Rescuing the Dead Girl

by Jonathan Slusher

After the video went viral it only took them two days to find her. Woman Jumps from Tour Boat to Rescue Funeral Urn (386,011 views). At first it was merely nameless faceless chatter on her voicemail. Later there were knocks on the door, a scattering of reporters, as well as three cordial invitations to be a non featured guest on obscure talk shows.

It could have gone either way at first, but before developing a solid reason not to she decided that she didn't want to take any part in it. She wasn't going to talk. She wasn't going to talk at all. Not to any of them. Not ever.

All they wanted to talk about was the video. An amateurish twenty minutes of shouts, splashes, and a blanketed soaking wet version of herself that was hardly recognizable. Did she think she was going to die? They wanted to know. Was she scared? Surely Hope was a crazy kook and no one was really interested in anything beyond why she'd jumped.

What kind of person was she? If given the chance would she do it all over again? These were the questions Hope would have answered. These were the things she was still turning over in her own mind. And they were the secrets that no video could ever capture.

The jump itself lasted only a second or two then she hit the water feet first—sandals, pink toe nails, and all--then tumbled sideways. Once Hope came back up and began kicking through the frigid water towards a life that was already lost; that was the moment when she realized how meaningless her previous concerns had been. How she'd wasted away so much of her life worrying about unimportant things. But there'd been similar moments of clarity before and in much less dire predicaments. While holding the urn in her arms and waiting for the boat to come back around, she couldn't believe how much time she'd wasted worrying about what everyone else thought of her. It was a sickness really. She wanted everyone to like her. Even the jerks, the kings of jerks, she desperately worried about their approval too.

Cold, wet, scared, crazy and treading water she searched for placement among the multitude of ridiculously dumb things she'd ever done in her life.

"Stupid jerks," she mumbled, water spraying from her salty wet lips.

Before the jump, back up on the deck of the ship, with two feet firmly planted on solid ground her paralyzing fear had been that she looked just as bad as everyone else. They were members of a small hoard of grayish green faced passengers shuffling and stumbling across the rolling decks of a large catamaran tour boat. With top shelf drinks in hand she was just one of many significant others on their return trip from a recently opened open bar.

The scenic sunset sail on the bay, in rougher-than-usual conditions was all paid for and made possible by the corporation, of course. The trip was just a little thank you to the families—the real support networks--of the company's most successful employees. Without support from home these over achievers wouldn't have been able to put in the extra time and effort to make the company what it had become. Their growth had been meteoric; it had certainly been an epic seven years, and her husband Rich--traveling wherever and whenever they needed him, working fourteen hour days--he'd been right there in the beginning when it had all started. This whole weekend was a tribute to the company's Global Champion Pool, the very best of the best.

From the left a phalanx of noticeably bigger waves rocked the boat sideways. She was braced for it, but nonetheless a few sips worth of Cabernet Franc leapt free of the plastic cup and splattered across the length of her flowered skirt. She watched two beads of red liquid roll quickly down her bare ankle, spill into a sandal, and collect under the arch of her foot. Suddenly she was a mess. And why did her legs look so deathly pale? She wasn't one of those gym moms. She was the type of girl who still got most of her exercise outdoors. At least she'd managed to preserve the two import ales intact. They were property of Rich and his work manager, Doug, the latter a very tall and overly self satisfied workaholic who expected no less from his own employees.

The boat swayed and her stomach turned, but she wasn't concerned about nausea, the feeling would probably fade as usual once she got used to it. Two beers in one hand, she leaned back into the railing and took a few quick drinks of the wine. They'd passed Alcatraz a few minutes ago and now—lit by a late afternoon sun through a thin and hazy fog--the pyramid silhouette of Angel Island was coming into focus dead ahead.

The islands, headlands, mountains, and of course the bridge were amazing--the bay was beautiful. What an amazing place this was to live. She took another slow contemplative sip and passed it back and forth through tightly clenched teeth. There was no rush to get back to a conversation that she wouldn't be included. That was one of her biggest concerns. She'd been living in San Francisco for almost six months and still hadn't yet made a single true friend. Sure there were a few nice women at the kids' school, but her friends and family back East were different. The move had been a particularly hard one. What other adults did she really have to talk to?  Rich? He was sometimes physically there, but--as long as there was one bar of cell phone reception--he was rarely ever really all there. Thank god for the kids. However, they were getting older and she had to be careful about needing them much more than they needed her.

As if on cue she was bumped from behind by a big and tall black suit—looking down at his phone--he didn't even apologize. She glared at the overpriced designer material moving away from her. Hello. You even see me? I'm the woman you just smashed into. How ridiculous large men looked while typing madly away on such tiny keyboards.

"You know, if Karma were a currency that guy would be flat broke."

A witness to the small indignation hovered at her side. Wild smiling eyes, he wore a salt and pepper beard, a red Fog City Adventure Tours windbreaker, and a sailboat shaped name tag that read: FLASK, New London, CT

"If Karma was a currency," she replied. "I'd withdrawal my entire account right now in one giant lump sum."

He paused a thoughtful moment, "Why not keep it in the bank and save it for retirement?"

"No. I want it right now. All or nothing, it's long overdue."

Had she hinted too much at martyrdom? She didn't want to sound like that. She took a stab at Flask's age and came up with anywhere from forty five to sixty.

The boat eased into calmer water sheltered by Angel Island.

"Now is a good time to move about," he told her. "Let me help you with those drinks."

"It that a part of your regular duties?"

"It is today. Deck duty and vomit patrol." 

"Thanks so much," she used a sincere tone. "But I think I can manage."

The exchange had lasted only a few moments, but she stretched it, savored it and allowed it to fill her up in a space inside that had gone empty. Hope was never good at reading eyes, but this time she was quite certain that he was interested. Yet, it was more than that too. He wasn't just interested, he was engaging, he had taken the time to be witty, and he didn't look around himself or poke away at his phone as he spoke. Hope had been given his full attention and in return she'd given hers back. There really was no point of conversing any other way, she thought. Meeting new people, learning new things, and just using her senses, the unfamiliar world excited her. Yet it seemed to be a part of the world that was shrinking quickly, getting lonelier, and no one had enough time to care.

She found her husband and Doug in the same spot near the bow comparing business class accommodations of international airlines and seemingly without any care of what had become of her.

She handed over the beers and assured them both that it had been no trouble at all. While they continued their conversation she set about silently contemplating her new surroundings.

The Golden Gate Bridge was audible now, with an increasing amount of distinct humming and clanking noises as they approached it. She estimated that the Sun was about six or seven Suns above the horizon. Close to shore she stared for a long time at a large round white topped rock that was swarming with gulls. At the opposite rail a tall silver haired woman in a purple dress silently wiped away tears. A man had his arm around her. What was that all about?

Hope flinched as Doug stretched a pointed finger and stabbed it at the underside of the bridge, "You know that's one of the most popular suicide destinations in the world." He drained the last quarter of his beer all at once and shook his head. "Hell of a way to go."

"Broken back or neck, probably even worse if you survive." Rich added.

Nodding inertly Hope watched the woman in purple pull a vase from a backpack. No. It wasn't a vase. Of course it wasn't a vase. It was an urn! They were going to spread someone's ashes under the Golden Gate Bridge. That was it. That was the reason why the woman was crying.

"Holy shit," Doug held his eyes on the urn. "That's the guy with the ashes," he said. "There they are."

"Who's they?" Rich whispered.

Doug shrugged, "Some heavy roller protocol guy from HR who asked if it was okay if he and his wife could spread his daughter's ashes from the boat. Just a quick handful apparently, they have a list of places all over the world still to go to. Crazy shit, huh?"

Starting very low then increasing in volume Doug's phone played a familiar heavy metal tune. Machine Against the Rage or something like that. He held the phone's display up so Rich could see who the caller was.

"Probably needs help logging into his own teleconference again," Rich smiled. "Help! My Key Opinion Leaders don't think I know what I'm doing!"

Doug drawled, "Know what? You put me on one of those planes next to some idiot trying to blow up his underpants and I'd punch him in the face while singing God Bless America."

She knew they were poking fun at the caller. She also had no idea who he was.

Rich whispered something into Doug's ear then slapped his shoulder and they both laughed uproariously, but Rich's laugh was much louder, too loud.

The woman in purple and her husband both looked up, so did just about everyone else.

"I've got to go use the ladies room," Hope lied.

In the bathroom or the head, or whatever they called it, she cleaned the seat with a disinfecting wipe then sat down carelessly, her bottom landing askew. It was so frustrating. There was so much inside of her that she was unable to show to anyone. A person couldn't truly be whole without giving themselves wholly to someone else. Hadn't she underlined something like that in a Steinbeck novel once? Rich used to read classics out loud to her in bed. Now he occasionally tore through brainless paperback thrillers, but spent most of his free time playing Sodoku or Mafia Wars on his stupid phone.

She readjusted her position on the toilet seat then commenced involuntarily rocking herself back and forth with both hands between her knees. She suddenly felt as if she was slowly disappearing, fading away into something that anything could pass straight through. Worthless and alone, she was a loser who hadn't even earned a paycheck in nine years. Nine years, she shut her eyes at the thought of it. Trying not to cry, feeling out of place with her mind seized in an uncontrollable bramble of thoughts, she acknowledged it was becoming a reoccurring sensation.

From the toilet seat, she felt the ship begin to shift direction. Someone knocked loudly on the bathroom door, maybe for the second time. She stood up immediately then avoided the mirror while quickly scrubbing her hands. Her mind was still a mess and it was her own eyes that she didn't want to see reflected back at her. Shuffling slowly with her head held low, her feet instinctively led her towards Rich. But before she even caught sight of her husband she was brought back to life by the woman in purple. It was implausible, mired in her own problems, she'd forgotten all about her.

Hope arrived at the precise moment.

How could anyone truly grasp the escalating look of grief stricken shock on the mother's face when the wooden urn slipped from her hands, hit the deck, rolled in a half arc, and tumbled into the bay? Those few excruciating seconds, Hope witnessed them from beginning to end. The woman in purple and her husband, that was all, no one else had been paying them any attention.

Their eyes met. Loss and soul crushing hopelessness; she recognized the feeling and acted on impulse. Without hesitation, without thinking, and all in one motion Hope placed a foot and both hands on top of the low wire railing. She leaned forward then jumped.

Strangely, she remembered being happy that she'd done it even before her feet left the deck. Hope learned what it felt like to cradle the glossy sugar plum funeral urn of a complete stranger while fighting the chopping waves of San Francisco Bay. Who else in the whole world could say that? She also recalled that under the water her long skirt flowed gracefully. It was extraordinarily beautiful. Her clothes didn't even feel wet. And it was at this moment that the video that was to be seen by hundreds of thousands of strangers began rolling.


At the rail, passengers lined up three deep and selected the camera settings on their phones.

The boat circled once.

Flask threw her a line. Then he threw her another.

The woman in purple hugged Hope's soaking body and kissed her purple lips.

Facebook and Twitter got a live feed.

Doug's mouth formed a capitol O but no words came out of it.

Hope updated her profile picture and changed her relationship status to: it's complicated

Rich took a week off.

The home phone rang and rang.

The kids had a good laugh.

The whole ship had turned around for her.

It had been a long time coming.

BIO: Jonathan Slusher is a Garden State native and former part time New Jersey Turnpike toll collector who once got his braces stuck in a volleyball net. He now hides outs in the San Francisco area and has spent the last seven years-two abroad in France-as a stay at home father.

Jonathan's short stories have been published in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Paper Darts Magazine, and The Battered Suitcase. He also recently appeared on KQED Radio's Perspectives.

He has a website at: www.waterlanding.net