This was my attempt at a local writing contest. All entries had to begin with “At 4 a.m. she found herself under the Broadway Bridge.”
At 4 a.m. she found herself under the Broadway Bridge. It was to be expected, really. She’d known her search would ultimately lead her here, known it the moment she received the police report three days ago.
Looking up, she could see the bridge. A rusty monolith rising into the night, half dark and half light, silhouetted against a moonlit sky. Her gaze followed the steep stairwell as it came down from on high and she wondered if anyone in a drug-stupored delusion ever thought of it as the proverbial stairway to the heavens.
There were lights down here, not directly beneath the bridge but nearby, illuminating just enough for her to traverse the shadow bridge the real one created. The Union Station train yard to the west looked deserted. There were apartment buildings lining either side of Front Street, a decorative strip of trees and ivy down its middle, curtained windows attesting to the late hour. Beneath the bridge was a deep darkness, an empty looking warehouse with security spotlights brightening the far side.
Something shuffled nearby and she peered into the black, heart thumping. It had never occurred to her that she wouldn’t be alone. No sane person would be out at this hour unless they were heading to work or crawling home after last call. Of course, that was ridiculous. The report said that he was discovered out here so someone else also being under the bridge would come as no surprise.
Allowing her eyes several moments to adjust, she made out a sleeping form, a mound buried beneath a ratty blanket, dirty feet sticking out from under. She swallowed hard, wondering what she should do. The belly of the bridge wasn’t a public place. Someone sleeping here put everything into a different perspective. No longer was she following personal demons; now she was intruding into someone’s bedroom, a thief in the middle of the night searching bureau drawers for valuables.
She chewed her lower lip. Was leaving an option at this point? After all the years of not knowing, all the questions that now would never be answered, all the nightmares and childhood dreams cut short, should she walk away? Could she?
A delivery truck rumbled by overhead. Four A.M. Her mind drifted to the report. It had been a week since it transpired, but the coroner thought it had happened at four.
She put aside her discomfort at a fellow human sleeping nearby. Narrowing her eyes, she searched for anything left behind, some indication of his presence. A slight flutter could be heard, drawing her attention, and she eased toward it, stepping lightly so as not to waken the sleeper. Waving gently in the slight breeze coming from the unseen Willamette River, it beckoned to her, light against dark, an occasional flash of brilliance indicating a shiny surface. She heard distant footsteps, and looked over her shoulder to see a security guard idling along by the deserted warehouse, a cigar dangling from his lips.
It had been a week since they’d found him here. She had no doubt that this was where it happened, where he’d reached the end. Sinking down to her knees, she stared at the yellow caution tape, wondering if the flattened cardboard laid out on the ground before her had been his bed. Swallowing around a lump in her throat, she wondered – where had he been, what did he think, why did he leave in the first place?
Her first memory of him was his eyes, a sparkling blue gray as she told him a joke she learned in kindergarten. And large, callused hands holding her high so she could see the passing parade. Later memories included his chuckle when he watched sit-coms on television, little gifts of sweets when he returned from work, helping her bring her first fish in at the lake.
Then he was just…gone.
She’d heard the stories from her aunt and grandmother. He was an alcoholic, a wife-beater, a horrible man who was evil and vicious and violent. Reconciling their tales with her memories was difficult. If he had been so bad, why hadn’t she seen it? Was she so blinded by her love she couldn’t remember him hitting her mother? Her mother wouldn’t say one way or another when asked. She would turn her back and shake her head, saying the past was past and that was that.
Looking at the dilapidated cardboard, she reached out and ran her fingers over it, feeling the damp and dirt, puzzled. What could bring a man to a place like this? Why was he here instead of at home, sitting in his easy chair and enjoying an early retirement with his family around him, with his daughter?
She swallowed past the lump in her throat, finding it more difficult to hold back the tears that had been threatening for days. It had taken a week for the authorities to find any relatives. He had already been buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The police had given her the reports she asked for as well as details of where he was interred. This afternoon a priest was going to have a memorial over his grave and, though she’d told everyone in her family about it, she was certain no one but her would be there.
A tear rolled down her face. How does a man go from the head of a loving family to a forgotten drunk dying under a bridge? What weakness was there that she couldn’t see? Did she have that weakness too? Twenty years from now, would she be meeting an early death from alcohol abuse and lack of medical care?
She drew a shaky breath and stood, knowing the answers weren’t here, knowing she’d probably never have them. Wiping at her tears, she got her emotions under control and dug her hands into her jacket pockets.
A delivery truck rumbled by overhead, a reminder of place and time. Four A.M.
“I love you, Daddy.”