Thursday, March 14, 2013

The ending we don't know

      This is the story whose ending we don't know.
      It's nearly midnight in a suburb of a city. Rows of nearly identical houses line the streets. Streetlights pour out circles of light. Far off a siren sounds.
      The front door of one of those houses opens, and a man with a broken heart walks out. He leaves his door open, his TV showing the late night news. An envelope on the coffee table is addressed to his estranged wife. The note is blank except for his name and a simple "Sorry."
      He walks to the end of his driveway and then pauses. He stands there a long time. A dog barks and finally gets bored with this nocturnal visitor. Mrs. Higgins opens the curtain of her bedroom window from across the street and sees him. She starts to wake her husband, but then recognizes her neighbor and decides he must be going on a walk. She goes to bed.
      The man steps onto the empty street and walks down the middle of it.
      A few times, cars pass him and slow down, but he doesn't seem lost. He doesn't seem confused. His steps are steady. He's walking with purpose. So the cars continue, but the drivers will remember him later.
      He reaches the woods on the edge of town. He stops briefly. If someone were watching him, they would see the momentary hesitation, the brief flash of something like regret. But he moves forward, leaving regret behind. He doesn't look back even though what he's leaving pulls at him. The farther he walks, the less hold it has.
      He walks through the woods, following a path that his feet seem to know well. He passes by a young couple making love. The boy is startled and runs away. When the boy returns, the girl is clothed now and it is so not going to happen. It will be three days before they admit they saw the man.
      He passes through the woods, only leaving a few signs that he was ever there. The wind in the trees sounds like a river.
      He reaches the mountain. He begins to climb. It's not a hard climb, but it makes him breathe hard, makes the sweat glisten on his forehead in the moonlight. Twice he slips, but only falls a couple of feet before he catches himself.
      Finally on a gentle slope, he walks to the top of a cliff. He stops and turns back toward what he left. He sees the town in which he lived and loved and lost. He sees his life. He sees what he loved and what loved him and what remains. He sees what's broken and can't be fixed. He doesn't turn into a pillar of salt.
      He turns the other direction and takes a few steps. He's at the edge of a cliff. Below there is a river. Beyond the river is a dark wilderness, the beginning of a national park. He removes all of his clothing and leaves it in a pile. He stands there in the rising wind and the uncaring moonlight.
      And then he spreads his arms, runs three steps, and leaps into the void.

      This is the ending we don't know. His body hasn't been found. It's been six years.
      Some believe he fell into the river and it carried his lifeless form to the ocean. Some say that he didn't jump at all, but actually met a secret lover (there had been rumors of such) and went off to start a new life. Others say the wild animals scattered his body as if bears or wolves still stalk the park. At Crazy Eddie's Comic shop, the boys talk of aliens and strange lights.
      There is a story, though, which some of us choose to quietly believe: That when he jumped, the winds caught him, bore him up and carried him away into the endless starry sky.

© 2013 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without permission. Thank you for reading.

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