Jane stood by the bridge railing, peering down to the surface of the river below. It didn’t seem so far down now. Every year on May 5th, she drove a county over and illegally parked on the bridge, got out, and peered down at the river. It was a ritual to mark her survival. Until this year, she made a point to drive over around the time of the original accident. For no discernible reason, she waited until five in the afternoon to drive over today.
Eleven years ago, she had plummeted over the railing and landed in the river. She had no idea who rescued her. The man who witnesses saw leaving didn’t come forward afterward. Some thought that the man was the driver who clipped her from behind and spun her out of control, sending her car over the railing. While it was possible, Jane didn’t believe it. She knew that whoever saved her had a darned good motive to stay out of the spotlight.
Jane returned to her car, turned off the emergency hazard lights, and pulled away from the railing. She slowly rolled the length of the bridge. As her car reached the end, she noticed an older yellow Chevy Cheyenne pickup on the side of the road past the bridge. A man wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt stood in front of the truck, looking down toward the river.
Not knowing why she did so, Jane pulled a little further along and parked on the grass. She didn’t bother with her emergency lights this time. She reached into the passenger floorboard and picked up her flask of whiskey. Exiting the car, she walked along the far side of the Cheyenne pickup and stopped a few feet from the man in the white t-shirt.
She stood silently, staring at the river. She took a pull from the flask. As she wiped the side of her mouth with her hand, the man turned to look at her. Without a word, he took a step and reached for the flask. Jane didn’t hesitate. She handed him the flask and watched as he took a long sip.
His eyes widened in surprise, as he probably expected something of lesser quality. Jane never skimped on whiskey and she certainly wouldn’t have thought to do so during her yearly visit over to the bridge that changed her life.
“What are you watching?” Jane asked. “My name’s Jane, by the way.”
The man made eye contact with her and smiled. “The name’s Mark. Just thinking about a day a long time ago.”
“Oh? Me too. This bridge changed my life. It woke me up, if that makes sense.” Jane didn’t know what propelled her to speak honestly.
“I know exactly what you mean. This bridge saved my life. I used to come here every year, thinking I might find what I was missing. This is my first visit in five. It’s still beautiful.” Mark stopped talking and seemed wistful.
Jane took another pull from her flask and handed it back to Mark.
“This is great whiskey, Jane. Thanks!” They looked at each other and held eye contact for a second longer than normal. “I saved someone’s life here once. On a beautiful day exactly like today. It went from sunshine to hell in three seconds that day.”
Jane held her breath, calculating the odds of such a coincidence.
“I had my life saved her on a day exactly like today, Mark. One minute I was driving and the next, I was waking up on the riverbank right there.” She pointed below as she spoke.
They each took another sip of whiskey and let the silence accumulate between them.
Mark turned to face Jane directly. He seemed to struggle to say something. He shrugged and said, “Can I hug you?”
Jane stepped toward him and allowed Mark to wrap his arms around her, holding her against him. The sun beat down upon them and they held their pose. A vehicle passed slowly. Neither looked up to see who it was or whether they noticed the odd couple hugging on the side of the road and bridge.
Mark pulled away. “Would you be interested in going to eat, Jane? There’s a pretty spot up the road a couple of miles.”
“Are you kidding? I’d love to.” Jane smiled.
Mark smiled, showing his teeth. Jane watched the smile travel to his eyes.
“I might have a few questions for you, though, if that’s okay.” Jane watched Mark’s smile grow larger.
“I figured you might. Let’s eat and see what comes next.”
And so it began.