Be Here Now
by Desiree Ultican
Her name is Ann. Or perhaps her name is Anne with an e, a simple name with an understated elegance, belonging to a European queen or the heroine in a gothic novel. But the spelling of her name is not important. She is in her late thirties or early forties. Her age is not critical information. And a description of her isn’t pertinent, either. Tonight Ann(e) has driven to a bridge constructed of silvery steel arched supports, one that spans a major river cutting across the heart of a large metropolitan area. There is a riverwalk nearby, with a gently curving sidewalk that extends a couple of miles on either side of the bridge, surrounded by green space, interspersed with sculptures and a few public buildings. It is a long drop from the bridge to the swift current below; the water is several feet deep. The jump will kill her.
It is well after midnight on a weekday and it is nearly winter. The traffic on the bridge is continuous, but light—just a few passenger vehicles and the occasional commercial truck. Ann(e) parks her car at one end of the nearly empty parking lot—a well-lit parking lot—and shuts off the motor. She turns off the headlights and sits in her car for a few minutes to review the process. She will leave her insurance card in her locked car and has placed her waterproof driver’s license in her jacket pocket (which snaps shut), just to make it easier to identify her body when it is found. Ann(e) has always paid attention to details. She wears a pair of dark knit pants, a turtleneck top, a lightweight hooded jacket (zipped up snugly) and well-fitting, flexible walking shoes. It is appropriate attire for the weather and the occasion.
She places her house and car keys under the seat, exits and locks the car, and begins a brisk walk along the riverwalk. Within minutes a male runner approaches from behind and sweeps past, a few notes of popular music faintly audible from his earbuds. She passes a woman walking a large dog that is sniffing one of the numerous creatively designed park benches. A pair of lovers sits in one of them, near the bank, closer to the river, holding hands and looking over the water at the glittering downtown skyline. After that, Ann(e) sees no one else. It could be considered a rather pleasant walk, with the brilliant cityscape in the distance, no insects, a certain quiet in the air that colder weather brings. A soft breeze ruffles her hair—hair that is light brown, perhaps dark blonde with a hint of russet; the cut is not too long, not short. Slightly wavy. But that’s not important to the story.
Ann(e) climbs up a grassy incline, up to the road, to another sidewalk located adjacent to the highway that is shielded from fast-moving vehicles by a concrete barrier. She walks to the center of the bridge. Her destination is where the river runs the deepest, of course, to where a powerful current of water churns darkly underneath. Anne has come to this bridge most often in the daytime, usually early morning before work, to inspect the structure of the bridge and the river conditions. She has decided this place, of all the places she has scouted out in her quest, is where she will die.
Why does Ann(e) want to end her life? Please remember throughout this story, although conjectures may be made—it just doesn’t matter. Perhaps she has committed terrible, unspeakable acts, or perhaps terrible, unspeakable acts have been inflicted upon her. She might have a countless number of regrets and her life did not play out the way she had supposed it would. It could be that her life did not unfold or evolve and this disappointment cannot be reconciled. It is possible that she envisions the future as a colorless chain of large rectangular blocks representing days or years lined up to infinity—like gray dominoes with no dots—and she is compelled to push the first one over.
Ann(e) has a loving family, a comfortable home and dozens of friends. Or maybe she has no family, or a distant one, and just one true friend. Or, she has no friends but does have a cat or no pets at all. It really isn’t important. To her, the reason is no reason. She is simply finished with her life.
Ann(e) begins to scale the pedestrian guardrail of the bridge, an effort which proves not too difficult for her. She has a body of average build and height, a strong and healthy body for a woman in her late thirties or early forties. It has served her well, always doing what a body is supposed to do, and has never given her a significant amount of pain or an incapacitating illness. She did have a fleeting thought during the planning process, that it was a shame to waste this body, but—it is what it is.
She climbs approximately eight feet up the gridded wire guardrail of the bridge. Her rock-climbing outings have served a purpose. The coated metal weave of the wire panel is quite cold, a little slippery, but she wears tight, thin black leather gloves that grip the surface effectively. Once she scales the barrier and sets foot on the other side, she has a twelve-inch ledge upon which to stand. Apparently no one in the passing traffic has noticed her due to her dark colored clothing and her quickly executed maneuver. Her hands clutch the metal grid behind her and when she is ready, she will let go. That’s all there is to it. Nothing complicated. And so she tells herself, Ann(e), just let go. And she does.
She drops. Or rather, plummets. This is the predictable effect of gravity’s pull upon a falling object. But during her rapid descent, Ann(e) pauses. Yes, she does. A thought enters her mind—a brief reconsideration—and it is enough to halt her fall. In midair.
A curious sensation. One that she is perfectly comfortable with, one that does not make her tense or frightened. There is no motion, no breeze, no change in temperature. Ann(e) is situated halfway between the bridge and the river below, which has stopped flowing. But the water is not smooth; it is frozen into thousands of ripples, waiting.
She experiences the peace that this pause affords her. Her mind, like her surroundings, is still. The constant chatter of inconsequential thoughts and body static noise that intrudes into her consciousness is absent. The clarity astounds her. This is the clearness that hundreds of yoga sessions and meditation classes have never been able to help her achieve. Now, I can just be, Ann(e) realizes. Finally.
She is invisible to herself and others as she floats. No, wait, she is not floating. That would imply that she is suspended in a substance, but there is no substance around her. Nothing surrounds her. It is the nothingness of nothing at all which she finds so very satisfying.
She is not afraid to undo the pause—to test the waters, so to speak—and she allows the irreversible action to continue, but only for a million millionth of a second. Her body drops precipitously a fraction of a fraction of an inch. It is enough to convince her of the inevitability of her action. For every action, there is a reaction. Simple physics. There can be only one outcome in her universe.
So, she takes a deep breath, metaphorically speaking, because she does not need to breathe in this vacuum of all possibilities and of none, but she allows herself the luxury of taking this marvelous breath that she has wanted to take for a very long time, a symbolic breath that fills the pathways in her lungs down to the tiniest of bronchioles, a breath that scintillates in each and every molecule of her transient shell. And with her inner self positioned in a perfect state of non-state, free of being Ann(e), she exhales.
About the Author
Desiree Ultican started out as a bright young thing and had some short stories published in her 20s. One was picked up by the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project. One won a Missouri Fiction prize and she recorded it for National Public Radio. That was years ago.