Dispatches

Jumper

Stephen Gauer

First published in Geist 52 and now in the 2th Anniversary Collector's Edition.

One night I drove to Lions Gate Bridge over Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, to research a short story I was writing about a lonely, suicidal widower. I wanted to see what my character would see standing at the railing, late at night, in the middle of the bridge, as he got ready to jump. I got in my car around midnight and drove downtown, through Stanley Park and across the bridge. Just past the bridge, I parked near a small building on the side of the road and walked back toward the bridge. As I passed the building, I looked in and saw a small office with a woman sitting at a desk. I kept walking.

It only took about five minutes to reach the middle of the bridge. It was a warm night, with a light wind blowing up the inlet from the southeast. Some groups of young people walked by on the other side, heading north toward West Vancouver.

When I got to the middle of the bridge, I stopped. The freshly painted green railing had some graffiti on it. I took out my notebook and wrote it down: “Fragments in time . . . still forever.” I stood right next to the railing; the top rail came up to my chest. I stood on the lower part of the railing and leaned over the edge. There was no netting or any kind of device to thwart jumpers. When I leaned all the way over, I could see straight down into the black water below. It would be very easy to jump if that’s what you wanted to do.

I stepped down from the railing and looked up at the lights. They were mounted on the tops of big lampposts as thick as a man’s head. If you stood on the top rail, you could hold on to one to steady yourself.

I was looking out over the water, still facing the railing, when a voice behind me said, “Sir, would you please step away from the railing?”

I turned around. A police officer was walking toward me. Behind him, a police car was parked in the wrong lane, facing south, with a flasher on. Traffic in both directions had stopped.

I was surprised and a little scared. My heart started to pound and my throat went very dry. Police make me nervous at the best of times. This was not the best of times.

The officer asked me again to step away from the railing. I did so.

“Sir, what are you doing here?” he asked me.

As soon as I spoke I knew my answer would sound absurd. “I’m a writer,” I said. “I’m researching a story about a man who jumps off the bridge.”

The officer’s expression didn’t change. His face hadn’t had any expression to begin with. He had light reddish hair and a heavy moustache. A gun hung from his hip. I felt disoriented, almost light- headed, as though I were slightly stoned or moving inside a dream.

For a brief moment I felt that I was my character, that I was in fact not just researching the story but actually living the story. The sensation sent a jolt of fear through my body. I wanted to sit down. I wanted the officer to go away.

“Sir, I’d like you to get into the car so I can drive you off the bridge,” said the officer.

I nodded and got into the car. The back seat was very cramped.

No. 52, Spring 24 (excerpt)

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Stephen Gauer

Stephen Gauer's long essay, "What Should We Talk About Now?," is a feature in Geist 44. Exile: A Winter in South Beach appeared in Geist 49 and "Jumper" is in issue 52.


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