In a bar I used to visit, they had a jumper's pool. You tossed in a buck and picked a date on a calendar they had behind the bar. The bartender would write your name in that space, and if somebody jumped off the bridge that day, you won the pot.

My wife was still working in The City at that time, and she took the train back and forth. I would drive her to the station in the morning, and late in the afternoon, I'd pick her up. We lived in a suburb some thirty miles from where she worked. If I got there early, I'd nip into the bar and have a beer before her train arrived.

We were still getting along in those days. Life wasn't perfect, but it never is, is it? At least we weren't at each other's throats. That came later. I taught school, and my wife worked for the AMA. We had purchased a little house near the top of a steep hill. We had a terrific view, and for a time, our house was the place to be after hours for our little circle of acquaintances, most but not all of whom were teachers. People would start to drift in after school on Friday afternoon. We would party until late in the evening. Most of us were drinkers. I could hold my liquor in those days.

Two of our regular guests were a black couple, our dentist and his wife. The dentist was a tall, handsome man. His wife was no beauty, but she was intelligent and vivacious. She was outspoken, too. And demonstrative. I     
remember one night when they arrived she marched right up to me and demanded a welcome kiss. I obliged with a little peck on her lips. She stepped back, put her hand on her hip, and said, "Come on, put some zing in it!" Whereupon she grabbed me and give me a smooch. "Wow!" I said. She laughed. "That's more like it," she said.

I liked Hazel. I liked her husband, too. I had their daughter in one of my classes at the college at one time. Later the daughter married a lawyer who became a judge. I didn't like him much. To him I was The Man. An Ofay. For one reason or another, we rubbed each other the wrong way.

Time marches on. Things change. My wife and I got a divorce, and I moved into an apartment by myself further on down the peninsula. It was some time later that I heard about Hazel's suicide. It was rumored that her husband, the dentist, was two-timing her, and that's the reason she killed herself. She jumped off the bridge. When it comes home to you like that it gets you to wondering about a lot of things. Why did she do it? What was she feeling? What was going through her mind, before and after she jumped? What was she thinking when she was falling? Was she afraid or joyful as the waves reached up to her, calling her name?

When I got the news, I thought about the bar I used to go to where they bet on jumpers. I wondered if they still did that.

Jack Swenson writes at odd times and in odd places. He once wrote a story while driving across town in his truck. His stories are about life, death, love, fear, and grace under pressure. He likes to write about people with big hearts.

Copyright 2009