Before the bridge, Jesse had not thought much about the solidity of air. In his high school physics class, he had pictured it as a fluid that filled up the atmosphere, moving in and out of bodies and leaves and air conditioning units with ease. It didn’t get stuck and it was heavy enough that it didn’t reach the tops of mountains enough to puff up lungs all the way. When he found the bridge, he didn’t believe it was air at all that stretched out above the river.
He’d been exploring with his friend Nina one sticky hot afternoon in the summer. They walked out to the bridge, where cool floated up from the water and lightened the air amidst the suffocating heat, and they climbed over the fence. They laughed at each other and their shared bravado. Nina grabbed his hand and wound her fingers around his. The two friends sat on the concrete ledge, legs swinging over the emptiness, hands entwined, and watched the water. Their hearts slowed from their foolish gallop, and they leaned toward each other enough to feel the warmth between their bodies.
After a while, Jesse stood up and walked with arms outstretched across the ledge. He wobbled a bit, exaggerating for Nina, and she shrieked and scolded him, laughing and breathy with fear. When he stopped, he reached a foot out over the edge as if about to step off and tapped it against the air. Nina called after him, but he paused and reached back and threaded his fingers through the wire of the fence. He stretched a cautious foot before him again and pressed it down against the air, which didn’t move out of the way. Nina stood, shaky, and walked over to her friend as he stepped off the bridge and into thin air. He didn’t fall.
They stood there for a long silent minute, she on the concrete edge of the bridge and he standing a foot away from it on solid air. They gaped at each other. Jesse bounced up and down on the balls of his feet –“Don’t!” Nina burst out when he moved– but the air held firm beneath him. He traced his toe against the air under him, trying to find its edges. It was a narrow outcropping from the bridge, but it extended out past where he was standing in a strip of solid air. When he reached the end on either side he swayed, and fumbled for Nina’s hand again. He shuffled back to the bridge and the friends walked home, shivering and quiet.
The next week, Nina called Jesse. She had been doing research, she said. “There aren’t any stories about the bridge. I mean, like about it being haunted or anything. Which is kind of weird, because it’s super old and even if there weren’t anything strange about it, there should be a story or two by now about something that has lasted that long, you know, over a river, where people jump off and stuff. There are a bunch more suicides there than most places, though.”
Jesse didn’t answer for a minute, and then he said, “I guess they fell off.”
“Of the bridge?”
He went back without her the next time. She was afraid. Jesse didn’t let himself be afraid. He was excited instead. His heart drummed as he walked to the bridge, and he barely hesitated to step over the fence and off the ledge. He tested the air and found it there, supporting his feet. He followed the corridor of air for a few more feet away from the bridge, until he looked down and was dizzy at the water glittering so far below him. He backed up, slowly, and sat on the bridge again with his feet propped up on the air for a while before he left the river.
He told Nina about it.
“Don’t go back,” she said.
He didn’t answer.
The next week, Nina called him and he didn’t pick up. She took a long shuddering breath, listening to his voicemail message, and then hung up without speaking. She knows where he went, because when she climbed over the fence she saw the note he left her. It read, “N, went to see where it goes. I’ll be back. Love, J”
She can’t follow him. When she stepped tentatively off the edge, the air wouldn’t take her weight. She fell back against the fence and wondered how far he had gotten.