INSERT VAGUE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE HERE by Keith Henderson (1st place, Prompt Mar22)

It’s a pencil keeping him from sleep tonight. Not an actual pencil, obviously, a metaphorical one. Or should that be a metaphysical one? One or the other, anyway. There are the usual thoughts keeping him awake as well, of course.

Has he saved enough to retire?

Is that lump on the side of his foot a sign of cancer?

But mainly, though, it’s the pencil.

Specifically, the pencil he had dropped during a chemistry lesson almost 40 years earlier. He can still hear the particular sound only a pencil makes when it hits a hard surface, still senses his fingers touching the grimy the floor as he stooped to picked it up.

A dropped pencil.

That’s all.

It looked fine.

It still worked.

But you just never know with pencils, do you?

Especially a dropped pencil.

It might look normal on the outside, completely unaffected by the impact. It might continue to be useful. You might even forget that it ever hit the ground.

But.

One day you’ll hold that pencil in a certain way, or press a little too hard, or take off a fraction too much with the sharpener, and that’s when you discover just how broken it actually is.

The graphite core, the important bit, the bit that no one ever really thinks about.

The bit you thought was undamaged.

It starts to fall out.

And what use is it then?

None at all.

He knows it’s the sleep deprivation, accepts that it’s his addled brain trying to overlay this trite and insipid metaphor on his life.

It’s just that right now, he no longer cares.

And it’s this train of thought, stopping at Regret Central, Despair Parkway, and Wasted Life Junction, that brings him to what he’s decided will be the terminus.

From the twisted sheets of his bed.

To the gentle curve of this bridge.

Over this river.

Under this leaden sky.

He’s thinking about his daughter and the money she’ll get when he’s gone. He’s checked the policy and, provided she’s not convicted of his murder or manslaughter, she gets it all.

He’s thinking about the woman he loved for such a long time after she stopped loving him.

He’s thinking about the years lost to depression.

He’s thinking about the opportunities he never took.

He’s thinking that if he went in headfirst and kept his arms by his side, then it won’t matter that the water looks so shallow.

He wonders if it will happen quickly, or if he’ll be suspended between here and there long enough to feel the fish as they began to nibble at his extremities.

He’s thinking about something that one of the many therapists he’d wasted his money on had once told him. He can’t remember which one it was, but he remembers the words.

‘Don’t look for a permanent solution to a temporary problem’.

He hadn’t even considered that he was looking for any kind of solution back then.

The pencil had appeared to be intact.

To him at least.

But that really doesn’t matter now.

Not today.

And not on this bridge.

Because it’s the thinking that has ruined him.

Thinking he should have been more, done more, had more. Using those thoughts as a whip to drive him on to somewhere he hoped the black dog wouldn’t find him.

Because, oh my Lord, it isn’t an outside dog.

It takes up all the room in the house.

It chews the furniture and shits all over the floor.

And, despite all the affirmations, all the nebulous motivations he’d stuck to the fridge using the magnet she’d brought home from the school ski trip, all the meditation apps, nothing has ever managed to house train the beast.

‘Nothing is impossible’.

They were the three most dishonest words he’d ever stuck to the fridge. He had looked at that sheet of A4 on the fridge every day for almost a week. He’d wanted it to be the truth, wanted it to be a story he believed.

But.

Nothing is impossible?

Let’s see you shit out a hippopotamus and then we’ll talk, dickhead.

He puts his left foot on the base of the guard rail, and still he’s thinking.

His right foot joins his left, and still he’s thinking.

He stands on the top rail, and still he’s thinking.

The breeze, barely a zephyr, moves against his face, and still he’s thinking.

He leans toward the fulcrum, the point past which physics will have the final say.

And his thinking is stilled.

There is nothing left to think.

There is no more left to do.

Except to drop the pencil one final time.

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