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A Thin Line

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"A Thin Line"      by Tracy Leavitt      Copyright '08

Glenda knew that Horace hovered in the hallway at six o'clock each night, because she could see results of his semi-useful putterings, like the dusted nick-knacks or the fact that the muddy boot prints were wiped from the slate flooring. She imagined him trying to peer through the glass bricks that clung to the side of the front door, turning to check the clock that ticked from the top of the mantle behind him, then, breathing out his big hooooo when she pulled in, as if he had just evaded another danger in the world.

"What if you don't?" he'd say sometimes with a nearly (but not quite) imperceptible whimper. "What if you don't come home one night? What would I do?" His eyes tipped upward and lost their focus like he was watching a slasher film on the inside of his eyelids, his face becoming patchy white.

One night Glenda was waylaid by what she thought was an accident ahead of her on the bridge. She hadn't realized that traffic was jammed up until she was on the long, narrow entrance ramp that led to the bridge. By the time she was stopped, she couldn't go forward or backward and there was no way to turn around. The number of cars kept piling up behind her, trapping her more tightly in her spot.

In the distance, she could see a man climbing up the cables of the bridge. She thought he must be a repairman but there was a certain anxiety in the air that seemed to snap from car to car. People ahead of her were getting out of their cars and staring with their hands held above their eyebrows to block the sun's angled assault. The man had stopped at the crossing of two cables, leaning out to look down.

Glenda thought of a spider waiting for its next meal to fall innocently onto the web, but the climber reminded her of something else as well. Suddenly she thought that it might be Horace up there swaying above the onlookers. She saw herself stepping from the police helicopter onto the bridge. As she walked toward him, she was flanked by the police officers, ambulance drivers, EMTs and psychotherapists. "Just tell him everything will be OK," they said into her ear. "Tell him that you love him more than life itself, and tell him how much you love the Maybelline make-up kit he got you for your birthday…"

When they got to the center of the crowd, there stood his mother in her fox-collared coat looking up. "What are you doing, Horace dear?" his mother spoke into the megaphone.

"I get so anxious when Glenda isn't where she's supposed to be," he yelled down through the criss-cross of cables.

His mother turned to her, "Why weren't you there?" she asked, but didn't wait for an answer. Mrs. Sneadly pushed the EMTs and their megaphone aside and spoke upward through the lines to Horace again, "All these people need to get somewhere Horace darling, perhaps you could just come down for a moment and move your car..."

"I don't care about them. I care about Glenda."

His mother glared at Glenda again. The TV crew turned the cameras toward her. The eyes of all New Yorkers were boring into her, expecting her to say something that would bring him down, bring him back into the safety and comfort of her presence. "Well, I'm here now, so come down," she said, feeling more exhausted than concerned.

"Will you promise to come home on time from now on?"

She took a deep breath. "If at all humanly possible, I will," she said trying as hard as she could to be sweet, but then added in a rather more heated tone, "I do, Horace. I do that already."

"How do I know for sure?"

There was a long silence. Glenda looked down into the wide, murky river. "If you don't believe me then go ahead and jump." There was a collective intake of breath from all the watchers when Horace's foot faltered on the thin line connecting the massive cables, but Glenda walked back to the helicopter and demanded to be taken to a hotel with a heated pool.

By the time Glenda got home, she saw that Horace had the front hallway sparkling, the porch swept, the garden strip beside the driveway weeded and the mailbox repainted. He ran to the car and asked where she had been.

"I was held up in traffic, Horace. There was a whacko on the bridge, who was threatening to jump."

"You're joking!"

"No, I'm not joking."

"You must be joking."

"No, Horace, I am not. I'm sure there will be something about it on the news tonight. There were camera crews crawling all over it like maggots on a garbage pile."

Glenda heard the television go on at 10 'o clock and walked to the den to find that Horace had abandoned his crossword puzzle book and his snack bowl on the couch. He was sitting at attention on the footstool staring at the screen. The professionally detached voice from the television said, "…traffic was held up for two hours going both directions from the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge today due to a threatened suicide. The man drove onto the bridge, stopped his car at an angle blocking both lanes. Eye witnesses said that he climbed the cables until he was as high as he could go and announced his intention to jump."

Horace looked at her with his mouth gaping open like he couldn't believe such a thing would happen. "You said you were close to the bridge right? God, he could have fallen to an agonizing death before your very eyes, Glenda."

"He didn't," she said.

The report was ending with a grainy close-up of the man's wife and child running to where he stood in the custody of two policemen, "…the three hour ordeal was over when the man climbed down and was reunited with his wife and seven year old son." Then the camera panned back to reveal the jam up on the Beacon side. Most of the people near the bridge had gotten out of their cars and stood applauding as the man held his wife. Horace jumped up even closer to the television and put his finger on the screen.

"Hey, there's your car, right?"

"Yes."

"There you are, Glenda! You're getting out of your car. You're a famous TV star," he said squinting at the screen and pointing. "Hey, you aren't clapping."

"I would have clapped if he had jumped," she said flatly.

Horace laughed and tried to wipe off the smear that his potato chip finger had left on top of Glenda's tiny, wavering image.

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Copyright © 2008  Tracy A. Leavett. All rights reserved.

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Next publication:
A MONTH ON A BARRIER ISLAND  Poems by Steven Lewis and Photographs by Tom Nolan Due: Fall 2009

   

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8-3-09

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