Over The Bridge

March 16, 2013
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Fairbanks winters are cold. Salting roads doesn't melt the ice, and everything is packed with snow anyways. Night presses down upon the city, and the people react as expected. Alaska always attracts the strange, the daring, the boldly introverted. People look to test themselves, human versus nature, in an attempt to form some sort of deeper relationship. Most, on that note, lack something that they think the extremities of temperature can bring- exhaust the mind, the body, and revelation will come.

Alcoholism, though, is the normal reaction. Most are disappointed; hoping to find some deeper meaning for life, struggling to get past the barriers of a physically contained body, they almost always fail. Disappointment sets in. Self-loathing, blame, anger, hold a person, and the setting of constant deep snow and heavy nightfalls pushes the mind over its limits. Men snap. People forget why they would ever come to test themselves. Alaska isn't a test- it is torture. And alcohol was a savior.

Some, though, manage to avoid the sinkhole of depression. Realizing that a recluse seldom is happy, they manage to get by. Finding others, they are able to survive the test of nature. Individually, almost nobody succeeds in Fairbanks. With family, though, it is possible. The conditions, more than establishing a bond with the natural world or something deeper, expose the fact that humanity is an important part of existence. Living with others, finding people, is the only way to conquer the extremities. Living with others is necessary to survive.


It was Christmas eve, although Fairbanks paid no notice. People either drank slightly more than usual, or got together and celebrated in a hopeless sense- alone in a cabin, surrounded by dark snow, merriment was forced for the occasion. He had driven to the girl's house. Through the snow, thirty miles, he had finally made it.

Jane's mother had died of her own hands, and the only occupants of the small house were herself and her father. The man lived alone.

He made it to the house by 11:00, and, by that time, dinner had been eaten in silence. He sat on the couch in the small living room, dim lighting illuminating the wooden floors and wood stove in the corner. Snow plummeted past the windows, and the fire crackled. The man sat with Jane at his side. They didn't exchange gifts. The dark green leather of the couch would emit a faint squeak with each shifting movement, the only noises aside from the fire.

The man was tired. Winter made him tired. He had been tired for twenty-two years, living in Fairbanks, and winter, dominating every year, only exacerbated the feeling. Perpetual darkness.

Jane's father came into the living room, feet shuffling gently across the creaking wood floor. He stood on the side of the couch and looked at the man, the bags under his eyes, the pale skin and dandruff around his shoulders. The man seemed old, but so did everyone in Fairbanks.

The man looked up. "Mr. Drummond," he said, rising to shake hands. Mr. Drummond had a hard face-- a man toughened by the climate, always willing to do what needed to be done. He could be difficult to please.

"Sit, sit," he gently commanded, "I have something to ask of you." The man sat, his leg holding a constant touch against Jane's. Her father sat across from the pair.

"Anything," implored the man.

"It's the cat," he began. "The thing's old and dying, and it can't see nor hear more. Too old for its own self. It's been makin' messes around the house, and we gotta get rid of her."

The man started to express his sorrow for Jane and her father, but he continued.

"Now, you go over the Tanana on your way here, don't you?" He implored.

"Yeah, right over the bridge."

"Well, listen. I've got the cat in a bag, and she's just sleepin' mostly. Could you just take care of her for me?"

Sighing, the man looked at Jane. He didn't know her or her father well, but liked them both. She gazed back at him.

"Sure, Mr. Drummond, no problem."

He stood on the bridge--car parked, snow piled up to his shins-- and looked out. The Tanana river, frozen thickly below, was almost invisible in the darkness. Faint starlight, visible because of the lack of other lights, reflected off of the snow in a thin, brittle blanket, and only gave a picture of a bottom somewhere far off, revealing a bottom whose depth was incalculable, like a well where the water tickles the end of your vision.

Going around to the back of his car, he opened the trunk. A rough canvas bag, holes torn through. The cat, previously docile, must have sensed something from the jolting car ride. Panicking, it spent the reserves of its energy trying to rip its way out. The dirty cloth was mutilated, and the cat, thinning hair on end, was wrapped in its tendrils.

The cat looked up at him through door crack pupils, radiating green in the dark. Claws extended, it let out a cry, a warning and a plea for help. The man reached down to grab the bag, and the animal swung. Quickly, he found a loose end of the bag, the remnants of a green shoulder strap, and pulled the cat out.

Its back leg had snapped in the struggle, and now hung wrongly at a crooked angle, covered in matted, clustered orange hair. With each step the man took in carrying the bag to the bridge, the leg bounced slightly, the cat wrapped in the mess, and, as bone rubbed bone, the animal squealed.

But it had no energy left. All of its stores had been used in an attempt to escape. He looked down at it, defeated, old, and felt guilt. Torn ears and broken bones looked up at him, now too exhausted to be angry. Exhausted from a full life, sixteen years, with no attempt to save itself from death. And he couldn't do it. He couldn't kill the animal, throw it in the snow and leave it to suffer more. He wasn't the one to chose.

He murmured nothings to the cat--Nectar, it was named. Jane had named it; she told him that. He missed Jane already. He missed her company, the feeling of her leg touching his. Now he was alone. He and Nectar. But Mr. Drummond wanted the cat gone. He looked at the animal's helpless figure, now almost devoid of life. It was a stupid cat, anyway. It was old and worthless, and Mr. Drummond didn't care for it anymore. He would do it for Mr. Drummond and for Jane, to do them a favor, to help them with a difficult thing. Besides, he had to prove he could do difficult things. Mr. Drummond needed to know he could trust the man, trust him with important matters. And it was just a cat.

A gust of wind came, and snapped at his face. He wanted to get back in the warm car, in the warm cabin with Jane and even Mr. Drummond. There are more important things than cats, especially in Fairbanks, he told himself. Like making sure the roads are clear, or having firewood, staying warm and having enough blankets at night. Or finding someone to live with, so you aren't alone, and don't drive yourself away, and pleasing her and her family, and making sure they like you.

A hand full of light snow was raised by the wind, and caught in his eyelashes. He batted it away, and looked down at the cat. Looking straight over the bridge, he saw the horizon in the far distance. Stars speckled against the shadows of trees, and the sky was nearly black. He put one hand on the rail of the bridge, cold even under his glove, and tossed the bag over. Eyes closed, a slow, painful breath. A sudder on the silent impact.

He looked up across the river.

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CammyS said...
Apr. 10, 2013 at 4:43 pm
That was awesome. Though I've never been to Alaska, this story really gave me an idea of what life there is like. My only suggestion is to incorporate the first section's info into the main story. Great piece!
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