You are a version of a person that you cannot remember, a translation of a translation of a translation. You are staring at an email instead of reading it, but it doesn’t matter because you already know what it says. It’s from the man you met online through the dating website for widows and widowers. You are not a widow but you feel like one and you knew that you would not be able to relate to any man who had not been damaged in the same particular way that you had been damaged when your daughter killed herself in her bedroom in the house that you shared, three years and eight months ago. It was the damage that mattered more than anything else you had been looking for. Later you realized that you had engineered your profile to attract it. And you did.
But now you are thinking of the Prince Edward Viaduct and of the man who clambered to the edge and squeezed himself through the safety bars and stood on the precipice and let himself drop. You close your eyes. You hear water boiling in a kettle. You think of the man and of the many pairs of hands that stretched through the bars and clutched at him — at his arms, at his clothes, that reached around his thighs, that came around his sides and clasped themselves at his chest — and how all of those bodies froze there in that clumsy embrace until the bars could be cut and the man pulled back through.
The man you met online wants to take you away. You live in different states but you’ve had long conversations when neither of you could sleep, and you exchange daily emails. They are deeply personal. Your ex-husband doesn’t trust him but you know that he is harmless. He wants to take you to the beach somewhere; he has money and is lonely and is desperate for companionship. He is also terrified of his grief as if it’s an animal he’s never taken out of the house. I will be sad, he tells you up front. I will definitely cry.
You close your laptop. You make tea from valerian root, which your doctor said would help you sleep. It doesn’t. You try to picture yourself at the beach walking through the surf, wearing big playful sunglasses, holding someone’s hand. The image doesn’t stick. You are still thinking of the man on the viaduct and of the barrier they had built, the system of girders and steel rods, all of it lit with dramatic blue lights, designed to be beautiful and to keep desperate people from jumping onto the traffic one hundred and thirty-one feet below. They called it the Luminous Veil, a name you push around inside your mouth like a lozenge.
You had a reoccurring dream after your daughter died in which you walked across a long bridge over a great chasm. It wasn’t a difficult dream to figure out. The bridge was never the same in these dreams — was never in the same location, never made of the same materials; some of the bridges swayed gently, some stretched out into fog and disappeared — but always in these dreams a man would follow you as you crossed, his hands in his pockets, kicking at pebbles. He never looked at you. When you got close to the edge he would smile.
You climb into your bed but leave the light burning on your bedside table. You pluck out your contact lenses and put them in a tissue. You put a book on your lap but do not open it; instead, you close your eyes and let your daughter’s face come unbidden into your mind and you let it degrade into pixels and starbursts. You decide that you will let the widower take you away. You will accompany him and his grief to the beach — you’ll watch him spread it out like a blanket and you’ll fold it back up for him when the week is over, place it neatly in his suitcase with his trunks and his flip-flops. Your ex-husband won’t like it, but you’ll tell him to stuff it. No. You won’t tell him anything about it.
And now you drift. You go soft at the edges. You think about your recurring dream, how you always expected to one day arrive at the far side of the bridge, how you dreaded it and dreaded what you might find there, what might have been placed there for you to see. But you never did arrive. You made it only as far as the middle. The dreams got farther apart and then you simply stopped having them and you couldn’t help feeling just a little disappointed. And then it all begins to dissolve and you sink down into your pillow and you float high over Tahiti and high over Toronto and you are filled with a comfort that may as well be real as you dream of the Luminous Veil, of the reinforced girders in concrete and of the bright, welcoming light and of the impenetrable steel safety bars, placed just far enough apart that anyone who wanted to could squeeze right through.
Joe P. Squance is a writer, editor, and teacher in Oxford, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Juked, Monkeybicycle, Menacing Hedge, Axolotl, and elsewhere, and he has written essays for Runner’s World, Serious Eats, The RS 500, and Rodale’s Organic Life. He is the recipient of a 2016 Award for Individual Excellence from the Ohio Arts Council. He lives the quiet life with his wife and their daughter.