand immediately returns to the fence. All this happens in less than two seconds.
Then I see it. An electric shock jolts through my body. My eyes bulge in recognition. My face turns red. My ex-lover. I’d recognize that pumpkin head and receding hairline anywhere. He’s swearing, I can tell by the way he snaps his head forward on each word.
He found out where I work and he’s been on that bridge since 6 am, waiting for me to appear. By now, his arms should be getting tired, but he’s holding on. He won’t quit until I come out, till he knows I’ve seen just how desperate he is.
He turns his head in my direction. I step back from the window. No one knows who it is and I don’t want them to know I’m connected to the jumper. I go back to my cubicle and pretend to work. My body is shaking. I’m sick to my stomach. I feel embarrassed and cornered, forced to do something I don’t want to do.
The others return to their desks till the window is empty. Office sounds pick up. Click, shuffle, phones ringing. I force myself to pay attention to the numbers before me. It takes me three tries to get one number correct.
Time inches forward. I feel the battle raging between us. Who will cave, who will win?
Every once in a while a person will walk past the window and announce he’s still there.
It takes another hour before we hear differently.
“They got him! They pulled him off!” a voice floats from the windows. And that is all. Nothing more. I don’t stand up to look.
Next day, I look for his name in the paper. Nothing. Only a blurb about a Police Incident over 394 on a Thursday morning in August.
No one will know his name. He will never know I saw him.
If I run into him later, by accident, I won’t mention it. Neither will he, because he hates to lose to me. He’ll now see it as a stupid embarrassing act.
Because I never turned around on the step, I never turned to look in his direction. I’m safe. He can’t possibly know I knew, and turned away.
(c)Copyright Shelley Maasch, All rights reserve.