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by The Jotter
Prologue It was as if the bridge watched, waiting for something, and the whole day – which was under a cloudy, worrying sky as it was - stopped to listen, sensing that something was about to happen. In the distance a dog howled, lonely, sensitive to the approach. A man was under the bridge, alone, finishing some task. He had on a tool belt around his waist but had removed his hard hat and safety glasses, poking around under the bridge with a flashlight. Suddenly, a crack reverberated down the river from under the bridge, and the man found himself struck through by some sort of steel rod - stuck through his chest. His body gave a spasm, trying to call out. However, fifty years ago, when this man is under the bridge, the area was not as populated as today, and the man's call from under the just-finished bridge reconstruction went unheard. At least, by people. For just then a shadow appeared next to him, and it seemed that the man turned and listened to the shadow, as if it was talking to him. The man nodded, eyes closing, in obvious pain, ready to agree to anything to escape the pain, and the shadow seemed to lean in to him in response. If one had an imagination, one could almost sense that the shadow was a woman, and that the woman-shadow was kissing the injured man. And then, just like that, if you had been watching and blinked, both were gone. Silence ensued, then the day went about the rest of its business, the stress of the moment under the bridge carried away by the current of the river. The disappearance of the man did not delay the bridge's grand re-opening. My First Encounter. I. A slight breeze moved the early evening air just enough for it to be pleasant and refreshing. There was still plenty of light left and I was making great progress on the walking trail next to the river. The hard concrete of the “trail” was in contrast to the river itself which played along the dirt and grass banks in its own fluid way. More than a few people were out, walking on the same trail, or sitting on a bench along the trail. While the trail was not overly busy, you almost never had the trail all to yourself, whether it be from walkers or sitters. When sitting on one of the benches people either stared into nothing or at everything, particularly if you were walking by. Some talked on the phone which was somewhat annoying, or talked to a companion. I guess the same set of options was evident for those walking along, as well. To call this a trail was not exactly honest. As mentioned, it was a concrete walk through a more or less manicured section of a couple of the city parks, connecting them and other small access points. It stretched a good ways, however, and one could either walk under or over a couple of bridges. The bridges were not often encountered, and there were enough shrubs and trees and uninterrupted concrete walking that you could be forgiven for calling it a trail. At least, I forgave myself. When I encountered groups on the trail I often gave way moving a half-step off the trail and nodding at them. Sometimes I received a nod back or a smile. Sometimes I received nothing. There were enough 2
nods and smiles that I felt I existed and formed some small attachment to the people of this city in which I had lived for about three years. Not a great big city, but big enough to have corners to turn, nooks to explore, and things to do. If one sat at home every night, then that was your choice, not the community's. I was still anxious to learn about this city and tried to read up on what I could when I could. Tonight I was anxious to try something new. It was a newer mobile application for smart-phones that allowed people to record events or thoughts and upload them to a central storage location. The phone would attach the GPS coordinates of the person making the recording and store the location, a title, a first name of the recorder, and the recording itself. Then, using the application someone else could download any or all recordings attached to the GPS coordinates where they were. It was a way of allowing everyday people to record everyday history, and others to learn about that history. I supposed, as well, that plenty of creative pranksters would also find a way to make use of it. On my walk this night I came to a covered wooden pedestrian bridge that crossed the river, took the stairs up to it, crossed it about halfway, and stopped to lean against the railing. The railing was thick but older gray wood, and seemed solid, immovable, in contrast to the river. The movement of the river below me outpaced the air, sending freeloading twigs and leaves downstream on a faster than it appeared ride, and leaving the scents and scenes of the air behind. It was a beautiful river, in a city way, and it could hypnotize you. I watched it for about five minutes, letting the stress of the week wash out of me. Then I decided I should download something from that application on my phone. Probably I should do it when it was not too crowded. I wanted some privacy, as perhaps the people who uploaded their events or thoughts wanted privacy even though they broadcast this essentially to strangers – well, I didn't know what was going to be on the recordings and even though I was going to use an earplug to listen, I didn't want someone a foot away from me to interrupt my listening. Also, I didn't really want to bother them with someone's silly life event that may or may not be real. For heaven's sake, for all I knew the recording would be some teenage kid bragging of some sexual conquest. I had no idea what to expect. Looking around, it seemed a young couple and their child were packing up to leave, as they placed and rearranged a large bag on the bridge between them. I watched them, thinking I would take that space to play the recording. Finally, they left and I moved, gaining some space about 5 minutes later. I took a last look around and saw that only one other woman was standing at the other end of the bridge, in the shadows. It was time to listen to what might come. Taking out my phone, I started the application. It took a minute to acquire my GPS position and then offered me a small list of recordings listing a title, a name, and a date. Selecting “Last Night on the Bridge” from about a month ago by a Mary, I pressed play. The sounds of the night were commingled with a woman's voice, someone who I assumed was the named Mary from the details on the recording. In a soft voice I heard: “It is such a beautiful night. Such a night as I shall never see again. The trees are just beginning to leaf out, the spring finally coming out of its shell. What took it so long this year? At least it is warm and I don't even need a sweater and the first stars are just appearing. Ah, if I were only at the point of wishing on stars. Oh well...the spring, the warmth, the stars - it's a nice consolation, I suppose.
Soooo, this is where we met so many years ago, not long after the bridge was rebuilt. We, my one time...friend?...and I, we were both leaning on the rail, right here. Right where I stand tonight, in the middle of the bridge. We met like this. My hair was falling across my face and I couldn't quite see him until I pulled the hair back behind my ear. Once I did that, I stole quite a few glances at him and he was beautiful. Was he paying attention to me then? I never asked him. Thought it best to leave it a mystery, a moment for others to figure out, though no one surely would ever investigate my life. Who am I to investigate and have concerns over? Why does it have to be so beautiful tonight...of all nights? Well, at any rate, this is where we first saw each other. Where we first, a couple nights later, said 'Hi', and smiled. And exchanged simple talk like 'wasn't it a nice night?' and 'Wasn't this a nice spot to watch the river?' and 'I really love this section of the river, the way it so on and so on...' Later, on other evenings, we would actually stand next to each other, and talk in low voices about other people, how silly this person we saw together on the trail looked, or how rude that person acted, and can you believe the lack of maintenance this year? Those sorts of topics. We even got to the point of commenting on 'I missed you last night', 'oh, I had to attend my nephew's birthday party', 'oh, how old is he?', 'he's 5...a precious bundle of energy you know, at that age.' 'I do know.' We were making progress. We were making progress. So much progress, or so it seemed. I had my hopes at that point. I really did. Why he never asked me out, I'll never know. It's been a year to the day since I last saw him, though. There is no clue as to what happened that I can track down. I fear the worst. Is he dead? Did he meet someone else? I began to widen my search, watching for him in restaurants, coffee houses, the book store, the streets downtown. I don't even know where he lived. Did he die? Did he get transferred at his work? Why wouldn't he tell me? We seemed to share everything, and then suddenly he was gone. I miss talking to him, miss having my stomach jump in that thousand-butterflies fluttering effect when I saw him coming on the trail, or saw him waiting for me, and he would wave, smile, and nod. None of that, anymore, for me, I guess. So, here I am tonight, at the very spot. It's my first time back here in exactly one month. I decided to watch for him until it gets dark. One last chance, for him, for me. However, it is now dark. Why did he become so important to me? Why did I let it become so important? I guess all that doesn't matter. Nothing does anymore. I have brought along some pills. I am going to take them all, here on the spot. Perhaps then he'll know how much I miss him when he reads about it. I don't know why I am recording all this, here, and loading it for someone else to hear. I guess,...I guess I just want someone to know what happened to me. I guess I want my story to be known. I'm sorry if I shouldn't have done it...but what's done is done. So here goes. Goodbye, my stranger!” The recording ended. I popped my head up and opened my eyes, looking around. 4
The evening was still, the bridge was still, the river even seemed to have slowed its travels in reverence, and it seemed no bird called. It was all...just still. In that stillness, I racked my brain, my memory, trying to make sense of this, of what I had just heard. There was nothing in the newspaper about a death on this bridge that I could remember. There was nothing about a body in the river, or found along a bank, bloated, terrible. I think I would have remembered it! Goosebumps suddenly covered me, however. One month ago on this bridge, I was here. I could have seen her. I could have saved her. This is what we get in modern society, I thought to myself, with no one paying attention to each other. I wondered if... A movement at the edge of my vision disturbed my thoughts. The woman at the end of the bridge was suddenly much closer to me than she had been. I don't recall seeing her walk over, but then my eyes had been closed, against time, against the breeze, against distraction, engrossed as I was in the recording I had downloaded. Still, it sort of unnerved me, that she had moved so close. I nodded to her slightly, politely, and moved to the other side of the bridge, ostensibly to get a different view. The water here was moving swiftly toward the bridge, coming from around a bend in the river about a hundred yards upstream. The overhang of willows and other trees at the river here was beautiful. It was a bit less tended along the trail going farther that way, as most people came up to cross over the bridge here. Doing that, you found a small ice cream stand to treat yourself to, and a pair of bathrooms across the bridge there, and after that a wider, open park. I looked over at the park, through the trees, and saw a few people walking their dogs there. Fewer people than normal, though I chalked that up to the late time of the evening. That late time helped me decide to move back along the trail to my car, before it got completely dark. Though the trail was regarded as safe, there was no sense in taking chances. “OH!” I stammered, almost turning into the woman. She had moved again, close to me, a bit unexpectedly. “I am sorry...I didn't notice you behind me.” I looked at her face, but it was already shadowed in the deepening gloom of the waning evening, and under the covered bridge the shadows were even deeper and mixed with the graying weathered wood. “It's okay.” She spoke quietly. I had to think, did she really speak? But then, I was pretty sure I had heard those words. She moved to the side of me without looking at me, and leaned on the railing, looking at the river, far down the river, maybe even without seeing the river. Her hair was darker than the shadows she was in, a swirl of inky blackness that obscured her face except for her nose and her lips. I found her lips to be oddly attractive, holding my attention like a magnet holds metal once I had looked at them. It took some strength to pull my gaze away, but I did finally, for fear of being rude (or, more likely) caught staring. “Do you come here often?” I practically jumped off the bridge then and there for uttering such a stupid and worn-out line. Oh my god, did I really start this conversation off with that? Well, forgive me for I had been startled first by that story, and now this woman. “Yes, quite a bit.” Her answer was soft, barely there.
Startled that she answered it, I almost missed the absent-sounding part in her response. Still, I replied, “It's a lovely place to come and watch things. Peaceful, but always a community here, you know?” Breathing a sigh of relief, I hoped that the conversation was rescued. However, her response to my last question was a shake of her head, 'no'. This, with her absent-minded response before, started to sound a warning bell in my head. Then I remembered back to the downloaded story and my response and people not noticing each other. What was up with her, anyhow? Deciding the best way to get to the answer was a direct question, I went straight for it. “Are you okay?” She turned to look at me briefly, her head giving the slightest shake, 'no', again. I was shocked by her eyes, so shocked I had very little thought of a response, for her eyes were cloudy gray-white. I doubt that they were brightly white but because of the deepening shadows and the rapidly approaching night, the eyes appeared as beacons in a fog, and then they were gone as her head turned away. In fact, her whole body turned away and she began to walk away from me, slowly but steadily, toward the end of the bridge, and the steps down to the trail. I knew I should go after her, but my will did not correspond to that thought as I seemed completely rooted in place, feet nailed to the wooden bridge, until she was gone, off the bridge herself and down the steps, as smoothly as water falling over a rock. She turned onto the path and went under the bridge. Finally free to move, I went to the railing on the other side of the bridge to watch her walk away. I held my position for some time, keeping my eyes firmly on the trail. However, she did not appear. I counted to 10, slowly, even doing the “one Mississippi, two Mississippi,” style of counting, and when she did not appear, I decided I should go down. She had obviously stopped and was sitting under the bridge, alone, and who knew what would happen or why. I ran to the end of the bridge, and turned the corner onto the path and down towards the river. The thought that she might be in trouble because she ran into some trouble-making youths under the bridge really didn't enter my mind, although I suppose it should have. However, no harm came from this, because as I hit the trail and turned under the bridge I stopped. There was no sight of her under the bridge. I stepped out from under the bridge to look up the side of the grass, but saw nothing going that way. Shrugging, and noticing that the light was rapidly fading, I decided I should return to my car and make my way home. It wasn't that I gladly gave up, but there was no sight of her. The wind picked up, shifting my hair, and whispering in the leaves of the trees, making me think of her sparse voice, whispering on the bridge. Later, I was glad to reach my car and took a deep breath, pausing to shake my head, before I turned the key in the ignition. II.
The next evening, finishing supper in a small cafe near the river trail, I determined that I would make my way to the bridge again. In the light of day some of what I felt last night, a bit of nervousness, a bit of excitement, had vanished. The mystery of the woman, however, had blossomed in my mind during the day. What was she up to? What was troubling her? How did she disappear? I was hooked and I would have to find her again. That would happen, I felt sure, if I spent a lot of time at the bridge in the evenings. Starting tonight. Paying my bill, I crossed the street and found the path down to the river trail. It was a beautiful evening, the sun was still above the horizon and casting its spring warmth. A nice evening breeze brought a gentle gusting of the smells of spring, the callings of birds, and the hushed laughter of people in the vicinity. Dappled shadows fell on the river passing by the trail, and the river responded to it all with a cheery conversational murmuring, attended to by an occasional person sitting on a bench, acting like some acolyte in their attention and devotion to the clear waters. I was humming without realizing it as I turned the corner and the bridge came into sight. Scanning the bridge and approaches to the bridge quickly, it was apparent the woman was not there, but that was not unexpected. It was early, and I rather suspected she came to the bridge later in the evenings, when the crowds thinned out. In fact, I thought as I stopped, maybe I should sit on a bench along the trail and watch the bridge and the trail, and see from which direction she approached. It wouldn't hurt to learn that little bit so she didn't disappear on me again. More people were out and walking this evening than I would have suspected, the pedestrian traffic passing my bench like time walking off the minutes of the remaining day. Some continued on the trail, some stopped to take a picture of the bridge (those standing on the bridge forever had their souls captured in that moment, unknowingly, unwittingly becoming a part of history in someone's “My Pictures” folder on their computer). Some of the walkers left the trail at the crosswalk to the bridge, choosing to go to a street and return home. Many others, however, stopped on the bridge, savoring the view, the peace, and the anonymous community that formed briefly on the bridge. Perhaps, subconsciously, they sought the limelight of being in a photograph. At any rate, after watching for quite a while, until the light was beginning to fade just a bit too much for me, the woman I sought was not among this crowd, not on this night. Taking a deep breath, and looking at my watch, I was surprised that I felt some disappointment at this. It was, however, there. Good grief, I thought to myself! I only briefly glimpsed her in the shadows on one night, shared maybe 5 words over 2 minutes span of time, and watched her disappear. Why was I disappointed by her nonappearance? Get a grip on your single life, I thought to myself, as I raised up from the bench and turned on the trail. If I hadn't given up on her at that moment, I wonder...was this enough light for me to have seen her, as she appeared just as I walked away? Would I have seen, from the bridge, a figure emerge from the shadows, watching another figure on the trail shake his head? My Second Encounter I.
That night I replayed our – oh my....'our'? I wanted to slap myself into reality for as yet there was no 'our' – encounter on the bridge. As I lay on my back in the dark I daydreamed about a different conversational approach from me, a different result, and what might have entailed from that more successful outing. “It's such a fine evening out here on this bridge, isn't it?” She looked at me and smiled. “Yes, the bridge here is SUCH a wonderful place to watch the evening and enjoy the weather.” After pausing she looked back at the water. I would start to feel it already, and I would then say, “I can't believe more people don't enjoy this!” She would nod. “It's a good place to come and think.” “Absolutely” I would pause, thoughtfully. “Are you thinking of something now?” Ah...there's the clever question that gets her to open up. Looking ever so slightly at me she would shrug. “Sure. Aren't we always thinking?” Philosophical, this one. “Hmmm,” I would muse, perhaps rub my chin absently for effect. “Yes, yes...I suppose. Sometimes we think absently, and sometimes we think to solve a problem....and sometimes we think 'am I supposed to be remembering something to do?' But, yes, I suppose we are in fact always thinking.” The slightest dramatic pause would be weighed here, then, “What are you thinking about? If I may ask?” She would tell me some problem then. Some problem she was having, and it would spark something, her decision to share. Out of the blue, out of some feeling of trust which would be so completely warranted. As it got dark, too dark to be out there, I would then suggest we go to the cafe across the street – 'no no, my treat, no strings!' - and we could solve this problem – no longer just her problem together. That being done, she would agree to meet me on the weekend on the bridge at, say, 7 pm to tell me how our solution worked. It would be a happy moment, we would know that we could share and solve things together. And then we would move to lighter things and enjoy the moment. A moment I really wanted. We would just enjoy the weather, watch people, watch people walking oddly, or wearing something funny, maybe make fun of the same people, just between us, subtle jokes, nothing hurtful. And then, laugh at that together, and at the end of the evening, as I walked her to her car, I would suggest we have supper a week from then, a really nice supper out. She would agree and hope that we might stumble into each other on the bridge before then, though. A week, after all, was so far away. Yes, we must meet on the bridge a time or two again. “Oh...and my number is...” she would hasten to tell me as I started walking away. I would nod and smile, memorizing her number and about to tell her mine, then decide...”oh let me just call you right now, on your cell, then you will have it for all time.” That call being done, I would walk away, as if on clouds. A walked in the clouds in love. That was how I should have played it. I rolled my eyes in the dark. 8
The next morning I resolved to go to the bridge again, after work, that night. The day passed slow, a watched clock never moving as fast as it does when you are having so much fun that you swear it must pass over some numbers. In that slow passing of the sun, first rising, then holding steady high in the sky, it's light shining forever on the day, I kept to normal as much as I possibly could. I went to work, however, I barely kept my mind on it, falling into daydreams and checking the watch on my wrist. Finally, however, mercifully, work ended, and I went downtown, grabbing a bite at the cafe where in my other world I reviewed how this next conversation with the woman on the bridge would go, me making witty conversation and impressing this mystery woman. It was all I could do to not choke on a tasty BLT sandwich and accompanying chips in my rush to get back to the trail and the bridge. The waitress tried engaging me in some small talk, but I wasn't going for it. I tipped her well, for I did recognize the effort. No matter what, however, my eyes were vacantly outside already, keeping an eye out just in case, seeing the older lady pushing her feet forward, seeing a younger man strut quickly past the window, seeing time pass in so many forms, but not seeing the bridge woman. Then the door to the cafe was shut behind me, my bill paid and stomach sated, and the trail waiting sentient across the street from me. Leisurely strolling along the trail, I let my senses pull it all in. Leafy branches back-lit by the sun. Gossip and jeers from one bird to another, or from one bird to the humans below. A scurry in the underbrush. The holes in a dying tree from a woodpecker. A misty cloud of gnats gathering above the pair of older men talking. The gossip from one human to another. The occasional piece of trash on the ground. I laughed at myself. Time still passed far too slowly, but soon the bridge was around the corner and in front of me. Yes! The trail led up to the bridge and I stopped midway across, checking that my shirt was tucked, odd flips of the hair smoothed down, and gallantly leaning my elbows on the wooden railing. River water sparkled in the flashes of sun slanting through the trees. I could imagine small groups of minnows or other fish in the river dodging from weed to weed or rock to rock. Small knots of groups of ducks waited on the water for the last pieces of bread to be thrown by a human. On the breeze came the scent of lilacs. I took up the watch, then. Looking around brought no sight of the mystery woman to me. I kept watching, on the trail, on the bridge to right and left, sometimes on the river itself, wondering, well...maybe she would come on a raft. What did I know? I was anxious. After a great deal of time, as the crowd began to thin I began to despair and doubt my recollection of events the other night. I brought out my phone and started the broadcast app again. I needed to hear it again. The app started, I thumbed threw the recording titles and dates until I found it. Pressing play, and holding the phone to my ear, the story again unfolded: “It is such a beautiful night. Such a night as I shall never see again. The trees are just beginning to leaf out, the spring finally coming out of its shell. What took it so long this year? At least it is warm and I don't even need a sweater and the first stars are just appearing. Ah, if I were only at the point of wishing on stars. Oh well...the spring, the warmth, the stars - it's a nice consolation, I suppose.
Soooo, this is where we met so many years ago, not long after the bridge was rebuilt. ...” I felt a push against my right elbow and, startled, looked to my side. There she was! I quickly shut off my phone and put it back in my pocket, patting it once to make sure it was secure. “Hello! It's so good to see you again!” I smiled broadly, genuinely. She didn't look at me, keeping her eyes on the river below. However, I am sure I saw the corners of her lips raise in a smile. “It's a beautiful night.” Her voice was barely above a whisper, small, soft, and beautiful. A nightingale. “Yes, yes. It's gorgeous. The weather is quite perfect. How have you been?” “Waiting.” She nodded, whether to herself or to me, I wasn't sure. “What have you been waiting for?” My heart raced, wondering if it would be the answer I wanted, wondering if I wanted that answer so soon. She had stated something that needed to be followed up with something. It was straightforward and honest. I convinced myself it was right. She shrugged. “Life to find me.” Hmmm. That wasn't an answer I was expecting. However, I went with it. “Well, has it? I hope it has. I found you, at any rate.” I paused, but pushed ahead. “I came last night, looking for you, you know.” She slowly nodded. “I saw you leaving. I am sorry I missed you.” I looked at the river, my mind racing with the water for the right words here, part of my mind wondering what the heck attracted me so fast to her, another part afraid of what would happen if I found the right words. “My name's Jack, by the way.” Again a nod. “Mine is Mary. How do you do, Jack?” She giggled, I think. “What do you do in life, Mary? Do you work?” “Not anymore, Jack. Do you?” “I do. I do some computer work at a company west of town.” “That sounds nice, Jack.” She continued to watch the river as she spoke, and the sound of the current covered the pause in our conversation. Thankfully, in my opinion. “Do you live around here, Mary?” She looked at me then, a smile on her face. In the shadows of the bridge in the last of the evening light it was difficult to get a good look, however. In fact, her face seemed to generate shadows on its own. And in those shadows her eyes were deep pools where light did not escape. I shuddered a bit, imagining that if black holes were on earth that they would look like those eyes, both in the lack of 10
light escaping, and in the deep pull they had on anything looking at them. “I do live near-by.” The river again could be heard. I suddenly shivered though I don't know that the temperature was dropping all that much with the sun going down. She continued, “I have an apartment not far from here. Just a one-bedroom. Small kitchen and all, but its close to here so its very much worth it to me.” I nodded, somewhat relieved. “Is it on the West side of the river?” I jerked my thumb over my shoulder, in the direction that she had taken a couple nights ago when she left. “Yes...but I am not going to tell you any more, Jack. I think it's too early for me to invite you up, don't you think? A girl should have a bit of mystery to her, after all.” I chuckled to myself. Indeed she should, I guess, and mystery was one thing this woman did not lack. I looked around, we were the only two left on the bridge, although one or two walkers continued on the trail a bit away from the bridge. “Do you get worried, being out so late? I mean, not that you can't take care of yourself, and I have never heard of anyone being attacked here, but I don't think anyone would recommend being out here after dark. Even I get a bit concerned about myself when I stay too long.” “Jack...you're starting to scare me. Maybe I shouldn't trust you out here?” She looked around. “After all, there's no one here to help me if you yourself decided to do me some nasty bit of violence!” “No, no, no, Mary! I didn't mean it that way. Just,” I paused, looking up at the bridge roof, “Maybe I am a bit old-fashioned. Not used to anyone, much less a woman, being on the trail after dark without a dog along or something. But you have nothing to fear from me.” Pausing again, she did not respond, so I continued, looking down and sheepish, unaware if there were enough light to show my emotions. “At any rate, I was trying to build up to asking you out for a late-night coffee and piece of cake at the cafe. Outside the park. In the lights and around other people where it's safe.” “Ahhhh, the truth comes out.” She giggled. “Are you single, Jack? Are you seeing anyone?” “I am single, Mary. Not seeing anyone. Been single for a bit, now, actually.” “And you are tired of being single, I take it? I hear it in your voice, Jack. Juuusssst a bit.” She looked back at the river. Well, I thought. She either cuts to the chase fast or pushes me to it. “I guess you are right. Wasn't really aware of it myself until you just said something.” I let the river speak a minute for effect. “Wow.” Well, I was on the path anyhow...may as well lay it out there. “Do I interest you?” She let the question hang out there. “Yes, Mary, you do.” I let the answer hang out there. Off somewhere, some direction, a night-bird called. I then had to ask, “Are you single, Mary? Are you seeing anyone?” She drew in her breath. “I am single...though my situation is a bit complicated.” 11
My heart dropped. I didn't want 'complicated'. “Does that bother you?” She put her left hand on my arm. I began to wonder if she could read my mind. Not sure what to say, I held off from saying anything while I searched for the right answer. I decided that... “Don't worry. You don't need to answer. You barely know me.” She laughed and my nerves relaxed a bit. “Well, I was about to say it doesn't bother me. But since you brought it up, that I barely know you, let me say, Mary, that I would like to get to know you.” She didn't respond immediately, so I added, “So maybe we could get to know each other better at that cafe?” The wind picked up then. Somewhere a dog barked. I looked at the river, like she did, although I wasn't really able to see it anymore. The breeze had the beginnings of a cool overnight following it. Finally, she said, “Not tonight. Perhaps another night, though?” “Sure, sure. Another night.” “I'm serious, Jack! That isn't something said to get rid of you. It's just, I would rather stay here for a bit longer tonight. So I would like to meet you on another night at the cafe.” I breathed out, realizing I hadn't exactly done that for a few moments. “That would be fine. As long as you're comfortable.” “I am. So tell me, how is it you are so interested in me? You don't know much about my story, and you've hardly really seen me, Jack. Tell me what made you interested in me.” Wow...she had a confidence about her. I was compelled. “Okay. Okay...I will. I come here fairly often.” I took a breath. “And a couple of nights ago I was on this bridge, and decided it would be the first place I try out this new app on my phone. This app allows you to hear stories that other people upload about the place they are at at that moment. I've always liked this bridge...took a couple of photos of it, written a couple poems about it. You know? Well, you don't, but trust me. So it seemed like this was the perfect spot to try it out.” I took a pause before continuing. She didn't interject any comments and it was too dark to see if her head was nodding or not. Plunging on, “So anyhow, a couple nights ago I came to this spot and downloaded a story. I picked one by...hmmm, by a Mary. Oddly enough. She was very sad and the story surprised me. Evidently, she came to this bridge a lot, met a guy she liked, they saw each other a lot over a year's time, and then I guess things didn't work out. The guy disappeared and after waiting weeks for him or some word from him, well, nothing. So she said she wanted to commit suicide and planned it for that night. But oddly she put the whole thing up on this public place – this smart phone app - for people to download. Funny thing is she must not have gone through with it because I don't remember reading about a suicide here.” Still no comment from this Mary. 12
“But that night,” I turned to look at her...something niggling at my mind as I spoke, “I saw you that same night, on this bridge. You seemed like you needed help. You seemed nice. Then you disappeared. Very mysterious. I ran after but couldn't see which direction you went.” I let that sink in a bit, then I finished, “I guess the combination of the mood of that first night, the hurt you seemed to be in, and the mystery of you and how your left, well, it all made me want to know you, to help you.” I waited for her to respond, to say that those were acceptable motivations. That she would say we should go to the cafe after all. I hoped it was still open. I had no idea what time it was and didn't want to look at my phone and ruin the mood, to have the modern technology intrude with it's bright light on the magic that was her shadow here on what was an old-fashioned bridge. So I waited longer. Finally I couldn't stand it. I moved closer to her, leaned forward, and started to pucker my lips to kiss her on the cheek. Moving closer, slowly since I couldn't see well, I was about to land the kiss when suddenly she spoke and her voice froze me. “Don't kiss me unless you mean it to be permanent. Please.” I withdrew as slow as I had advanced. “Sorry...I didn't mean anything...just a kiss to show I care.” She must have turned to me because her voice was stronger. “No need to be sorry, it's just that actions have consequences, Jack. I want you to make sure you are ready for the consequences. Kisses to me now, well, they are a permanent thing. Perhaps you should think about this. You just need to aware of this before you kiss me. No turning back afterward, Jack.” I imagined a smile on her face as she said this, but I wish there was better light to be sure. “Okay. Okay, I will think about this kiss which will be permanent. It must be getting late...let me walk you out of the park, and I will meet you here tomorrow or the next night? I can then let you know what my thinking is, but I think I know the answer already.” I smiled myself, in case she could see it. “But we'll play this your way, and then next time you can tell me what it is about me that would cause you to allow a guy to meet you on a covered bridge in the near dark. Sound like a deal?” “Deal. I will meet you here in two nights time, Jack. Think it over carefully.” She touched my arm, gave it a slight rub, and the electricity about short-circuited my brain. Her touch was amazingly magical. I knew the answer and the two days delay would be eternity! Smiling, I stepped away from the railing. “Shall we, then?” Mary, however, stood where she was, not moving. “You go on. I want a few moments here by myself, if you don't mind.” I was about to protest but she continued on, “oh don't worry, just don't worry. I can take care of myself. I have a phone and other things in my pocket to protect me. You go on.” Hesitating, I was about to say something, but she repeated, “you go on...shoo!” and since I didn't want to blow the progress I had made, I said good night and turned. Walking off the bridge my footsteps sounded heavy and too loud, and also quite clumsy. Just then the moon came out, shining bright. I turned to see the moon highlight her on the bridge, at least the side of 13
her face, her long silky hair hiding much of her face, her forearms leaning on the bridge railing. I yelled, “Good night, mystery Mary!” She absently waved back, but I swore I saw the smile on her face. Turning, I was off the bridge, and down the steps, beneath the bridge and along the trail. I turned then, hoping to see her face from this better angle, but she was gone from the bridge railing. Stopping, I waited, thinking I would see her come walking on the trail, or see her across the other side of the bridge. I didn't see anything, though, and no matter how long I waited, it was apparent that yet once more Mary had managed to leave without me seeing how she did it. Breathing deeply, I turned back on the trail and made my way to the car, happy, full of hope. Before turning the key I felt a brief feeling of worry, but couldn't place it, so I turned the key in the car, and drove off for my apartment, humming some tune which I didn't know, passing buildings I didn't give one glance to, into a night I had never known before. II. The following day passed very slowly and I spent time at work doing things I shouldn't, but my mind simply wouldn't stay focused. I thought, who would blame me? So that day more time than should have been spent was taken to browse the internet. I couldn't resist looking something up, just out of curiosity. So I looked up emergency response records for the city, but found no record of anything happening at that bridge, ever, at least not since the initial building of it over fifty years ago when one of the workers died in a freak accident. I checked the police log and the newspaper, but there was nothing. So the Mary of the recording had evidently not gone through with her suicide, or if she had, had bungled it so badly she didn't even need an ambulance. I thought to myself that it would have been nice of her to close the loop on her story and provide an update to the app. That gave me an idea, so I double-checked the app, but there was no second story from her. I did not go to the trail that night, deciding instead to simply stay at home and watch mindless TV. Going on the trail would just tease me, or torture me, and if I ran into Mary I didn't want to blow the agreement we had made. I wanted to show her that I had some discipline in me. So stay at home it was. It felt good to occupy my vision with junk on TV and allow me to daydream more. I definitely wanted to learn more about this woman. Fearless of the night, obviously a take-control sort of person, some playfulness, and all that mystery. That mystery, especially, had to be penetrated. I went to bed early that night and dreamed of old bridges, mysterious women, and the night. The night was full of things that came for me. In one of the dreams I was bound to the bridge with some sort of rope a woman nearby, talking of secrets in life. It wasn't clear to me on waking how I had became bound. However, the binding was tight and at one point caused me fear. The bridge itself seemed to play some part, and in another dream the bridge was the one with the secrets and talked to me of when it was younger. The bridge was alive, had a soul of its own, motives of its own as if out of some fairytale. So it was that it told me that to kiss the woman was to take her place as a special friend and caretaker of the bridge. In return, the bridge was protective of its friends and provided them a place to stay. All was happy, all was taken care of, and you never left. When I woke, that dream was shaken off with a bit of difficulty. Still, I was tired, it was not morning yet, so I went back to sleep. Finally, the sun rose above the horizon on the appointed second day and I awoke with a mission, despite any rough sleep. I took my time getting ready for work, enjoying coffee, eggs, and toast, and a 14
bit of browsing the news on the internet. Getting to work was without incident, the sun was shining, birds were out and singing from the trees in the parking lot. There was no surprise that I was in a good mood at work and accomplished a lot. Friends asked why I was in such a good mood. Smiling, shrugging, I would just answer that tonight I had a date. “This could be the one”, I told them. Later, with work over, I walked to my car whistling. It would be a nice big meal at the cafe for me. I might even spring for some desert, I thought. My Third Encounter I. Leaving the cafe, and leaving a bigger than normal tip for the waiter, the familiar track to the trail was inviting and guided me to the river. Sniffing the air, nodding to myself that it was a grand day for a date with Mary, I checked the small bag I carried, which contained a cookie from the cafe thinking that the cookie would be a nice touch for her. Then I was on my way to the.... HONK! I jumped back to the sidewalk and looked up the street at a car that was rapidly disappearing from sight. Jack! I said to myself. Get a grip on yourself...it won't do any good to wind up in an ambulance or worse before getting on the trail! She will think you ditched her! Stay with the program! Having properly chastised myself, I looked both ways before stepping into the street, and this time made it safely across to the other side, and to the trail. I took a deep breath. The air was was pure spring, filled with the opening of new flowers and leaves, and had the wonderful light of a spring evening, one that reminded you how much you hated the dark winter evenings. Birds flitted from tree to tree. Squirrels scampered in the brush, gathering who knew what and storing it who knew where. The river itself was especially vigorous tonight. It put a spring in my step and I hurried to the bridge. It came into view and I stopped. Feeling my side pocket for my phone, a front pocket for keys, and a back pocket for my wallet, I nodded. Everything was in place...nothing forgotten. I pushed on. Scanning the bridge showed me what I expected. She was not there. That was okay. I had expected it (I reminded myself again, so as not to get disappointed) and the pattern remained, which meant that she would show eventually. Assured with the state of things, I left the trail and walked the steps up to the bridge and continued until I got to the middle. Turning, I leaned on the railing, resting on my forearms, looking at the river in the same position that I was in when I talked to Mary two nights ago. The sounds of the river were pleasing, just audible above the chatter of the other people on the bridge. I leaned a bit further forward to look straight down and was startled. There, tacked to the front of the railing, was a white envelope, and on the envelope in what I took to be feminine handwriting was written one word which somehow looked like a word I had never read before: Jack. It took me a minute to process it, but eventually I did. My name.
Carefully grabbing the envelope and the tack, I brought both up in front of me, and eventually stuck the thumb tack back in the wood. Opening the letter, my heart pounding, I looked around the bridge and to the trail. No one was watching. I turned my attention back to the letter, and I almost didn't want to read it. Curiosity got me, however, and I ripped open the flap that was glued down. Breathing in deeply and biting my lower lip I pulled out the paper that was within. It was plain white paper, and on it was a short note written in cursive black ink. I again looked around...as much to see if she was around as it was to avoid reading the note, fearing the worst for what was there in words. Turning back to the note, I read: Dearest Jack, I suspect you thought this note was a note saying I couldn't, or wouldn't, make our meeting place and time tonight. Relax! That is not the case. I will make it. This is just to make sure you thought about what you were told to think about. You promised! When I arrive, I want no excuses! You must make sure you think about this and are sure of your answer! You can kiss me if you mean it. But you must realize what it means. I am special, I don't want to be left again and not know what happened, if the person whom I let kiss me will return. So to kiss me is a mark of permanent intentions. Meeting here on this bridge demands no less. This bridge is special to me and it will be to you, as well, if you kiss me. I can't explain it all. You can't back out of being here if you kiss me. So make sure you really want to kiss me! It will be a life-changing event, and I want to make sure you are aware of that! You can't say you weren't given the opportunity to back out. Anyhow, I was kissed once, here, as well. It changed me forever. But he – the one who kissed me - is now gone. So you are now warned. I look forward to your decision and hope it is a kiss I shall receive. Release me from the memory of the previous kiss, Jack. Rescue me! Yours tonight, Mary I read the note again, and even a third time. Part of it was puzzling, but it only increased the mystery surrounding this woman. More importantly, it explained the sadness I thought I had picked up that first night. She had been left by a previous lover here, on this very bridge. She was sad about that. However, she was clearly looking to me to be the way forward. She felt it, too. That, ultimately, made me happy and gave me hope. Looking around, I saw that she was still not here, although the knot of people on the bridge was lessening. On a lark I took out my phone and loaded up the broadcasting app. I decided to record something, for symmetry, for my own fun, and to play to Mary later, a month from now, to show her how sure I was of her. I turned on the microphone on my phone and started my message of good news to post for the future, so someone later, not just Mary, would hear of the new life and love blooming this spring at this very spot.
Taking a breath, I let the story flow: “To whoever hears this in the future, be you a friend that I play this for, or a stranger just curious about the past and downloading this anonymously, I am broadcasting this story, my story on this bridge. It started for me by playing someone else's story from this very app at this very spot. I listened to a story from someone named Mary, about how she came here all the time, and met a man, but was left by that man without explanation. Mary was overcome with grief and said she was going to commit suicide, though she never did, at least according to the records – or absence thereof – that I could find. But that very night I found a woman, also named Mary, oddly....hmmm...and she was very mysterious and sad. Yet she talked to me some. That night and another night soon thereafter. My life has been upside-down since then. I haven't been able to concentrate at home or work, for Mary fills my mind morning and night. Tonight, I hope, I shall kiss her, though she warns me that it has permanent consequences. (chuckling) Such drama! I love it, though. Indeed, I think my imagination has been wild for both good and bad. I even had a dream where I was bound on this very bridge and told I would be unable to ever leave. Perhaps, that's the game involved here, that you are bound to the bridge until you trap another to take your place. At any rate, I am bound to knowing the mystery of my Mary. I can't wait for her to arrive. When I arrived here tonight, there was a letter from Mary, pinned to the bridge railing, telling me a bit of her story. It makes me think she is looking forward to something together. At any rate, I feel sure that this night will change my life! So there you have it, friend and stranger. Jack's story about this spot, this bridge, this love. It can be a spot for luck! I pressed stop and then the button for the recording to be uploaded. It was done in about 15 seconds. The magic of the mobile internet. Then I became a tad embarrassed at telling my story like that. I shook my head at my foolishness, wondering if you could later erase the stories you uploaded. Perhaps I shouldn't live my life in the public's eye, but what the heck? It was done. This was a new age. And I couldn't wait to tell Mary at some point. Maybe she would think it was cute, or romantic? Pocketing my phone I looked around one more time and noticed that most people had now left the bridge. One person had arrived, however, and as she walked toward me, the remaining people seemed to decide to leave. For the first time I was seeing her face, and she was gorgeous, although it still seemed like shadow fell on her. My heart was beating fast and I smiled at her, a smile which she returned. Mary was smiling at me! Reaching me, she took my hands in hers. “So, Jack, did you think about it, about kissing me?” “Yes I did, Mary. I thought about it for two days! Two days which I could barely contain myself, and which passed WAY too slowly, I might add.”
“Did you see the note I left for you? On the railing?” “I did. How long had the note been there? I'm surprised the wind or some other person didn't take the note!!! That was one well-placed and diligent thumb-tack!” I laughed. “So you read the note? You understand what I said? What I wrote?” “Mary, yes. I read it, the note. I thought about what you said. I dreamed things. Do you know that? I dreamed about you, this bridge, this moment. And about your demand. Your question. The answer I come to is that, yes, I want to go through with this life-changing kiss!!! I really really do! So, do we have to delay this any longer?” “Jack, you are so impatient!!!” Her smile went straight to my heart. My muscles quivered in my legs. My stomach seemed to flip. “Even more impatient now that I can finally see you! You have such dark eyes! They are so beautiful. May I PLEASE kiss you now? This is torture waiting any longer.” To my surprise she started humming, perhaps even singing, under her breath. It was short, only a couple lines. But then she stopped, lifted a hand to my forehead to brush away a strand of hair I guessed, and nodded yes. I leaned in then, and she leaned up, until our lips met. Her lips were soft, a bit cold, but wonderful. I felt sparks, the rushing of the wind, the sound of the river, angles rushing in the air around us, all in that kiss. I held her, my hands behind her back pulling her towards me as we kissed longer, and for all I knew the evening light left the world, and the world was no more. Epilogue. A couple of weeks later, a young woman, maybe in her 30's, with almond hair and brown eyes, turned the corner of the trail and saw the shadowed pedestrian bridge over the shallow river in the new summer heat. It was her first time on this trail and the sight of the bridge made her take in her breath. So wonderful! she thought, or appeared to think that, at any rate, to one watching. She took a picture of the bridge on her smart-phone and then continued walking to the bridge. This is perfect! one could almost hear her think as she walked to the middle of the bridge. She put her hands in her pocket, smiled, and whirled around, looking up, then looking out. She took out her phone, and if you were standing close by you would hear her say, “The is the perfect time to try out that new Broadcasting app I read about and downloaded. This is surely a place where some interesting things have happened.” In the distance a cicada buzzed the evening away. There was no breeze, and time seemed to suspend itself in the moment, seemed not to exist in the shadowed corners at the edges of the bridge. The app loaded and she searched through the few recordings that had been uploaded from this area. She thumbed up and down, looking at each of them and the date they were made before she settled on the latest one, from someone named Jack, loaded a month ago. She began streaming it and pressed 18
play: “To whoever hears this in the future, be you a friend that I play this for, or a stranger just curious about the past and downloading this anonymously, I am broadcasting this story, my story on this bridge. It started for me by playing someone else's story from this very app at this very spot. I listened to a story from someone named Mary, about how she came here all the time, and met a man, but was left by that man without explanation. Mary was overcome with grief and said she was going to commit suicide, though she never did, at least according to the records – or absence thereof – that I could find. But that very night I found a woman, also named Mary, oddly....hmmm...and she was very mysterious and sad. Yet she talked to me some. That night and another night soon thereafter. ….” The recording continued, and when the woman reached the end of it, she smiled and turned the phone off. How nice for someone to find love. And right where she was! As she stashed her phone she found that she was alone on the bridge except for one man at the end of the bridge, in the shadows, who was leaning on the railing. He didn't seem to have any menace to him, but even though he was in the shadows it was apparent to her that he was watching her. She was a bit unnerved at this but nodded at him anyway. “Hello!” He smiled back and nodded. Shadow seemed to coil around him. “Do you mind if I come over and talk? My name's...” She lost the name as recognition of the voice seemed to rise in her, accompanied by emotions she wasn't expecting.
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