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Isaac Addy stands on a bridge, unsure whether to jump or not. His hands clasp the freezing stone of the parapet. His breath blots out the view. The early morning frost on the pavement crunches beneath his feet as he shifts from leg to leg. If he’s been trying to work up the courage to bring those frozen legs up, over the edge, into the void below, then he hasn’t been having much luck. Leaning forward, Isaac can see the surface of the rabid river, foaming white over the weir. He blinks at it. He isn’t crying, despite the fact he’s cried a river of his own over the last few weeks. Perhaps the wind has knocked it out of him. Perhaps the tears have turned to ice before they’ve reached his cheeks. It’s not like Isaac is incapable of feeling. He just feels nothing about the water, nor the sheer drop between himself and it. His mind is on other things. His soul is somewhere else entirely. The river roars up at him, but Isaac Addy is too far away to answer.

He breathes in, a shocked and rasping breath, as if he’s suddenly arrived from another place. Icy air fills his lungs. He looks along the bridge, in one direction, then the other. He’s numb from the cold, but he’s so numb to being numb that he barely shivers as he tries to work out how he got here. Isaac squints. He knows this place, and he knows he didn’t walk here. He can’t have. He’s in the middle of nowhere. He’s been drinking, which is a bad sign, because he’s clearly been driving. He knows he’s been drinking because his tongue is carpeted with the taste of hours-old alcohol, and he knows he’s been driving because he can see his car at the end of the bridge, headlights still on, driver’s door still open. It idles in the ditch like roadkill, the sky bone-white above it. The distant ding ding ding of the warning signal is just about audible over the noise of the river. Isaac doesn’t remember leaving the door open. He doesn’t remember the drive itself, nor does he remember dawn breaking somewhere between the car over there and this spot, here, on the bridge. He doesn’t remember how he got here, where he came from. He doesn’t remember much of anything anymore.

Isaac looks back down at the water, which greets him with a whiplash of wind. Now he feels the cold. It wraps itself around his throat, creeps down the collar of his dirty shirt and constricts his ribs. It squeezes the breath out of him, until all he can do is shudder and grip the parapet tighter. Though there’s no snow, Isaac feels as if he’s caught in a blizzard. He imagines his nose and ears turning blue. Isaac doesn’t know where his coat is, and the suit he’s wearing is far from suitable protection for the bracing river wind. But his hands won’t budge, even when he tries to move them to rub his shivering arms. Isaac watches the river, transfixed, as it rolls over shining rocks and broken branches, wondering if it rolls over dead dogs too.


He can picture the headline, in a local paper. Can’t he? Though Isaac doesn’t remember much of anything anymore, he remembers this: a news story, forced from a few loose anecdotes stitched to a local urban legend. Apparently, dogs that crossed this bridge had a strange tendency to jump off it. Some said it was haunted by the spirit of a malevolent mastiff. Others, actual experts, blamed the scent of wildlife in the nearby undergrowth. Pine martens, they suspected. Th e dogs don’t know that they’ve made a fatal mistake until it’s too late. Imagine jumping to your death in pursuit of a meal. Isaac wishes he had that kind of conviction.

Who’s he kidding? Isaac was never going to jump. Even the imp of the perverse, that little voice in his head which should be telling him to take the plunge, is warning him off it. Don’t jump! it’s saying, in a mocking little tone. You have so much to live for! Isaac knows the imp is being facetious, but he also knows he’s going to follow its orders. He closes his eyes, rocks back and forth on his heels, pushes his torso out over the edge of the parapet as if willing himself to fall accidentally. Gravity could do all the work, if his hands would just let go. He opens his eyes again, the sheer magnitude of the drop opening up with them. Isaac’s stomach lurches. Self-preservation, perhaps. Th e booze, more likely. He coughs, splutters and vomits into the abyss. Now the contents of his stomach are in freefall, carried off into obscurity by the wind. Isaac blinks back tears, and a different kind of bile rises in his throat. Th e water below seems to boil, black as tar, and his empty stomach boils with it. A vein in his forehead threatens to burst. He grips the parapet so hard that it cuts into his fingers. Then, finally, he screams.

It’s a painful sound, one which would cause the birds around to take flight if there were any birds to hear it. His cry echoes off the stones of the bridge, off the trees of the forest lining either side of the water, off the surface of the river itself. Even the weir stops bubbling, as if it’s paused to listen. The forest holds its breath. Time seems to stand still. Then, out of nowhere, something screams back.

  • Isaac and the Egg - Bobby Palmer

    Find hope in the unexpected in this unforgettable debut novel about grief and friendship, for readers of Joanna Cannon, Patrick Ness and Matt Haig.

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