This story is my favorite of the three I have written so far.
By Alex Schumann
Miss Weston hurried on to the bridge, against the light, clutching a shopping list for the Central Library in her left hand. Wind blew dust and exhaust from four lanes of traffic into her face, causing her to squint and turn toward the railing. The river lay cold and gray in the distance.
She held up the list and went over its contents in her mind. The ink pad at the desk was running on the last few drops of ink she was able to squeeze from the bottle. She would get some more staples and some hole punch reinforcements for the logbook. Those were already listed. She recalled that the coffee was running out a week early and wondered who was drinking it all. Its these crisp winter mornings, she thought, hard to face without a cup or two.
She stepped instinctively over the gap in the sidewalk, where the downtown side of the bridge hinged upward for tall ships. The tires from the traffic made rhythmic thumps as they passed over it. She looked out over the river on both sides to see if anything tall was sailing but the river was empty except for the pigeons gliding off into the up currents around the bridge.
Miss Weston did not like birds. They flew about mockingly, unafraid of their height, squawking and carrying on. She could not imagine why they made their homes so high up in the tops of trees. She scowled at them, looked back to the slip of lined paper in her hand and continued reviewing: 215 wall clips including 5 for the new poster in the childrens section, a case of plain white pads for writing call numbers on at the computers, a box of small trash bags no, she had better get two, a box of felt pads for the squeaky chairs in the Elsie Room…
Tiny dark spots appeared on the list. It was starting to rain. She folded the paper carefully and tried to shield it in her palm. I should have worn something with pockets, she said to herself. She was almost halfway across, and only needed to go three blocks beyond the bridge for the supplies. She watched the rain stain the sidewalk as she came up to the crack signifying the center of the drawbridge.
This side, she supposed, was not even connected to the other. The two sides must just hang there in the air with only a few centimeters gap, for all the traffic to thump across.
She looked down between the two halves of the bridge. At first she saw only the blue texture of the water but then, moving ever so slightly, she got a frightening sense of her height above it. Her fists clenched tight, wrinkling the list but making sure not to drop it. She closed her eyes, reached for the railing with her empty hand, and stepped firmly back from the gap. Glancing about, she took comfort in seeing that no one was watching. She straightened out the crumpled scrap on which her shopping list was written. She stared at it to remind herself that she did not have time for silliness in the rain.
Gripping the paper tightly, but carefully, she stepped toward the pesky sliver of air in the sidewalk. She was careful not to look down this time. With a careful step, she tumbled painfully to the sidewalk, having somehow missed the ground with her foot. A hushed sob escaped from her throat as she struggled to regain control of herself. She was sure people were beginning to notice her now. A large delivery truck rumbled past, and she clung tightly to the railing. The bridge bounced severely from the weight of the truck. She inhaled deeply and tried to force rationality back into her mind.
This bridge has been here for 75 years Tracy, she told herself, and the laws of physics have not changed today just because you happened to see down a crack!
She noticed the gatekeeper watching her from his tower on the other side of the bridge. She stood up and straightened her shirt. The rain was pelting harder than before, and wet strands of her long, brown hair drew across her pale face like a shattered window. She wiped her hands on her skirt and clenched them into tight fists. Looking toward the fissure, she started again.
This time she made it almost on top of the gap before the world turned upside down. It only turned sidewise at first but she continued to pull herself forward by the railing until she could see down. The wind whipped miniature whitecaps in the water below. She noticed them and they distracted her for just a moment but then her weight shifted and she got an eye of the height again. Up went down, and down went up. She clamored blindly backwards into the street where a rusty yellow pickup nearly ran her over. It honked after avoiding her and accelerated away. Finding rational fear refreshingly sobering, she moved quickly back to the sidewalk and tried to calm herself.
I could walk back downtown and catch a bus across the river, she thought. Yes, the 10 or 12 goes this way and I can catch it just up the street from the library.
She ran back in the direction she came from, toward the library. She was empty-handed but she would just take the bus to get supplies. It was raining now anyway, it wouldnt even seem strange. As she approached the place where the bridge hinged she recalled that the sidewalk split there too. Another gap which she had mindlessly walked over on her way. Tears mixed with the rain streaming down her face but she kept running. She pleaded with herself not to think about the gaps anymore.
You got here by walking over it, Tracy, she said to herself, nothing has changed now.
Even as she tried to convince herself she stopped several feet from the crack. Im going to starve to death on a bridge, she thought. Her clothes had become entirely drenched. She was shivering and crying. She held up the slip of paper she had been clinging too. It was soft and tattered from the rain, and the lines of ink ran together in swirls. She tried to remember the items she was supposed to purchase for the library. Staples and hooks, to hold things in order. Coffee.
She leaned on the railing and watched the hurried cars splash by. Not one of them seemed to care or even notice the tiny gap as they thumped over it. A steady flow of traffic lined up in both directions across the bridge. She tried to look into the cars to see who was driving them but all she could see was the gray sky and the rain. The two by two rhythmic thumping of the tires echoed in her mind.
She tried to wipe the running mascara from her cheeks with the soggy list. The wind drove rain into her eyes but she didnt care. When she had cried for a while she sat quietly. No one was out walking in the rain. She looked through the bars of the railing at the river. Its surface was wild and broken. She felt the rain on her hands.
Its time to go home, she told herself. Its time to stop this and go home.
She stood up began walking again toward the crack at the center of the bridge. On the other side was warmth and shelter from the rain. All she had to do was go there. She would walk all the way home and crawl into bed. She made it as far as the crack and found herself hesitating again. She tried to force her muscles to move. Tried to make her feet go but they wouldnt. She wanted to jump across but started getting dizzy again considering it. Her body longed to be near the ground. She got on her hands and knees to try and crawl across but once she got close to the gap her fingers clutched helplessly at the ground, trying to hang on. Trying to keep her from floating off into the sky. Hope faded from her mind. She crawled away from the gap and curled into herself, peering out over her knees at the cold world.
A bird flapped out across the river, calling as if lost in the rain. She followed the sound of it in her mind. She pictured him flying to somewhere sunny and warm, carrying a twig to a cozy nest where the top of a great big elm reached toward the sun.
Somewhere, deep inside, a spark of purpose pushed the rain from her eyes. She climbed up on the railing and leaned over, looking down at the water without fear. She dropped the soggy remains of her shopping list and watched it float slowly down with the raindrops, all frozen in place with each other. Tracy Weston smiled, put her arms out like wings, and jumped.