A Conundrum on a Bridge
Adam Longo stood on the edge of a high railroad bridge that cut through the thick woods on the outer edge of Grainer Falls. He looked over the side and down into the deep cut of the rocky gorge, dense with gray trunks and limbs and the tethered leaflets sprouting bright colors. Water crawled along the bottom, briskly rushed over smooth stones on its journey to the horizon and beyond. Some of the stones had been spit out by the river and formed uneven, stumble-prone clusters along the shoreline on each side.
The boy wanted to end it all right then and there, he thought to himself. He wanted to fall away into the misty ether and be gone forever. The thoughts hurt his mind, his still pulse, his limbo soul. But then he thought, what good would it even do if he jumped? He would just float down like a blossomed parachute and slip into the cold, rushing water as if he were simply lying down to sleep. And even if he floated downstream and over the falls, the ones Grainer Falls is named for, he wouldn’t drown. He would still be alive because he was already dead. He could breathe through anything.
Adam Longo realized he was trapped in a life he didn’t want, and he didn’t think it was possible to go back to the life he once had. But why would he want that? What a conundrum. Conundrum. A new word he had just learned in his English class. It meant a confusing and difficult problem. That’s what his life was all the time now, so he believed.
He didn’t know what to do, and that made him angry. The anger grew and he wanted to be cruel to Rude Rudy like he had been cruel to him. He hated Rudy for pitting the entire school against him like he did in the lunchroom, for turning him into nothing but a target for everyone to pierce with their hate-minded arrows. He wanted to be cruel to all of them. He wanted to bring that school down and make them hurt for hurting him. And as his visions grew harder and deeper in scope, something soft came upon the air and touched him like maybe the tip of a wayward branch would during a walk in some far away forest. Like some tree gently reaching out and tapping you on the shoulder.
Then the sound came again, stronger along the span of the bridge, the air grabbing it and carrying it to him. A voice. “Adam!?”
He turned to look and there at the far end of the bridge stood the girl, his girl, at least the girl he hoped would be his. Veronica Genesis was there, his beacon in a glossy blue jacket over her clean school clothes, and she was waving an arm in the air and pulling the wind-tossed hair away from her face with the other hand. “Adam!” she called out again, and then she came running toward him.
She came upon him breathless and wet with the leafy autumn air full of tender chills and fire smoke spewing from leaning red brick chimneys poking out from the old homesteads nearby. Those rickety shacks in the hills were still clutching to life somehow, still sheltering another branch of a generational tree with deep roots knotted in the damp, wormy ground below. Self-appointed saviors preached away from the frames of crooked windows and the women cooked in fire-stained dented pots and the people who often had cold bellies were warmed for mere moments under the mystified gray light of day. And those people there sit upon faded and bowed porches rocking and talking and crying and deeply dreaming and even damning the whole of the world that swirled around them at times.
The girl reached out and gripped his arm from the veranda of it all. With his senses so heightened now, Veronica smelled like candied school to him. She smelled like the hallways, the wax on the floors, and the books and the paper and the glue and the paint they used in art class. She smelled like the chalk, the pencils, the erasers, the plastic lunch pails. She smelled like the bananas in the wicker basket on the cafeteria line, the cold rolls, the orange gelatin, the chocolate pudding, the green beans, the buttered corn, the mystery meat. She smelled like the whole of life and he wanted to wrap his damaged sooty wings around her and drop off the side of that bridge and together they would fall to wherever she wanted to go, and they wouldn’t crash, and they wouldn’t burn, and they wouldn’t break. Not ever.
She shook him out of the daze. “What are you doing here? What were you planning to do? Were you going to jump?”
His eyes fluttered open, and they were a different color now, a crisp golden hue, like an apple that wasn’t fully red. He looked at her with those newly baptized eyes. “How did you find me?” he asked in nearly a whisper that could have been so easily lost in the place where they were, snatched up by a screaming cloud on its way to Heaven or space. “Why did you find me?” he asked with more punch.
Veronica looked around at the vapor, the yawning blue sky, those clouds slipping through the atmosphere, the trees with their leaves crayoned golden, green, orange, and red, on the precipice of shedding the season completely. “I followed you the whole way. I wanted to see if you were okay.”
He roughly pulled away from her and he didn’t know why. Everything in him, around him, was turning inside out. “You should just go back to school. I’m nothing but a freak. Why would you want to be around a freak?”
“You’re not a freak.”
“Yes, I am. The whole school thinks so. I’m never going back there ever again. No one can make me.”
“Then what are you going to do? You can’t just hide out in the woods for the rest of your life. Someone will notice. Someone will come find you, I’m afraid. Because of the boy in the old factory.”
“They’ll never know it was me. I leave no trace of myself… Anywhere, anymore. And nobody cares enough to find me.”
“That’s not true.”
He suddenly turned to her, his simmering anger starting to rattle the lid off the pot. “Why do you do that?”
Sensing his rage notching skyward, Veronica stepped back away from him. “Do what?” she struggled to say.
“You always have an answer for everything. I’m not this, I’m not that, that’s not going to happen… Why are you so damn sure about everything! You don’t get it at all. Not me, not my life. Why don’t you do both of us a favor and just leave me alone!”
Veronica wasn’t sure what to say. She just looked at him and he was changing before her very eyes somehow, not in any distinct way, but subtly, like a slow evolution. She bit into and swallowed that moment, like taking a photo, that burning look on his face, and she felt it crawl down her insides and into her warm guts and it scared her far too much. All she could do was turn and run away from him, even as hard as that was.
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