A bridge too far, an un-arched, un-steeled (or is it un-ironed), unsparing (no question on that one), unnerved bridge too far. A divided heart metaphor, perhaps, an overused metaphor, maybe, but sometimes that dividing line, dividing lines really, represented by a childhood bridge’s span is the only way to describe what is what. And more importantly is the only way to describe physically, hero of this saga, although hero is maybe just too large a word evoking greek gods, hubris and serious testing of fates, the bicycle boy’s dilemma.
One speed bicycle boy, handed-down Schwinn diamond blue red bicycle boy with pedal foot-slammed brakes to guide against crashes, stray dogs, swerving autos making diagonal rather than right hand- cornered turns and absent-minded pedestrians carelessly crossing in designated crosswalks just when he gathered speed, one speed, pushed on toward that divided bridge and the latest version of his the point of no return test.
Wearing a Fruit of The Loom tee-shirt, white, with a trace outline of wetness showing for all the world, all the looking world, to see up under arms. Hell it is summer and humid already, maybe a dog day July or probably August, they, the days and months, all rolling together and he has made this trip before in such weathers, in fact all weathers except hard northern winter gale snow squalls. And dungarees, faded from hundred times washed hand-me-down whirlpool washing machine use of older brothers in hardscrabble no work for father, or not much work, and mother wish working her stale life away in some franchise donut shop, serving coffee and off the arm to working class customers going to and fro working spots and leaving, leaving working class-sized tips, meaning not much, not much at all. Except wish dreams, and work damns.
Dungarees, faded or not, rolled up against dog bites, no question anymore since last summer, he Schwinn bicycle boy, had actually been bitten once by a stray alert dog who came out of some foggy mist seaside house without warning and without provocation, and rolled up guarded against geared meshes of cloth and metal, but you knew that, or you knew that your mother warned you against such a fate if you left the world unrolled, oh well, ya ma dismissal, at least one hundred times.
Yak, now bicycle boy, we no longer need to identify him as Schwinn, or wearing white tee-shirts or faded dungarees bicycle boy, is up to speed, safely past dog house and moving along friendlier shore roads this riding across seaside town day to get that eternally thankful breeze blowing off Adamsville Bay. Now churning through endless tar pit heated, sweated, beads of sweat coming off the manhole cover to match, did I say match, no to trump, his own heat and underarm circle wetness, no handkerchief, damn of all days to forget a handkerchief, streets. No railroad man’s soiled sweated, stink handkerchief, red, solid red, found in some forgotten railroad track siding when he made another leap to break out of the hard-edged 1950s be-bop night and day dream of freedom, and track smoke.
Street names passing, all the parts of ships, taffrails, captains walks, quarterdecks, sextant-blasted wheelhouses, galleys, even the planks, a special place where treasure , and betrayal, fight it out for tribal loyalties or some stick, stick signifying simply youth, not stick-in-the-mudness, not yet anyway, maiden’s blushed kiss, stolen treasure worthy of more than railroad handkerchief, red, solid red, wipe. Bicycle boy laughed to himself as he rode, thinking of backlogged thoughts in sunnier (and less humid) times. And some stray blushed kiss that would not let him be, would disturb his sleep on more than one night.
Street names, all the seven seas, atlantic, pacific, indian, artic, coral, china, ah he forgot the order, not a good sign, must be the humid-numbing weather, for a boy who could make a joke, and make stick (remember stick signifying youth only) maidens unashamed of blushed kisses laugh at the thought, of knowing enough geography and knowing exactly where to find the place on the map to call himself the Prince of Lvov once. And know too that he wished to “discover” all those seas, and their names not just from maps, if only, if only he could get out of the stinking projects. The stinking born in projects from which he at one time, although not now course did believe could ever be escaped from (and he later realized that maybe, just maybe he couldn’t). And funny he had gotten out or better had moved out, or his family had with him in tow, and still he was wishing about those seas even if he had forgotten the order of the names, and half-forgotten prince lvov kisses that had turned to ashes. And he still wished about getting out of that stinking project, ya, getting the stink blown off his back from that low-rent scene.
Street names, all the fishes of the seas, tetra, halibut, cod, of course, grown and harvested just some miles, not bicycle miles but automobile miles, a few miles down the road, mackerel, holy or not, he laughed to himself at that, scrod, pickled herring, jesus, who could eat that, oil-soaked sardines, ditto, red scrupper, macko some shark, infinite sea oceans names to go with seven seas and adventures, hardly wait to get out of town adventures but just now needing, desperately needing to get back to back born places, to get some familiar ground under his feet, to take the curse off that stink that has clouded his mind, the one to match the low-tide mephitic stinks down by the shore that he was then passing. And fetid swollen river swamps and reedy mud-caked straw wind marshes breezing that life-saving sea breeze too.
Street names, all the fauna of the sea, seaweed, algae, sea salad, sea cucumbers, see sea, all mixed up, all washed rumble tumble to shore in rushing torrid, churned-up waves crashing aimlessly but relentlessly to shore. But not today, today no crashing waves to help along the slight lip sweat-forming wheels churning boy, a displaced boy(no need to speak of bicycles anymore either) except for that tepid splashed flat pancake of a wave that also heads aimlessly to the waiting shore million year stones waiting to turn to sand , to wash them clean a while. He laughed at that too, washed clean alright. Not him, never him.
Twelve-years old, almost thirteen, hard-churned boy numberless miles to go before sleep, after the bridge battle, which way home or the sea. Which way, find the hidden quest route to Chinese splendor or buried treasure beneath those stones, at least in his mind, and go back to old time haunts, and small age memories of, okay, stick maidens, blushed kisses (this time his) and “going to the plank.” Ah, memory, memory-etched memory be good (and do not disturb goodnight sleeps, for once).
Searching, ever searching for the wombic home, is there such a word, and should he say it, should he write it, or should he even think it in his sin-heavy world. Searching for the certainties (silly childhood certainties he knew, but could do nothing about except search), for the old haunts (secret mirror caves, seaside rest graveyards before those sea breeze marsh grasses , and dank cellars filled with stolen kisses, and small wave booty trinkets, but don’t tell), for the plank, for the seaside graveyards with the dusted, rotting bones of ancient mariners, tars all, who filled the seven seas with their desires, their venom, and their hubris. He knew there was such a word as that, that hubris, because he had looked it up, and had actually, personally seen it in action more than once, although the acts seen had nothing, nothing in this wicked old world, to do with greek godly things. With titanic struggles to roll rocks up hills, to right wrongs against the powerful misbegotten night, to challenge god things, and fates. He didn’t laugh at that word though, but turned red first with anger, anger that he would duck things rather churn up waves, and offend no gods. No sir.
Searching, once again for other Schwinn travel friends (de riguer Schwinn, logo-conscious), for the old friends, the old drifter, grifter, midnight shifter petty larceny friends, the heist boys, the “clip” artist boys snatching penny candy, valentine may day boxes of candy, onyx rings with diamonds in the center, five and dime trinkets, anything that fit into speak of love (not lvov), faded dungaree pockets, and didn’t bulge too much , that’s all it was, petty and maybe larceny, but it had cemented them together for “eternity,” boyhood projects eternity broken when he wrong-crossed that bridge span, and didn’t turn back.
Ya, bicycle boy this day is searching, searching hard against the named ships, hard against the named seas, hard against the named fishes, hard against the named fauna, searching see.
And searching hard too against the unnamed angst, hard against those unnamed, maybe unnamable, changes that kind of hit one sideways all at once like some mack the knife smack devilish thing and no bridge can stop that, not on this hot humid day, and maybe not ever but he would have to see about that, see about that it as it came along.