The first of a few pieces from last semester’s fiction writing class.
“I tell you what,” Harold groaned, pulling himself out of the taxi, “Once I get home, I’m never flying in one of those glorified sardine cans again. I still can’t feel my damn feet.”
“Yeah, it’s a long flight, Mate,” the taxi driver said. He handed Harold his scuffed leather suitcase. “You from Canada?”
“America, thank you. And I tell you what, if I didn’t have to be back there in a week for my grandson’s wedding, I’d go home stowed away on a cargo ship.”
The driver laughed. “Nah, she’ll be alright.”
“Who? Who’ll be alright?”
The driver was pulling away from the curb. Harold gripped his suitcase and looked around. He gazed out over the Brisbane River, counting the bridges. Four. He could see four just from Kangaroo Point.
During the war, they had never used the bridges. There were only a handful, and when a man was bleeding out his ears, it was better to zip across in a ferry. There were still a few ferries on the river: red double-decker ones with kangaroos on the side and slim white ones bearing the name City Cat. But they were for tourists and commuters and were vastly outnumbered by yachts and sailboats.
Harold moseyed along the river, feeling the warm breeze on his leathery skin, remembering the way it rustled Gisele’s skirts, the way she would pat down the hems, her fingertips brushing against her nylons. Every time they walked, they would end up at Jubilee Bridge. They would stroll out into the middle, and Harold would stop, spin around to face Gisele, and kiss her lips. Gisele, looking up at the matrix of steel beams, would blush and say, “Isn’t this the most beautiful city in the world?” And Harold, always watching her bright green eyes, would say, “Yes.”
But that was nearly 50 years ago, and they had changed. Even the bridge had a new name now – Story Bridge – honoring a public servant who dedicated his life to the city. When he first learned the name, all Harold could think was, “That should have been me.”
As Harold reached Story Bridge, he felt eighteen again. It still arched up to two high points; its beams still crisscrossed like a steel spider web. There were lights now, outlining the bridge’s silhouette, and he had heard they glowed red and green at night.
He walked out to the middle of the bridge, fingering a bundle of envelopes in his inside jacket pocket. He remembered the words of the last one: I’ll be there.
And then he waited. He waited until he began to worry. Maybe he had gotten the date wrong: with the time difference, he could be a day early – or worse – a day late. Maybe he had misread the letter. Maybe she had lied, played him for a fool, revenge for breaking his promise all those years ago. Maybe she no longer loved him.
Then, as the sun dipped below the city skyline and the green lights lit up, he saw her walking towards him. She looked exactly the same, but instead of a pencil skirt and flowing blouse, she wore tight jeans and a striped sweater. She had the same hourglass figure, the same curly hair, the same green eyes – only, it couldn’t be her. As she reached him, she crossed her arms to shield herself from the breeze.
“I’m Angela, Gisele’s granddaughter.”
“You look just like her,” Harold said. “I thought you were her for a minute.”
Angela smiled. “Thank you. Nonna told me I would find you here.”
“Why didn’t she come?”
“She couldn’t, she wanted to, she…” Angela looked up at the beams. Harold noticed that her eyes were puffy, red. He followed her gaze up to the beams.
“Isn’t this the most beautiful city in the world?” Harold asked.
Angela looked down at Harold. He saw the recognition in her green eyes.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes.”