The Girl on the Bridge

Chapter 1
Durham, New Hampshire December 2013


The other side of the bed is empty when I wake in the early morning darkness. The bedside clock tells me it’s ten after three. This is not unusual. My wife sleeps poorly and often leaves our bed in the middle of the night. She always has in the eight years we’ve been married. I know it’s the illness that makes sleep so hard for her.

Even when she takes a double dose of the meds her doctor prescribes to calm the anxiety that keeps her awake, she sleeps only fitfully. And when she does the nightmares wake her. The panic can strike at any hour of the night.

I know the middle of the night is the worst for her. It has taken her from our bed more nights than I can count or care to remember. And at this time of year in New Hampshire the darkness will remain for another four hours or more.

A dozen times I’ve asked her doctor what more we can do. A dozen times the doctor shrugs and says she thinks continuing with the drugs and her therapy are the only things she can think of.

“This is always going to be with her,” her doctor tells me and sadly I agree. “She won’t ever be able to pretend it never happened or put it totally behind her. But I’m hopeful between drugs and therapy we can make the flashbacks and bouts of terror less frequent and maybe less immediate.”



The words upset me though I try not to show it. Her friends, what few she has left, often tell her to try not to think about it. “Can’t you just put it behind you? Get on with your life?” several have asked. The answer is no. The horror of what happened that night in the fraternity at Holden College will always be part of who she is and friends who don’t understand that, well, it’s usually what leads to the end of the friendship. What’s past is never past for Hannah. It will always be as real and immediate as the night it happened. As a psychologist myself I know better than most that there is no way the woman I love, the woman I feel so guilty about, can ever “put this behind her.” There is no way she can ever talk it away. It will always be there. Always waiting to suck her back to into the vortex of that night. I feel helpless there’s so little I can do. Other than to love her. To listen to her. To comfort her. To let her know how precious she is to me.

I listen for her footsteps in the living room. When she leaves our bed she sometimes spend hours in the living room pacing back and forth. Passing time and again through the light and long shadows the fire in the stove throws across the room. The stove burns day and night. It’s the only source of heat we have in the cabin.

I get up and leave the bed. The floor is cold under my bare feet. I walk to the bedroom door and open it. “Are you all right?” I ask.

She turns at the sound of my voice. When she looks at me like she does now, with fear in her eyes, I know she’s no longer here with me in the present but back in that filthy room where it all happened twelve years ago. She never escapes the room entirely but sometimes the flashbacks are worse than others. When she has


the look I now see on her face I know she’s reliving every hideous moment of the night that changed her life. And, in the end, changed both our lives.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to bring her back from that place. Sometimes I’m able to. But mostly I simply have to stay with her and wait it out. It is my job to do that not only because I love her and have always loved her but because of the guilt I’ve carried from that night. It was for me that she agreed to go to that party in the first place.

She’s dressed for the outdoors. She wears jeans and a sweater. Boots. A heavy down parka. She has a woolen cap that she knitted herself pulled down over her ears.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

She doesn’t answer, just looks at me standing there in the long john pants and the heavyweight New England Pats sweatshirt I sleep in on winter nights. It’s as though she doesn’t know who I am or why I’m there. I’ve seen the look before and as always it makes me anxious.

I turn and hurry back to our bedroom. I grab my clothes and pull them on as fast as I can. As I lace up my boots I hear the door to our cabin open. It doesn’t close and I can hear the wind whipping through the opening. I finish dressing as quickly as I can. Hurry back into the next room. Of course, she is gone. I swear under my breath and grab the big yellow flashlight off the shelf. On the way out I glance at the thermometer nailed to the tree just outside the window. Eighteen degrees. Not too bad for a New Hampshire winter night, but with a strong wind blowing, the wind chill will be considerably colder than that.


I peer into the darkness outside the cabin door. There is no sign of her. She hasn’t taken either of the vehicles. Her ancient Jeep Wrangler sits where it has been parked for the last week next to my only marginally newer Dodge Ram pickup.
She’s going on foot and I think I know where. I turn on the flashlight, go around to the back of the cabin and point it down the snow-covered trail. There’s been no fresh snow for a couple of weeks so it’s not easy to make out any tracks she might have left tonight. Differentiate them from those of other days and other nights. Still I’m sure she’s headed to the old rusty railroad bridge that spans the Lamprey River. I debate whether or not to take the truck and drive the long way around. It will get me there faster but not much faster because the path is a much more direct route. Also there is no way to know for sure that the bridge is where she’s headed. The path gives her choices. I decide to follow on foot. I start after her. I want to run but the uneven ice makes running or even walking with any kind of speed difficult. Even dangerous. If I trip and twist or sprain an ankle, I’ll never catch up to her.

I call her name as loudly as I can. “Hannah! Come back! Hannah!” But even if she’s within the sound of my voice I know she can’t hear me. In the middle of a flashback she wouldn’t hear me even if I was standing and shouting right next to her. In the middle of a flashback she isn’t here. She’s back in at Holden College in Willardville, New York and it’s twelve years ago. Nevertheless, I shout again and then again as I follow. Once I think I see her briefly on the path ahead of me. But the moving thing is not her. Just a good-sized doe darting across the path. Followed by two or three others trying to find something green for their breakfast.


The path forks more than once. Each time, unlike the poet Frost, I take the path more traveled by. The one I fear most. The one that leads to the bridge.

After a two-mile hike the pine and spruce become sparser. I climb the short steep rise that leads to the tracks that cross the bridge. I see her almost immediately. She’s standing in the middle of the bridge, holding the rusty guardrail, looking down at the water that’s rushing below carrying large chunks of ice with it.

“Hannah,” I call out.

She turns her head in my direction. “No!” she cries. “Please no! Please let me go!”

I’m afraid to come any closer. She’s balanced precariously on the edge of the rail bed looking down through the rusting steel crossbeams of the bridge. I want to rush toward her but I’m afraid any sudden movement will panic her. Send her over the side and into the freezing water twenty feet below. I’m even more afraid that it’s her intention to let herself fall into the water on purpose. Not to hurt herself but to avoid being raped.

“Hannah, please come to me.” I say it just loudly enough for my words to reach her ears. I hold out my hand. “Please. We’ll make it all right. I promise. We can make it all right.”

“I want it! I want it! Please fuck me!” she screams into the night and I know that no matter what I say she isn’t here in this place on this night but in another place I have never forgiven myself for bringing her to on a night twelve years ago when we were both young and hopeful. Looking forward to happy and fulfilling lives stretching endlessly before us.


With a last cry of pain, she climbs over the low guardrail faster than I can move to get to her. She falls and disappears into the darkness. Then I see her. Her arms, trapped inside the heavy parka, struggling against the flow. I watch the icy, fast-moving water carry her under the bridge. I run to the other side and jump in myself. My flashlight goes out. I lose sight of her. I become disoriented turning this way and that in the water. Once or twice I think I see her and try swimming toward her. But my heavy jacket pulls me under. As I struggle to get back to the surface, I look everywhere but I know that she’s gone. I pull off my jacket and manage to swim to the side and scramble up the bank. I’m freezing and I know I won’t last long at eighteen degrees, soaking wet and without a coat . I force myself to jog the quarter mile or so to main road. I wave frantically at the first pair of headlights I see. Thank God they belong to a police cruiser. A sheriff’s deputy I’ve seen before pulls up. Practically incoherent I babble, trying to tell him what has happened. Trying to tell him to hurry. He calls it in. Sends for help. He turns the car’s heater on high, flips on his siren and flashers and drives me to the emergency room at the Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover eight miles away.

Hannah’s body washed up after daybreak some two hundred yards downstream from where I emerged. The medical examiner lists hypothermia as the cause of death. Perhaps I’m the only one who knows the medical examiner is wrong. I am the only one who knows that the true cause of Hannah’s death is what happened twelve years ago in a filthy room at Holden College. And at that moment I swear to myself I will take the lives of those who took hers.

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