by George Opacic
Campbell River. A lovely place to retire.
“First, you have to be able to afford to retire,” mumbles Ian, an almost-retired businessman.
Ian is seated on a lichen-encrusted rock beside the trail that leads to Elk Falls Bridge. The chain-link sides of the suspension bridge still glisten with dew in the morning. Rushing water from the river below provides overpowering music for the idyllic area. Ian closes his eyes as he takes in a deep lungful of pine forest air.
Ian is alerted by scuffling noises from up the trail. He sees a thin eighty-year-old in light shorts, white tee-shirt with a small pack bouncing on his back, using jogging sticks to propel himself toward the bridge and past Ian’s rock. Giving a quick glance in Ian’s direction, without slowing down the jogger holds his sticks up while striding down the bridge’s slope. A lone woman tourist who has been standing quietly in the middle of the bridge looks up in annoyance at the bouncing caused by the jogger. Then the watcher is caught in fascination, seeing the athletic gent, older than the watcher by at least ten years, bearing down on her until he squeezes past and works his wiry legs quickly up the far side to disappear down the path.
The watcher stands with both hands gripping the top of the chain-link barrier, staring at where the jogger had so briefly been.
A large plastic cup of fruit and a muffin are half-consumed on the large rock next to Ian. Absently taking his metal fork in hand, he keeps his eyes on the bridge: the jogger’s bounces have become slow sways; the watcher turns her head to stare back down at the rushing water below the bridge; a raven calls nearby; the watcher shakes her head slightly then takes her blue baseball hat and tosses it into the water.
Without registering what he is actually seeing, Ian continues taking in the scene as the watcher stretches a stiff leg up to try to put it over the chain-link barrier. It won’t quite reach.
Ian suddenly finds himself beside the watcher.
The bridge is still bouncing from Ian’s headlong rush.
Puffing a bit, Ian tries to be nonchalant. “Breathtaking view, isn’t it?”
The watcher lets her inflexible leg back down while holding on tightly because of the bouncing bridge.
“What view?” The watcher drops her gaze. “That water is rushing almost as fast as time.” She shakes her head, “No time left…” She leans against the hard chain-link, wanting to drop over.
Ian touches the watcher’s shoulder. “My name is Ian…”
“Bugger off, Ian.” The watcher continues to press against the metal fencing.
Just wanting to keep talking, Ian searches for something to say. “Can’t bugger off, I’m afraid. Part of the human race… As are you. Have to stick around. Part of the contract.”
The watcher half shakes her head but turns annoyance into a polite retort. “Ian. I’m not with that bunch anymore. Not human. Your contract doesn’t apply to me. Thank you anyway, but… bugger off. Please.”
They stare at each other for a quiet minute. Ian sees a generation of yellow-tinged wrinkles that make up the watcher’s face; hollow eyes that used be blue, perhaps, but are now corroded gun-metal grey; salt-and-pepper hair that is uncombed and lies limply against her shoulders; her clothes have been unwashed for months.
“I’m an addict. Used to be just a drunk. There’s nothing left inside. Nothing to save… Leave me alone and go back to your nice life.”
Still at a loss for words, “I can’t pretend to know how you feel…”
“My god, I hope you never know how I feel, Ian. It would kill you, too.” The watcher turns away to stare at the river below. “Used to have a family, a house. No dog. Wanted one. He didn’t… Had a car accident. Can’t even remember it much. They say I hit someone. I remember a slice of a picture of me hitting the other car after that. Woke up in hospital and they starting stuffing needles into my good arm and leg. It was a good blur after that. For a few hours. Then I cried for more… Kicked me out and said I should see a shrink. And a lawyer. She hated me. Said I killed…”
The watcher’s eyes well up and her face writhes into agony.
“The shrink gave me needles and then pills. They made my mind into a tub of molasses, only not sweet. Just thick and grey. But I needed more. More pills. Then more needles. Then everyone left me.” Her now ugly face turns to Ian. “The human race walked away from me!”
She shakes the chain-link fence, cutting her hand on the sharp edges. She absently licks the blood.
“So, bugger off, Ian.”