Fred Vogel

Posted on July 16, 2018


Jumping to Conclusions


Charley moved to Portland to be with a woman he had virtually fallen in love with over the internet. The two had a mutual appreciation for indie films, micro brews, Thai food, and Bluegrass music. They picked out a sad-eyed pooch from the shelter and named it Humphrey. Charley thought he had found his soul mate. The problem was his soul mate had also hooked up with a cowboy from Houston through the internet. When she had her fill of Portland, she took off, leaving Humphrey to care for the sad-eyed Charley.

Charley stands behind the counter at one of the three-dozen or so state-run liquor stores in the city, watching two young women browse the selection of vodkas.

“Both you ladies twenty-one?” Charley asks.

“Nope,” the redhead says, blowing a bubble and popping it. “Twenty-three.”

“You don’t say.” Charley says. “What year were you born?”

“Figure it out yourself, Pops.”

Charley appreciates the smartass response, realizing he probably would have answered the same back in his glory days. However, the word Pops hits him a bit hard.

At the counter, the redhead produces a valid I.D., pays for the vodka and heads out into the afternoon chill, followed closely by her pink and blue-haired companion.

“I hate my fucking life,” Charley says to himself.

Portland is a city divided north and south by the Willamette River and east and west by Burnside Street. A dozen bridges connect the various sections of the city, including the Fremont, owner of the dubious title Fremont Falls for annually leading the city in life-ending plunges. Charley’s preferred bridge is the Burnside, not for jumping, but for commuting to work. Without the need for a car in this bike-friendly city, Charley has become an avid cyclist. He is lost in thought as he pedals home across the Burnside as the fog begins to settle over the river. He sees a figure poised atop the railing of the bridge, ready to kiss the world goodbye.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Charley yells, dropping his bike and running to the possible plunger.

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

It is a female voice, standing with her back to Charley, gripping the railing, a hoodie covering her head. This will be the fifth time in the past three years Charley has happened upon a potential jumper. So far he is two-for-four in rescue attempts – a great average if you play baseball, not so great if you’re a rescuer.

“You don’t want to do this,” Charley says. “I’ve seen what happens and it isn’t pretty.”

She does not respond.

“And the water’s way yuckier than it looks.”

She does not respond.

“Can we talk?”

She does not answer.

“Please come down. Things can’t be so terrible.”

She does not respond.

“Can I buy you some coffee?”

She does not answer.

“How ’bout a donut?”

She turns to Charley. Her face is flush with tears.

Charley helps her down from the railing and wraps her shivering body with his jacket. He lights a cigarette and hands it to her. She takes three long drags then tosses it into the river.

“I don’t even smoke,” she says.

“Yeah, me neither,” Charley says. “I just keep ’em around for jumpers.”

This almost earns him a smile.

“Hey, weren’t you and your friend in my store today?” Charley asks.

“She’s not my friend. She told me she loved me. She’s a lyin’ bitch.”

Three-for-five, pops into Charley’s head. Not bad. Not bad at all.

“How did you remember me?” she asked.

Charley acknowledges the colorful hair.

“What’s your name?”

“Tara Swan.”

“Tara Swan,” Charley repeats, unable to get past the irony.

Charley is a good man. He bicycles, recycles, opens the door for strangers, and volunteers at the Food Bank. And he loves his pooch Humphrey.

There was a time when Charley thought Smart Cars were a smart idea. Charlie’s life changed the day Humphrey was run over by a Smart Car. After Humphrey passed into doggie heaven, Charlie became depressed. A man without his dog is inconsolable. It didn’t take long for Charley’s sullen attitude to rub his bosses the wrong way. A man without his dog and a job is beyond help.

Charley is on the Burnside Bridge, staring down at the welcoming waters. He twists open a beer and chugs it. He is not a litterbug, but today he is apathetic and tosses the empty bottle into the river. He proceeds to down two more before climbing up onto the railing.

“Hey, man. What the fuck?” a voice yells out.

Charley does not answer.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Charley does not answer.


This person must be thinking of a different Charley. This Charley has no friends. This Charley does not answer.


Charley turns. It’s Tara Swan.

“Charley, what are you doing?”

“Admiring the view.”

Tara reaches up. “Come on down, Charley. We need to talk.”

Charley grabs Tara’s hand. But instead of climbing down, he helps her up onto the railing. They hold on to one another, appreciating the wonders of the Portland skyline, contemplating.
Fred Vogel has been published in Literally Stories, Subtle Fiction, Straylight, Clever, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon.
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