Esther approached the bridge with her hands in her pockets and her head tucked into her scarf. Ahead of her, she saw a man wearing a T-shirt and jeans, clutching the top of the rail and watching the road below. She gasped, realising what he was about to do as he lifted one leg and tried to climb over the barrier. As if sensing her alarm, the man hesitated and glanced in her direction. Esther quickly dropped her stare to the pavement, but when she reached him she couldn’t help looking up at him.
“Are you okay?”
The man mumbled something.
“What were you about to do?”
He chuckled to himself and shook his head. “To think I tried to pick a time when no one would be here to see me.”
Esther smiled weakly. She noticed sweat patches around the armpits of his shirt.
“Sorry to interrupt.”
The cold didn’t bother her now, and she took her hands out of her pockets and positioned herself so that she had a better view of his face. He turned away.
“If you’re trying to do what I think you are, then you shouldn’t. What’s your name?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
A gust of wind swept past, making Esther shield her face as pellets of water blew against her. She thought she heard the man say something else but couldn’t tell over the noise of the wind. The sound of voices made her turn; a boy wearing a beanie and a girl with her hood up were at the other end of the bridge and walking towards them, laughing. She turned back to the man and saw that he was lowering himself onto the other side of the barrier. Esther moved towards him, speaking calmly.
“Okay, don’t tell me.” She smiled, knowing he wasn’t looking but hoping it would show through her voice. She crossed her arms and peered over the rail and saw a car pass underneath the bridge. It dispersed the water on the road. “Whatever you can’t find here, I promise you that you won’t find it down there. Come back over. There’s something or someone that wants you back on this side. I know it.”
“Maybe you’re wrong,” the man answered, “and no, there isn’t.” He held onto the barrier without moving while Esther stared at his back but was too scared to move closer. He adjusted the position of his feet slightly. “I think you should go. I really don’t want anyone to see this.”
Esther turned to face the noise. The boy wearing a beanie had his hands shaped like a megaphone over his mouth.
Beside him, the girl shouted, “Are you really going to jump?” She was holding the drawstrings of her hood, and she pulled them tighter so that it covered the top half of her face, leaving only her grin on show.
“If you’re not going to help,” Esther said with restraint, “then please go.” She returned her attention to the man, and the boy shouted again for him to jump.
“Don’t listen,” she said. She leaned over the edge and watched him. He resembled a grief-stricken sculpture. She wanted him to move or say something, but he did neither.
“Are you going to jump or what?” the girl shouted.
Esther looked back. “Stop, please.”
“He’s not going to jump,” the boy said. “I don’t even want to see him do it.” He laughed. “But at the same time, I don’t want to miss it if he does.” He glanced at Esther before returning his attention to the man. “Don’t be a pussy,” he shouted. “Jump.”
“Stop it,” Esther yelled. “Leave, and let me talk to him.”
The cold pierced Esther’s awareness again, and she could feel it crawling along her skin. She watched the man’s shirt blow against him in the wind. He had leaned around as much as he could from where he was standing and was looking at all of them. The boy and girl stopped shouting, and Esther studied him: his shoes were tattered, which made her feel a pang of sympathy for him. His jeans were baggy, emphasising his thin frame, and she squinted at the faded graphic on his shirt and at his unkempt beard. She felt a look of pity growing on her face as her stare reached his eyes. They were brown like hers. She locked her gaze with his. He jumped. Esther shielded her ears with both hands and stared at the place where the man had been standing, unable to hear the sound of him hitting the road.
A version of Cold Expressions appeared in Now Then, issue 92, 2015.
It will also appear in my short story collection, The Storm, out October 19th, 2020.