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Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society

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Eleven left-of-center short stories from San Francisco to Sioux Falls.

Synopsis

A battle of wills emerges when one of the suicide survivors in the Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society turns the meetings into a yoga class. A small town is gripped by a lawn ornamentation craze. A woman dresses up as Paul Bunyan to rob banks to pay her ailing mother's exorbitant nursing home bills. A married couple decides to 3-D print a son...and his entire childhood. GOLDEN GATE JUMPER SURVIVORS SOCIETY is a funny and poignant story collection about everyday people confronting everyday challenges with escalating absurdity. Reminiscent of the work of Aimee Bender and George Saunders, Ross Wilcox's stories will make you view the mundane in an entirely new way.



The implicit irony of any short story collection is that each story is singularly complete, but also contributes toward creating an aggregate creative statement. The strength of a great collection is that it enables readers to explore a theme or artistic vision from a variety of perspectives. The weakness is that one outlier can drag down the whole collection. By that standard, while Ross Wilcox’s “Golden Gate Suicide Jumpers’ Society” contains some great stories, the collection is less than the sum of its parts.


Wilcox, who teaches English at University of North Texas, writes gleefully about oddball characters in peculiar situations. No story better illustrates his off-kilter literary sensibilities than the title work, which describes strife and deception among members of a club nobody wanted to join. Other eccentric gems include “Puddin’ Suitcase,” about digging up a beloved pet’s grave, and “Oliver Weston GBV,” who imagines that his life is a reality TV show.


A prevailing theme throughout these stories depicts people pretending to be somebody they aren’t or struggling to figure out how to be themselves. Sally in “Broken Vessel” dresses up like Paul Bunyan and robs banks. The first-person narrator in “Symptoms” is a ne’er do well who, under the influence of pot brownies, confronts his failures by imagining a heart attack. This mixed-up identity motif is perhaps most explicit in “Costuming,” where Jordan, the main character, never goes out without a mask, and “Underneath, he was all of us. We are the costumes that he wore.”


The strongest stories are those with the most fully realized characters. This is true regardless of how offbeat the plot. However, in some stories, Wilcox doesn’t even try to convince the reader that his characters are to be believed. The suburbanites in “Year of Our Lawn” have no identity or purpose other than decorating their lawns in increasingly exorbitant ways. The parents in “Of Small Account” create a 3D printed world for their 3D printed son. These are basically one-trick stories that fall flat, not because they are so weird, but because the characters are cardboard.


All these stories were previously published in literary journals, which may be a more appropriate vehicle for some. In general, Wilcox has a playful take on some serious human foibles. On the whole, though, the collection would be stronger by omitting those stories where the characters are mere props acting in a contrived scenario. 

Reviewed by

Gregg Sapp is author of the “Holidazed” satires. The first three books are “Halloween from the Other Side,” “The Christmas Donut Revolution,” and “Upside Down Independence Day,” with “Murder by Valentine Candy” forthcoming. Previous books are "Dollarapalooza" and “Fresh News Straight from Heaven.”

Synopsis

A battle of wills emerges when one of the suicide survivors in the Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society turns the meetings into a yoga class. A small town is gripped by a lawn ornamentation craze. A woman dresses up as Paul Bunyan to rob banks to pay her ailing mother's exorbitant nursing home bills. A married couple decides to 3-D print a son...and his entire childhood. GOLDEN GATE JUMPER SURVIVORS SOCIETY is a funny and poignant story collection about everyday people confronting everyday challenges with escalating absurdity. Reminiscent of the work of Aimee Bender and George Saunders, Ross Wilcox's stories will make you view the mundane in an entirely new way.

Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society


The first night Bonnie showed up in the basement of the First Unitarian Church on Franklin Street, I was still President. She didn’t at all look like your typical Jumper-off-the-street. Rather, with her galaxy-patterned yoga pants, matching tank-top, and thick swoopy auburn hair, she looked refreshed and healthy, almost happy to have discovered us. 

I was as riveted as everyone else when she told her Jumping story, how her mind racked with regret over the life she’d never lead in the four elongated seconds in which she fell two-hundred forty-five feet through the night air before colliding with the black waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

    I believed her until John Diaz, who jumped back in 1992, asked, “Where’d you jump from?” 

    It was a common question. We all generally knew where we’d jumped: what side of the bridge (east or west), what end of the bridge (north or south), and roughly what numbered light pole (1-128). For example, John, like most, jumped off the east side, near light pole 65 at the bridge’s center. Fiona Struthers, who jumped when she was high on PCP, did it by light pole 95, a popular spot for depressed teens who grew up in the Mission. Me, I wanted to be different. So far, I’m the only one on record to have jumped from light pole 86 on the west-central side. 

Prior to my Presidency, I was Bridge Duty Coordinator for seven years - longer than anyone had ever served in that position - and no one knows the 4,200 feet of railing, chords, metal, and concrete of that bridge as well as me. So when Bonnie said she’d jumped from light pole 43, I knew she was either lying or she had misspoken. Were she to have actually jumped from light pole 43, which is on the northeastern side of the bridge, she’d have landed on the northern tip of Marin County, not in the Pacific Ocean. 

    No one else caught this discrepancy, and after she’d said it, as is our custom, the others circled around her in a group hug and welcomed her to the Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society. 

    Her appearance happened to correlate with the remaining weeks of my second two-year Presidential term. I’d won the first two elections unopposed and figured I was about to win a third. 

But all that changed when, after only a month as a member, Bonnie stood up when I asked if there was any new business and said, “I would like to officially announce my bid for the 2015 GGJSS Presidency!” 

To my horror, everyone cheered and smiled. In fact, they stood from their chairs and encircled her in hugs as they had that first night. 

I thought: Hello, people. I’m right here.

I’m right here. 

*

    Believe me, I wanted to ask Bonnie about her sketchy Jumping story. Every time I walked past light pole 43 while on Bridge Duty, I thought about her Jumping and landing on the patch of rocky grass along the shore rather than in the ocean. But Bonnie became so beloved so fast that I felt if I questioned her, it would just get back to everyone and look like a muckraking campaign-move and only serve to alienate the seven-person electorate. 

    And there were other things besides the initial Jumping story that were off. For example, Bonnie’s reluctance to engage in my weekly Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises at the Y. 

    Every Tuesday, for one hour, we reserved the Olympic diving board at the YMCA on Sacramento Street. We did this to satiate our individual cravings to Jump, sort of like Jump-methadone. Atop the diving board, we imagined climbing the railing of the lower exterior footpath and, if you were a West Side Jumper, looking out over the mounds of Hawk Hill and the Pacific, or, if you were an East Side Jumper, the city jutting out into the Bay and Oakland in the distance. 

    I had invented the Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises four years ago. They were my single greatest achievement as President. In fact, they were kind of the only thing I had achieved and I had basically rested on the laurels of the Jumping Simulations for the subsequent duration of my political career. 

    Still, the Jumping Simulation Exercises had become our Central Bonding Activity, a thing I’d read is necessary for the unity of any organization. In the allotted sixty minutes, we’d show up and Jump as many times as we could, sometimes together and holding hands, sometimes shouting things like “Goodbye, world!” or “Nothing happens when you die!” because none of us were actually religious. We couldn’t get enough of it. That’s what made us Jumpers. There was no such thing as being nervous or hesitant to Jump. 

    But it was different with Bonnie. 

    She’d put on her red, one-piece bathing suit and, with a towel wrapped around her waist, stand to the side and watch us. She looked like a lifeguard and she acted like a cheerleader. 

    “Great Jump, Derrick!” she’d shout after Derrick Ash did his signature Cannon Ball Jump. 

    “Way to go, Beth!” she’d yell after Beth Fuller performed her perfected stiff-as-a-board Pencil Jump, leaving behind no splash whatsoever. 

    And each time someone Jumped, they’d swim to the side of the pool and Bonnie would be there to help them out and pat them on the back. For Chris Swinton and Arnie Borland, two middle-aged, chronically single rock-collecting enthusiasts, the Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises became a race to Jump as often as possible so they could be touched on the back by Bonnie. 

    It was, I thought, shameless. An easy-to-see-through baby-kissing political maneuver. What shocked me was how no one else found Bonnie’s refusal to Jump suspicious. I wanted to say out loud: Is she even one of us if she won’t Jump? Are you really going to elect an outsider as President? 

    I know, I know. Outsider is a harsh word. 

    But seriously, what kind of Jumper doesn’t Jump? 

*

    And then there was Gregory Seward. 

    Greg was almost the most famous Jumper ever when, back in July of 1995, he was poised to be the one-thousandth suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. He had made it a point to advertise this and all the news stations were there to film it. 

    Alas, like the rest of us, he hit the water at a slight angle and survived. 

    Greg was very well preserved at forty-five: handsome, ripply-muscled with shaggy blonde hair. In the ensuing twenty years since his Jump, he’d become a hotshot yoga instructor in the Bay Area. We’d been trying for years to get him to join the Society as our token sort-of-celebrity member, but he always refused. “I’m holding out to be the two-thousandth now,” he told me with a smirk each time I, as President, diplomatically asked him to join. I’d pretty much given up on recruiting him.  

    At our first and only Presidential Debate, Bonnie hit me with the Greg Seward haymaker. 

    “If elected,” she said, her shimmery auburn hair perfectly parted and fluffed, “I will deliver Greg Seward to this Society. That is my promise to you!” 

    That was basically it. The debate was over, and, for that matter, the election. They sprung from their seats, cheering like hooligans, and smothered her in hugs. 

    The next week I lost the election unanimously 7-0 (candidates weren’t allowed to vote). And the week after that, at Bonnie’s first official meeting as President, Greg Seward showed up and joined the Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society. 

    You’d think it would only be polite to appoint the guy you just whooped in the election as your VP, right? But no. Frickin’ Greg. Bonnie’s first order of business as la Presidenta was to appoint Greg Seward, who’d been a member for all of three minutes, as her VP. 

    I had to pinch myself for what came next. 

    “Now, I’ve been thinking some change would be good around here,” Bonnie began, “which is why instead of Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises as our Central Bonding Activity, I thought we could try something I’ve designed: Yoga Jumping Simulation Practice.” 

    She let the new idea brew in silence for a few moments. Everyone else was staring straight ahead at Bonnie. I was the only one looking side to side with a can-you-believe-this-crap? mug. 

    “What exactly is Yoga Jumping Simulation Practice?” asked Fiona Struthers. 

Bonnie pointed at Fiona. “That’s a great question, Fiona, and thank you for asking it. Yoga Jumping Simulation Practice is a new form of yoga I invented in which the yogi poses in ways that simulate jumping off a bridge.”  

    “Isn’t bridge a yoga pose?” said Chris Swinton. 

    “It is!” said Bonnie. “That’s good, Chris.” 

    “Wow. It seems like yoga is really well-suited for Jumping Simulation because it has the bridge pose,” said Arnie Borland.

    Mutterings of approval trickled through the crowd. Consensus: Yoga Jumping Simulation sounded like a good idea. 

    “Are you people serious?” I said, in retrospect, much louder and angrier than I meant to. “Yoga Jumping Simulation? You’ve got to be kidding me.” 

    All eyes were on me, but everyone was quiet, waiting to see how Bonnie handled my outburst. 

    “Do you have an objection to the yoga idea, Victor?” she asked. 

    “Yeah,” I said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s not even Jumping. It’s stretching.” 

    “Have you tried it?” said Beth Fuller, coming to Bonnie’s defense. 

    “Yeah, Vic, you shouldn’t judge it before trying it,” said John Diaz. “That’s prejudice.” 

    “Yeah, Vic. You’re prejudiced,” said Chris Swinton. 

    Bonnie crossed her arms and smirked at me. That’s when I knew, or at least strongly suspected, that she was changing the Simulation program to something she liked because she was scared to Jump, because she hadn’t ever Jumped, because she wasn’t one of us. 

    I stood up and pointed at her. “She’s not one of us and she never Jumped!” 

    For about six extremely long seconds, there was complete silence. Then someone giggled and Fiona said, “Victor, that’s ridiculous.” 

    “Somebody’s jealous of losing the Presidency,” said Chris Swinton. 

    “Talk about defamation of character,” said Arnie Borland.

    Then Greg Seward, aka Mr. Yoga of San Fran, spoke up. 

    “I think Yoga Jumping Simulation Practice sounds like a great idea,” he said. 

    And that made it official. We were going to do yoga. 

*

    It got worse. That is, for me. 

    It got better for Bonnie. 

    The first day we showed up for Yoga Jumping Simulation Practice, about twenty other strangers joined us in the Y’s yoga room. Bonnie and Greg Seward were at the front, right by the wall of mirrors, clad in matching tie-dye yoga pants and tank-tops. 

    We the Jumpers laid our mats next to each other in a little corner of the room, unsure if we were doing it right. The regular yogis looked at us like who are these people with rental mats? 

    Bonnie clapped her hands and said, “Okay, yogis. Let’s begin in child’s pose.” 

The regular yogis crouched on their mats, their legs tucked under their chests, their arms flat and outstretched above their heads. My fellow Jumpers looked at each other and shrugged and did their best to follow suit. 

Except me.  

I defiantly stared straight ahead at Bonnie and she stared back, coldly. She said, “Now slowly come up into down dog.” 

There was no stopping her. The Jumpers fell into the yoga practice, smiling and trying their hardest, forgetting all about the notion that this was supposed to be Yoga Jumping Simulation. And they only got more into it when, halfway through, Greg Seward himself took the reins and said, spiritedly, “Now let’s try warrior pose, yogis. Yeah! Can you feel that burn?! Ooooh,” (that last part in a bit of a growl).

At the beginning of the practice, Bonnie said that if at any time we didn’t think we could handle it to just go into child’s pose indefinitely. For the last half hour, that’s what I did. But not because I couldn’t handle it. Rather, because I couldn’t stand it. 

It didn’t matter how quickly you could snap from standing-mountain-back-bend into bridge pose. Or how highly you arched your back. And it didn’t matter how well you could do crow, tree, side angle, dolphin, pigeon, dancer, headstand, or any of the other jokey poses. 

    It never remotely felt like Jumping. How could it have?    

    Afterwards, all the regular yogis shook hands with Bonnie and Greg and thanked them for the “enlightening” practice. As we Jumpers rolled up our rental mats, Bonnie came up to us and said, “That was great, guys! Now, the first class is always free, but next time, you’ll have to pay twelve dollars or you can talk to Sally at the front desk about our monthly rates. Right now, we’re offering a special where the first month is only $40! That’s unlimited yoga classes for only $40!” 

    Then she pranced over to Greg and, in front of all of us, planted one on his lips. 

    Before I could say anything, Beth Fuller said, “Can you believe it?! Only $40 and we get to do as much yoga as we want!” 

    “That’s so awesome,” said Fiona Struthers. 

    By now I wasn’t surprised that the other Jumpers agreed. 

    “Hold on a minute,” I said. “You actually liked the yoga? I didn’t think it felt like Jumping at all.”

    “Who cares? I thought it felt awesome,” said Fiona. 

Everyone nodded. 

    “I think I like it more than the Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises,” said Arnie Borland, his eyes on Bonnie’s yoga butt at the front of the room. 

    “Me too,” said Chris Swinton. 

    I held up a clenched fist. “I don’t think it serves our Society’s needs the way the Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises does.” 

    “Our needs as a Jumpers’ Society are changing,” said Fiona, to which the others said Yeah. “We want to do yoga now.” 

    “That’s bullshit,” I blurted.

    “God, Victor,” said Beth. “Get over yourself. Just because we don’t want to do your exercises anymore doesn’t mean you have to be a little baby about it.” 

    “BS,” I said, being a little more PC.    

    The others shook their heads. 

    Greg approached with a big smile and said, “Come on, gang. Let’s get you signed up for those monthly memberships.” 

    They cheered while I stood there fuming. They followed Greg out the yoga room door. I pulled Bonnie aside and, after the others had disappeared down the hallway, asked, “Bonnie, why are you doing this?”

    “Isn’t it obvious, Victor?” she said. “I want to make a difference in these people’s lives.” 

    “But we’re Jumpers.

    “You’re yogis now,” Bonnie said, pushing the door open and heading down the hallway.  

    “Dammit!” I yelled, my voice echoing and slightly terrifying because of how empty the room was and how it sort of symbolized the way no one listened to me anymore. 

*

    I guess I’m the kind of person who’s either the star of the show or doesn’t participate. 

I refused to do yoga not just because it had nothing to do with Jumping, but also because it cost money. The Y had let us use the pool for free to do Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises because we were - or at least told them we were - a suicide prevention nonprofit. I couldn’t stand the thought of Bonnie and Greg profiting off our Society. That’s so not what the GGJSS stands for and I conveyed as much at the next weekly meeting. 

    I pounded my fist on the table and said “God dammit” right in the middle of a group discussion about the virtues of eagle pose. No, it wasn’t tactful, but by this point I was kind of losing it. At any rate, it got everyone’s attention. 

    I pointed at Bonnie and Greg. “Can’t you see? These two are ruining this organization. I mean, hell-o, people! This is the Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society, not some yoga club.” 

    I stood from my chair and got in Chris Swinton and Arnie Borland’s faces. “You remember when it didn’t cost anything to belong to GGJSS?” Then I turned to Beth Fuller and Fiona Struthers. “Now all of a sudden this redheaded robber baron comes along and we’re paying monthly memberships to perform exercises that have nothing to do with Jumping. And where’s that money going?” I pointed at Bonnie and Greg. “Right into their pockets, that’s where!” 

    “Victor, I think you should sit down and be quiet,” said Beth Fuller. 

    “Can’t you just accept that we all like yoga now and move on?” asked John Diaz.

    “No!!!” I screamed, literally at the top-of-my-lungs. It was rather bloodcurdling. I turned to our President. “I will not let you steal this Society from me, Bonnie.” 

    Greg stood, poised to restrain me if necessary. The others shook their heads in pity the way people do when they witness a once great man cracking up. 

    “I’ll start my own Jumpers’ Society,” I said. “Come on! Who’s with me?” I beckoned wildly with my arms, though no one stood. Greg crossed his arms and chuckled. 

    “You think it’s funny?” I said, lunging at Greg. 

    Chris Swinton blocked me with his rock-hard forearm. “Easy there, Vic,” he said. 

    I retreated from the table. 

    “Come on!” I repeated. “Who’s with me?” 

    No one did anything. They just glanced back and forth between Bonnie and me. 

    “Victor, I think you should go,” Bonnie said. 

    “I am going,” I said. “And I’m starting my own Jumpers’ Society. And it’s going to be better than this shitty one that has turned its back on its roots!”

    I slammed the door shut on my way out. As I ran up the stairs to the church’s main floor I yelled, “FUCK!” 

Linda, the sweet, white-haired secretary of the First Unitarian Church, happened to be walking past carrying some files. 

    “I’m sorry,” I said, almost violently. 

    Most Presidents live a nice, relaxed, cushioned life after they leave office. 

    Not me. I was just angry, bitter, and jealous.

    And, I realized, as Linda shook her head and kept walking, I was also a jerk. 

*

    Of course I didn’t start my own Jumpers’ Society. There weren’t any other Jumpers. They already belonged to what I started calling the Old Society. But I couldn’t help it. I kept reporting for Bridge Duty. 

    You see, the Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society was basically my whole life. Before GGJSS, my life was a mess – hence the suicide attempt. Just over ten years ago, in the span of three months, my mom died in a car accident, my fiancée left me to pursue a law degree, and I accidentally locked two girls in a locker room over a weekend at Balboa Junior High, after which I was blacklisted from any custodial positions in the Bay Area. 

    With no mom, no fiancée, and no career, I decided to Jump. 

    The only thing worse than failing at life was failing at attempting to end life. That is, until I discovered the GGJSS by pure good luck. After my Jump, I was fished out of the water by a passing boat and taken to the California Pacific Medical Center on Castro Street where of all people, Beth Fuller was my nurse. She invited me to the weekly meeting at First Unitarian Church. 

    My first night in the Church basement I remember clearer than any memory. I could barely tell my Jumping story, so frequently did I break out into sobs. Afterwards, they all hugged me, just like they had Bonnie. I cried and cried. They didn’t even hold the business portion of the meeting that night. They just sat and listened to me blubber on about Taylor, my ex-fiancée, and how I stupidly locked those 7th graders in the locker room. 

    I remember John Diaz grasping my hand and saying, “It’s going to be okay.” And I remember how old Lisa Moore, may she rest in peace, held me in her brittle arms and said, “Victor, you’re one of us. Welcome home.” 

    So no, I don’t take it lightly when some outsider comes in and masquerades as a Jumper to grow her fledgling yoga business (if that’s what Bonnie was in fact doing). I mean, I got on disability so that I could devote myself full-time to first Bridge Duty Coordinator and later, as you well know, President. 

    For me, it wasn’t a choice. Even though I quit attending the weekly meetings and the Yoga Jumping Simulation Practices, I couldn’t not report for Bridge Duty. No one was as good at it as me. I can walk the 1.7 miles of footpath in less than twenty minutes, my head swiveling around for any would-be Jumpers. 

    I’m the only one who can say they haven’t had any successful Jumps while on Bridge Duty. I do whatever it takes. I’ve grabbed people’s shirts and pulled them back. I’ve grabbed women’s ponytails and yanked them back. I’ve shouted false things from a distance like “Watch out for the incoming terrorist missile!” to distract would-be Jumpers from Jumping until I can get there and either talk them down or pull them back. Like I said, whatever it takes. 

    And it was on my now unofficial Bridge Duty in the subsequent weeks after leaving the GGJSS that I heard about Bonnie’s decline. 

    I’d run into my fellow Jumpers along the footpaths mornings and afternoons and get little updates. 

    “They found a lump on her left breast,” Arnie Borland said, pinching the flab around his pectoral. 

    “But they don’t know if it’s malignant yet,” said Fiona Struthers, her eyes suddenly red and moist. “They don’t know yet. You know? They don’t know.” 

    A week or so later, Beth Fuller gave me the whole scoop. They’d done a biopsy on Bonnie at the California Pacific Medical Center where Bonnie worked. It was bad. Stage Three bad. They had to start chemo immediately. 

    “She knew all along she’d get it,” said Beth. “She’s a BRCA1 carrier. She inherited it.” 

    “Is she still holding the yoga practices? Is she still President?” I asked. 

    “Jesus, Victor,” Beth said, shaking her head. “None of that matters anymore.” 

    She stormed off, but only for about five steps. Then she about-faced and came back at me with fury, her face flushed red. 

    “You know, I came here to tell you she admitted to us that she never Jumped. And yeah, we were pissed, but the woman has terminal cancer, Victor. And she’s our friend. She showed us yoga.” 

    Beth turned to leave. 

    “Wait,” I said.

    She stopped. 

    “Do you actually like yoga more than Jumping Simulation?” 

    “What is wrong with you?!” Beth screamed. Then she stormed off for real. 

    Which left me to wrestle with the question: What was wrong with me? 

*

    I never went to see Bonnie. Instead, most days, I just walked up and down the footpath of the bridge. I felt guiltier each time I talked with a fellow Jumper, although talked really isn’t the right word. 

    They wanted nothing to do with me, and I practically had to force any news out of them. 

    “She’s not doing yoga anymore,” Chris Swinton told me one morning, his eyes cast towards the ocean and the rising sun. Then he glared at me and walked away.

    “Greg Seward left her,” John Diaz said. “That little weasel was just trying to steal clients from her at the Y.” 

    I wanted to know just how bad the cancer had gotten. One afternoon I saw Beth Fuller. I tried to sneak up to her but she spotted me and took off at a brisk clip. I gave chase until she turned and screamed, “If you don’t quit following me I’ll call the police!” 

    I was left to stand by light pole 43 and wonder. 

    Was Bonnie shriveled up, her skin gone pale ivory and sickly? Was Bonnie throwing up everything she ate? Had she lost her gorgeous auburn hair? For some reason, the thought of Bonnie’s auburn hair falling out in clumps bothered me terribly and I went directly from light pole 43 to the Y for some much-needed Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises. 

    That day, for the first time, I cut in front of children in line at the high board. 

*

    I continued walking the bridge. But I hadn’t seen anyone in weeks. Just strangers. One day I stopped near light pole 97, right by the San Francisco tower, and hung my head. I didn’t really know what I was doing anymore and, more importantly, why I was doing it. When I looked up, someone had climbed the railing at light pole 85 some fifty yards from me. 

    I sprinted. 

    As I got closer, I saw that it was a young man, maybe twenty-five-years-old, though it was hard to tell. The closer I got to him, the more I thought he looked like me ten years ago: long brown hair tied in a ponytail, white T-shirt, cargo shorts, Birkenstocks. 

    I didn’t get there in time. He Jumped. 

    The other pedestrians leaned over the railing to peer into the ocean. But I just sat there on the concrete. I didn’t have to look. Somehow, I knew he was dead. 

    I was at the end of my rope. I’d failed at Bridge Duty, the one thing I’d ever really done well in life. I quit doing Aquatic Jumping Simulation Exercises and instead just walked the bridge from sunup to sundown, up the West Side, and back down the East Side.   

    I started to think about Jumping again. 

    I mean, why not? 

    But one day, as I approached light pole 43, I saw her. 

    I recognized her immediately. From a distance, her auburn hair looked thicker and more radiant than ever. She waved at me and, as I passed light pole 47, I wondered if she was faking the cancer, too. 

    I walked right up to her and saw, however, that the hair was a façade. 

    She looked terrible. She was much thinner. Her shoulders drooped and her chest hung. Her skin had paled, her eye sockets had darkened and sunk. There were pock marks on her face. Shelooked ready to crumble at any moment.  

“I owe you an apology,” she said, her voice softer and raspy. 

    I felt feverishly hot, my eyes suddenly moist. 

    “You were right. I never Jumped.” 

    I shook my head and covered my mouth as she removed the wig. 

    “Don’t,” I said. 

    “No,” she said, the pale dome of her head exposed and reflective in the sunlight. “I want to set the record straight. I already apologized to the others but now I want to say sorry to you for lying about Jumping.” 

    That did it for me. “Your hair,” was all I could say before I covered my face and cried. I felt worse for Bonnie than I ever had for myself, even back when I wanted to Jump. 

    I felt her weak fingers batting at my waist, and I saw that she was trying to hold my hand. I grabbed it and continued to cry for I don’t know how long. As long as it took to stop feeling like complete shit, I guess. 

    When I stopped, she chuckled to herself. 

    “You know,” she said, “after that first night, I came out here the next day and checked where light pole 43 was and after that, I only hoped no one would remember what I’d said.” 

    “It’s okay,” I said. 

    We were silent for a while just watching the people pass us by, letting the sun beat down on us. Then Bonnie started groaning.   

    She winced and said, “It fucking hurts, Victor.” 

    I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “I’m sorry.” 

    She squeezed my hand and said, “I came here to ask you a favor. I don’t want to keep going. I don’t want to do any more treatments.” 

    I realized what she wanted and said, “No, Bonnie. Please, don’t.” 

    “I want to Jump,” she said. 

    “Don’t.” 

    “I need your help, though. I can’t climb up there by myself. I’m too weak.” 

    “I can’t. I can’t help you do that.” 

    “But you got to,” Bonnie said. “You got to Jump. Isn’t it only fair that I get to, too?” 

    “Why would you ask me to do this?” 

    She winced again and said, “I thought you would understand. You know what it’s like to want to Jump.”  

    There wasn’t anyone around. 

    She smirked and said, “You know, I am still President. You still have to do what I say.”

    Maybe we could do it. Make it quick. 

    “Come on,” Bonnie said, pulling at my hand, hoisting herself up out of her chair. 

    She stood and led me, slowly and limply, the twenty yards to light pole 45, beneath which was the water, not the tip of Marin County. 

    She placed her hand on the railing, which, I realized at that moment, was vaguely the color of her former hair. She put her other hand on my shoulder. 

    “Now help me up here,” she said. 

    I didn’t think. I just crouched and made a step with my interlocked hands. Bonnie placed her foot into them and I lifted my arms up. She hardly weighed anything.

    Together, we were able to get her up so that she stood on the railing, albeit unsteadily, swaying dangerously backward. From behind, I held onto her hips to keep her from falling. 

    “Hey! What the hell!” someone yelled. 

    “Get her down from there!” another shouted. 

    I glanced over my shoulder. Three people were sprinting towards us, as if on Bridge Duty. They were by light pole 49 some forty yards away. 

    “Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked. 

    Bonnie nodded. 

    She spread her arms and leaned her head back, her face basking in the sun’s rays. 

    The trio of strangers were closing in on us, the scampering of their feet against the concrete growing closer and closer. 

    Bonnie crouched slightly, gathering strength in her legs, and I felt her lunge forward. 

    But I pulled her back. I couldn’t do it. Selfishly, I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I allowed it.

    We fell backwards onto the pavement, Bonnie landing safely on top of me. 

    The three strangers reached us in a swirl of panic - two men and a woman. 

    “Are you okay?” the woman said. 

    “Jesus, what were you thinking?” one man askec. “You almost Jumped!” 

    I stood and waved them off. 

    “Please,” I said. “It’s okay now. Just leave us be.” 

    “What the hell, man?” the other man said. “Were you trying to kill her?” 

    “No. Look,” I said, pointing at Bonnie, “she’s sick. I need to get her home. I’m sorry to trouble you. Please, just leave us alone now.” 

    Reluctantly, they left, glancing over their shoulders several times. 

    Bonnie lay on the pavement, crying. 

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I couldn’t do it.” 

    I crouched next to her and held her. She punched my arm and said, “You bastard! Why did you do that?” I let her hit me and cry for as long as it took. 

    When she was done, I helped her up and we looked out over the bridge’s east end. The sun was just beginning to set and the outskirts of the city spilled over the rolling coastal hills like a solidified frosting. 

    “I want to go back to the hospital now,” said Bonnie. 

    She took my hand and, together we walked to the Helen Diller Cancer Center on Divisadero Street where, a few months later, she would die. I got to be there for that, at the side of her bed, with Beth Fuller, Fiona Struthers, Chris Swinton, and the others. 

    I still think about Bonnie. I think about her a lot. It’s mostly during practice that I think of her, when I’m doing the poses: eagle, dolphin, crow, side angle, warrior, tree, standing-mountain-back-bend. Bridge. 












About the author

I teach English at the University of North Texas. I live in Fort Worth with my wife and two cats. Currently, I'm at work on a novel. view profile

Published on August 31, 2020

Published by 7.13 Books

50000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Literary Fiction

Reviewed by

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