“What do you want to send?”
“I want to send her a message.”
The man grimaced and crossed his arms. “Come on, you know that’s not how it works.” He eyed the twelve-year-old boy in front of him, “unless you got the coin for that kind of direct approach?”
The boy reached into his pocket and held change in his hand. He shifted coins around with the index finger of his other hand. “Is this enough?” He said, pushing his hand towards the man.
The Telegrapher peered over the counter, lips moving as he counted the change. When he was done, he shook his head. “Not even close, bub. “
He thought for a moment, “I can’t use words?”
The big man shook his head. “You can barely afford a memory.”
He thought for a moment, then looked up at the black market Telegrapher, “I know what I want to do.”
* * * * * * * * *
The world was cold. Wind shot through streets and alleys like a bullet through the barrel of a gun. She gripped at the jacket of her winter coat and held it close to her. There was a biting frigidness in the cold, the kind that crept all the way down to your bones, rattled your core.
“Apples, buy your apples here!” a kid shouted from a produce stand, trying to sell produce in an act of complete lunacy. Why go on and keep trying?
She walked through the stands, ignoring every advance from salesmen. Couldn’t they see she didn’t want to be talked to? Couldn’t they see she was freezing and just trying to get out of the cold?
Day in and day out, it was all the same. You tripped on one thing, only to fall face first into another, then be smothered by one last gift from life. It continued on and life rather enjoyed kicking you while you were down, she believed. Just when you thought the kicking was over, it went on and kept kicking you. When you were cold and bleeding in the mud, it stood over you and jeered and spat on you. She patted at her chest, feeling for the familiar bump of metal. Reaching into the neck of her jacket, she grabbed the locket and pulled it out. The metal was warm at first, but soon after the elements cooled it to the outside temperature. She flipped it open, and regarded the photo inside. The pictured showed a very young version of herself, no more than seven or eight years old, blowing out candles on a birthday cake. He stood next to her smiling – what was it he said to her? She couldn’t remember anymore.
The locket blurred in her hands, she wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and took a deep breath. Placing it back into her jacket, she moved forward.
She moved through the market, and back onto the street. Finding her footing on the easy ground of a sidewalk, she quickened her pace. She wanted to get there before she lost her nerve.
The wind rushed again, pulling at her long hair and threatened to freeze the tip of her nose. She folded her collar up and crossed her arms, huddling herself against the harsh winter weather.
Up ahead, cars honked, red brake lights flashed on and off. The familiar smell and sounds of rush hour traffic hit her senses. She saw the cars backed up, bumper to bumper. As a rule, the at least cold kept people from getting out of their cars and screaming at each other, winter had at least done that. Dad always liked winter for that, it kept the city quiet. Or at least as quiet as it could be. The snow dampened the harshness of humanity.
She walked past the cars, and past several orange traffic cones.
“What the fuck is your problem!” a man shouted near her. She looked over and saw the voice’s owner clad in winter garb, standing outside a Porsche whose was door open. An exception to the rule. He was talking to a man in a safety vest and hard hat. “Who tha’ fuck does construction work on tha’ only eastbound bridge at five a’clock in the evenin!?”
The construction worker shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t make the plans. I just clock in and do what they tell me.”
The wealthy man walked towards the construction worker, he lifted a pointing finger and prodded the construction worker’s chest. “Imma tell ya what tha’ fuck ta do. Go fuck ya’self, buddy. I don’t care where, but not here! Get off of tha’ goddamn bridge!”
The construction worker stepped back in response, he started to respond but she didn’t hear it. She kept going. She could feel her mettle waning. Her mental fortitude, questioning.
Stepping over the cones of the construction site, she moved briskly onto the sidewalk of the bridge. The wind was worse on the bridge with no buildings to stifle it. It bat at her, staggering her step as she moved towards the apex of the bridge’s height. She felt a knot rise in her throat, a weakness in her knees. Taking a deep breath again, she regained her composure and leaned against the biting cold.
She reached the spot she had planned and stopped. Turning towards the railing, she finally untucked her hands from the warmth of her armpits. There was a click in her throat when she swallowed, the tears swarmed in her eyes and blurred her vision. She reached out and grabbed the hand rail. Cold.
Placing one leg over the rail, she straddled it at first then threw the other over. She leaned forward, hands gripping the freezing metal of the bridge.
I’ll be with you soon, she told himself, again reaching into her jacket and pulling the silver locket out. The world had turned a shade darker when they took him from this world. How long had it been? Eleven? Twelve years? Hard years. The tears no longer threatened to fall now, they ran down her face. She sobbed and shivered, if the fall didn’t end it, the cold certainly would.
She closed her eyes, face contorted with perfect sadness. “I’m sorry, Dad.” She cried out. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t strong enough. I’m so sorry…” she sobbed out what she knew were her last words and did her best to think of him. To remember him, as her last thought. More than anything she wanted to be held in his tender embrace. To feel his warmth.
The memory that came to mind was her seventh birthday party. He placed the cake in front of her, seven candles lit upon a white frosted chocolate cake. Her favorite kind. He sang happy birthday to her in his off tune, out of tempo way that she loved so much. She blew out the candles and made her wish.
He leaned in and kissed her on her forehead. “I love you,” he said to her. “I love you so very much.”
She smiled bitterly, tears already freezing on her face. She opened her eyes and regarded the river below her. It rushed south and moved with a purpose nothing else could hope to achieve in this temperature. There was something inviting about its movement; it was the only thing that wasn’t stagnant in this frozen, dark world.
She closed her eyes again and did her best to see her father’s face. “I love you,” he had said to her. I love you…
With his tender image in her eyes, she found the mettle deep in her core. She found the gumption to do what she had set out to do. She took a deep and trembling breath then released the frozen handrail of the bridge, the wind bit at her cheeks. She felt a moment of weightlessness then felt heat grip her forearm.
“Whoa!” a voice came from behind her. The person held her at first, leaning against the rail for leverage. When he had a firm grip, he pulled her in, placing hand over hand on her arm like bringing in a rope. He wore a hard hat on his head, and a bright orange safety vest that stood out against the bleached winter landscape like a star in a midnight sky.
“Let go of me!” she cried, trying to wretch free of his grip.
He didn’t reply. When he got her back to the rail, he still said nothing. Instead he wrapped his arms around her and embraced her. She fought at first, “What are you doing?!” she cried. When he only held her tighter, she stopped yelling. Finally, she gave in and wrapped her own arms around him. She buried her face in his large jacket and sobbed, giving in.
He held her, resting his hand on the back of her head. “It’s going to be ok,” he told her, his breath thawed the winter cold on her cheek. “You’re going to be ok.” They stood there for a long time, a woman broken and frozen, being held in the arms of a compassionate stranger. She felt a warmth not known for more than a decade.
“Come on,” he coaxed her, “Let’s get you out from away from that ledge.” He held her, and guided her away from that frozen abyss. There was a tenderness – a glow – in his voice, she thought, that reminded her of him. The man took off the beanie that resided below his hard hat and placed it on her head. They walked back towards the city, with his arms still wrapped around her. The embrace brought her warmth; most of all, it gave her comfort. She closed her eyes and thought back, desperately holding tight to that memory of her father like a shipwrecked castaway, clutching a piece of debris in the vast expanse of the ocean. She leaned into the stranger, and thought of the words her father said to her.
I love you.