(as published in the Cow Creek Review at Pittsburg State University, 2018)
There exists a bridge not more than a mile down the road. I’ve crossed it almost every day of my life, traveling from my home to the wide and hostile world that I’ve learned to mistrust. It has become my portal to the world; a portal which has been breached for many years now, its magical protection siphoned by the very malicious forces which it had for so long stood vigil against. Now it is little more than a shell of it’s old self. No feeling of mystic wonder touches my cold soul as I cross it, not anymore at least.
I remember as a child how magical that bridge was. I would sit for hours watching the fish below me swim through the clear waters of the creek the bridge did daily defy. Trees in bloom would hold their branches across the expanse of water, attempting each successive year to finally reach out and touch their brethren, hoping for that moment when finally, their branches would become intwined and form physically a manifestation of that inseparable bond which all living things share.
God, how I wish I could join in that embrace. How I wish that my own soul could bond with the world… to be alone no more, but rather to be part of the whole collection. Part of the throbbing world source… is it possible though? Is it possible that I might somehow be able to connect with the world? How can I? How can anyone? We have formed a barrier between ourselves and the world; a barrier so formidable that even the question itself now looms: Is man natural?
Pushing myself out and away from my usual chair, I engaged that burdensome vessel in which I’ve felt so very trapped within lately, as I slowly made my way through the house that I alone occupied. It was originally my Father’s house, one which I had inherited in his absence. He had built it himself many years ago, when I myself was still awaiting this life. Two stories tall, with carved beams fitted together and pegged in the traditional way, it was my final front; the bastion from which I had kept the world at bay.
Grasping the well-worn railing, I let my hand slide down it’s aged wood as I made my way into the foyer. My body ached with each jarring step. It had become intolerable, this decaying mound of flesh which contained me; this marionette with which I toyed daily. Slowly I gained in my descent.
My Father always did like grand entrances, and this entrance harbored no exemptions from his taste. Panels of wainscoting rimmed in finely worked trim ringed the walls, accented with a rich green french floral paper; its fine hues somewhat faded from several dusty, neglectful years. “What a mess…” I said to myself as I searched the clutter topping my hall secretary looking for my pack of cigarettes. Papers fell as I rummaged, littering the once-fine, but now splintered, wooden floor.
As I continued my search, I drew open one of the smaller drawers. At it’s release from the confines of the desk, a hint of gold flashed at me; revealing the location of my Mother’s locket, its worn surface silently beckoning to me. Slowly, I picked it up, my hands aching from their arthritis as I tried to hold it.
“We will always be here for you Edgar; always.” That’s what she had told me when it had been given to me. Her photo still sat smiling across at my Fathers when you opened it, their faces joined now as I thumbed the once-intricate carving on the casing. Gold, like flesh, is soft, and want to lose its warmth as quickly as it had been gained. Within weeks of my receiving the accursed thing, she had caught a sickness. Her sickness came with a cold embrace, the origin of it’s touch a mystery. It acted with a vigor that, before I knew it, had left my Father and I alone, bitter, and lost. Now my Father has gone too.
I tossed the locket back into it’s drawer. Continuing my search, I found the cigarettes nestled in yet another drawer next to my checkbook, a cheap Bic lighter tucked into the pack. “All set.” I said to the air. Grabbing my hat and coat, I made my way through the entranceway.
It was a miserable day. Overcast and wet, with a cold breeze; my favorite. Lighting my cigarette, I tucked the pack back into one of my coat’s many pockets, the coarse wool feeling good against my cold and wrinkled skin. Taking a deep draw, I exhaled the deadly plume to the world, a testament of my faith in a man’s ability and right to waste his body in front of his neighbors, god, and all of nature. Decidedly, death tastes best in the AM.
Looking about myself with a general air of satisfaction I saw that none of my neighbors had dared to face this miserable day. “Good.” Thought I. Taking my time, I drew again, and again from that glowing death-stick, exhaling each time brought a simple pleasure that very little else could. It’s as if, each death-defying breath somehow highlighted that fact that I was alive, if only for the moment. Finishing my smoking, I tugged on my woolen cap, and began my daily walk to the bridge.
“It’s good to have a routine.” Someone told me once during a late-night bar session concerning depression and old age. So now, a “routine”, I have. It hasn’t helped; rather, it has served as a ridiculous highlight on the absurdity that was now, and had been for a while, my life. During yet another session at the bar, some other person told me that I should “take it easy, and enjoy retirement”, or at the very least, “not be so serious”. How easily can this life be taken when each meal is a waste, and every breath an offense to the natural world?
Life is cold, detached, and Lonely. Coming up on the first fork, I turned left. The gravel grated with each step against the rubber soles of my shoes. Despite the weather, the grass seemed especially perky and green today, I noticed as I walked. The trees also seemed special today, especially the perky dogwoods, and even the “soul sucking” pines, as my younger cousin had once described them. Sure, they may seem to be somewhat “soul sucking”, but only because they want so badly to connect with you; to draw you in an embrace and hold you forever. Truer love never existed beyond the groves of pine trees.
“Soul sucking…” I muttered quietly to myself… Such is the attitude of people anymore. People profess to want love: to want a connection. They search their whole lives for that connection, sometimes never even coming close, but if they encounter anything or anyone who truly desires them; that is who they detest the most. I myself had searched throughout the entirety of my own life, yet never found purchase on any person whom I had ever had the ill-fortune to have met. “I suppose they love to hate.” I said halfheartedly to myself.
Coming upon the second fork, this time I turned right. The bridge was close now. As perky as the vegetation was, I couldn’t raise my own spirit. It had burrowed deeply into my chest many years ago seeking the warmth of a heart that had slowly grown colder and colder. I shouldered my coat against the wind as I walked. Here and there I noticed the sun trying to peek through the clouds. It fought them, struggled to surface. Too bad there was no room. It’s as if the sun, in all its power and glory, was burdened by its relative position; unable to reach through and touch those whom it nurtured due to its natural and essential distance. While it was always present, it could merely watch its children shiver as they mourned the loss of its bathing warmth due to the whimsical presence of a few thin sheets of cloud.
The bridge appeared like a specter as I turned the final corner, its cold concrete and metal railing greeting me distantly. As I neared it, I felt strange; as if I were watching myself walk. Watching myself as I crossed its gravelly surface, as I passed over its rusted joints.
Presently, I found myself staring across the expanse it crossed, gazing deeply into the green waters it spanned. The reflection of the trees shown dimly through the mirrored sheen of the water, my own reflection merely a dark blot on its surface. As I watched, the highest branches waved in the wind. I felt compelled. Perhaps all was not lost; perhaps I could rejoin those lost souls and become one with the earth on my own terms yet.
My mind raced and them calmed as the gently undulating surface beckoned me. Careful not to drop anything, I took off my jacket, folding it neatly so as to begin a stack on the railing. Next, I took off my shirt, followed by my shoes and socks. Let he or she, or whatever shall come passing by next have them; they cannot serve me any longer; cannot confine me in their stylistic and stifling embrace.
The wind bit at my bare skin, as I stood there in my natural glory, raising at once both sections of my wrinkled and taut skin in little goosebumps. Directly beneath me lay the remnants of the old bridge, washed away many years ago in a flood caused by the building of a dam downstream. The one I stood on was much higher: Hopefully high enough.
Stacking the last of my clothing on the railing, I took a deep breath. The air was cold now. So very cold. It burned as I breathed it, granting life ever as it punished. I reciprocated, heating the air with my very being, before exhaling it into a cold and demanding world. Shivering, I climbed the railing. My fragile body completely exposed to that biting wind, I thought about the absence of warmth in my life and grimaced. Mother… Father… everyone… simply gone. “My turn.” I thought, as I managed to stand on the cold metal railing…
Find the conclusion by picking up a copy of the 2018 edition of “The Cow Creek Review,” available at Pittsburg State University