The jump began, as so many things have before, on Haight Street, specifically in a brief alley where Rob, Gasper, Lincoln and Calf were sitting on the concrete, lighting up their reward for a hard day’s begging.
Gasper, a longhaired Midwesterner with a wheezing laugh that earned him his nickname, seemed to know more than the rest of them, which is why he always got the girls. Gasper had Calf now. Calf was too smart to be living out of dumpsters, but Gasper had already convinced her that she was too smart for anything else, so she stayed, and she was his.
Lincoln, a tall, thin teenager with a beard more Amish than Presidential, was Gasper’s sounding wall. He phrased Gasper’s ramblings onto cohesive thoughts, without trying to claim the ideas for his own.
Rob was still Rob, for now. He’d been on the street in San Francisco for two weeks, and no one had given him a name yet. He came West to find himself, but the only thing he had turned up so far was Calf, and Gasper wasn’t about to give her up.
“How do you know?” Calf asked her melodious voice unbearably out of place in the alley.
“Oh it’s true,” Gasper went on. “I’ve felt it.”
“Felt what?” Rob said. He hadn’t been listening until Calf spoke.
“Pole 69 isn’t where the most jumpers jump. The ones who jump from Pole 69 didn’t go out there to kill themselves. But once they get to that place, something pushes them over. Not with hands against their backs, but pushes just the same.”
“You’re suggesting an incorporeal malevolent spiritual consciousness?” Lincoln asked.
“He’s suggesting bullshit,” Rob said. He was high and tired of Gasper’s voice.
“Let’s go out there now,” Calf said, her enthusiasm lighting up the dark corner they were filling up with smoke.
Gasper shook his head. “Not me. Not at night.”
“I’ll go,” Rob said.
“Bridge is closed at night,” Lincoln said. “No pedestrians.”
“So?” Calf said.
“I’ll go,” Rob repeated. He felt kind of melted to the street, but he bet he could stand, walk to the bridge, and hoof it to Pole 69, if Calf wanted to go with him.
Calf ended up not going.
Rob wasn’t certain how it happened. Gasper didn’t want her to go, so Calf got mad and stormed off. When Rob moved to follow her, Gasper tried to stop him, but Gasper had been eating out of dumpsters too long to fight Rob. By then, Calf was gone.
Rob headed for the bridge. As he had left the Haight and peeled off over fences and through the shadows of Golden Gate Park, he saw fewer and fewer people, and as the fog gathered, the people he did see became less and less substantial. He began to feel as if he were walking through a dream. The sensation passed when he made the bridge. He was soon again focused on realities, beginning with not being seen, and ending with being alone with Calf.
When he reached Pole 69, Calf wasn’t there. Cars hissed by, but Rob was alone on the bridge. The wild thought came to him that Calf had jumped, victim to Gasper’s incorporeal malevolent spiritual consciousness, but he soon dismissed the notion. Calf was probably half-crazy, but he doubted she’d kill herself over Gasper, and there was certainly no force here. Nothing but wind, fog, and far down below, the waters of the bay.
Rob stood, hands in his pockets. His high had long since worn off. He had come out here for a girl and had found nothing. When no other purpose suggested itself, he looked over the railing. The night was dark, but he could still see the whitecaps as they occurred beneath him. They seemed a long way away.
Rob had read somewhere that a person falling from such a height passed out before reaching the bottom; that the mind, seeing the end rushing forward, closed down. Rob didn’t believe it. The mind is tuned to survival: it would be alert, looking for a way out right until the hard smack at the end.
The hitting would be like striking concrete: the water was settled in place and would be reluctant to allow a falling body in. The jumper would certainly die; might even break apart.
Vertigo came as a sickening, spine-melting, heels-over-head twisting that radiated out from Rob’s center of gravity and shot ice through his bones. His fingers gripped the railing so hard he imagined he could feel the layers of paint compress.
The moment passed. Rob’s head cleared. He leaned back from the railing, steadying himself upon the cold steel spine of Pole 69.
Rob shook his head and began walking back towards San Francisco. It had been a silly errand. He had come to the bridge, risking arrest, to play a game with kids who had nothing better to do. When had his life become so empty?
Rob didn’t know what he would do when the morning came, but he promised that tomorrow would be about something different than begging and getting high. He might even go home.
By the time his boots were kicking through the wet grass of the embankment, he was certain of it.
When the Coast Guard fished Rob’s body from the waters of the bay, he had no identification on him. They posted notices with his description, and it was Calf who came forward and gave him a name. It was a brave thing for her to do, as she was held as a runaway and sent home.
Calf couldn’t tell them why Rob had jumped. She insisted that he hadn’t gone out there to jump, but the Pole 69 security camera told a different story.
The video showed a young man who vaulted over the railing without a moment’s hesitation; as if he expected something solid to be there and catch him on the other side.
Gregory Adams lives and writes near Boston. He has published two collections of strange stories One Day in Hell and The River Above. www.gregoryadams.net.
Copyright 2016 by Gregory Adams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.