“Give yourself some time. You’ve been there a day. Jesus.” Of course Liam was right. He always tried so hard to be.
“I’m so bad at meeting people.” Sylvia thought it funny: she had no recollection of ever meeting him. Liam had always been.
“Just give it a try. Find your tribe.”
“You want me to go out with other people?”
“I want you to find whatever it was you were missing that made you leave New York.”
The question dwelt on Sylvia as she traded faint, reluctant goodbyes. It pestered her as she forced herself into coworker luncheons, as she visited bars that seemed to be the same bar with different gimmicks — an aquarium, a steampunk lounge, a library. At comedy shows and trivia nights, she sat alone. And it was the principal item occupying her thoughts as she passed over the Main Street bridge towards another day at an office filled with disinclined strangers.
Cars and bicycles flitted over the river. Their passing created just enough breeze to relieve an already-sweltering morning and keep Sylvia’s skirt from sticking to her thighs. Engrossed in her podcasts, she nearly missed the lean young man gazing down into the river below.
He took a step toward the edge, then a step back. Arms swung like a pendulum, caught in equilibrium between backwards or forwards motion.
“Hello?” Sylvia’s voice caught her by surprise.
The man looked up. His eyes were wide, manic. A chestnut swoop of hair, a fitted V-neck shirt, tattoos inked up both arms.
“You want a cigarette?”
“Yeah–” The Man stepped back a little, confused. He scratched his elbows.
“Join me for one?”
Sylvia unzipped the front pocket of her leather satchel and pulled out a crushed pack of menthols. A neon lighter. Vestiges of another life, two thousand miles away. Her fingers shook as she lit that cigarette and handed it to the man on the bridge. Perhaps she had misjudged the situation. Perhaps he was just a bridge enthusiast. Perhaps he wasn’t another sad sap like herself, pushed a little too far.
“It’s not high enough,” she said after an uncomfortably long silence. “And there’s probably just rebar down there. It would be a horrible way, to– you know.”
“What makes you think that was my plan?”
Sylvia stomped out the rest of her cigarette. Flustered about. Finally committed to continuing across the damn bridge.
“Sorry. I’m sorry, then.” She sped away, head down, clutching her bag with anxious fingers. While berating her embarrassed self, she missed his quiet “Thanks for the smoke.” The words were swept up in the traffic.
When Sylvia arrived to her office, her one consolation was that she would likely never run into that stranger again.
The header image is adapted from a photo by Lars Ploughman.