Henry meets Christa on the west tower of the Brooklyn Bridge, just as they’re both about to jump off and kill themselves. Despite his paralyzing depression–and her panic over a second bout of cancer–they can’t go through with their plans knowing that the other is going to die. So they make a pact–they’ll stay alive for 24 hours, and try to convince each other to live.
From the Staten Island Ferry to Chinatown to the Museum of Modern Art–Henry and Christa embark on a New York City odyssey that exposes the darkest moments of their lives. Is it too late for them? Or will love give them the courage to face the terrifying possibility of hope?
Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Rogers Maher
Praise for The Bridge
“Maher’s novella is intimate and insightful. Henry and Christa come from very different backgrounds, but their despair is palpable. Maher has a deep knowledge of New York City, and the couple’s time together is full of the quiet adventures of city natives, making New York an equally important character in the gripping and touching story.”
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
“(W)onderful because it is so hopeful.”
Starred Review, Library Journal
“A very well-done romance…So satisfying.”
Recommended Read, USA TODAY
“From the beginning the story takes on a grim humor that had me laughing…I appreciate this unique book that presents characters with bone deep issues(.)”
Recommended Read, Dear Author
“The Bridge is one of the best contemporary romances I’ve read in a long time…Maher does an excellent job of capturing what depression is like without making the novella itself depressing–in fact, it’s very hopeful and inspiring…Definitely a read-in-a-sitting, then immediately-want-to-read-again type of book…This novella is on the short list for my favorite reads of the year.”
Review, Book Riot
“This book pretty much busts the romance genre wide open…It’s sad, it’s humorous, it’s touching…It was realistically written, and heartbreakingly accurate, and I give this book an A+.”
Review, The Book Pushers
“The Bridge is a very powerful novella. It’s profoundly sad, yet hopeful and romantic. I wasn’t even sure if someone could write a believable story about two people ready to end their lives and over the period of 24 hours turn it into a love story. But Rebecca Rogers Maher does it…She makes their journey such a believable one…It’s intense and dark and powerful. Well done.”
Review, Smexy Books
“Rebecca Rogers Maher might be one of the more exciting author discoveries I’ve made this year. The Bridge is the second self-published novella I’ve read by her, and…it’s really gutsy…Maher is setting herself up to be an author who won’t be for everyone, but that everyone really should read. Her voice and her risks are that intriguing.”
Review, Wendy the Super Librarian
“I don’t really know what drew me to this book. I think it was morbid curiosity to see if the author could turn around such a heavy topic and make a believable romance out of it. What I found was something so deep and profound rolled into a tragic and absolutely beautiful story. I honestly don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining this book you should definitely experience on your own.”
5-Star review, Globug and Hootie Need a Book
“The Bridge is a breathtaking story that’s a love letter to NYC, a heartbreaking romance and journey of self discovery and bravery. There are no easy answers here and you’ll be biting your nails until the very end. I actually slowed my reading down so it would last longer.”
Review, For What It’s Worth
“Rebecca is like no author I’ve ever read.”
4.5 Star review, Read Your Writes
I make a playlist for every book I write. Selecting and organizing songs helps me clarify who my characters are, how they feel, what they struggle with and what they need. Here’s the soundtrack to The Bridge. Enjoy!
1. Canary, Liz Phair
2. Misery is the River of the World, Tom Waits
3. Doesn’t Lenny Live Here Anymore, Phil Ochs
4. Tentative, System of a Down
5. Caught a Lite Sneeze, Tori Amos
6. Maybe Sparrow, Neko Case
7. The Letter, Kristin Hersh
8. Momma Sed, Puscifer
9. The Secret of Drowning, Carina Round
10. Try, Pink
11. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel
Here’s a list of great songs that actually appear in the story of The Bridge. Enjoy these, too!
1. Dust in the Wind, Kansas
2. We’ve Got Tonight, Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
3. Desperado, Eagles
Excerpt from The Bridge
The first time I tried to kill myself, I made a real mess of it. Blood everywhere, bathtub overflowing, cuts too shallow—the whole scene like some low budget slasher flick with me both killer and virgin. The worst part was that it looked like I didn’t mean it, like I was crying out for help but didn’t actually want to die. I did want to die. There was no help forthcoming; I knew that.
People think killing yourself is a copout, but they have no idea what the inside of my brain is like. They don’t know how it feels to be trapped in here day after day. Sometimes I think they don’t even see the world itself, for what it really is. It’s like that scene in They Live where Rowdy Roddy Piper puts on a pair of glasses and realizes he’s surrounded by soul-sucking aliens. I wear those glasses every single minute of every day. Trust me, there is evil in this world.
You can try to fight that, to look for the good in people and hope for the best. And I do. I mean, I did. I tried like hell to fight it. But I got tired of losing.
Look, I’m an educated man. I know that religion exists, that philosophy exists, that therapy exists—all to keep people from falling off the deep end of their own thoughts. I’ve read every book there is on the meaning of life, but you know what? I’ve also read history books. Civilization after civilization crumbling, era after era, from human greed and apathy. I see the news—war, genocide, suicide bombings. We can elect whoever we want, buy whatever we want, take however many pills we want. The bottom line is, people are not good. They’re cruel and selfish and blind, myself included.
Why stick around waiting for more evidence?
When I was a kid, my nanny used to take my brother and me for walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. She lived in Crown Heights and was trying, I think, to expose us to the grounding force of Brooklyn neighborhoods. Jack and I liked the wind on the bridge and truthfully, we would have followed Sharon anywhere. God knows how many times we begged her to bring us home with her at the end of the day. She had her own kids to take care of, though, and eventually she left us to follow them across the country when they went to college.
No amount of Daddy’s money would keep her, either. You can’t buy everything. I should have learned that lesson when Sharon left, but I went right ahead and joined the family business anyway. And added piles of cash to the piles of cash that the finance firm was already sitting on. To what end?
There was no end. And yet we could have gone on like that forever. Climbing and climbing and getting nowhere.
I have a climb in mind, though, that has a purpose. That has an end.
In the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, there’s a tower. From it you can see the full expanse of the city—all the lights and angles, the running stream of traffic, the steady moving hum. In the artificial light, the little spots of green parkland reveal themselves, the red-orange-yellow of fall trees changing color. The basketball courts and boats full of people sweating and laughing. Aliens whose only purpose is to have a good time and run from reality.
At four o’clock in the morning it’s all almost asleep. Almost looking away. Almost quiet.
And when I climb to the top of the tower and jump, no one will even hear the splash.
Well, shit. If I’d known it would be this beautiful up on the tower, I’d have brought my camera. Could have snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook for all my old high school friends to see.
You like that, guys? Didn’t I tell you? It’s worth it to leave the boondocks and move to the big city. It’s a bang-up place when it’s not busy fucking you upside the head.
Or the tits.
Not that I can blame the city for planting an IED in my boob, but still. It happened here, and nobody particularly gave a crap, and here I am. One-breasted, dressed in black, three hundred feet above the East River. Trying to stop my thighs from shaking after climbing a one-foot thick cable to the top of the west tower. Staring out at the Statue of Liberty, as though she could do anything to help me.
A girl can Google just about anything nowadays. Like how many people actually end up surviving a jump from the side of the bridge compared to how many survive the jump from the tower. (Basically none.) Sure, there was the climb up the cable, which wasn’t pleasant, but hell, if I fell and it killed me, wasn’t that kind of the point? It was a win-win, really.
I figure if I’m gonna do this, I should do it right. I should do it to last. Because the lump in my remaining breast has made the decision for me already, hasn’t it? It’s only a matter of when.
I just didn’t it expect it to be so goddamn cold up here. I’m sweaty from the climb and the wind is going right through me, and the thought of all that freezing, filthy river water is suddenly not sounding too appealing.
I’m not going to be a coward, though. I’m not going to back down now. I’m too tired for this struggle. I’m so fucking tired, down to my bones. I don’t have anything in me anymore. I don’t even feel like I have enough to climb the damn wall and step off the side of it.
But I have to. I have to.
What time is it? How many hours left until dawn? My hands are shaking so hard I can’t even look at my watch or I might slip and fall. And that’s not how I want it to happen. I’ve spent too long planning this and I know how I want it to go. A nice clean leap from the south side. One quick, gut-plunging glide and then the impact of water. Which will break all my bones and stamp out my ill-wired brain once and for all.
The short ladder up the last few feet to the tower is close enough now to reach for. I wrap my fingers around it and hoist my body upwards. For a moment I’ll just lie here on my back, and rest. I’ll give myself that. A last few minutes of calm to slow my breath and gather myself up. I’ll be able to see the vague shapes of the city once I stand, though not clearly. I’ve chosen a foggy night on purpose so drivers won’t see my dim shape climbing the cables. They’ll see me if they look closely, but who looks closely at anything in this city? We all avert our eyes to every tragedy. Out of politeness? That’s one way of looking at it. Another is that we look away because we’re cowards.
Again, myself included. I fully admit it. I can’t take any more of anyone else’s pain and clearly I can’t handle my own.
I’ll be brave enough tonight, though. Just for tonight, and that’s all it will take.
I sit up and set my knees against the hard cement. It’s cold, even through the fabric of my jeans. I look out into the open space of night, into the fog, and begin crawling to the edge.
And that’s when I see her. A long expanse of concrete and a low fence separate me from the end of the tower, the jumping-off place. Out on the edge, perhaps fifteen feet away, a woman sits with her back to me. I see the outline of her body—legs dangling over the side, wind whipping her hair.
At first I don’t recognize the feeling in my chest. It’s like having my heart scooped out with a melon baller and replaced with a vicious, clanging bell.
Panic, I realize. That’s what the clanging is. It’s inside my body instead of floating six feet above my head, and it almost feels good, to have a feeling like that—like scratching an itch you haven’t been able to reach. Except that it’s like scratching it with a lit match.
The woman sits so still I begin to wonder if she’s a statue, or if I’ve finally gone fully crazy and hallucinated her. But then I notice the vague trembling in her spine. The grip of her hands against the concrete. She’s leaning forward slightly, into the wind. Rocking. As though after a certain number of back-forward swings she will simply let go, and push off, and fly.
The knocking around in my chest starts again, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to speak… to spook her and knock her off the edge. It’s obvious what she’s here for—no one’s out sightseeing on the bridge tower at this hour, so close to the edge, unless they have a purpose, an end game, so to speak—but I don’t think anyone would choose to have it end like this. Tipping off the side before they’re ready, just because some clod had the same idea at the same time and surprised them into falling.
I’m thinking of a way to alert her when the problem solves itself. She looks back and sees me and, startled, struggles to regain her grip on the cement. She cranes her neck at me from a distance, and I feel her shock. That is, I feel something—sharp in my gut—that resonates as shock. It gives me a hungry sensation I don’t know what to do with. The woman swears and bends forward for a moment, as though gathering resolve, and then scoots back from the edge to turn and face me fully.
I can’t see her clearly in the dark. Just a profile against the lights of the city. She has short dark hair and is wearing all black, like me. Camouflage, presumably. When she speaks, her voice is hoarse as though she’s been screaming.
“What the hell are you doing up here?”
Of all the things she could have said, this is not what I expected. She looked fragile a minute ago, delicate. I’d feared scaring her.
But I’m the one who shrinks back now.
I could say the same thing, after all. I want to say the same thing. What the hell are you doing up here ruining my perfectly good suicide attempt? Was there a sign-up sheet or something that I didn’t know about? Or more succinctly: Get out of my way. But there are some rules of civilization you can’t flout, even in extremis. A question is asked; you must answer it. Not to do so would be rude, and I’m not a rude person. Even when being yelled at by a stranger.
I force a measure of calm into my voice. “Same as you, I imagine.”
“Why?” She inches closer to me, on her knees, trying to get a better look.
I inch back. “Why are you?”
She’s close enough now that I can see her eyes narrow. They are dark eyes. They make me want to pull back further, but I don’t. I stand my ground. Or sit it. The cold concrete is getting colder by the minute, and she stares at me like I’m the one who put her up here.
“What’s your name,” she says. Not asks. Says. There’s no inflection in her voice and I recognize that—the flatness. It makes the clanging in my chest slow down, hearing it in someone else. I think that slowing means sadness, and I don’t want that. I don’t want to be sad for her. I don’t want to be thinking of her at all. I want to be falling, and then hitting. And then gone.
But I answer anyway. “Henry.”
“Henry.” She tests it out, as though rolling my name around in her mouth and seeing how it tastes. On the cables the lights were so strong they made the top of the tower feel dark as the bottom of hell; now, my eyes are adjusting to the dimness and I can see her lips. The way they purse, with my name inside them. “You look like a Henry.”
I huff out a laugh if you can believe it. It’s such an absurd thing to say under the circumstances. “I do?”
“You do.” She scoots closer. With each pressing inch she grows larger, like a force field. “And you should climb back down now, Henry, and go home before you do something stupid.”
She’s so imperious, I almost feel compelled to obey her. Until I notice in the shimmering half-light that she’s still trembling.
A whir of helicopter blades sweeps up to my right and instinctively, I duck. Lie down, actually, against the meager shadows of the fence that separates us. The woman does the same on her side and the helicopter flies overhead, trailing its floodlights over us.
I’ve read about this. The air cops dispatched to look for jumpers at night. They’ll be back if they saw us, or think they did. We don’t have much time before someone sees and tries to stop us.
I frown at that pronoun. There is no us. There’s just me, and the jump I’ve been planning for months. For years. Which some strange woman has shown up to ruin.
I know I should be thinking of it this way, but the indignation I’m supposed to be feeling slips through my fingers, like a wriggling fish. In its place it leaves fear. For her. I feel the vibration of her body just inches from mine, and I don’t want her to jump. More to the point, I don’t want to be the guy who, as my last act on earth, steps aside and lets her do it.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
Her face still rests against her arm where she lays hidden in the shadows. “Christa.” She stage-whispers it, as though the helicopters will hear.
“Christa. They’ll be back soon, with more lights. If they catch you here, they’ll arrest you.”
“They won’t catch me.”
She looks at me like I’m one brick short of a load and gestures out toward the skyline. “Because I’ll be gone by then.” She stands, and I stand with her, and I’m over the fence between us almost before I realize it. I grab her arm.
Christa looks down at my hand on her elbow as though it were on fire. “What?”
She tries to pull her arm free. “Listen, Henry…I’ll stay up here for as long as it takes for you to climb down, okay? I’ll make sure you get down safely. But then I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. Don’t you worry about it. Just…” She points to the head of the ladder. “Go. Have a good life. Just…leave me alone.”
My head is shaking before I even know what it’s doing. “No,” I say again.
Plans are revising themselves in my head, rapidly, because one thing has become abundantly clear. My chance tonight has passed. I can’t go through with it, not now. Not with this…this…Christa up here, too.
She’s in her mid-thirties, maybe, and pretty. Not that it matters, but she is. Her voice sounds like the voice of a woman who’s smoked too many cigarettes, her hands are shaking—I can feel it down the length of her arm—and I am not going to let her jump off this bridge.
In the dim light, the man holding my arm looks like an actor from a deodorant ad. Handsome, boyish, entitled. If I met him in a bar I would walk the other direction because no way in hell would a guy like that condescend to talk to me. I guess attempted suicide is a great leveler of social boundaries, though, because here he is, hanging on to me as though his life depended on it.
I almost laugh at that thought. His life, my life—depending on something. The whole point of both us being up here is that our lives don’t depend on shit. They’re over. That seemed pretty clear five minutes ago, at least. I was on a mission and it was the right one, I knew that. Now, I feel…what? Interrupted. Thrown off my game. I had a purpose and it was clear, and now it’s not clear, and what I want most of all is to punch this fucking guy in the face. Punch him, and then get him down off the tower. Because the last thing I see in this world is not going to be this pretty boy dying and me not doing anything to stop it.
Another helicopter approaches, its lights sweeping the traffic below, and we both duck into the shadows. Henry’s body is crouched and strangely warm beside mine and I almost want to take his hand. As though we were kids playing hide and seek together. But that’s not right. We’re not kids. We’re not together. The wind and height are confusing me and I can’t think clearly. Except to know that I need to get this fucker down off the tower, and fast. It’s impossible to tell what might set him off, and up here, any wrong move could send him—literally—over the edge.
It’s fairly obvious he wants the same thing—to get me out of harm’s way so he can go back to his business in good conscience. Who wants to die knowing you could have saved somebody and didn’t? It’s a standoff in reverse; instead of pointing our sharpshooters at each other, we’re pointing them at ourselves.
Why do I care? This guy’s got his reasons for being up here, surely. Who am I to get in his way? To say he should give life one more shot when I myself see no point?
And yet, he’s so young. Thirty years old, if I had to guess. And decent-looking, though a bit haggard and trembly at the moment. He appears to be in decent health. What could possibly be reason enough for a guy like him to end it all? Maybe a good night’s sleep is what he needs, a fresh perspective. Something.
And just like that I’m on my high horse again. Thinking I know best, trying to change somebody’s mind. Fix him, help him. Save him. The whole reason I’m up here on this goddamn bridge is to jump down off that horse once and for all. It never did me a bit of good, and I never managed to change anyone who didn’t want changing. Despite all my effort.
What makes Henry any different? If he wants to die, I should just let him. I should turn my back, dive off the edge of the tower, and leave him to his own damn devices.
If only old habits were so easy to break. I turn to where he’s lying in the shadows.
“How about we go get some breakfast.”
“What?” He’s staring at me. My mouth is moving itself; I can’t stop the words that spill out of it.
“Breakfast. Let’s get some food and we’ll talk.”
He gazes out at the edge, at the open air beyond it, and then back at me. “You’re not going to—”
“Not with you here, no.” I sigh into the wind and as usual, it’s audible to no one but me. “I wasn’t exactly expecting an audience.”
He slumps down a little and lets out a relieved breath. “Good.” His voice is deep but wavery, like he’s lost blood or something. I wonder how the hell he’s going to make it down the cables to the ground.
I stand, resigned, and head for the ladder. “Let’s go.”
Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Rogers Maher
Permission to reproduce text granted by Rebecca Rogers Maher.