Jessica was standing on the railing of the only bridge in town. The wind coming off the river whipped at her clothes and strung her long black hair out behind her. She smiled at the boy, Leon, standing next to her and reached out a hand to take his. He wore a huge grin below his delicate nose and longish blond hair. They slide away from each other until their arms were taut.
“Are you ready?” Jessica yelled, her words stolen immediately by the gale. Leon didn’t bother to speak, only nodded his head vigorously. They leaned forward in unison. The wind buffeted them up and adhered them to their perch. Both children were laughing.
“More!” shouted Leon. They were now leaning at a 45-degree angle. The wind was like a breath stealing cushion, something giving that they could lean against. It threw their arms back and their grip on each other slipped. Gapping mouths sucked cold air into bellies. They were filled with its roar and fury.
Jessica’s hair felt as if it would be ripped off and she was beginning to feel light head from lack of oxygen. She tried to gesture to Leon that they should get down but he wasn’t paying any attention. He was leaning further and further forward, head thrown back with gasping laughter. Jessica watched the back of his head, the tips of his pink ears, nervously. He was almost level with the bridge. Neither of them had ever leaned that far forward before. Jessica tried to call a warning, tried to snatch a handful of his hair but he was already falling, sailing on the wind.
“No!” she screamed as her best friend fell toward the water below. Jessica, herself, was pushed off the railing and back onto the bridge. Screaming incoherently she leaned over the edge to look for her friend below. Her face contorted into a look of pure astonishment. Leon hung in the air 20 feet below her. His clothes rippled with the wind that was holding him up.
“Are you okay?” she yelled down but got no response. She didn’t know what to do. How could she get him back up? She didn’t have to make that decision, though. Leon suddenly fluttered up. Higher than the bridge. He seemed so small looking down at her. His face held a look of terror and she could tell that he was trying to say something. The wind carried away all of his attempts. He sailed, in a looping arch, over the bridge. Jessica ran to the other side only to watch him be carried up into the clouds where he disappeared.
She sat on the bridge for a long time, crying, waiting to see if he would come back. When it began to grow dark and she still hadn’t seen a hint of him in the sky, Jessica knew that she had to go home. Scrubbing her eyes repeatedly with the back of her hands, she tried to run her fingers through the tangle of her hair. Standing, she walked home in a daze.
“You’re late, Jess. Were you out with that McAllister boy again?”
“No Dad,” Jessica muttered, sitting down at the kitchen table. Her father sat a bowl of soup in front of her.
“Well you’re just in time for dinner anyway.” Her father sat down across from her. “What were you doing?”
“What happened to your hair?”
Jessica knew what her hair looked like. She could see the halo of knots in her peripheral vision. “There’s a wind storm.”
“Were you playing by yourself?”
“Yeah. I’m really tired, Dad. Can I just go to my room?”
Jessica’s father regarded her suspiciously. “Is everything okay, honey? Did something happen?”
“No, I’m just tired.”
“Okay. I’ll put the soup in the refrigerator if you get hungry later. Do you want me to send your mom in when she gets home from work?”
Jessica stood. “That’s okay. I’m probably just going to go to sleep.”
She walked numbly to her bedroom and threw herself on her bed. Covering her head with her pillow, she sobbed as quietly as she could. She was at a lose over what to do. She knew that she and Leon weren’t suppose to be playing on the bridge. They weren’t even suppose to be near the river. If she told her parents she would get in trouble. If she didn’t tell, there was no way anyone would find Leon. It was too big a decision for a 13 year-old girl.
She lay paralyzed for a hour or so before her father knocked on her door. Jessica quickly pulled the covers over herself and pretended to sleep.
Her father opened the door a crack. “Jessica? Are you awake?”
She tried not saying anything but her father came into her room and sat on the edge of her bed. “Honey, did something happen earlier?”
“Are you sure? Did you and Leon get in a fight?”
“I told you that I wasn’t with him.”
“Did you see him today? His mom just called. He hasn’t come home yet.”
Jessica’s mind was screaming in panic. She kept the pillow firmly over her head. “I saw him at school during lunch, but not since then.”
Her dad patted her back. “If you’re sure, Jess. Let me know if you think of anything else, okay? His mom’s really worried.”
With little to no sleep, she got up the next morning and got ready for school. Her father didn’t question her further, but she could feel him watching her as she ate breakfast and collected her school things. Once out of the house, she turned left towards the river, unceremoniously throwing her book bag under a bush as she ran down the road.
Once at the bridge, she realized that the storm had died down in the night. It wasn’t the fearsome gale that had been so tantalizing yesterday. Instead, there was nothing but a gentle breeze that barely lifted the end of her ponytail. She climbed down to the riverbank and started to comb it for signs of her friend. She walked in the direction that he had flown the night before but saw no signs of him.
“Leon? Leon?” she called again and again. There was no answer, though; no sign of him.
Jessica had searched the riverbank daily for weeks to no avail. Her father had questioned her repeatedly about Leon and she had even had to talk to the police. She told no one what had happened. She was so deep into not telling that sometimes she even believed her lies. Three weeks after Leon’s disappearance there was a big storm. Jessica waited until she was sure that both of her parents were asleep, and then, outfitted in her down jacket, crept out of the house.
The wind swirled around her violently. It tore at her hair and clothes. The skin of her face felt raw from its blast. She hurried toward the bridge. If Leon had gone somewhere, she wanted to go with him. At the bridge, she climbed onto the railing, chilling tears streaming from her eyes. She spread out her arms as far as they would reach. She felt off balance without Leon to hold onto. Slowly, Jessica began to lean into the wind. She let it suck the breath from her and fill her belly with its icy self. She leaned further and further forward until the soles of her shoes were balancing on the edge of the rail.
The wind howled in her ears, a roar that seemed mocking and victorious. A chorus of hollow voices egging her on. As her footing slipped and she floated forward off the railing, one dissonant voice reached her ears. It sounded like the whisper of Leon’s breath, like when they were reading something together with their heads bent close. It had no words but the tone was pleading. In plateaus and whistles it was urging Jessica back.
The warning came too late; her feet had already left the railing and she was falling forward. She had no breath to hold as she plummeted towards the rivers surface. Arms thrown back painfully, the wind snatched her up. It jettisoned her high above the bridge only to batter her into somersaults on the other side. She screamed out what remaining air was in her. The sounded mixed in with the wind, adding to its din. Now Jessica knew the truth as her body was thrown up river. The storm had stolen her voice and was discarding the rest of her, just as it had done to Leon.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED