“Good day, good sir,” I said. I moved next to him and placed my forearms on the railing, my fingers laced together. “Long ways down, isn’t it?”
He didn’t respond, just continued to look straight ahead.
“Sun feels good after three days of rain. Don’t you agree?” I leaned over enough to see his face. “Tough day at work?”
He remained silent. I stood beside him for a few minutes, then sat down, mimicking his pose.
“My name’s Jed. You got a name?” I waited.
He finally said,“Elf 113,” in a scratchy voice.
“Well, it takes a lot of us to make all those toys, and Santa’s too busy to try and name everyone of us. Besides, we all look the same to him.”
“Huh,” I said and tried not to smile. “So what brings you to the bridge today. I cross it just about every day, and I haven’t seen you before.”
“I . . ..” He looked down at his hands. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh, I doubt it’s that bad. After all, it’s Christmas, a time to smile, and sing, and best of all, drink. In fact, I have a half-filled bottle of fine whiskey in my coat pocket. Well, at least the finest I can afford. Would you like a sip?”
“No thanks. My mom said it would stunt my growth.”
This time I choked back a chuckle, but a little seeped out. I attempted to disguise it as a cough.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved, but I hated to see someone who appeared to have lost his way do something he might regret--like jump. “So you never said why you’re here.”
“I got passed over for another promotion. Three years in a row. I even had my new uniform ready.” He looked out over the water below. “Everyone sees it as a badge of honor.”
“Oh? What does it look like?”
“It’s the opposite of what I’ve got on--red pants and shirt and a green hat.” He finally looked at me.” I guess the outfit I have on will finally get washed when I jump.”
“Whoa, whoa. What do you mean jump?” I wanted to reach out and grab his arm but was afraid it might startle him. “That seems pretty drastic for not getting a promotion.”
“There’s Elfie May, too.”
“That’s what I call her. Her real name is Elf 275. She works. . .worked. . . in the sewing department. We’d been dating for a year. I was going to propose. I thought she loved me, until she and the reindeer herder ran off. I don’t know where.” He turned toward me, pain on his face. “And I don’t care,” he said, his voice a few decibels louder.
“You sure you don’t want a little nip. It’s the best medicine I’ve found.” I removed the bottle from my coat, unscrewed the top, and took a belt.
“Well, I guess it can’t hurt.” I passed the bottle over. He put the top to his lips, tilted the bottom up, and took a bigger drink than I’d hoped he would. I was going to have to panhandle to pad my bank account, i.e., my trouser pockets, sooner than usual.
“Thanks, “ he said, handing the bottle back. “Now jumping doesn’t seem so scary.” He placed his hands on either side of his legs and lifted his butt slightly.
“Wait. You can’t jump today.” This time I grabbed his left arm. “It’s No-Jumping-Off-Bridges-Day.” I grasped harder. “You’ll ruin everyone’s Christmas if you do.”
“You’re BSing me.” He relaxed and let his body ease back onto the bridge.
“No, I’m not. Swear to His Holy Father.” I crossed myself hoping I did it right.
“No, you’re BSing me for sure.” He scooched forward with a determined look on his face.
“Okay, I was BSing. But I’ve got a friend--a female friend--who might be able to help you out.”
“She can find Elfie May?”
“Well, no, but she’s nice and friendly--for a price.”
“You mean a hooker.”
“Either she is or she isn’t.”
“Okay, she is--or used to be. She’s a little long in the tooth, as they say.” It was my turn to look down at the rippling water. “We were married once. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. She drove me to drink. And I drove her to. . ..”
“Oh, hell.” he said, standing. “I didn’t want to jump anyway.” He brushed off his bottom and strode off the bridge. “Too much of a coward, you know. Let’s go see your old lady and find out if she has any Christmas spirit.”
I didn’t know if the little guy felt any better, but I did now that he wasn't going to jump. I might even wish a few folks a merry Christmas on our way to town, something I hadn’t done myself for a couple of years.