another month closed
53,000 words written
on a book never to be sold
a test and traction coming
176 pages, unedited
Exercise N 2.11 – a bridge from two perspectives
The Jays must have won because the DVP is filled with honking cars. Blue and white flags ripple in the breeze as the parking lot that is the parkway slowly filters north, under the bridge at Gerrard. This isn’t the aggressive, get-out-of-my-way-type honking one normally hears at rush hour all along this stretch of valley, but instead, a signal of fraternal affection, of joy in a communal event. The honks are stuttered, start-stop. Some people pump their fists through their windows. Occasionally, someone woops.
Even the sun is in on the action, glinting that Jays blue-and-white off the Don river’s clear water. Swans and ducks bob on the gentle current, unperturbed by the festive noise going up all around them from the metal beasts on their paved trail north. Splashes of sound and colour hint at fish below the depths, many more than I can see from up here on the bridge. The water is running clean and looks so refreshing I consider for a moment jumping in, clothes and all, but I don’t want to disturb the animals, who look so placid and at peace.
The rail of the bridge is smooth and cool to the touch, a perfectly machined aluminium bar running the length of the valley. The bridge itself is of wooden planks, worn to a corky softness by thousands of feet. This material, cut from trees a half a century ago, seem to me indomitable, as though a thousand years of rain couldn’t wash this bridge away. If the Don were to rise a dozen metres it still couldn’t overtake this sturdy rail, these soft planks. They don’t even creak when I jump upon them. The honks call out from the crawling line of cars. Someone shouts “Go Jays!” and I call back to the faceless blue-and-white flow of cars. The sound floats down and settles among the swans and ducks and baseball fans, becomes part of the scenery.
The world is nothing but fog. I know I’m on the bridge at Gerrard, somewhere over the Don river, suspended by a few flimsy planks and a piece of aluminium. I know this but there’s no way to sense it. The clouds have come crashing to the ground, have spilled out over the landscape and obscured all that I knew, or thought I knew. Everything I thought I saw in my little world is effaced by a soft grey sheet that replaces sharp details with an obfuscating glow. The pitted wooden planks under my feet, worn down by thousands before me, creak as I shift my weight. Left, right, each movement seems to strain the bridge further, as though my presence were a growing burden, growing until it’s unsupportable.
No cars are moving on the parkway below. At least, I can hear none, see none. No aggressive horns come up out of the gloom. If there are drivers down there, trapped one to a box, inching forward through the fog on an endless highway that at the best of times is a steady drip-drip, there’s no way to know. Everyone out here is keeping to themselves, keeping everything hidden within.
The world is so quiet that I hear the flutter of a bird’s wings from the water’s surface below. It might be a duck, or a swan. My ears aren’t sharp enough to tell, and there’s no real difference made if they could. The birds are down there waiting out the fog just as I am. Tomorrow, maybe, the fog will lift, and the birds will forget about it, but I’ll still be waiting. Here, on this bridge, when the prickly vegetation on the banks of the river peeks out from the grey. At home, when the door stays closed when I lock it, because no one comes through it anymore, no one but me. I’ll come back to the bridge tomorrow, see if there’s anything worthwhile to see.
The roar of the city was amplified when the pneumatic door cracked open. Wind rushed onto the humid bus. Morgan hesitated a moment at the steps, pulling her coat around her shoulders, until the driver, buffeted by the gale howling through the open door, snapped at her to get off. Surprised by his ferocity, she stumbled, and for an instant was bathed in a wave of pure fear, but she caught herself, and kept her balance as the bus peeled away. She glanced around the desolate, unfamiliar street. In front of a shuttered 24-hour laundromat, an old man with a heavy beard, protected from the wind by the canvas tarpaulin of his hot-dog stand, smiled at her.
On a sunny day in mid-September, Morgan Deckler stepped off the 119 eastbound Fountain Hill bus in Santa Clara, California. She thanked the driver for his service, and he responded with a friendly, if non-committal, wave of one hand. He kept the other firmly on the wheel at 10 o’clock, though the bus was not in motion. Morgan took two easy steps down the bus’s stairs, but the third, onto the pavement of Lexville Street, went awry, and she twisted her right ankle – luckily not to the point of injury. Blushing, she glanced around, and caught the gaze of Lloyd deMaranzo, on his shift’s sixth hour manning Baba’s Best Hot-dogs, on the corner of Lexville and Fourth. He saw her, too, and smiled.
Scowling, Morgan banged at the door as the bus slowed. When it squealed to a halt she muttered “finally,” and took the stairs two at a time, but misjuged it and slipped. She let out a guttural snarl of exasperation and fury, then spotted a hot-dog guy across the street. He’d clearly seen it all. When he smiled at her, with a guileless, innocent smile, full of compassionate fellow-feeling, she swallowed the curse on her lips, and smiled back.
Night, the bus stops. Morgan’s impatient to be home, to be off the cold, indifferent streets, for a few hours at least. The driver doesn’t look at her, just pulls a lever so the door squeals open. She stemps down and tumbles, catches herself with no time to spare, barely keeps her feet. Salt all over the pavement as protection against ice but it’s dangerous underfoot all the same. She gets her balance, looks around. An old hot-dog man across the way has seen the whole thing. Her eyebrows furrow, she looks away, doesn’t see his warm smile before she’s on her way again.
So this Morgan chick’s getting off the bus, right, just like any other time in this sprawling town, except this time she’s going further east than she ever has before – reason doesn’t matter. No time to get into it even if it did, really – and so she’s getting off this bus, taking the steps too quickly, and she slips, right, like right off the steps onto the ground, and the driver, he’s oblivious, he just closes the door and off he goes, but she’s doing this, like, jazz dance, trying to keep her balance, musta been like thirty seconds, and when she’s finally got it, she looks around herself to see if anybody’s seen it, and there’s no one there except for that old hot-dog dude who’s always out front of the Laundromax – he’s got this huge, like, unkempt beard – and he sees her, too, he’s seen the whole thing, so she blushes, embarrassed and all, but the hot-dog guy’s just smilin’ at her, and so she smiles back. It was, like, beautiful.
an exercise incited by Sharon English.
Allan carried buckets of water, sacks of rice, whatever heavy objects needed moving. Nurses scurried from patient to patient, nervously alert. When the doctor was present everyone was a little bit sharper, tighter, with better posture, including those patients who were not permanently recumbent.
The epidemic had been spreading and Allan made sure always to wear the masks the nurses provided. Some of his fellow labourers, with whom he would meet in the dark of the evening, exhausted, for a pint of beer and some dried jerky, refused the masks, relying solely on their own hardiness to protect them. Faith is important, Allan thought, but he still wore his mask.
He brought the nurses fresh sponges, packets of gauze and bandages, whenever he had a spare moment. Some of his compatriots would slip away behind the wooden sickhouse for a puff of tobacco but Allan stayed on site, even when his regular duties were finished, in case the nurses needed extra help. Once, he had helped to subdue a thrashing man, holding down his frantic legs. It took all of Allan’s weight and effort to keep the man’s lower half still while one of the nurses administered an injection. Somehow the higher-strung patients never seemed to get so out of control when the doctor was on the premises. The nurses, who worked at the sickhouse every day, were subjected to the brunt of the patients’ bad behaviour.
Allan’s sedulity was rewarded by the doctor when he was tasked with bringing a heavy iron case from the laboratory of one of the doctor’s associates. The lab was miles outside of town and it would take Allan the better part of a day to fetch it.
“What’s in the case?” Allan asked.
“The cure,” the doctor said.
Allan rushed out of the sickhouse and didn’t pause once during his hours-long journey. He arrived at the laboratory, breathless and flushed, and when he had the iron case in hand he turned on his heels and hurried back, pressing the metal box to his chest to prevent its rocking too violently. Allan collapsed to the floor when he reached the sickhouse, once he had ensured the iron case was safely set upon the doctor’s desk. The doctor confirmed the vials within were intact, and Allan’s consciousness faded.
He awoke a few moments later on a sickbed with a damp cloth across his forehead. Several nurses were beaming, watching over him.
“The cure?” he asked groggily. “You got the cure?”
“We got the cure, dear,” one of the nurses said. “Thanks to you.”
The lentil stew sat heavy in Esau’s stomach. It had been delicious, true, but served far too cold
for his liking. Jacob seemed to prefer it that way, but for Esau it had to be hot or nothing, and yet his ravenous hunger had looked past the paucity of heat. The bread, too, had seemed to him stale, though edible, and Esau wondered if Jacob had had it hidden away somewhere. The stew brought renewed vigour to his shaky legs; Esau no longer feared he was on the edge of starvation. But with renewed energy came a sharpened perspective, and he wondered whether he hadn’t been too hasty in selling his birthright to his brother. But surely it was all just a laugh? A simple oath, dashed off in the moment, couldn’t change the fact that Esau had come out of the womb first. It was his ankle Jacob held, not the other way around. And yet Esau felt uneasy as the taste of simmered stew faded from his tongue. He returned to his own hut.
Closing his rickety door, he could still hear Jacob humming loudly to himself, a jaunty tune, upbeat, punctuated by the clang of pots and cooking implements. Esau went to his parents’ home and found his mother Rebekah in the kitchen.
“I’ve sold my birthright to Jacob,” Esau said.
“What? Your birthright? How? And why would you ever do such a thing?” She was thinly slicing some vegetables, and kept her attention on her work. Esau thought he saw a smile flash across her lips before she could suppress it.
“For some lentil stew,” he said. “Jacob was making some and I was famished. On death’s door, really.”
“Death’s door, hm?” Rebekah grabbed her sons jowls in a hand, pinched them so his lips puckered grotesquely. “I just fed you a stack of hotcakes for breakfast this morning.”
“Sure,” he said, through his pursed lips. A jolt of pain caused him to pull back. “Too tight, mother, too tight. I’ve been working in the fields all afternoon. I was starving, but Jacob wouldn’t give me any stew unless I sold him my birthright. I’m not sure it was worth it. He serves the stuff so bloody cold.”
“Jacob has always envied you your precedence in the eyes of the Lord.”
“Maybe, but he’s got it now. Do you think I was rash?” Esau’s ruddy face flushed. “Can I have a few of those veggies?”
“I’m afraid not,” Rebekah said. “I’m preparing these for your older brother.”
“Older brother! But I’m the – ah. I see what you’ve done there.”
His mother grinned at him with what he felt was more malice than warmth. “Now now, I’m just teasing you, son. Only an oath before the Lord could confirm such a bargain.”
Esau stroked his beard.
“You didn’t swear by the Lord, did you boy?”
He scratched his head.
“Oh Esau, you foolish boy. You sold your birthright to Jacob for a bowl of his cold lentil stew?”
“And some bread. I think it was stale, though. Getting there, anyway.”
Rebekah let out a sharp bark of a laugh, covered her mouth with her hand. “Have you told your father?”
“No,” Esau said. “Do you think he’ll be upset?”
Rebekah put her hand on her son’s shoulder, and genuine compassion washed across her face for what seemed to him to be the first time. “Maybe you could beg the Lord for forgiveness.”
Esau’s face glowed with hope. “Do you think he would? Forgive me, I mean?”
She shrugged, and resumed cutting the vegetables. “It couldn’t hurt to try.”