He had the steering wheel in a rigid grip. He hated heights, and bridges terrified him. But he had to make the commute twice a week, and his time was valuable. Besides, his patients needed him.
He was halfway across the bridge and could see the far side. Almost there, almost safe. He wiped his brow and forced himself to breathe.
Then the traffic slowed and stopped. He pounded the wheel and swore. Then he saw the police cars in his mirror. One, two, maybe ten. They turned and cut off the lanes. Nobody could move.
Four men got out of an unmarked van and immediately summoned the supervisors already on site. The newly arrived men had equipment of some sort strapped to their bodies, and most revealingly, ropes coiled around their shoulders. Their vision was directed to the top of the two-hundred-foot central spire.
There was a person at its summit. A jumper.
He was talking to the police via his cell phone and they were trying to get some sense of what he wanted. Through his mangled monologue, they gathered this much.
His name was Nathan, he was in his mid-fifties, and he was certain, absolutely certain, that he had been invaded and colonised by demons who were making his life a misery.
His voice changed constantly, at times whispering, then shuddering, then roaring, but never changing in its certainty. The demons controlled him. He had had enough. He saw no way out.
The doctor was at the scene, within steps of the police and the base of the spire. He knew his sworn duty and got out of his car.
He wasn’t as athletic looking as the others. He was mid-fifties, a few pounds past prime, but he knew what the basic request would be.
Would he be willing to go to the top and talk to the poor soul?
He stared, stammered, and then agreed. Yes. Yes, despite his innate and deeply rooted fear of heights, fear of open spaces, and the fear of even the sight of bridges, he would go. Aided, practically even carried by the special crew of mountaineers, he would go.
They prepared, four climbers plus the doctor. They would talk down the jumper.
They began the climb. They distracted him with small talk.
What do you think about the Canadiens?
Don’t follow hockey. I skate sometimes.
Cool. Me, my name is Patrick, my friend here is Sebastien. Those two behind us are Serge and Robert.
Good. My name is Abe. I am so scared, please God, help me.
He always helps good people, Dr. Abe. Another step, please.
Okay. Okay. Done. Almost there, almost…
So it went, step by step, girder to girder. The doctor kept his eyes on the steel immediately beneath his feet, the green painted steel that led to another girder, the angles criss-crossing, narrowing and curving, leading too slowly and too quickly to the apex and the jumper.
In twenty minutes, they had reached the peak. The jumper looked at them as invaders, but they had to engage him.
The doctor asked his name, and he told him, Nathan. The doctor asked what he was interested in.
What difference is it?
It’s important. You’re important. What you do is important.
He nodded. The doctor continued.
Do you have any family?
A sister. She calls me sometimes. I never answer.
Why don’t you answer? She cares about you, talk to her.
I might hurt her. I don’t want to hurt her.
But it’s on the phone, how can you hurt her?
These voices, they can move through space and hurt her.
But I can hear you, and I’m okay.
Maybe not now, but they will soon. I can’t go on this way. I just can’t.
But how can you be sure?
When I’m dead, they’ll stop.
That won’t help you.
I want them to stop. Just stop. Stop…stop…
I can help you. Just come down, back to the road. I’ll help you.
Think so? That you can help me?
I can’t be certain. But I can try. I can help, if you let me.
They talked back and forth. The sun was setting, and it had to end soon.
Nathan, come down, come with me. Together we can make it better. Come with us, Nathan.
His body loosened, lost its frightening tension. He looked at Abe, and at the two mountaineers.
Slowly he disentangled himself from his perch. Two climbers held fast to his sides, and they descended the superstructure, one step at a time, one juncture at a time.
Patrick and Sebastien helped the doctor as he climbed down, every bit as tense as when they had ascended. Slowly but with increased ease and relief they approached the deck of the bridge.
They reached the deck, first Nathan and his rescuer, and then Doctor Abe and his bearers. All breathed easier. Except for the jumper. Except Nathan.
Liar, he yelled. Damned liar! You’re one of them, you’re one of them, you’re a voice, a devil, just like them.
And he wrenched himself free of his rescuers, jumped to the handrail guarding the walkway and vaulted over the side.
He yelled out, die my soul. That was all.
He hit the surface of the St. Lawrence with a splat audible from the deck. He didn’t surface, and in the dimness of the twilight, no rescue could be attempted. The five men, the climbers plus the doctor, yelled at him and each other and then watched the rapid current of the river bear him away. It would not yield its capture.
Slowly the cordon was called off. The traffic resumed.
But at the base, where Nathan had made his exit, the police cars and their drivers stayed a while. They huddled together, arms on each other`s shoulders, both re-living and trying to escape the events of the day.
It was dawn before they, too, left.
By Philip Mann
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