Micro-Fiction by Jennifer Hurley

My father tried to jump off the bridge again this week. He’d climbed most of the way up the fence and had one leg over on the other side before someone noticed him. I heard about it second-hand, through Maureen, my father’s wife. My mother is dead, and I am my father’s only daughter, but we barely know each other. I live in a different city and see him only on holidays, and we pretend everything is fine. We exchange impersonal gifts and discuss the weather and his roses.

Before my father started trying to jump off bridges, he was a banker. Initially I thought he must have lost money in the financial crisis, maybe his money, maybe somebody else’s. Perhaps he was pushed to despair by the loss of my inheritance. But Maureen told me no. She said the demon had gotten its claws in him long ago. That gave me a weird hope that someday he might cast off the demon and emerge as his true self.

Maureen always insisted that my father wasn’t that bad, and it was true: I had never seen him do anything deliberately cruel. But whenever I encountered other fathers in the world—even just a man on the street carrying a baby on his back—I felt cheated. I wanted to trade my father in for a new one, for someone who would ask me a real question, like why I hadn’t gotten married, or whether there was something else I wished I were doing with my life.

Wise as she was, Maureen said there was no use wasting your life wishing. After that I put my father out of my mind. But when she called to tell me about his most recent attempt to jump off the bridge, I started thinking about him again. That afternoon I drove out to the bridge in my city, which was far out of my way. It was a cold winter Sunday, and hardly anyone was on the road. I put my emergency lights on and got out of my car. I gripped the fence with both hands and looked at the water below. It was such a long way down. I stepped back, lightheaded, nauseous. I couldn’t imagine the kind of pain it would require to make that leap.

I heard something behind me. A man in a brown suit was coming towards me. Stop, miss! he shouted. No, I said. I’m not—I stopped speaking. I was struck by how worried he looked. There was sweat all over his face despite the cold. Please, think of what this would do to your parents, he said. I thought that was funny, so I laughed. How can you laugh? he said, his voice hoarse and full of emotion. I’m sorry, I told him. I made a motion as if to climb the fence, just so he would try again to stop me.

Jennifer Hurley's short fiction has previously appeared in The Mississippi Review, Stone's Throw Magazine, and Slow Trains, among others. She is an alum of Boston University's graduate creative writing program (which was then an M.A.) and currently works as an Associate Professor of English at Ohlone College in the San Francisco Bay Area.