Monday, June 09, 2008

Bridge of Sighs



Bridge of Sighs

My search for understanding could be properly compared to Peru—mysterious, varied in its landscape, inaccessible as Machu Picchu, and politically volatile as the neo-socialist government of Alberto Fujimori. One minute I’m reacting to the latest nonsensical act of an American administration dedicated to destruction and the next I’m concerning myself with a particular brick set slightly askew in a building whose appearance hasn’t changed one whit in the last eighty years, its voice calling out, ‘someone please fix me’ every time I walk past. The fact that I’m the only one who can hear it is not lost on me, either. Honestly, the brick is at least a quarter-inch low on one end… why it doesn’t offend others’ aesthetic sense is beyond my comprehension. Secretly, I long to buy the building and pay a real bricklayer to fix it. Of course, if I bought it, I’d be compelled to put it to some use and this would be a task too onerous to contemplate, not to mention the risk of forever altering the building’s acquired chi. So I shall continue to saunter past it from time to time, trying in vain not to look at its grotesque anomaly in architectural malformation. Some things, apparently, are just meant to be and I must acknowledge their inevitability.

Exactly how does a Japanese man become a Peruvian? Or, more to the point, how do Peruvians look at a ballot with a Japanese man listed as one of the choices for President and put an ‘x’ beside his name? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, particularly, but the mindset of such a voter must be one of quiet desperation resulting from viewing the other choices. Actually, I guess it’s no different from a Californian choosing an Austrian actor as governor. Oh, what the hell… he can’t screw it up any worse than these other idiots.

As I said, it was probably inevitable, only a matter of time. With a Republican married to a Kennedy now residing in the Sacramento Governor’s Mansion, can it be very long before an Al Qaeda member runs for congress in the U.S. Congressional district serving San Francisco? As-salaam alaykum, Osama, how was school today? I hope your bomb-making grades are coming up, young man, or there’ll be no martyrdom for you in the Jihad next week!

Today, as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge bound for Sausalito, I saw a flash of a dark-shrouded figure out of the corner of my eye. It appeared on the bay side of the bridge, just below the pedestrian path where I walked. A jumper, perhaps? Truth be told, the mist obscured my vision to the point I’m not completely sure if I saw or just imagined it. However, it became my misshapen brick.

Upon clearing the bridge, I parked in the accommodations provided sightseers by the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce and commenced the short walk back up the bridge to the point where my specter presented itself. The ever-present pelicans and sea gulls accompanied me, presumably in anticipation of an easy meal. Every fifty feet, I’d stop and hang my head over the side, checking the rust/orange iron structure for an unwelcome presence. Approaching an area I considered to be near where I first saw it, I became impatient, as is my nature. Just like you, putz… you just can’t help yourself, can you? Just another red herring you managed to waste time upon. Scowling over the side one last time before calling the adventure to a close, again I saw a wisp of black appear from an under-hanging support beam. It looked like cloth… and if it was, under cursory examination I could still pass for sane. Look! There it is again… this time with a hand sticking out the end.

Clint Eastwood is sleeping soundly this morning, secure in the knowledge that I am considering an assault on his throne, but I could not keep myself on the safe side of that railing. Some inaudible, invisible force willed me down the outside of the bridge before I had time to think about it and suddenly I gazed into a cauldron of blue-black foam-covered eternity. Instantaneously, terror gripped me as I struggled to move along the girder. I saw welded handholds interspersed along the vertical steel and the irony didn’t escape me. Mustn’t make it too difficult for the jumpers to find the ideal spot.

Then, I saw her. Braced between two cross-members stood a small woman dressed in a nun’s habit, her hood being blown by the wind. She stared at me with vacant eyes that made me wonder if she acknowledged my presence.

“You know, sister, you might want to watch what you rub up against, I read it’s getting very difficult to wash sea gull poop out of those new space-age fabrics…” Brilliant… that’ll keep her from jumping… appeal to her feminine sense of good grooming. Why didn’t you just bring a stick and poke her a few times, moron.

Now-focused eyes peered back at me and a glimmer of a smirk crossed her lips. “Really? I hadn’t heard that, but we don’t get many dry cleaners’ employees down here at St. Lucifer’s…” She looked away.

“Yea, well, I have some experience in these matters. I had a little problem with an ex-wife some years back and part of my penance I worked out with Father Monelli is to rescue wayward women of the cloth… even those whose orders originate in less-than-Heavenly locales.” She’s cute… a little bulky for my tastes, perhaps, but it’s easy to be critical. Get a grip, man, she’s a nun!

She waited momentarily before speaking, staring at me, apparently studying me. “Who says I need rescuing?”

“Well, I assume—“

“That’s your first mistake, cowboy, never assume… for all you know, I may be up here doing research on that same bird poop you’re so worried about.”

Her voice trailed off and she turned her back. Cowboy? Well, at least she’s talking. “Good point… frankly, I hadn’t considered that. Please accept my apologies, Professor.”

Without turning around, she raised her arm and gestured The Sign of The Cross in midair. After a short pause, she turned, facing me once again. “You’re up here to rescue me so that I’ll be grateful and allow you to have your way with me, aren’t you?”

“What??”

“Why do you feign surprise? It’s totally natural, after all… a virile young man who’d risk life and limb climbing onto the outside of the largest suspension bridge in the world either has a messianic complex or he’s desperately trying to appease some sinister appetite involving defaming a member of the clergy. Somehow you don’t look like an angel to me, Clint.”

The words ripped huge hunks of flesh from my psyche. “Sister, are all nuns cynics or are you singularly blessed? I don’t mean to be crass at a time like this, but that sort of clairvoyance doesn’t seem to be a useful tool for someone married to Jesus, or if your previous statement can be believed, Satan.”

A titter emerged from a gasp and continued as she started to clap her hands, applauding my words. “Bravo! Bravo, Mr. Eastwood! Tell me… why are you here? Do you really know, or am I merely the logical conclusion of your curiosity? Suppose you’d found me perched on the very edge of the beam, clutching my rosary, summoning the courage to step off into oblivion… would you have hurdled through the air, snaring my arm as I stepped off, your free hand clutching the girders in desperation as you attempted to pull yourself, and me, back onto this support structure? Would you really have done that? Are you willing to die for me?”

Ashen… all the humor and most of the blood drained from her face as she continued to stare at me. I now realized I was in over my head, but I had to say something. “Actually, I envisioned a different scenario. I thought I could use my bodacious charm and powers of persuasion to, perhaps, talk you out of jumping.” I put both hands out in front of me, palms up, in a gesture of supplication. “Silly me, huh?”

Folding her arms across her chest, she frowned. “Is that it? So little commitment? I’m a crazy woman standing on a ledge and you want to talk me down by asking me politely? ‘Pretty please, sister, be a nice little nun and make me feel like a hero?’ Where’s the romance in that? You’re a stud, remember? Okay, start talking or maybe I pull a MAC-10 out from underneath my habit and you get to feed our toothsome friends, Carcharodon carcharias.”

I couldn’t help myself. I scrunched my eyes, grit my teeth and pounded my fist on my forehead. “HA!” Now it was my turn to snort. “You’re going to shoot me because I tried to save you? Honey, you’re something out of a bad Stanley Kubrick movie! Either jump or walk towards me, either way I get a little closure. Who knows… if you jump I may even be able to sell your story to the Enquirer. Oh, and, by the way, I know that Carcharodon Whatever-you-called-it is the great white shark.”

“I knew you’d make this about you… I need to satisfy you. I need to viagrize your limp little willie by coalescing to your demands. You invade the sanctity of my death and demand that I walk towards you? Get a grip, Dirty Harry, you’re starting to come unhinged! Who the hell do you think you are? You have no control here… you’re bupkus! Get it?? And it’s carcharodon carcharias, dumbbell.”

I have to admit, that slowed me up a good bit. Soon, as I felt a salty taste in my mouth, I realized that I’d bitten my lip. “So much for small talks, eh, Kemosabe? Okay, you feel the need to tweak the primordial bonds between life and whatever, go ahead. Forget all the theology you’ve ever learned regarding the sanctity of life and the mortal sin attached to suicide. You have your audience, drama queen, go for the gusto… but, as you’ve no doubt already figured out, the first step is the toughest. It isn’t the bullet that gets you, it’s the hole, right? Just one short step, one semi-athletic pirouette and you’re no more than one of nature’s vagaries, a question for the ages, isn’t that right?”

Without a word, she turned to the side and edged closer to the edge.

Do something! “Okay, okay, okay… you’re in control, for God’s sake, please don’t jump… let’s cut the crap, okay? I admit I’m a fraud. My machismo forced me to jump down here for no other reason other than to con you into believing I cared. I couldn’t give one fat rat’s ass less about your welfare, I’m only in it for the recognition… You win, okay? But please… don’t jump, please? Somewhere in my wretched makeup, I actually would love to have the pleasure of pulling that habit off and ravishing you. The only reason I’m standing here is because I can’t get laid anywhere else. Making it with a nun has always been a fantasy of mine and I figured that you might take pity on me and give me a sympathy hump for talking you out of jumping. Please… make my fantasy come true and walk off this bridge with me. Even if you tell me to piss up a rope afterwards, it won’t really matter, I’ll get off just knowing that I talked you down. Consider me somewhat of a sick mutant Messianist/alpha male.”

The look she shot me was indescribable, but she stepped further back. “Sir, what do you know of Holy Orders?”

She caught me off guard there. I’d been an altar boy as in my formative years, but the thought of becoming a priest was foreign in every practical way. “Well, nuns, priests and deacons take them when they’re ordained… that’s about the extent of it, I guess.” What the hell kind of question is that?

This appeared to appease her. “Aha! A very good answer, all in all. So… you are a Catholic. I had my doubts, honestly.”

Well, of course! You’re worried about being saved by someone so reprehensible as to not have the decency to be a Catholic… “What, the potato face had you fooled? I’m not swarthy enough to be Catholic? Did it ever occur to you that the Church, in its infinite wisdom, chose to invade Eastern Europe, too? I’ll tell you what, Sister, I’ll go see if Sylvester Stallone is in town… I’m sure he has nothing better to do than come stand under the Golden Gate Bridge and talk to ungrateful masquerading twits threatening to commit an abomination to God and spend the better part of eternity in Purgatory… or worse.”

Again, she showed me that freakin’ smile… then, as she exhaled, her head dropped in true recognition of whatever special capabilities she held near. “You’re a strange one,” she replied, “but you do know how to turn a lady’s head. Can you recite the Beatitudes?”

I got your Beatitudes right here… “Sister, I haven’t seen the inside of a church since 1984. Wait here and I’ll go see if I can get the Bishop to come rescue you… he probably isn’t doing anything, it isn’t Wednesday afternoon. Chances are, he’ll be able to play Twenty Questions with you… hell, for that matter, the two of you can do it in Latin if you want. If I recall correctly, I think one of them says something about being clean of spirit or something… or was it a reference to being blessed when you mourn? You want Beatitudes? Ask your hubby, He invented the damn things during his sabbatical to the Sermon on the Mount!”

“You didn’t listen… I merely asked if you could recite them, I didn’t actually ask you to. You really need to learn to listen. Actually, you’re correct about two of the eight and I’m proud of you. I have students who can’t recite two the morning after having them assigned as homework the previous evening. I think your faith is more deeply ingrained in you than you care to admit.”

“Oh, well, pardon me, Mrs. Christ, in the future when I’m fifty stories up and straddling a beam, I’ll try to be sure I pay closer attention to Dr. Lecturing Penguin. Madam, you’re a throwback… it’s a pity you were born so recently, you’d have made an excellent Inquisitor.”

“ENOUGH!! I’ll not be humiliated by the likes of you!” And she sat down, her legs dangling high over the Pacific. Our impasse provided the opportunity for us to go to our neutral corners and prepare for the next round as the steady drone of vehicles passing over us became the only focus of sound. Finally, looking up at me, she gestured for me to sit next to her. It was not so much a request as a demand. Pausing to assess, I slowly walked over and lowered myself onto the beam leaving a couple of feet of space between us; if she decided to grab me and pull me off with her, I’d have a fighting chance to resist.

For the first time I got a good look at her face. Her eyes held the strength only years of concentration could bring, tiny crows’ feet emerging at the outer edges. I took her to be around forty, tops, certainly too young to bridge such a monstrous gap of faith. What demons could possibly bring her to this?

“Will you tell me your name?” Her soft voice cracked slightly and I had difficulty hearing her over the wind rushing through the steel. The temperature was dropping and for the first time I felt her anguish. Somehow the chill seemed to accompany despair.

“If I do, will you walk with me back to Sausalito?” My words surprised me.

“My name is... Gwyneth.”

“Sure it is… and mine is Lancelot.” I decided to tease her a bit more, hoping to buy a little time. “Persephone?”

“Care to try again? Third time’s the charm…”

Rubbing her face with her hands, the woman cocked her head to one side and gave me a closed-mouth grin. “My given name is Stephanie Marie, but the name I took is Mary Timothy. Now, will you tell me yours, or must I keep calling you Clint?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“The answer is no.”

“Then, I fail to see what difference the knowledge would bring.”

“And you also fail to realize a good many other things, too, gentle sir. If I were dying and thirsty, would you deny me a drink of water because I refused to stop dying?”

“Maybe… if I thought it would force you to take action on your own behalf.”

“I… can’t.”

Eternity can exist in a trice. If not, Einstein should have taken up gardening. Time, as I know it, suspended. “My name is Brent Carlson. You can’t… or you won’t?”

She pulled back her sleeve and glanced at her wristwatch before once again struggling to her feet. “Nice name, Mr. Carlson… strong, yet not arrogant. Your parents did well. Go learn The Beatitudes and I promise they’ll provide you all the strength you need. Now it is time for you to go. If you don’t, you’ll die with me.”

With those words, she lifted her habit over her head, allowing it to drop into the sea, exposing a display of circuitry and a countdown timer with rows of C-5 plastic explosive strapped to her chest, a chain extending down from her breast bone between her legs and padlocked to a hasp on her back. “You see, Mr. Carlson, I have less than five minutes left to decide whether this bridge comes down or whether an entire school packed with children blows up. Were I in your position, I think I would be high-tailing it for shore. But, then… I’m not Clint Eastwood.”

Media accounts of the Golden Gate Bridge bombing featured the assumption of Al Qaeda’s involvement, and a few motorists reported seeing a nun walking on the bridge. For another twenty-four hours, until a man with an incredible story came forward, I was the only person in the world who knew that Sister Mary Timothy Beatty traded her life for those of the children at St. Dominic’s Academy.

16 comments:

paisley said...

in the saving of the children at st dominic's,, sister manages to blow up how many drivers passengers and pedestrians??? and just for the record,, how many of them were catholics???

excellent premise,, but a bit windy in its cadence...i know.. i feel bitchy...

Bubba said...

Paisley-- Well, the agony of her choice is the major concept on which the story is constructed. Sometimes it's difficult to know what's really right, especially for a person of great principle... hence, the moral dilemma.

I accept your criticism about its 'windiness'. I tried to envision two strangers fighting for different outcomes and the conversation that might ensue from two personalities so vastly divergent. I may re-visit it and see if I can cull some of the repartee. Thanks for the critique... I always welcome input from readers.

Lee's River said...

second bitch sounding here, bubba (feel free to reciprocate whenever you feel that way about one of mine)
I stayed with you to the end to find out where you were going. But it doesn't ring true to me - by which I don't mean credible vs incredible. I mean true as in internally consistent.

But I like the premise of fighting for different outcomes and wouldn't mind reading a second take that made that premise really hold my unwavering attention. suggestion: maybe more windiness in their physical presences (as in buffeted by strong winds) and tighter dialog? I mean, it must really blow hard under the structure of that bridge. Not sure they'd have a mind to that much banter.

Jo said...

What a choice.......most of the nuns I know would have let the chidren have it.

Bubba said...

Lee-- Thanks, I'll give it some thought.

Jo-- Guess I don't know how to reply to that. You stopped me dead in my tracks this time.

Scot said...

well, maybe a bit long
maybe less narration/more dialogue but what the hey--I write poetry
:)

kaylee said...

And I thought I was having
A bad day.
No more bridge walking for
you young man,
now go to your room.
Knowing kids today she might
have made the wrong choice.
and I am not kidding.

klk

amuirin said...

I thought it was a great story

Bubba said...

Scot-- Yea, you're probably right.

Kaylee-- I really hope you don't feel that way.

Amuirin-- Many thanks... you seem to take the minority opinion. Ha!

thefork said...

just goes to show... my people do not have a monopoly on the guilt thing... and it also illustrates how often our wounds bleed into one another...

there are some bits of truly inspired madness and depth here...

Jo said...

Oh, do you not know any mean nuns? Maybe they all live in England.....we had some doozies as kids, really cruel, nasty women who delighted in making children's lives hell, hence the comment. Sorry....grin.

gingatao said...

Cool story, great idea and well made.
Appleby one shot in front of Woods. GO THE AUSSIE! Care for a little wager?

Bubba said...

Fork-- No, I don't think any one group has a monopoly on guilt... there's plenty to go around. Thanks!

Paul-- Absolutely! I don't know if you noticed or not, but Tiger shot 30 on the back side (1 stroke off the all-time record for Torrey Pines). Wounded or not, he's got too much game for Appleby. I just got finished watching the entire coverage. This is going to be a great golf-watching weekend! It doesn't get much better than the U.S. Open... fast greens, BIG penalties for not hitting it straight, plateaued greens and demonic pin placements... plus, throw in 2 par-4's playing at 500+ yards and a lot of water that's in play and you've got a course that will challenge *anyone*, no matter how long a hitter he may be. Just great. What's the wager?

Scot said...

an aussie vs Tiger Woods? :) Llike PT said...

btw--Happy Father's Day Big Guy!

Bubba said...

Scot-- Well, I'm not one to kick a man when he's down, but poor Stuey had a bit of a rough time with the flat blade today. 8 over par... are you kiiding me or what? What's the old saying? Drive for show and putt for dough, I think...

It was just Tiger being Tiger... the only question left is if he'll be able to walk the course to finish it. His knee is totally blown, it would appear.

It would appear that Geoff Ogilvy is the only Aussie who could challenge, and he's at +1, so it'll take a total collapse on Tiger's part (which he's never done... he's never lost a Major in which he held the lead after the third round), and all-time he's 54 and 3 when leading after the third round, so you do the math.

Too bad they don't make any real beer in Australia or I'd make you send me a sixer, Paul...

Scot said...

well I guess being crippled would be the only way--maybe kangaroo piss would be appropriate