In the light of the full moon on a cloudless night, Ron walked to the middle of the bridge and put one leg over the guardrail, and then the other. He stood on a narrow catwalk meant for the use of painters and inspectors. Ron planned to use it as a launching pad, to launch himself into the deep waters of the Tondoscinewa River and end it all.
He took a deep breath, and released it. Depressed as he was, he thought perhaps he should get right with God before jumping. Of course, jumping itself was guaranteed to get on God’s bad side, and there was no point in asking for forgiveness and then committing the sin. So, no prayer.
Ron took another deep breath, thinking it would be his last. Then he heard the footsteps approaching slowly from the tree-laden far end of the bridge. He blew out the breath and wondered who was coming.
A man’s shape appeared and gradually got larger. Ron saw it was a fellow in his mid-30s, a little older than Ron himself. He was wearing nice trousers and a white shirt that looked expensive. He had probably been wearing a jacket and tie, but the night was too warm for such things. A gold watchband gleamed in the moonlight.
The other fellow stopped several feet away from Ron and stared at him politely.
“Going over?” he asked.
“Nice night for it.”
Again, Ron nodded his agreement.
The man kept his distance from Ron but walked over to the same edge of the bridge and looked over the side to where the moon’s reflection floated lazily. He swung his head back quickly. “That ought to do it,” he said.
“Yeah,” Ron said. “It’s four stories down to the river, which is a little over 250 feet deep and has a pretty good current. I know, as I’ve lived around here all my life.”
“That’s the sort of thing a native should know,” the man agreed.
“So what are you doing out here?” Ron asked, and made a little asking motion with his head toward the river.
“Hm? Oh, no, no. I’ve got car trouble. It’s about half a mile back that way. I’d stopped to take a brief nap, and when I woke up it wouldn’t start. I’m hoping there’s a garage or something up ahead.”
“Well, there is,” Ron said slowly. “Just another half mile in the direction you’re going. Flash’s Fill-‘Em-Up and Repair. It’s open 24 hours.”
“Well, no, not really.”
“No,” Ron admitted. “I’m the mechanic on duty.”
“Ah.” He paused a moment. “Well, this is awkward.”
“No, it’s not your fault. It’s just ironic, I mean, that the one person around who could fix my car is wanting to…” And the man motioned toward the river.
There was another longish pause.
“Say,” the man said.
“Yeah?” Ron prompted.
“I hate to ask this, because … you know … but would you mind terribly looking at my car first?”
Ron stared at the man.
“I know I’m asking a lot,” the man continued quickly. “You’ve got your mind made up to do this … thing … and some idiot who just talks for a living and doesn’t know a lug wrench from a spark plug asks you to put it on hold and look at his car. I know that’s rude.”
“No, not rude, really,” Ron demurred. “Inconvenient’s the word I’d use.”
“Yes, inconvenient. I know it’s really inconvenient. It’s just that I’ve got to be in Springfield by noon. Oh, my name’s Griffin, by the way.”
“I’m Ron. Nice to meet you.”
“Thank you. Likewise, I’m sure. As I was about to say, I’m meeting my fiancée in Springfield at noon, and I’d hate to keep her waiting.”
“‘Fiancee,'” Ron repeated dully.
“Yes. We’re getting married next week. I had some business to take care of but now I’m on my way to -.” Griffin stopped and took a tentative step toward Ron, whose head hung a little lower toward his chin now and his eyes had shifted back toward the water. “I sense things are about to get even more awkward.”
“I had a fiancée,” Ron began.
“I was right.”
“Made her my wife.”
“Oh, well, that was good.”
“And now she’s run off with the assistant manager of the Ice-e Barn. And she wants the house. I got the papers from her lawyer today.”
“Yes, awkward,” Griffin said quietly. “I’m awfully sorry to hear that. You must be feeling terrible.” He noticed the river again. “Well, obviously.”
“We’ve been married for nine years. No kids, but we kept hoping. And I loved her.” He broke off and stared out into the night.
“Oh, boy. That’s … that’s hard, Ron. I feel for you. I really do. I’ve heard this story a lot in my time.” He thought a moment. “But maybe, as a final gesture to love triumphant, you could look at my car and help get another relationship off to a good start?”
Ron refocused on the automotive concern, as he was trained to do. “What’s it doing?”
“Nothing much, really,” Griffin said. “I turn the key,” which he mimed needlessly, “and it just goes ahuh-ruh ahuh-ruh ahuh-ruh ahuh-ruh, like that.” And without noticing he was doing so, he turned the pretend key back to the pretend off position and then took it out of the pretend ignition switch.
Ron pondered. “Could be a number of things. Might just be flooded. Could be the starter. Or the alternator. Has it been giving you any problems before this?”
“Yeah, it’s been getting a little cranky about starting for a week or so, but it’s kept going.”
“Probably the starter,” Ron said. “What make?”
“Two years old.”
Ron nodded, all business. “I can probably switch that out for you and get you on your way in about an hour.” Then he remembered which side of the guardrail he was on. “Of course…”
“Yes, that,” Griffin agreed sadly, then brightened. “But if it would take only an hour? I could even drive you back here before going on to Springfield.”
Ron pondered. “I don’t know.” He looked longingly at the river, but then he looked up at the stars as though he were listening to something. “Yes, Mama,” he said softly. “Always be helpful.” And he climbed carelessly back to safety.
“Oh, thank you,” Griffin gushed. “I really appreciate this. And I’m just as sorry as I can be for delaying you.”
” ‘Sall right,” Ron said magnanimously. “I guess the bridge and the river will still be here an hour from now.”
“Sure they will,” Griffin said cheerfully. And they set off together toward Flash’s Fill-‘Em-Up and Repair.
“So, Griffin, what do you do?” Ron asked to make polite small talk.
“I’m a divorce lawyer,” he said automatically. Both men froze in their tracks. Griffin slowly turned his head toward Ron. “Um.”
Ron’s face, as seen in the bright moonlight, was caught between anger and despair. “You’re one of those?”
“I’m afraid so,” Griffin confessed meekly. “But not hers!”
Ron gave him a look of disgust anyway and then marched back to his place on the catwalk and hopped off. The soft splash could barely be heard above on the bridge.
Griffin stood on the centerline for several moments. He looked around and above him and pulled out his cell phone. Away from all the trees where the car had ceased to run, he had a clear signal. He pushed the number for his fiancée.
“Hi, Honey, it’s me. I know you’re in bed and that’s all right. Look, I’m still a few hours away. My car won’t start and I can’t get it fixed just now. I’ll call you back if something … surfaces. Love you lots. Bye.”