‘Go on’ said a voice, in my ear, ‘do it. Don’t think…just do it! If you’re gonna stand here all night thinking about it you will never do it.’
Startled, I turned to look at this disembodied voice. It belonged to the leather-clad youth whom I thought I had seen earlier operating the ‘Dodgems’. I had been here for some time watching from the bridge – a newly built concrete structure which, in its short life, had already gained the dubious distinction of being known locally as Lover’s Leap.
I had come here because I needed to be alone with my thoughts. I hadn’t expected this interruption. I had stood looking down at the cold dark waters for a long time as I thought about how my life had spiralled out of control.
Then my attention had been unwillingly drawn to the field by the side of the river because the noise coming from it was cacophonous. There was music, loud, competing music, like a dozen orchestras, all playing different tunes yet, strangely, in harmony with the screaming children; the hum of machinery; the sudden, sharp crack of a rifle, like with the 1812 Overture when the canons come in; and laughter, lots of laughter.
As I looked down the smell of candy floss and onions, diesel and doughnuts, ice-cream, hot dogs, honeycomb and the smell of people…damp, excited people came drifting up.
‘What’s stopping you?’ said the lad.
‘You are’ I snapped, before turning my attention back to the fairground. I didn’t want conversation so best to ignore him.
I could see behind the rides and the sideshows that there were a variety of caravans, some long and silvery, others, small and squat with vases of plastic flowers in the windows. Some of the caravans had bored-looking Alsatians tied to them whilst in the general confusion of people there were other lean, black, mongrel dogs, running about with tails held high in anticipation of some falling, tasty, morsel of food.
‘Aga Do Do Do’ belched from the ‘Dodgems’ and I thought how much I hated that song now that he was gone but still I remembered happier times when we danced to that silly tune because in those days we were real party animals.
But now as I looked down at the fairground I remembered watching the lithe, young lad in his studded, black leather leap from car to car as he attempted to avert a major collision between giggling girls.
Memories of a laughing young girl came flooding back with that song. In those days I had the power to make him smile in a way that he never did with anyone else. Eyes twinkling, a half smile playing about his lips, he would gaze lovingly down at me as I danced my way into his heart.
My attention back on the ‘Dodgems’ I stood remembering the effortless ease with which the lad seemed to disentangle the colliding cars. As I had stood watching, it was as if he needed to keep no more than a finger-hold on the back of the car as it whizzed round and round, threatening to throw him off with each revolution. He seeming to be completely oblivious to the danger, even reaching into the back pocket of his skin-tight leather trousers for a comb which he then slid easily through his slicked back hair.
The giggling girls, with hearts racing, I imagined, smiled teasingly, as the lad smiled down at them before stepping off the car as if it had stopped. The girls pleased to have got his attention at last.
‘Go on, what’s stopping you?’ He said again.
Now, it seemed, I had got his attention but unlike those giggling, silly girls, I did not want it and I was far from pleased. Just at that moment the same two girls whom I thought had tried so hard to catch his eye on the ‘Dodgems’ came walking towards us. At first, giggling and fooling around…but then with a curious expression on their faces, they suddenly started running as if the devil himself was chasing them. Did they suspect what was in my mind?
Once the girls had vanished from view I gingerly climbed up on to the parapet.
‘What are you waiting for?’ He enquired. ‘Jump if you’re going to.’
He moved towards me. ‘Stay away’ I screamed ‘Stay away or I will!’
‘Go on then…I could do with the excitement.’
I inched my way to the edge and, looking down, I imagined that it was still possible to distinguish white knuckles clutching black safety rails. However, it was possible in that cacophony of sound, to hear the laughter of a single child; possible even, to smell the perspiration of fear, before it floated upwards to mingle with all the other smells in the atmosphere of the night. Here was life, raw and uncompromising, but nevertheless, life, with all its energies in total confusion.
‘So, what brings you to the bridge?’ He said, making an effort to seem interested.
‘I don’t want to discuss it.’
‘So, you’re just going to jump off without giving any reason?’
‘I don’t owe you an explanation.’
‘Okay, perhaps not me but are you sure you have a reason?’
‘My life is a mess.’ I said. ‘He’s gone. Loneliness is my new companion. I can see no end to it. There is nothing that could make my life bearable again.’
‘But you still have your life.’
‘But I don’t want it.’
‘You could meet someone.’
‘Not possible’ I said. ‘He was the love of my life. We met when I was still a giddy teenager so I have little experience of life without him. But now he’s gone.’
‘You don’t get it, do you?’
‘What is there to get? You loved and lost. It happens.’
‘Not to us. It was not meant to happen to us. He was my mentor, my confidante, my lover, my friend. He was the happiness in my life…no… more…he was my life!
“No one person can be all of that.”
Now I am left with this void, this vacuum, which nothing can fill.’
‘So…you’re a quitter!’’
‘What…I’m not. What do you know?’
‘Only what you tell me and all the evidence, so far, points that way.’
‘You know nothing about me?’
‘Based on what you’ve told me …’
‘How dare you make an assumption like that? I have tried to carry on but without him there seems little point.
‘So, it’s his fault, then, is it?’
‘No, I can’t blame him. But I don’t blame myself. The pain though is excruciating…unbearable! It’s like amputation without anaesthetic.’
‘Oh, so…bit of a drama queen too?’
‘How dare you?’ I spluttered. ‘Are you trying to goad me?’
This last remark from the boy sent a white hot flame of rage, like volcanic lava, coursing through my veins. What right did he have to speak to me like this? What did this boy, this wet behind the ears, boy, know, about being alone, struggling to survive?
‘You know nothing about it,’ I said.
‘What makes you think that?’ said the boy. ‘You want to jump off this bridge into the river below because your man has left you.’
What did this feckless, callow youth know about love?
‘Oh, yes,’ I said, ‘I have had to come to terms with the situation…deal with the pain and the bitterness…what choice did I have? But I can never, and will never, forget that we made vows to each other. I have kept my side of the bargain. Why hasn’t he?’
‘Maybe you expected too much?’
‘I don’t think so and if I did, I still don’t deserve this awful, gut wrenching pain. This is all wrong. This is not how we planned things. We were meant to be together always.’
‘You’re not the first to be betrayed.’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘No! You don’t understand! Nothing is forever!’ was the lad’s insensitive reply. ‘Get over it!’
‘I can’t. He didn’t keep his word. He had the heart attack but my heart is the one left broken. He has gone without me.’
‘But you still have your life. What does he have? Nothing!
I looked at the lad properly for the first time. There was something about this boy that I recognized. What was it?
‘You should spend every minute you have left searching for happiness…you owe it to your man. He would not want this. You rob his life of all meaning by wallowing in this ludicrous self pity.’
Young as he was, I knew the boy was right. Tonight, I had looked down on other peoples’ lives and had come to, what was for me, a momentous decision. I was not going to heap my troubles on to the stout, concrete shoulders of this innocent and inoffensive bridge.
Gazing down into that boggy field, with its raucous noise and garish lights, I had come to realize that losing a loved one, though achingly painful is an experience that has to be lived through. I still felt the pain as if it was yesterday but it had been five years yet I had survived and tonight, for the first time, I realized I had come out on the other side.
The bridge, which had been the last link between life and death for so many people, and the cold dark waters beneath, held no charms for me now. I climbed down carefully because I had decided I was going home to my cosy little cottage, my Labrador and my life, with a hot dog, complete with onions and mustard, and a candy floss on a stick.
I felt rather than saw the rush of movement as the boy sprang onto the parapet. “I Will Survive” belched ironically from the ‘Dodgems’ and he was gone. It was then that I remembered what it was that had seemed so familiar about the boy. It wasn’t that I had seen him on the ‘Dodgems.’ No, it was pain. That was what had struck me as familiar…the pain of loss!
The next day, it was headlines in the paper. “Two more girls report sighting of fairground ghost on bridge known locally as Lover’s Leap!”