I was just about to do it, swipe the card and climb the steps and do it, when I saw him.
No, I thought. Not tonight.
“Hey!” I yelled.
A human made shadow by fog. I saw him startle and stop. We stood there in the grey soup, looking at each other.
“Hey!” I yelled again, the soup swallowing up my voice so it sounded flat and weird. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“What the hell am I doing? What the hell are you doing?”
“Me?” What a jerk. “I’m jumpin’, man. What does it look like I’m doin’?”
“Nuh-uh!” The guy’s voice was shrill. He sounded angry, or scared. “I’m jumpin’!”
“No way! Today’s my day!”
We were both on the wrong side of the fence. Or the right side, depending on how you looked at it. I wasn’t worried about cops finding out I didn’t have a permit. By the time they figured it out, I’d be dead. Just had to get rid of this jerk.
The sound of traffic going by right behind us was deafening. The wind was fierce up here.
I had my journal with me. I was gonna leave it up there so they would find it. As I walked toward the jerk, I flipped in the pages of my journal. Then I held it up in front of me, two inches from his stupid face.
“There,” I said. “What does that say?”
The guy was young and skinny. He was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt and a black pea-coat and a pair of retro black-and-white checkered Vans. His hair was dyed black and cut so that it made his face look extra stupid. He pushed his black-framed glasses up on his nose and gave me a sullen look before he focused on the page in front of his face. He read out loud in a dull monotone: “I’m gonna do it on her birthday. October eleventh. I want them to know why I did it. I want them to — ”
I snapped the journal closed, almost catching his sharp little nose in it. He flinched.
“See?” I said. “Today’s my day.”
I turned around and started walking back to the spot. I looked down and saw the wake of some yuppie’s expensive sailboat.
“I’m doin’ it anyway,” he said.
I wheeled around. “You are not!” I said. “That is not fair! Today is my day! I showed you the journal!”
“Just because I don’t have a journal doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get to do it. You don’t understand, man. I’m ready.”
“Well, so am I.”
“Well, so am I.”
We stood there. I wasn’t gonna jump if this little weasel was gonna jump. This was my day.
What to do? Beat him unconscious?
Then the thought occurred to me: pay him off. I had five thousand and sixty-two dollars in the bank I didn’t need. Barely enough for a month’s rent on my crappy apartment, but maybe.
I opened my mouth to offer him the money when I heard someone shouting from across the bridge.
“Heeeey!” someone was shouting.
The weasel and I both looked over. We couldn’t see anything. It was too foggy.
“Is it the cops?” asked the weasel.
I snorted. “Yeah,” I said. “The cops are gonna stand over there and yell.”
“I don’t have a permit,” he said.
I ignored him.
We saw the guy emerge out of the fog like a ghost: a quick ghost. He was running to beat the traffic. I kept expecting to hear the screech of brakes, the thud as somebody barreled into him. The cars really zinged by up here.
He was out of breath when he reached us. He leaned over on his knees: a fat black guy in his 40s, maybe 50s. A yuppie in a suit. The top of his hair had grayed in a weird circle. The weasel and I looked at each other.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked him.
“Heard you guys — ” he said. He was out of breath. He held up one finger, straightened up. “Heard you guys arguing.” His lips puffed in and out.
“So?” said Weasel.
“Can’t do it — ” said the fat black guy.
“What?” I yelled. We had to yell to be heard over the traffic and the wind. Also I was pissed.
He still hadn’t gotten his breath back.
“My night,” he puffed.
I couldn’t believe it.
“Are you sayin’ what I think you’re sayin’?”
“October eleventh,” he said, arming sweat off his face. “Day my little boy died last year.”
I couldn’t believe it. “Well, boo-hoo,” I said. “I was here first.”
“No, man,” said Fatty, still panting. “Been here for hours.”
“Dammit!” I said. I started to pace. What was I gonna do now? Pay ‘em both off?
“Look,” I said, “I’ll give you each two thousand dollars if you wait till tomorrow.”
Weasel snorted. Fatty laughed.
“Are you kidding?” he said. Now that he had wind his voice was loud and booming in the fog.
“No, I’m not kidding,” I said. I lit a cigarette. I smoke a lot when I’m nervous. “What’s one more day? You’ll still die tomorrow, and you can give your wife or whoever two thousand bucks to get drunk on after your funeral.”
“My wife’s dead,” said Fatty.
“Or whoever,” I said.
“I’m not married,” said Weasel.
“Or whoever!” I yelled at him. I pulled out my iPhone. “I’ll transfer it right now.”
“We don’t want your money,” said Fatty.
Dammit. I should have known this was gonna happen. Last year 1,066 people jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. I mean, it had been ramping up for decades, but the Overpopulation Act of 2054 opened the floodgates. Suicides’ families were given tax exemptions and entered into exclusive drawings. Mary Chase’s mom had won an iCar, but she still hadn’t learned how to fly it.
You could also get abortions free on demand. That got you into the drawings, too.
The city of San Francisco had gates installed in the fences blocking tourists from the rust-red structure of the Golden Gate Bridge. Now all you had to do was step right through. It was encouraged. But you were supposed to take certain steps, get your permit, etcetera. The city was making a lot of money off suicides.
But if I was gonna do it, I didn’t wanna do it with a bunch of other jerks. One thousand sixty-six a year averaged to around three a day, but the holidays ate up a lot of those. Around Christmastime, the Exit Ports were crowded. Tourists would stand back and take pictures of people jumping. If you got a really good one, it might get on ExitPorn.com.
I wanted to be the only one tonight. And apparently, so did Weasel and Fatty. It made me angry. I wanted to yell at them for being selfish. I wanted to tell them what we’re all supposed to know: that death is profound or whatever, but individual deaths are not that big of a deal and we should just get it over with so there will be more resources for everyone else.
But I couldn’t yell at them without yelling at myself.
“All right,” I said. “We’ll flip for it.”
Weasel and Fatty looked at each other. Weasel shrugged.
“All right,” said Fatty. “It’s the only fair way, I guess.”
I took a coin out of my pocket. I had put a lot of ‘em in there to make sure I sank fast. It was against the rules because it was extra work for the Exit Crew, but that’s what I wanted. Extra time. Spent on me. My death.
“We’ll do best three outta five,” I said.
A few seconds later Fatty was cursing and stamping, and Weasel was shaking his head.
“Hey, you agreed to it,” I said. “See you gentlemen on the other side.”
Weasel made a scoffing sound. “Other side,” he said, sneering.
I opened the gate and headed back to my spot. I pulled the card from my pocket. It was sapphire blue and had nothing on it but a numeral 6 in raised silver on the bottom right-hand corner. I took a deep breath and swiped it through the card reader. The little light immediately glowed green and I went through the gate.
So the rumors on the ExiTalk forums were true: you could re-use a card.
I had found this one in Mary’s wallet, in her little turquoise canvas purse that was still hanging across her body when they dragged her grey corpse from the frigid water. The strap had been tangled in her hair. I knew because when I saw the purse, lying on her dresser in her bedroom, I could see the long, gleaming blonde strands twisted around the strap.
I didn’t ask her mom if I could have the card. I just took it. And a strand of her hair. It was in a tiny ziploc bag, the kind drug dealers use, in the right front pocket of my jeans.
I was clutching it as I climbed the steps to the Exit Post. All of me was cold but my hands, which sweated.
There were thirteen of them. Not my hands — the Exit Posts. One every hundred meters of the main span. I looked down at the water. One lonely boat sailed past underneath me, headed for the ocean. I could see the soft light from an iFilm coming out of the cabin. It looked warm in there and my teeth were chattering. To my right and far below tourists snapped pics and holos from the banks. I could actually hear the buzz and whir of their holocams. A little kid was laughing. What was he doing out so late?
It was so cold. The wind. I tried to focus all my attention on the palms of my hands, shoved in my pockets and so hot they felt like they glowed.
I turned and looked down. Weasel and Fatty were standing there looking up at me.
“What the hell are you lookin’ at?” I said.
They said nothing. Their faces were blank. I turned back to the water. I couldn’t imagine how cold it would be. I had thought of it, but I couldn’t imagine it. Would I feel it, I wondered, the shock of the icy water punishing my skin, filling my lungs?
I remembered what Mary Chase had told me right before she did it. She was looking at her hair in the mirror. “Once you breathe in, it’s peaceful.” She had been to one of the seminars. “If you breathe in right away, it feels like nothing at all, just going to sleep. But if you fight it and try to hold on, that’s what makes it hard. Just — ” She took a deep breath, with a peaceful look on her face, and let it out. “ — breathe,” she said. She smiled at me.
She went the next day, at this very Exit Post. Number six.
She wasn’t dumb. She wasn’t lost. She was brilliant. And not beautiful, but incredible to look at. The light in her eyes? It was tremendous. She was going to be a scientist. Instead she decided dying was the only moral thing to do in these times. So she went ahead and died.
I admired her conviction, but I didn’t have it. I was just sad. Too sad to live.
To my left there was a glossy flat black screen. I touched it and it lit up. I could see greasy fingerprints all over it. I could feel Weasel and Fatty down there, watching, but I was going to take my time. This was my night.
The screen glowed sapphire blue. Then a 2D image of the bridge during the day, bright and beautiful, cars streaming across and above it. Glorious music played, a Celtic harp or something.
“Thank you for choosing the Golden Gate Bridge as the point from which you’ll exit this life. You have chosen Exit Post number” — a very slight pause — ”Six.” The voice was warm, female, soothing. As it spoke about the dignity of ending one’s own life, images of human beings faded in and then out again, with dates at the bottoms. One date per person.
Herbert Voorhies, June 11, 2060. Celeste Williams, April 17, 2059.
Then her face came up. I stopped breathing. She was wearing a mortarboard and smiling. The picture from when she graduated from Berkeley. The words said: Mary Chase, January 30, 2061.
“October eleventh,” I said out loud to no one. “October eleventh, 2037.”
The wind was suddenly very cold on my face, and I tasted snot.
“What about the day she was born?” I asked the water.
Now the woman’s voice was inviting me to choose a prayer if I was so inclined. I reached out with my left hand, without thinking, and punched the screen. “You have chosen a Buddhist chant,” murmured the voice. “Thank you.”
Anonymous voices started to drone in Pali like a million baritone wasps.
I rubbed my sore knuckles and looked at the water. It looked far away, and dark.
“Could we speed this up?” yelled a voice. It was a cop. He was standing down there with Weasel and Fatty. I hadn’t even heard him come up. His iCycle whirred in a little pool of purple light.
“Got a permit?” the cop yelled.
I turned back to the water. “No!” I yelled.
I heard a click and whirr as the cop activated his iStik. “Come on down from there!” he yelled. “Can’t jump without a permit.”
I sneered back over my shoulder at him. “What are you gonna do, kill me?” I asked.
I saw his face. The fog was soup-thick, but I swear I saw his face, and that’s what made me do it. Because what I saw in his face was this: he didn’t give a damn if I did it or not.
Why was this a revelation? It wasn’t. Nobody cared if anybody did it, unless it was somebody they knew. It meant more food, more room, more everything for everybody. When somebody jumped, you might shake your head, but then you said what you’d heard everywhere from everyone: “If we get below nine billion, they can start letting people off Europa.”
Standing up there, tasting the salt, hearing the cop climb the ladder behind me, I didn’t care if those people rotted on Europa. I thought back over the past several months and I couldn’t remember making the decision to jump. After a while, if you mention it to people, if you’re sad for long enough, it becomes a foregone conclusion. My mother cried the first few times I brought it up, but she’d been treating me like I was already dead for months. When I called her the day before, she had sounded surprised, even disappointed.
“Peter, is that you?” she said. “I thought you jumped.”
“Tomorrow,” I said. “Mary’s birthday.”
“Awww,” she said, pulling a face. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Pete. I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Chase will appreciate the gesture.” Behind her I could see Dad watching an old 2D that had been converted to holo.
“What’s Dad watching?” I asked.
“Some old thing,” said Mom, squinching her nose. She had the typical bourgeois hatred of anything old, including Dad. “It’s called The Virgin Suicides. Have you heard of it?”
“No,” I said. If she had made any connection between the movie and what I was about to do, she didn’t let on.
“What’s it about?” I asked her. I knew because I read the book, but I had nothing to say. And since it was our last conversation, I figured I ought to say something.
“I don’t know, Pete. Virgins committing suicide, I imagine.” she said. She rubbed her elbows and looked vaguely embarrassed.
“Mary was a virgin,” I said, for no reason.
She looked at me blankly.
“Nothing,” I said. I took a deep breath and felt something plugging my throat and stinging the backs of my eyes. “I guess this is goodbye.”
Mom smiled at me warmly. “Goodbye, darling,” she said. “We’ll look for you on ExiTalk. All the girls at work — ”
But I had signed off. I couldn’t look at her anymore.
Now the damned cop was climbing the ladder behind me and I had that same feeling in my throat. I couldn’t swallow it. The cop was standing behind me on the platform. I could feel the faint hum of the iStik.
“Just clobber me and kick me off,” I said, looking at the water.
“Doesn’t work that way, buddy,” he said. “Turn around.”
I turned around.
I turned around, I saw that look on his face.
I turned around, I saw that look on his face that said this: I don’t care. You don’t matter. Jump. Jump, stranger. Who are you to me? If we get below nine billion they’ll start letting people off Europa.
So I jumped.
I jumped backwards, pushing off with my legs as hard as I could. I felt the muscles flex in my thighs. I heard the wind blow past my ears. I saw the cop’s expressionless face get smaller and disappear behind the rust-red beam. It only takes four seconds to hit the water, but before I did, he had already turned away, bored.
When his face was gone, I closed my eyes and pictured it, the face that said I don’t care. Jump. I don’t care. Jump. If I held that face in my mind it was going to be easy. If I did what Mary said, if I just breathed in, it would be a real breeze.
I squeezed my butt cheeks together. I didn’t want water to shoot into me and puree my intestines. I didn’t know if I’d feel it, or why I should care, but I did. I put my hands by my sides and pointed my toes and made myself a straight, hard arrow slicing into the water.
I felt myself go in. Later, I looked it up, and found out I hit going about 120 kilometers per hour. I remember thinking, it does hurt. It does hurt. It was the cold that hurt. It was like being enveloped in cut. As though all of your skin was a cut, all at once. I opened my eyes.
Breathe in, I said to myself. You’re not dead yet. Breathe in. Breathe in. Breathe in the water and it will all be over.
I couldn’t breathe in. I wanted to. Something wouldn’t let me do it. It was survival instinct. They’d done all they could to train it out of us, but we still had it.
And it was something else, too. A voice. No, not a voice. More of a hum in my head, and a violet light behind my eyes, and Mary. Mary with that peaceful look on her face, telling me to breathe.
Then all the peacefulness left me in an instant. All the violet light and the hum — gone. Only rage was left. I wanted to open my mouth and scream at Mary with a sound louder than the trumpets of the angels in a heaven that didn’t want me: NO! I wanted to scream it at her with all the energy I had ever used in my lifetime, gather it all back into me and roar NO at her with the nuclear rage of our raging, dying sun.
I thought NO. I was NO. I had never been anything but NO. It was the only thought I had. I had never had another thought or known another word.
I swam for the surface.
In the books they say, My lungs were screaming. I know what that means now. They say, My lungs were bursting. I know what that means now.
Einstein said time is relative. I know what that means now.
I don’t know how long it took me to reach the surface, but if I had to guess, I’d say about six hours.
My head broke the water and I made a horrible gasping sound when I breathed in air. I breathed for a few seconds and let the cold slash at me. To my left I could hear something: a few tourists out. They were clapping. I could hear the click and whir of their holocams.
I looked up at the glowing blue 6 that marked the Exit Post I had jumped from. It was the only thing visible through the fog. The bridge was gone in a thick grey soup. It may as well have not even been there at all. I imagined the cop up there, talking into his iPhone, summoning the Exit Patrol.
I decided since I was still alive I would go ahead and make for the shore before I got hypothermia and died anyway. I floated on my back mostly, and half-heartedly pushed myself along. I was tired. None of my body parts wanted to move. I didn’t feel one way or the other about it. I just felt NO.
Some tourists helped fish me out of the water. They asked me if I was okay. One of them was whispering the word “miracle.”
“No,” I said. But that’s all I said. I didn’t feel like explaining.
The earth felt good, so good. I sat down on it and shook from the cold. When the Exit Patrol got there, they looked annoyed. Used to be, about five percent of Golden Gate jumpers lived. But now they had the seminars, where they taught you how to do it right.
But I didn’t go to the seminar. I didn’t get a permit.
I was placed under arrest by the bored cop. His eyes were deader than I’d ever be. I asked why he was arresting me. “Failure to obtain the proper licensure for the commission of suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said in a tired voice. The paramedics on the Exit Crew put me in the ambulance, took my sopping clothes, and wrapped me naked in some shiny metal stuff, to make sure I didn’t die of hypothermia.
I asked them to take the sapphire blue card and the little drug dealer bag out of my pocket and give it to me, but they said no. Then the cop handcuffed me to the stretcher.
The dark spell had not left me. I still felt the roaring NO inside me. I was going to the hospital, then maybe to jail. I didn’t care.
My mom would be disappointed. I didn’t care.
I closed my eyes and thought of Mary. Had it been sweet for her? I hoped so. I hoped she had not been sliced at by the cold, had not felt her lungs screaming or bursting.
When I opened my eyes Weasel was in the ambulance with me. He handed me my journal.
“Thanks,” I said. I tucked it against my wet body, under the shiny metal stuff. I thought about the entry I would make later. It would say: “NO.”
“The other guy jumped,” he said. “He had a permit.”
I shrugged. “Guess it wasn’t my night after all.”
The medics made Weasel leave. My eyes were closing. I couldn’t see it through my eyelids, through the ambulance, through the fog, but down below in the bay: a bright cluster of movement. They were pulling Fatty out of the water.
KRISTEN HATTEN is a blogger at Chronicles of Radness. She has been writing since she was six years old. She is now considerably older but still enjoys chocolate milk and cartoons.