Perilous Adventures
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Views from a bridge

Maria Arena

A young man jumped to his death today. He’s not the first I’ve seen, and he won’t be the last. Not that this makes his passing any less tragic. It doesn’t, but the truth remains: his was not an original final act. 

I knew what he was about the moment I saw him. His eyes were fixed on the centre of the span; his mouth set in a determined line; his hands clenched into fists, preventing them from gripping onto something – anything – that would arrest his self-imposed fate. I’d seen a similar expression on his face over the last few weeks but, evidently, something had consolidated in his life, bringing him to this point; to this sad and lonely climax.

Although experience had taught me that attempting to dissuade him would be futile, I had to try. I raised my voice as he climbed the railing and swung his legs over to stand on the ledge, high above the river. He didn’t hear me over the traffic, which was inching to a stop in the lanes closest to him, the drivers slowing to gawk at the spectacle he was creating. Before long there would be news helicopters, police launches and fire crews adding to the chaos, depending, of course, on how long he drew out the concluding minutes of his life. 

Once, a different young man took nineteen hours to decide he wanted to live.

Observation: he was not very popular with the gathered crowd.

Maybe today’s jumper had read the news story about his predecessor because, by the time my second shout was vibrating along the girders, he was gone: over the edge, head-first, arms tucked into his body, toes pointing to the sky.

There was little to do then, but acknowledge his determination to get his death right. 

Thirty metres. Ninety-eight and a half feet. A scattering of seconds over the water.

I couldn’t watch his ending but they did, and in her face – moon-pale with horror – I saw the knowledge of how easily it could’ve been her, in his place.


It seems to me that the biggest killer of people is not disease, or war, or suicide. These are but the means to end what is most lethal to humans: loneliness. The first time I saw Karen, I knew she was dying from this malady.

Not that many would have seen what I could see. To the casual observer, she had all the hallmarks of a successful young woman: the sporty car, the latest gadgets, the trendy clothes, the slender figure. There was an air of determination about her, too; a lifting of her chin that was meant to tell the world she could take whatever it dished out. Her haughty exterior, however, couldn’t hide the emptiness behind her eyes.

Most people have addictions to fill such voids. Karen’s was running. Every day, on twilight: five kilometres from the eastern car park, along the walkway, down to the third jetty, where she would turn. Five kilometres back, feet pounding the bitumen, breath ripping from her lungs as she pushed herself, faster, harder. Some days, if the loneliness was unbearable, she would shoot past the car park, tacking on another kilometre or two. On those days, I wondered if she would run forever.

Once, I overheard a conversation between two men resting on a bench:

‘Why do we put ourselves through this?’

‘Through what?’

‘This. The heat. The sweat. The exertion.’

‘I don’t know. Maybe it’s therapeutic?’


‘Nah. It’s all about looking good for the women, mate.’

‘Ah, you’re a wise man, my friend.’  

Observation: Karen was in therapy.

Later that day, as evening slipped into the air, I watched her run towards me: arms pumping, knees pistoning, tears mingling with her sweat. She was as lonely as I had ever seen her and I yearned to ease her torment, but – as always – I was invisible; part of the scenery and nothing more.

C’est la vie.

I wasn’t the only one to notice Karen that night. Another had caught the scent of her sorrow as she raced past him in the half-dark. He followed her with his eyes until his grandfather tapped his elbow. ‘The fish are that way, sonny,’ he said, chuckling his old man’s laugh, ‘and mind the pylon when you cast this time.’


If there’s one thing I know for certain it is that fishermen are creatures of habit. Harry O’Connor was no exception; that’s what made him so easy to find.

‘What’re you doing here?’

‘Mum sent me.’


‘You know Mum.’

‘Reckon I do. Cut from the same cloth as your grandmother, that one.’  Harry looked at the battered fishing rod in his grandson’s hand. ‘What the hell is that?’

Sam shrugged. ‘Mum said I should bring it,’ he said, stepping around his grandfather. 

Harry had fished the west side of the pylons since retiring. Twice a week, dependable as sunset, he turned up, arranged his gear on the grassy strip beside the river bank, baited and set his rods, and then settled back to wait.

We’d talked a few times over the years, although he was hard of hearing and tended to monopolise the conversation. This was especially true in the weeks after his wife died.

Observation: the death of a loved one tends to make people solipsistic.

Sam prowled around his grandfather’s set-up: pushing the tackle box with the tip of his boot, gawking into a bucket, raising an eyebrow at the live worms inside. He moved with a restless energy that reminded me of captured things: crabs in pots, fish on hooks. I’d seen his kind before, simmering with the deep dissatisfaction that is the scourge of humanity. 

Beside Harry’s chair was an esky, on top of which was a transistor radio, a sandwich wrapped in plastic, and small thermos of something hot. Sam picked up the radio. ‘What are you listening to, Pops?’

‘Put that down, boy,’ Harry said, snatching the radio away from his grandson and returning it to its place.

‘Settle down, Pops.’

‘Call me that again and I’ll knock you on your backside.’

The men faced off. Neither noticed the cold wind ruffling their jackets, or the traffic overhead, or Karen as she passed them, running from herself. The seconds drew out, elastic with tension.

A hissing sound broke the impasse between the men as the line on Harry’s reel took off, followed a moment later by the line on his second rig. Harry lunged, pulling the rod out of the holder as Sam grabbed the other one. He looked at his grandfather, who nodded and said, ‘Easy, easy. Let him run a bit. Don't tighten up the drag or you'll lose him. That’s it. Good. Good.’ Harry jerked his rod, his hand working the reel. ‘Okay, now bring him in,’ he said, as Sam followed his example.

A further observation: shared experience is a bridge.

Sam held the Trevally up for Harry’s inspection. ‘Nice work, son,’ he said, patting his grandson on the back, his face lit with a smile I hadn’t seen in months.


Sam was not smiling, not this particular evening. They were in the eastern car park. His grandfather was unloading their gear by the armful, letting it sprawl across the space between his beaten up ute and the sleek red car beside them. I watched with interest, knowing who the car belong to; she was about a quarter of a kilometre away.

‘Grandpa, I’m not carrying this stuff all the way to our fishing spot,’ Sam said, returning buckets and rods to the ute as Harry took out more gear.

‘Trying a new spot,’ Harry said, balancing a card table with folded metal legs on top of the pile he’d made. The table rocked, tipping towards the red car. Sam grabbed it, averting what would’ve been a nasty scratch.

‘What’s going on here?’ Karen asked between breaths.

Sam’s eyes touched on her face. Even from where I stood, the rush of colour into his cheeks was obvious. ‘Sorry, my grandfather decided—’ He glanced at Harry only to find himself alone in the car park. 

‘I’ve seen you before,’ Karen said, retrieving a rod that lay under her front wheel. ‘You’re usually on the other side of the bridge, with an elderly man.’ She handed the rod to Sam.

‘My grandfather.’

‘Oh.  Didn’t he come tonight?’

‘He’s here, somewhere,’ Sam said, tucking the rod in the back of the ute. ‘Apparently, he’s investigating a new fishing spot.’ 

‘Is that so?’ Karen said, smiling.

In fact, Harry was standing behind a tree at the edge of the car park. Together, we listened as Sam and Karen chatted with the ease of life-long friends as they returned the fishing gear to the ute. When they were done, I heard Harry say,

‘And that’s the start of that.’

‘Good work, old chum,’ I murmured, as Harry walked towards Sam, who stood in the warm, red glow of the tail-lights from Karen’s car.


Harry meet the jumper one night, about three weeks before he took his final step.  It was a brief encounter:

‘Caught anything?’

‘Nope. They’re playing coy.’

‘What’re you using for bait?’


‘That ought to do it.’

‘Want to throw in a line?’

The answer was slow in coming. ‘Nah. Wouldn’t want to cramp your style.’

‘Ain’t no drama.’

‘Never is, in the beginning.’

Hunching his shoulders, the young man turned from Harry and strode away. At the side of the road, he paused to light a cigarette. Through the drift of smoke, he watched as Sam and Karen raced up to Harry, laughing, breathless, their faces bright with exertion. The young man pulled his jacket closer as his gaze moved down the street to the flickering neon sign over the River Bend Bar.

Observation: There are many ways to alleviate loneliness, but the true panacea takes only two forms. Karen choose one, the jumper choose the other.


A young couple married today. It’s not the first wedding I’ve seen and it won’t be the last. The ceremony was held on a yacht, anchored between the western pylons. The small flotilla of boats behind the bride and groom’s vessel were joined with garlands of flowers strung from mast to mast. A nice touch, I thought. When the first nuptial kiss was sealed, the flotilla sent forth a blast of air horns in celebration.

On the river bank, the crowd that had gathered clapped and whistled. In the midst of their joy, Karen hugged Harry and then Sam.

With twilight flowing over the horizon, the wedding yacht set sail, followed by the flotilla. As they disappeared around the bend, the crowd dispersed, vacating Harry’s fishing spot. Sam and his grandfather got busy organising their gear but Karen stayed on the bank. She lifted her head to look at the place where the jumper had spent his last seconds, and I read the gratitude on her face.

‘I’ll remember you,’ she said, as the sound of air horns echoed from upriver. She turned from the bridge, towards Harry and Sam, her eyes bright as she smiled in their direction.

About the Author

Maria Arena is the author of Mira Falling.  She coordinates a creative writing program on behalf of the University of the Sunshine Coast, where she completed her Doctorate of Creative Arts. Maria recently launched her business, La Vie Creativity (, which assists writers through a tutoring, mentoring and editing service.


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