88. The Voice

The voice he began to hear in his head told him to do sensible things. It told him to brush his teeth, for instance, to wash the dishes. It told him to keep his files in good order, such as by last name or date.

Clean the floors. Wash your car. Take out the trash.

He would’ve done these things anyway, so, at first, he welcomed the voice. The voice never grew angry. It was a courteous voice, in fact, addressing him formally, as his mother had at church long ago. The voice was often soft as the back of a cat, as affectionate as a dog’s tongue.

Light creamy green, that’s the color of the voice, he told himself.

He took the voice with him on long drives through the country and shorter ones to the supermarket. He took the voice to work where it waited patiently in a corner for him to finish, turn things off, lock the doors.

It offered its opinion on the subject of films and novels and stories and wine. It suggested clever retorts at parties, interesting expressions in correspondence, useful interpretations of the law.

And so, when he parked beneath the bridge one day, the voice expressed surprise. This bridge was a massive structure spanning the great river between the upper town and the lower town, a suspension bridge once hailed as the longest span in the world.

He made his way to a ladder up to the cable assembly and the voice said, What are you doing? This is dangerous, something to be avoided.

He climbed the ladder and stepped onto the catwalk up to the first tower and slowly began the climb. The voice sounded nervous, evocatively nervous. Excuse me, sir, it trembled, but what are you doing? Please, this is not a good thing; it’s a dangerous action. I’ve heard of several people who’ve died by falling or suicides jumping. But surely you’re not suicidal. We’ve been happy together. I’ve assisted you.

He ignored the voice. Below, he saw cars stop on the shoulder of the bridge. In the distance he saw the lights of approaching emergency personnel. It was unavoidable, he told himself. It took him some time to reach the landing of the first tower, whose edges were protected by high fencing, but no matter. The voice said, God, I hadn’t foreseen this. We were so good together. I assisted you. I made your life easier, so much without occurrence. Please, go back down and we’ll return to the way things were.

Here, he felt the precariousness of the air, the weightlessness of immense height. He heard the subtle creek of the cables. He felt the gentle sway of the pressures of passing vehicles and the wind and the movement of the water below. He took the voice and squeezed it through the chain links and held it for a moment, like a mouse by the tail. He heard it say, No please, please don’t do this. I was so kind, so forgiving, so loving and companionable. Then he dropped it. When it fell he heard the voice diminish and then go out like a distant light as it met the water.

On his ride in the back of the emergency vehicle he kept his eyes closed, feeling the quiet drift through him like the passing of the moon. He felt the rumble of the tires. He wondered what he would do next. He wondered how he would answer their questions. He asked himself, What will I do when I get home? What shall I be tomorrow?

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