The Railroad Bridge

March 4, 2008
By Samantha Jones, Baldwinsville, NY

The woman had the brightest blue orbs for eyes and they always smiled along with her well-shaped mouth. Her hair was old-fashioned even though she was young; billowy and dark blonde. She had thick curly bangs. I remember her so clearly and I can’t really fathom why her face should be the one so vivid in my kind at this moment. I’ve only really had the pleasure of gazing into her face three times at the most.
The first was when the used book store had just opened. I stared at all the shelves, all sections, there was a place for children’s books, a place for erotic novels right next to that ( I vowed to come back and buy at least five when I was alone.) a place for fiction. Then she had come around the corner, the wonderful woman herself who had so graciously opened a used book shop – the only one ever in business here – in my shabby, drab, stifling town.
She was smiling. Her face glowing with pride as I cooed over her books. Her smile and those amazingly kind blue eyes made all the difference, and to walk out without purchasing a book from her would have been treacherous and terrible. I bought the third book in the series I was conveniently reading at the time. The woman charged me three dollars for it and smiled the whole time she told me about how the cash register wouldn’t add tax to the amount due - some malfunction – and she’d have to read the manual to figure it out. She had such a genuine smile…I loved her as a human being from that moment. I clung to the memory of her kind face like a hungry babe to its mother’s breast, and I remembered her on the day my bank funds were emptied.
I didn’t blame my sister for it – she was a runaway and according to her last letter she thought she might be pregnant. She knew I saved money; it was painful for me to spend a penny. I was a most vigorous money hoarder, and my account was surely full to the brim when my sister brought in my bank book and drained it with the flourish of a pen on a withdrawal slip and a stamp of the book. I imagined her doing this as I imagine it still now…a careless act that I still remember as I dangle my feet above the water. Anyway, I needed money. I remembered the woman.
I stumbled in looking disheveled and panicked, but I swear it was just the wind making me look crazy. Still, I was so afraid of the woman being alarmed and I tried to flatten my hair and fix my clothes the best I could before she came around the bend, carrying a large encyclopedia in her arms and smiling again.
“Oh hello,” her blue eyes shone. “you look cold, is it terrible outside?”
“Not too bad, just windy.” I croaked. “Um…actually I was wondering…if you possibly needed any help around here.” I gestured feebly. The guilt of not offering free help was clutching my throat. “I mean…if you were hiring people to help. I would love to…” I faltered. The woman looked genuinely regretful.
“Ah…I’m sorry but I’m really not looking for anyone right now, I think I have all the help I need.”
“Oh.” I wanted to cry. To beg her. To tell her how good I was at sweeping and getting the cobwebs out of corners and making fancy book displays (okay this last one I had never done but in that split second I imagined myself doing it and it looked amazing) but if there was anything she could do, I’m sure she would have. She was just getting started with her business, how selfish of me. I said goodbye, turned and walked out hurriedly. I wanted to get away and throw something very heavy.
“You know,” The lady followed me and I stopped, walked back like a dog being called and watched as she lit a cigarette, shielding the flame from the violent winds. “they’re hiring at the dollar store on Kratzer Street if you really need a job. You should check out there.” I watched the red glow travel up the paper, the smoke flowing out of her mouth.
“Okay, I will. Thank you.”
I didn’t plan on it. That little bookstore would have been such a dream…such a fantastic dream…and now I had been shaken awake. I trudged off down the street, resigned to head home in the biting wind. The public library was on my right; I paused for just a moment and contemplated. No, I have never in my life encountered a kind librarian. Not like the woman at the book store. It simply would not do.
The third time I saw that wonderful woman, that lovely lady, was today. I had stolen every penny from my mother’s purse, emptied put my father’s pockets, and sold my bike (I would have sold many more things, useless to me now, but that would arouse suspicion and anyway I didn’t have time for that. I wanted to get this done and over with once and for all.) All together I had about 200 dollars in cash stuffed deep in my pocket, and about fifteen books from my personal bookshelf in a black bag on my shoulder. I was kept going only by the thought that my favorite books would be going into the hands of that woman.
She seemed shocked but pleased when I upended the books out of my bag, most in remarkable condition, and told her I wished to donate them all free of charge, along with a money donation of 200 dollars.
“Oh, no, I can’t do that!” She cried. I started to panic…would she really refuse? “I couldn’t possibly accept that much…why…how…” She looked so terribly confused and I feared she might become suspicious. I tried to appease her quickly.
“How would it be if I bought a few books and just…paid you extra for them? I know this seems strange, I’m sorry, I just love what you’re doing here. I think it’s so great, you opening up this shop.” And as I said this, with the woman staring at me, her eyes full of concern and interest, I was hit full force by the meaning of my words – the reality of them. I couldn’t understand the feeling but it was enough to make me want to hurry things up and end it. This woman, my books, the shelves upon shelves, the paper, the ink, the words, oh the never ending words that people everywhere are writing! I felt I could cry out in such happiness at this. I’d never felt so happy in my life. I hissed at my brain to be quiet, I screamed at the black thing boiling inside like an apparating demon, growing and growing and fogging my brain. Wait, I urged it. Wait!
The erotic section was exactly as I’d left it months before; pictures of gorgeous Fabio with his long flowing mane of hair and bare thick chest, holding a different woman on each cover, each with different hair but essentially the same face. Inside each one surely was a completely different scene of events, in each one Fabio surely gave those women what was coming to them. I picked up five more or less at random. This was not the time to be picky. This section of the shop had the most to spare. The erotic novels were piled on top of on another for lack of space, there were so many!
“Five books for $200…wow, I’ve never had such a good deal before in my life!” she smirked at my choice of books and picked up one with a fierce looking blonde holding a spear up to Fabio’s neck. “This one is very good.” She raised her eyebrows and took the roll of bills from my hand.
“Take care of my books, okay?” I said, stuffing the erotica into my bag. I glanced sadly at my own, lying helter skelter on the counter. They were my children, my friends.
“I assure you I will.” She spoke sincerely. “Don’t look so sad, you’ll see them again! Come back and see them whenever you like.”
“Of course…” I smiled and turned to leave.
“Goodbye!” She called to me. I turned back and gazed at her for a moment, looking one last time at the tiny store. I soaked it into my brain so I would not forget. Not that it mattered much.
I walked outside and the freezing air hit me like a wake up call. The wind was howling and everything was tinted blue and the silence was heavy and deep. My feet crunched in the snowy gravel methodically; left, right, left, right, I concentrated on the rhythm until I reached the library.
This place was as unlike the used book store as could possibly be. The Greenvitch Public Library was a massive grey brick building, impassive and frightening. The librarians. Oh where do I begin with the librarians…they are awful. Nothing like the woman in the book shop. They stand stoic at the front, their straight faces made me want to assure them, “I will be gone soon, please smile at me once before I depart forever and ever!” but they don’t. Their eyes follow me as I scan the shelves – all new and shiny in their plastic casings, I contemplate how long they might stay in tact out in the open air, in the rain, in the snow, hail, lava overflow, whatever the weather might be after I am gone.
What is it about being alone in between two towering bookshelves that feel safer than even a warm bed? I cannot tell you in words how happy I was to have those two places as my last memories. There I sat in an isle I barely saw, they all looked the same. The people who passed had no faces to me – they were silent figures existing in my space. On the floor is where I looked up from, I’m not sure how long I gazed until I set out to choose. To select the lucky few ready for liberation.
I was only brought back to my surroundings by a curt, “hem, hem.” From somewhere above my head. I looked up slowly and caught sight of a towering figure - pale fleshy legs beneath a loose flowering skirt over a frightening bulk, above that a scrunched red face.
“Can I help you, miss?” She didn’t sound very helpful but I was very used to this tone, and it only made me grin at the mad circumstances. Nothing could hurt me or distress me. I wish I’d had this knowledge long ago. The knowledge I had now that protected me from fear.
‘I would like to take out some books.” I said cheerily, getting slowly to my feet and smiling sweetly at the woman. Before she had a chance to speak I began to tug at the spines of the most intriguing sounding titles; ‘Tracie and the Water dragon.’ ‘The Code World.’ ‘The Watcher’. The librarian appraised me coldly but there was nothing to touch or harm me. I handed her the books.
“Do you have a library card?” She sounded incredulous. I pulled mine out of my bag and slapped it promptly into her hand.
“Okay,” She heaved a sigh, “follow me.”
“These are due in three weeks.” She handed me the printed receipt and my books without even the slightest hint of a smile. I felt like bursting into voracious laughter right then and there, but I shoved it down with little more than a smirk.
“Thank you.” I said, and into my bag they went.
Once outside I could control it no longer and broke into crazed giggles, skipping down the street with the railroad in front of me, barely feeling the weight of all the books in my bag. That’s where I am now, at this very moment. More specifically I am on the bridge.
It isn’t a long walk, but still I made it longer by walking very slowly, each foot pressing onto a wooden plank. Railroad tracks meant something to me. They were significant. They are significant. The long straight path leading into infinite space, you could just keep walking and walking and never meet the end, scenery on either side, the longest stretch of security you could ever find, and the silence was amazing. You will never find more solitude than on a railroad track, nor will you find in any other place (besides perhaps a book store) that has such a feeling of undiscovered truth and history. But I think it is the silence that I most loved.
As I walked there were a few bird calls and I said hello right back, pulled out a joint from my pocket, lit it with a match, and then threw the match into some brush between the planks. There was a spark and my heart leapt, but then a gust of wind came back and it sputtered to its death. I never liked smoking, but on this day I was going to do whatever came into my head at the time, I was going to let myself do any little thing my brain came up with, without a second thought, without even a first thought really. I smoked and I walked and I coughed and then smoked again and I felt very calm and happy. The bridge was up ahead soon enough, the rustiest piece of history I have ever seen up close and touched with my fingers. A ridiculously large contraption made just for trains, and spray-painted by generations of trouble-makers, including my parents. Why do parents never remember things like this? When do people wake up and suddenly decide all their life they’ve been foolish and it’s time to teach the youngins how to act. Well I’m not going to reach that morning or that day and I am so glad. I stepped upon the bridge carefully, hearing the wooden planks creak and groan and wobble. I was sad that I couldn’t be smoking this out in the open, near people, oh that would have given me such a laugh. They would all think I was going to jail…but they haven’t found the secret I have, the way out, the way of total freedom and liberation. As it is, however, I soon got sick of coughing and flicked the joint into the water. What an endless sky I saw, and the water could have been a part of the sky had there not been shore to outline it. Never in my life had I so yearned for wings. I held my arms out but it was no use, the wind would not pick me up. Have you ever thought what a tragedy it is that humans cannot be birds or lions? No, I’m sure you haven’t. Most people don’t because it’s a useless longing, isn’t it? Well what the hell is everything else? Tell me that. If you can.
I love this bridge. Will you tell whoever you know, reader? Will you tell them I loved this bridge very much, and I loved the used-book-store-woman? I am leaving this notebook in my bag after I am finished writing my goodbye, and I am taping a paper saying, ‘open me’ to the front. That’s probably how you came to find this. Unless wild animals have ripped my bag to shreds by now…in that case my notebook will have been destroyed and it’s like I never existed. Perhaps all the better. In any case, if you are reading this, it’s probably because of the note on my bag (I’m sorry if you were frightened in opening it – there could have been any number of gruesome things inside – you are very brave.) and then you must have read the ‘read me’ on the front cover of this notebook which I wrote in silver sharpie marker as you can see. You can have the marker, I don’t need it. You’ll also find an enormous bottle of aspirin in my bag if you search under all the books. I won’t be taking the whole thing, just enough. You can have the rest.
Please take care of those books. Do not under any circumstances return the library ones. If you hate reading, I beg of you, find someone who would love them and give them away. Don’t be afraid of finding me anywhere on this bridge, as you can see while you’re reading this, the bridge is high above the rushing waters of Manic River. That’s where I’ll be, far gone out into the sea to sleep with the fish and the mermaids. That’s another thing I love, tell people this, I also loved water.
You will never meet me, but all the better. You wouldn’t want to. Beware of transsexuals. They are freaks and bullies and treat others terribly. Even the biologically female ones will hit you and hurt you. That is my only real advice. If you know a girl named Marcie Trivell tell her an unknown person still thinks she is amazing, and it’s a cruel thing she had to be born a sociopath with no feelings, and an even sadder thing if she was born with feelings for everyone except myself.
I think I only wanted the world to love me, do you know how that is, reader? This whole time I have been bumbling about waiting for it, but now I have reached the end of the track and I am so relieved I am sobbing. Please forgive me for smearing the ink; I hope you can still read this. I was good, I know I was, believe me I was, I know I am. But I wasn’t fit for anything. I began to hate my family and loathe my friends and I was deeply in love with strangers and the natural world. How is someone expected to survive with such boiling feelings that bubble over and scorch the surface of their skin? You understand. I know you do.
I have ceased my useless crying with the thought that no grouchy librarian will ever be able to berate me and come snapping, my mother is a permanent mute, my father is frightening as a spider under a glass, my sister will have nothing to steal (I do feel a bit guilty about that) there will never be a single bill addressed to me, no one to hate, no one to love. With these happy thoughts I smile and sigh and say goodbye. I love you.
No one

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