Pont de l'Archevêché

October 24, 2012
By ceaselesslyintothepast BRONZE, Rochester, New York
ceaselesslyintothepast BRONZE, Rochester, New York
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time

He stood on the bridge facing the water, a polished, if unremarkable, figure on the pale purple horizon. His face, turned away from approaching foot traffic and hidden under a boat-brim hat, was slightly scarred—faint white slivers coating weather-beaten skin. His back was buckled and bent, his knees and hands trembling as if stirred gently by the wind. He was old, to be sure, but his mind raced with the fervor of twenty younger men as he gazed out over the cobblestone pathway lining the water.

Thirty years ago, he had stood there on the pavement below, his face clear of scars and turned up in a welcome embrace to the sun, and she—the only woman, as he thought of her—stood beside him.

“Do you think,” she had said, her voice throaty and coarse as it had always been, “that we’ll be here, twenty-seven years from now?”

“Twenty-seven?” he had said, and a raw breeze had drifted across the water towards them, gnawing affectionately at his skin, “why twenty-seven?”

“Because,” she said, and her voice was so still and serious he turned to look at her, relishing in the way her eyes stared unblinkingly into his, “twenty-seven seems a lot less than thirty, so we might still be young enough to remember this.”

But he felt young now, thirty and not twenty-seven years on. True, his body had betrayed him long ago; it was fighting now for the grim regiment that was death. But his memories had been faithful, and that day remained intact in the archives of his mind, as safely guarded as the most precious painting in the world.

And indeed, it was merely a painting to him now: a single fleeting moment, captured so elegantly and so succintly with all the necessary flourishes of color and texture. He could not let himself dwell on the finer details. For now, at least, he was content to stand back and admire that painting, that memory, from a safe distance.

For twenty-eight years ago, he had left to fight a battle he did not believe in, and he had not seen that woman since.

This man did not need more pain in his life.

He needed color, and beauty, and a stinging salty breeze.

Below on the pathway, a young woman was facing the water, her head bent as if in prayer. He watched her for a moment, struck by her stillness.

She lifted her head momentarily, and at once his entire body trembled, convulsed. She so completely resembled that woman, the only woman, that for a moment he thought he would have to fling himself into the water below and swim straight to her; walking wasn’t fast enough. The promise of that face seemed to warrant action of a bold and reckless variety—who cared if his body was crippled?

He turned away for a moment, his heart racing so wildly that his knees nearly gave out beneath him. He glanced back again, lips parted, his breathing ragged. This was no mirage, he was certain. It had to be her. Somehow she had escaped the curse of age, for she looked almost as she had thirty years ago, and her eyes were still alight with youthful fascination.

And then her face caught the light, and he could see a nose that was slightly longer, cheekbones that were slightly less defined, lips that were thinner. There was a man beside her now, and as they talked he could see he had been too quick to assume. Now her body was energetic, bouncing and bounding and bending as she shook with laughter, all pretense of peaceful stillness gone. The only woman was never so outwardly lively-- it was her mind that was active.

He turned back away from the water, willing himself to forget his disappointment. He had let himself get too close to that painting, thought too closely about it, thought too much for too long. He had let his imagination run free for a second—but that was all it needed to snap its shackles and leap away.

His scars were wet now. He brushed away the tears, scolding himself for being so juvenile. Old men didn’t cry. They endured. They fought. They were stalwart.

It was then that he noticed the padlocks, strewn across the opposite side of the bridge like a tarnished rainbow. He’d seen them before, of course, but he’d never really looked at them properly. They had always been in the background of his memory, mere glitter and gems on the bridge above.

He walked towards them now, edging forward slowly, painfully aware of the slowed foot traffic around him. Once he had settled himself a foot from the fence, he stooped to read the inscriptions on the padlocks: Notre amour toujours; Pour mon chérie; and the onslaught of couples’ names. All divorced, all dead, all miserable now, he thought bitterly. These were the remnants of their shattered worlds.

And here he was, still picking up the pieces of his own world, blind to the future.

He lifted his head to the sun, and this time he felt no breeze, nor any bliss. He felt instead the dry ache of solace, the burning throb of desolation, misery in perpetuity.

It is not often a person feels so alone in Paris. There isn’t time to--not with the crowds and the flowers and the sharp angled buildings and the promise of life in abundance. But with every great love, there is great heartbreak, and for some, the two are irrevocably intertwined, locked to a fence somewhere on a bridge above a still river.

The author's comments:
In the original ending to this story, the man jumps off the bridge in a fit of panic after seeing who he perceives to be his lost love. I think this ending, while certainly not as dramatic, is more realistic. Not all stories end in tragedy or happiness--something they just end.

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