Fiction / Short Stories

Lover’s ledge

Old man Johnson opened his eyes and studied his surroundings. It was pitch dark for the most of it, barring only a small source of illumination in the far corner of the room. The ceiling fan droned on, making the same monotonous sound it made for years. He looked at the source of light, and frowned.

The message tone on his cell phone had woken him up. He’d set it louder just so that he could hear the alarm the next morning. He wasn’t too fond of technology; the phone was a birthday gift from his daughter. It had a big screen and a touch pad; it was handpicked since it was easy to use. She wanted to stay connected with him; she wanted him to keep it close by so that they could contact each other during emergencies. They would generally speak with each other on the weekends. She lived on the other side of the city with her family; her voice was now the only reason he had to live on.

The white LED screen shone brightly, adding a ghastly aura to the delicate china vase in the corner. He switched on the lights and checked the time, it was 2 AM. Who the hell would send a retired old man a text message? At this time of night? He fumbled around and put on his glasses. He fidgeted with the phone’s slider, and after finally managing to unlock it, punched in a series of buttons to get to the message.

What he saw next left him aghast. He turned white, the sweat now glistening on his pale brow. It was a picture; just a single picture; a picture of a place he’d long forgotten. A place he’d had trouble forgetting for a long, long time. He didn’t care to check the sender’s number, the picture kept him occupied.

It all came back to him. October 20, 1963. Lover’s ledge. Located at the other end of the national park, this was a popular destination for family outings and school picnics. The spot in the picture had a special meaning. Legend had it that a couple, a long time ago, had jumped into this very lake and drowned. They loved each other so much, that they preferred to die together than be torn apart. Couples would come in every year and visit this spot as a tribute to eternal love. He too had come here, on that wretched day, with a friend. She was more than a friend, a lover. They were both young; he was in his early twenties, she had barely turned nineteen. He took Susie Mae’s hand in his. He remembered her eyes, big and blue; they were the reason he had fallen for her. It was late evening, about seven thirty. They were sitting on a small square perch made of light sandstone, gazing at the moon’s reflection in the calm waters.

She had asked him, “Do you love me?” “Of course, more than life itself”, he had replied. “Then I think you will be happy”, she continued, “For I have news for you. I’m pregnant. You are going to be a father”. She beamed, but immediately changed her expression after looking at his reaction. His face had dropped, his mouth wide open, agape at the news. He had left her hand, staring blankly at her face as if it were simply nothing. He was upset. They weren’t married. His father was rich and influential, a politician with sworn enemies, and if word got out it would ruin his reputation. His father would kill him, the both of them, if he found out.

No one needed to find out. He had to end this. He took her hand in his, and silently got up. He smiled and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t react well. You sort of sprung this on me.” “I know, I’m sorry”, she said apologetically, flashing him with a shy smile. He held her hand and took her close to the water. “I want you to know that I love you”, he said softly, looking her in the eyes. He kissed her gently; she closed her eyes, savoring the moment.

And the next moment it was done. He’d shoved her into the lake.

He knew she couldn’t swim; she was afraid of deep water. She tried to scream, but there was no one around to hear her. Every cry for help became softer as the water entered her lungs; she fought and struggled but finally her body failed her. The last he saw of her was her eyes, big and blue, betrayed by the only person she had ever trusted.

He managed to bury the truth with the help of his father; their story claimed that she had slipped and fallen over into the lake. She had drowned before she could be saved. With time, all was forgotten.

Until now. Someone remembered.

He couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Her eyes haunted him, asking him questions, making him uncomfortable in his own skin. He eventually gave up the attempt at 5 am, sitting upright. He couldn’t eat; he had lost his appetite. He stepped into his bath tub and took a cold shower. The water felt like acid on his skin; burning, reminding him of that horrific night. He gave in; he couldn’t take it anymore.

He pulled out his truck and drove off, to Lover’s ledge. He wanted to make peace with himself and this place. He wanted a chance to apologize for what he had done. He wanted to weep and let all his grief out. He drove like a madman on the freeway, with every other car honking at him.

After about an hour, he finally made it. He was weak in the knees; he dragged his feet to the ledge. He was now standing at the exact spot where they had kissed; where he had looked into her deep blue eyes. He looked into the water and wept; he wanted to set things right but couldn’t. It was almost impossible to stand still. His feet crumbled against the tremendous strain of his almost limp body, and gave up. He fell into the cold water.

He didn’t try to fight it; the water current was too strong, pulling him in. As the water entered his body through his nose and mouth, he began hallucinating. He could see her standing on the ledge, her big blue eyes looking back at him. Her face twisted into a convoluted smile, a smile which seemed to relish his predicament. He looked at her eyes, one last time; he gazed into the deep ocean of blue.

And then it all went black.

The official statement was simple; Jack Johnson, aged 72, died by drowning at the Lover’s ledge, slipping and falling over. No evidence of foul play was found.

© 2013 Mihir Kamat
Inspired by this week’s writing challenge.
Image copyright of Mihir Kamat.

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