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There she was. A tiny thing, really. A young woman, pixie-ish, perched on the edge of a rock closest to the water's edge. She was dressed all wrong for the weather, wearing some sort of flowing, summery-looking dress with just a light jacket. She had on no mittens or gloves, no muffler or hat. Her hair, which looked dark in the dim light, might have been red. Cut short, it stuck out in all different directions.
The water splashed up on her and shivers marked her blubbering. Good God, what was she doing? She'd kill herself--
And Robert halted. His mind returned to the fateful Christmas over two decades ago, and he remembered standing on his balcony, remembered wondering how soon a person would die should they fling themselves into the icy water.
The girl scooted closer to the water, her arms behind her, and cried harder. She had positioned her arms perfectly to give herself a good shove. And Robert knew all at once that he was bearing silent witness to a suicide. He pressed his hands over his face and for one horrible, guilty moment, thought of turning and tiptoeing away. But that was not Robert; he didn't have such a callous heart, even though plenty had happened to put calluses on it.
What do I do now? If I approach her too suddenly, I might startle her and send her straight into the water. If I try to climb down the rocks toward her, she might be frightened and again, head straight for the black waves.
Robert knew there was only one thing to do: try his best and hope.
He crept toward the rocks, not sure what he was about to do or say. He took a deep breath and with it, the sobbing quieted for a moment. The young woman turned her head towardhim, looking north to south, as if she was trying to locate the sound of the indrawn breath.
And then she saw him. Their eyes connected.
"I don't think you want to go for a swim right now. Not without any lifeguards on duty." Robert hoped the young woman could see his smile from where she was sitting. "I don't think you want to do that, not really."
She said nothing.
"I know you probably would hate any company, but would you let me come down there and sit next to you? I'm kind of lonely, too, and Christmas makes it worse for me. Does it for you? I wouldn't mind a little chat."
She stared, moving her arms up to hold herself.
"You're shivering. Why don't you come up here? I have a coat we could share. We could get a cab back to wherever you want to go."
"Who the fuck are you?" Her voice came out a quivery soprano, broken by tears and shivers. "Leave me alone." The wind caught her words, carrying them above Robert's head. They were almost indistinguishable.
Robert moved a little closer, cautiously. Another step, then another. He stood at the edge of the boulders, uncertain if he should step up on them. He could slip and easily fall--the crashing surf had coated the stones with a sheen of ice. And then he would be the one plunging into the icy water, not her. But worse was the fear that had already occurred to him--sudden movement might be just the impetus she needed to propel herself off the stone and into the freezing black embrace of the water.
He cleared his throat, stalling for time and trying to think of something to say. "You know, I've heard that death by drowning and hypothermia are miserable ways to go. Painful. Suffocating. At least scoot yourself back up here and come home with me. I've got a medicine cabinet full of sleeping pills. You could take the whole bottle. Picture yourself lying on clean sheets in a toasty warm room, maybe with some of your favorite music playing. I could open a bottle of good wine for you. Then you could drift off in comfort. Why inflict any more pain on yourself? I know I wouldn't."
The girl stared at him. He could see the uncertainty in her eyes and took the opportunity to carefully ascend the boulders until he was standing above her, not three feet away.
The girl barked out a brief laugh, mirthless. "Who are you? The suicide fairy?"
Robert sat on the boulders and let his legs stretch out close to her. "Fairy ... yes. But I really have a dislike for suicide. It's for quitters. If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that we never know what's going to happen next. And that applies to the good as well as the bad. You're young. Why cut yourself off from the possibilities that are out there, waiting for you?"