Running Over Oakville

(August 26, 2006)

He'd met you at the GO station with his hair standing on end. It later turned out that he'd meant it that way, which was a plus, but the heaving of his chest and the uncharacteristic nervousness suggested by the twitching of his lips still indicated that something of note had happened.

"What's with you?"
"When I was on my way here, I was on the bridge and trains came in both directions."

You'd shuddered and scrunched up your face in an unflattering way, thinking of the lack of options and the impossibility of escape. The train bridge was not designed for pedestrians, and two small alcoves where the railing bent outward were the only spaces where someone traversing its length could get more than a foot away from a passing engine. It was a suicidal idea, and you'd felt a rush of horror, fearing that someday he might not manage to meet you there at all.

Still, when he proposed that you return to the GO station (after hours of chatter and fighting losing sword battles against dangerously leafy villains) via that route, you agreed without hesitation. It wasn't something you'd ever tell your mother - even from two provinces away, she'd find a way to ground you - but the idea was compelling.

"You'll never feel as alive as when you're halfway across," he'd said.
You couldn't keep the smirk out of your voice. "I'll never feel as alive as when I'm safely on the other side, you mean. I'll never feel as almost-dead as when I'm halfway."

You had made the trip once before and that made this time worse, since you knew what to expect. You emerged from a small copse of trees just behind him to face the near end of the bridge, which loomed shapelessly in the darkness. The only light came from the GO station, half a kilometre away and not intended to brighten this area, and the freeway.

(See, what really got to you was not the fact that you were about to cross a bridge that was really only meant for trains, although that didn't help. The major problem was that it spanned a gap several hundred feet above one of the largest streets in Oakville, and the surface you had to walk on was a series of wide grates that let you peer straight down at the transport trucks and SUVs roaring by.)

When you stepped out onto the bridge, you knew that you had no more than thirty seconds before the solid ground gave way to open air. Still, you filled yourself with courage and strong thoughts, following his feet with care, trying to avoid stepping anywhere he hadn't stepped first-


One of the grates wobbled as you put your weight on it, shifting you slightly to the right, where the thoroughly rusted metal railing was the only thing separating you from a several-second plunge into a really bad night. He turned around to make sure that you were still moving, and you knew that the smile you aimed at him must have been more a grimace than anything reassuring. You tried to force yourself to walk faster, to push yourself across and end the experience sooner, but it was impossible, because the road was waiting.


You started whimpering somewhere around the three-quarter mark, when you were suspended on a rickety platform almost directly above the yellow dividing line of the road. Distracting yourself with pointless thoughts, you calculated your Standard Rate of Whimpering as approximately two whimpers per second, well above your usual average. You were trembling so hard that your hand kept slipping on the railing, even though your knuckles were turning white from the pressure you were exerting, as if you could flit across the space on force of will alone. There were no images in your head - a place that consists of nothing but images - that did not include the sensation of freefall followed by the shattering of every bone in your body. Needless to say, you were not a happy camper.

And then, a lifetime later, you reached the other side. A rush of adrenaline that had been waiting in the wings roared through, and you began to prance across the tracks, crowing at him with glee:

"I didn't think I could do it but I did it and I could do it again LET'S DO IT AGAIN!"
He followed the requisite Simpsons schtick: "You can put your arms down now."
"I can't, they're stuck!"

You only just made your train after that, and snuggled up with a book for the ride home with the knowledge that you would have missed it if you had done the sensible thing. That did not justify your choice, however; the sense of glory and amazement at your continued existence did. You don't usually feel as he does, but moments like these help you understand the need for the occasional thrill: you like to do things just because you can, because they're things that others wouldn't try, and because hey, if you've got to go, that would at least make for an interesting autopsy report!

Still, you found yourself tempted to sleep on the floor that night, since the bed - elevated almost a whole foot - just seemed too risky.