About this story, J. T. Brown writes that it “was inspired by a friend of my daughter who disappeared without a trace one day. Her car was found on the Wiley Bridge which spans the James River in Richmond, Virginia. Her parents are Indian and her father is an Episcopal priest. Perhaps being caught between two cultures contributed to her unhappiness. There has been no report of finding her body. About a year after she disappeared I drove over the bridge and thought about her. The next morning the story was in my head so I wrote it down. The character Laura and her personal circumstances are a fictional composite.”
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Someone’s coming. There’s a slight bowing of the trusses overhead as the weight of the car comes to rest a few yards away. She’s getting out, and walking toward my perch with heavy shuffling steps. I’m going up.
I look over the railing, and my heart shatters: she’s a jumper. The stars shine brightly through the cold air of early morning. Their light, my home, is defined by the darkness of space between them. I see the light, and feel the fullness of infinity in their radiance. The jumper sees only the darkness between.
This will be a hard one. My heart will strain under the load: she’s sewn rocks into her coat pockets. She’s been thinking of the swirling current and granite slabs below for a long time, and will not change her mind.
The jumper stands at the edge for only a moment, then leans forward with an empty look on her face. I call to her: “Laura, wait!” She looks down through me, and I remember she can’t hear or see me.
What am I, and why am I under a bridge? That’s difficult to say. I’ve been for a long time and know much about humanity, some from writings and thoughts and some from the wind and stars. An angel may be the closest word that bears any semblance to me. But what is a word? As the writer pens the story, as the dictionary defines, the essence, the totality and truth grows dimmer in the constriction of words. I’m doing my best to explain, but even an angel doesn’t know everything. We all must do the best we can.
Now I will ask you a question: “What is the Void?” To many, the word says “empty”. So I’ll tell you what the Void is not. The Void is not empty, but infinite. Neither dark, light, cold, hot, large, nor small, not any one thing but everything. It’s an infinity of possibilities, a fullness of creation that spills over into the existence of our lives: a miracle. It’s where I come from.
If you have to use words, think of me as an angel under the bridge. You may wonder why a bridge. It’s a long story, but it goes back to the Void. You see, in the Void there are infinite realities. Real universes with suns and planets, real lives and histories. Each with its own time, consequences and outcomes. The Creator is great because no human being or even one of the numina could conceive of this vastness. That’s why I prayed to be the Creator’s tool. That’ s why I live under the bridge. The concrete and beams are finite and comfort me; it’s a place to start from and come back to.
So what about the bridge? Which bridge? How long is it; is it a suspension bridge on a highway? Where is it? It doesn’t matter.
You may wonder how can anybody live under a bridge – is this an angel or some homeless guy delusional or drunk on anti-freeze?
The answer is: I don’t have a body. No arms, legs or any of that. But I have this knowledge and an awareness. I share sentience with you. I have some kind of heart like you, but it doesn’t beat. It isn’t physical, but it’s there. I think like you. I’m some sort of intermediary between this world and the Void. My prayer was heard and answered. I’m grateful and glad to help. At least I do the best I can.
I come from the Void but that doesn’ t matter. The point is, I can see the planes of existence in there; other dimensions and realities. I look into it and see them there just like you see a table or chair on the floor. It’s an extra sense, like a whale’s sonar sensing mass.
Look into a mirror. Is that you looking back? Is that the “you” in reality? Do you think you are really “here”? Do you think it’s “you” looking back in your life in reality? Guess again. How do I see the other planes, the infinite variations, the infinity of the Void? Like I told you, I ’m an angel and my prayer was answered. That’s why I can take you, and bring you into any plane of the Void that I choose. That’s my power. I don’t have arms, legs or “wings” growing out of my shoulders. I’m not a white glowing being like you are probably thinking. I’m invisible, yet when I take you from your plane of existence, and put you into another, you’ll be transformed. You won’t know when it happens. It’s like when you lay a fine silk cloth upon a table. A little ripple goes down the cloth as it lands. A pocket of air causes the ripple as it escapes to the edge, straightening and flattening the cloth, taking out the wrinkles. That’s what it’ s like: soft and smooth, cushioned on air. And when you are done, the wrinkles are gone.
When someone jumps, I take them. There are things that happen in this world that aren’t right. You ask why. I don’t know, but unlike you I can do something about it. Not nearly often enough, but sometimes I can. I’m just the tool, I can’t be everywhere. Sometimes I’m there for you, like when someone comes to my bridge. If you jump from my bridge, I’ll take you.
The jumper is falling now. The river and rocks are below. She’s half way down. Now half of that half, then half again and again. I feel her electricity, and reach to take her. As I pull her in I enter her mind. The stones in her pockets are not heavy after all; it’s the weight of her pain they measure that’s hard to carry. I’m in, inside the electricity, inside the memories, scanning, looking. The point of departure must be found quickly.
Probing, going back. Following the electric flashes between the synapses and axons of her being. I inhale the pungent ozone, following the trail of current like a dog on the scent. She’ s leading me through a dark forest, and I’m saddened she can’t see the clearing ahead. How does the brush grow so thick? Is there no place for the light to shine through? Where did the path turn aside from the destination?
We’re moving in the space between two thoughts. Between half of that space and half of that, again and again.
When I find the point of departure in her life I’ll take her, and put her in another plane. A plane with no wrinkles, like a fine silk cloth lying flat upon a table. At least, it will be a better plane, not perfect, but improved. I can’t see all the way in, and I don’t know the final outcome; it’s beyond my power. I do the best I can.
I see it now. We’re there, you and I, at the wrinkle:
Laura wakes up to the sound of her mother’s rasping voice. “Come on, get up. You can’t stay in bed all day.”
“I need to sleep a little longer, just a little.”
“You shouldn’t stay up so late then.”
“I have a mid-term coming up.”
“What are you going to do with a degree? What good’s it gonna do ya? No mans gonna marry a woman he thinks is smarter’n him anyway,” her mother says.
“It’s not like that now. You’re picking on me, and the day hasn’t even started.”
“Don’t give me any damn mouth.”
Laura’s mother walks into the kitchen, takes a beer out of the refrigerator, and lights a cigarette. She turns her head and starts shouting in the direction of Laura’s bedroom. “Harry’ s goin’ta marry me and things’ll be different. You’ll see.”
Laura doesn’t answer. She doesn’ t like Harry and still misses her real Dad, even if he won’t come around anymore. There’s always a shouting match between him and her mother when he does. It’s better if he stays away.
As she dresses Laura hears yelling in the kitchen. Her mother is shouting into the smoke-yellow mouthpiece of the phone. “Harry, you can’t do this to me. No you don’t. I know you’ll come. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Laura hurries through the living room to the front door.
“I’ll get breakfast at school,” Laura says, knowing she has no money.
Out of the corner of her eye, Laura watches her mother swallow some Valium; then she closes the front door behind her. The day begins like all the others.
Laura walks into class late, feeling self-conscious as the other students turn their heads to watch her walk to her desk. The faded flowers and sweat stains under the armpits of her old blouse seem to stand out more with each step. The sweat stains expand and soak downward in a drenching flow of staleness. She imagines the widening stains giving off a rank scent that the others smell across the room.
Mr. Hornsby grimaces from behind his desk.
“Laura, you’re just in time to give your report,” he says.
“Could I give it tomorrow, Mr. Hornsby?”
“It’s due today.”
“I had to work a lot of overtime this week so it’s not done.”
“See me after class,” says Mr. Hornsby, pursing his lips.
When the buzzer sounds Laura walks up to Mr. Hornsby’s desk.
“That’s the second time this has happened,” he says, “I have to give you an incomplete.”
“Couldn’t you just drop me a grade on the report, please?”
She feels a cold wave of despair. It’s not about losing this grade. It’s about the constant struggle, and butting up against a system that doesn’t seem to want her or have a place for her. There would be many more “Mr. Hornsby” discussions. She knows this with certainty. The other students seem to be talking among themselves, and giggling about her. A gray veil descends, placing her on one side and separating her from the others as they pass out the classroom door.
Laura goes through her other classes looking through the veil. When she gets home it’s dinnertime. The house is dark and imposing as she steps out of the car. When she opens the front door there is an acrid odor of vomit present.
She walks inside. It’s completely quiet, and seems empty. The odor is coming from her mother’s bedroom. She follows the odor down the hall and enters, then slips on something, and lands sitting upright.
There, halfway under the bed lay her mother, naked and still. Laura put her hand on her mother’s face. It was cold and doughy.
An angel is fast. When someone is taken it happens faster than comprehension. A blink of an eye is eternity by comparison, yet I must do my work with a sense of urgency. When the wrinkle is found, you cannot tarry.
I look away from her thoughts and memories, away from her electricity. The river churns below but there is still time enough. The stars shine above the bridge, spinning in infinity. I see myself on other worlds looking back at me. They look back with infinite variation in unending permutations. World after world. The Void opens, and I enter.
There is no up, down or sideways. The planes of infinite realities stretch forever in all directions, the intersection of points and points of points. Their combination and disintegration are like the flowers of the field, epochs of blossoming life, growing only to die and fuel the creation of new worlds. This is my home, where every variation of Creation existed, exists now and shall exist.
At first I was one with the Void. When I became sentient I separated and now that I am back the temptation to rejoin is great. Others of my kind have done so before me, but there is a danger in doing so. The charge must be completed first.
Laura! How can I find the right plane for her, the one without the wrinkle? On one world she lives in another country, in another there are no stones. Further in the Void is a reality with no rivers and bridges. How can I find the perfect place to put her? I can’t – not a perfect one. I do the best I can. The search through the Void is a hard one but I see it: a world with no Harry. Harry never was. No one will miss him, especially Harry.
I’m taking her electricity, her being, and enfolding it in a fine silk cloth. I’m transporting her to the plane I’ve found. The points of the Void pass by in luminous streaks until we arrive. We’re in her bedroom, at her bed, and I lay the cloth down. It floats downward on a cushion of air; softly, quietly. The cloth spreads out, the cushion of air moves to the edge. The wrinkle is gone.
Laura breaths deeply from the air of her new world, wakes suddenly and jumps out of bed. She walks into the kitchen.
“Good morning Dad.”
“Hey, pumpkin. I’ve got to take your mother to the garage to get the car fixed. Could you drive her over to pick it up when you get back from class?”
“How many pancakes do you want, Laura?” her mother asks.
As I watch, I am grateful and glad. My charge is completed, but I won’t remain. There is no explanation I can give you but I know it isn’t time yet. The worlds recede in a flash of exploding light, brighter than a thousand suns. The portal closes.
It’s cold and clear in this early hour of the morning. It was in less than the blink of an eye, yet I must rest. Even an angel gets tired. I’m happy to be back at my perch beneath the empty bridge. The concrete and beams are finite, and comfort me.