He swung from the side of the bridge, feet braced on the narrow protruding edge of an I-beam, leaning out over the black river. The freezing rain spattered his face.
It was 2 A.M. The two-lane at his back was empty of all movement, save for the constant overlapping ripples forming and disappearing with every falling drop of rain. Sleet had been falling since noon, and gave no sign of letting up.
The railing of the bridge was cold and wet. He gripped the rusted steel behind him with both hands, ignoring the pain pulsing in his fingers as they slowly froze. Soon enough it wouldn't matter, he promised. Soon enough, nothing would matter.
He spared no glance for the ancient black Monte Carlo parked on the berm at the bridge's approach. She sat inside, white-knuckled hands clutching the wheel as if to a life preserver. The windshield wipers ticked over, keeping the glass clear enough for her to see him still hanging from the rail, but never quite clean enough to see his face. Never dry enough to tell whether the moisture on his cheeks was rain or tears. She wept, though whether she wept for him or for her was something even she couldn't have said.
She unlocked her door, then locked it again, and laid her head on the wheel, her breath frosting the dimly-lit speedometer. The man on the bridge watched the rain.
The biker came round the bend slowly, the bike's engine barely turning over as he picked a cautious path among potholes. Strains of heavy metal from the headphones illegally nestled in his helmet insulated him from the cold.
He came past the Monte Carlo at no more than walking speed, and spotted the man hanging from the rail and the taut-faced woman in the car in the same instant.
At first he wanted nothing to do with the little domestic drama he saw being enacted. Then, on the bridge, the man's hand slipped.
Flailing wildly, the man on the bridge tried to regain his hold with slippery, sleet-numbed fingers. The struggle seemed to take a very long time, long enough for the biker to step off his slowly-moving cycle and begin running over.
The bike continued on upright for a few feet before falling over on its side. It continued running for more than a minute before sputtering out in a wash of rainwater, gasoline and motor oil.
The biker had almost reached the bedraggled man when he disappeared over the edge. A sick chill went through him. He hadn't even heard a splash.
The biker climbed over the rail and stood on the same narrow ledge of steel that had supported the other man, peering down into the black valley that cut through the streetlit town. Nothing was visible. Then a maniacal whoop echoed from the steep sides of the ravine.
He was hanging just below the biker, both hands desperately gripping a stanchion which he must have been able to catch at the last second. His eyes glittered with more than the rain now.
"Well, don't just stand there. Help me up."
His voice was eerily calm. Quickly the biker stripped off his leather gloves and extended a hand, bracing himself with both legs and his other hand wrapped around a pole of the railing. Even braced at three points it was a terrible effort, lifting the slender jumper up and onto the narrow I-beam. When they both sat gasping, backs to the railing, legs dangling off the edge, they looked at each other and grinned, smiled wider and wider, burst into wild laughter, mocking the death which had seemed so near.
The biker stood, slowly putting on his gloves, then offered the slender man a hand getting back over the railing.
Very little had changed above. The bike lay on its side, illuminated by its headlight, which was rapidly dimming now that the engine had stopped. The lights of the Monte Carlo were on now, but the woman hadn't gotten out of the car. She still sat behind the wheel, trapped in the same pose of helpless frustration that had captured the biker's eye as he went past.
As the two came over the railing, she straightened up, but her expression did not change.
The jumper's did, however; he did not seem happy to see her.
He looked at the motorcycle.
"That thing seat two?"
The biker nodded, dubious.
"If she'll run at all. Is that what you want?"
"It's what she wants," he said glumly, his manic cheer entirely gone. "Though she'd never admit it."
He turned away.
"I better not."
He gestured awkwardly towards the Monte Carlo.
"Can I - can I offer you a ride? If your bike's busted, I mean."
For answer, the biker threw his leg over the saddle and kick-started the cycle, throttling up to a ragged roar which soon settled down to a well-machined purring.
"Thanks. Don't need it, I guess. You just get along home now, take care of that woman. Takes a special kind to watch a man make a damn fool of himself and not say anything, don't it?"
"Ain't it the truth?"
The biker settled his helmet on his head, tucked his long hair behind his ears and adjusted the headphones for a good, windbreaking fit. The erstwhile jumper heard Gilmour's wailing guitar before the tinny sound was cut off entirely.
"Gotta get movin'," the biker said, his voice already louder, different, as the music cut him off from the sound of it. He manhandled the bike back onto the shoulder, pulling out in a spray of wet cinders.
The man on the 2 A.M. bridge watched the biker turn the corner and disappear from view, then turned back to the railing, grabbed it, and leapt over in one easy motion, just another raindrop.
"We spend our lives guessing at what's going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we 'understand.' Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word now and then."
--Orson Scott Card, Xenocide
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