by Liam Scheff
15 of 15×15
“Some of the others fall and they’re putting out their arms and legs, and trying to catch something, but there’s only air and rain. One of them actually dives – he pulls his head together and like… like an Olympic diver or something. He puts his hands in a prayer, and then juts them up over his head, and then he points down and they’re an ice-breaker or a hatchet and he dives right down and disappears into the water.”
It’s four o’clock before we hear the news. It had been on TV for two hours, but Ruck had turned it off because it was giving him a headache – cartoons all morning, Em and Sue fighting over the remote, screaming, calling for Mom to fix it for them.
Two hours into it – and we were late to know – so we settled into watch, and wonder what it meant – what it would mean.
There had been warnings for weeks – superstore, storm of the century, Katrina and Rita 2 – but what’s new about that? “That’s the media” says Josh, always ahead of everyone. “Whadya mean?” asks Sue.
Josh gives a knowing look – self-satisfied, I’d say. “They WANT you to be afraid,” he says. “It’s how they get you to stick to the television like you do.”
Sue puzzled, “Why do they care if I watch television?”
“Because,” answers Josh, like he’s slightly disappointed in her for not figuring it out already, “Because…” He’s waiting for her to fill in the blank. She just stares and frowns her lips by pushing them into a small pout.
“Because they get paid by all them who make commercials, you see, Susie, for all Mom’s hair-dryers and washers, and,” he winds her up, “all that plastic Barbie crap you have in your room.”
Sue thrusts her hands down into fists at the end of her skinny arms, and marches out of the room, her pig-tails bouncing. She weighs so little you can hardly hear her stamping on the carpet. Josh looks momentarily satisfied. He’s too old to get a scolding. he’s only back because he’s on leave, and nobody in the house is going to tell him what to do now that he’s signed up.
But then Dale Runquine from next door shows up and starts yelling about, “Turn on the TV! Turn on the TV.” Dale’s dad is always at work, or the bar, and his mom is always a sheet or two to the wind, so he comes over to avoid the darkness of their house.
“Fletch,” says my dad, “Turn it on,” so I do, and Dad sits on the couch, pulling up his favorite pillow to hold on his belly, under his arm, then little Sue comes in, like she heard a dog whistle calling her out, and dives onto him, pulling the pillow away; he struggles for a moment and then gives up, and swaps the pillow for Susie.
Em and Mom sit down, and Josh stands in the back away from the couch about 5 feet. I’m near the TV flipping through the remote – it’s got terrible reception so you’ve gotta stand close. Then, “Stop!”
And “Stop!” yells Susie, echoing Dad. I stop, I want to tell Susie to stop being such a shitty brat all day, but then the image hits me. There on the TV there’s this big bridge, and you see all kind of cars and whatnot, trucks, and some people, I think, and they’re all being trashed by the rain. It’s like a big, giant gray rain beating the thing, and the camera’s shaking, or like, vibrating, because you can tell, the wind is whipping it from the side, and rain is streaking across the glass, or lens. And then the bridge tilts, like it’s blow up, and it’s got all these cables, and you can’t see what’s happening. But some of the cables are whipping in the wind.
And then you can tell that they’re snapping up, like Ping Ping Pang Ping! And you can even hear it – this sound this high pitched sound, like a Snap, but … like metal PING PANG! And there the go, cable after cable, and then the bridge is tilting down, and it’s just in the direction of the wind that it broke – what dumb luck. And the wind is pushing down on the top of the bridge, and the whole center starts to sag. And then it happens.
You can see – but how big is the bridge? Like… maybe.. 100 cars long? I don’t know. I’ve been over it maybe 20 times. Maybe 30? 40? In 15 years, so. It’s in the city and that’s two hours away, it stretches the whole river – and the river’s not, not like…New York or, I dunno. Like the world’s biggest, but it’s big enough; you can’t walk across it, it’s too deep, and it’s not safe to swim, what with the cargo boats and stuff.
So, maybe… 150 cars? But not on the bridge – 150 cars long, end to end? 130? But there are maybe… 40 cars? 50 cars on the bridge – it all happens so fast.
The center starts to sag, it’s sagging, and the first people – its not like they jump – they’re dumped off into the river, in that wind, that gray fierce cruel wind, just whipping rain at them, and they fall. And one of them, you can tell, gets hit by something, a thrashing cable; and it looks like… it’s. He’s like.. falling, and then this cable whips him, and he changes shape, and he just isn’t awake anymore.
– – –
Some of the others fall and they’re putting out their arms and legs, and trying to catch something, but there’s only air and rain. One of them actually dives – he pulls his head together and like… like an Olympic diver or something. He puts his hands in a prayer, and then juts them up over his head, and then he points down and they’re an ice-breaker or a hatchet and he dives right down and disappears into the water.
But it’s cold. Damned cold around Thanksgiving. So, they got maybe…10 minutes, maybe 5 before they’re gonna pass out. But maybe with all the rain it’s not gonna be so cold. I only know it’s cold because I fell in the local crick in November, but when I was 9. I almost died but Dad and Josh dove in and pulled me out. Dad had to pull Josh out too, mostly. Josh was only 12. Dad was so happy he cried. He told me not to go sledding on that hill again, and not to tell mom. But everybody was there with cameras, so it was on the news and in the paper, and mom forgave Dad and me and cried and made me promise never to go near the crick again, ever.
But Josh says he liked it – the add…adrenal. adrenaline. He said it pumped him up and he was gonna be a Navy Seal. Instead he’s a Navy grunt, cleaning the deck on a destroyer, but, he says, they’re gonna promote him because he’s good with the men. Or, that’s what he says, “good with conveying a sense of order and discipline without being overbearing.”
Dad heard him say this and laughed: “Company man,” he said. “My son the military company man. Keeping the chatter light and the troops from thinking too much.” Josh winced a little, “Dad,” he said. “Hey, I’m only joshing ya.” said Dad. That was their joke. “Joshing ya,” it meant “Kidding, and you know I love you, even though you are a turd.”
There’s a whole history to that, some long story when Josh was a kid, but it doesn’t matter, because the bridge was hanging, all 150 car-lengths of it, on one side by cables, the flat part where the cars were was swaying and tilting about… maybe…30 degrees? Maybe less? But then it’d be more in the wind.
Josh watched the TV. “The deck’s gonna drop,” he said. Nothing to do for it. It’s gonna go in 10 minutes.”
Mom looked at him and held his gaze. It was like she couldn’t figure out if she should be angry at him for saying such a thing, or, if by saying it, he’d make it happen – or, if she argued with him, she could stop it.
She looked at the TV. “Dale, Julie’s in the city today.”
Dad looked at her, then at the TV, saying “Oh, Nance… he patted her hand and on the third pat, she gripped it in return and held on tight. “Nance,” she turned her head, her face was about as tight as I’d seen it since I fell in the crick. “She’s not on the bridge now, Julia’s not…” he paused.
Julia is pretty dumb, in fact, which was the opposite of what he was gonna say. She goes out with the dumbest, most violent guys you’ve ever met. Dad jokes that every time she goes on a date, he hits the button that he’s programmed with a 9 and a 1, and waits to get the text that it’s all gone to hell before dialing the other 1. Dad and Mom have picked Julia up from some strange places, at all hours of the day and night. Kansas City bus-stop. That’s maybe 200 miles away. Why was she there? I don’t know. Mom said, “Julia thinks she’s fancy, and some bad boy is gonna come pick her up and take her to that somewhere special. But the only place she’s goin’ is nowhere.” “Or back to beauty college,” says Dad, “to finish.”
Julia’s not dumb, he was gonna say, and she’s not entirely stupid, of course. She can drive and she’s real cautious around strangers when she’s babysitting us. She’s got those hawk eyes at those times, she says, “for the pedophile Cathlicks and their derelict priests.” She likes saying that, “Derelict priests and their whore nuns.” She says it and shakes her head. The first time Em ever heard her say it, she just whispered, “woooowww.”
Julia’s not entirely stupid, I’m thinking, and dad says, out loud, “Julia’s not entirely dumb.” I look at him hard for a moment with my eyes open wide and my eyebrows up. “What’s up Fidel?” he asks, smiling a quick smile and then remembering there’s an emergency.
My dad is pretty cool. He can pretty much read my thoughts. he knows what I’m thinking before I say it. He says it’s because he was just like me, and his brother, Uncle Thom, is just like Josh. Uncle Thom likes the bars, “and the women in them,” Mom likes to say with some particular disapproval.
But Dad was the thinker in his family, and he says I am. I like that, when he does. He calls me Fidel sometimes as a joke, because it means “true” and “trustworthy,” but also because he took me to see this movie that he’d thought I’d like, about this guy in South America who rides a motorcycle with his friend all over the whole continent, up to the mountains, and then works with these lepers. He said, “Do you think you could do that? For the good of all humanity, help the beat-down poorest of the poor?” He smiles. He never wants an answer, he just likes to ask questions sometimes, out loud, where you can really hear them.
“Oh NO!” Em screams, just screams. “OH NO!” I see everyone on the couch, all saying, like a rising wave in the ocean, “noooOOOO! NooooOOOO!” Mom is crying. I’m frozen on them. No one’s looking at me. I make myself flash back to the TV. It’s in the water. Cars are piling off the ends near shore, falling backward down the – the whole deck is in the water, in three, five, eight large…
No one says anything. Josh isn’t talking, but we’re waiting for him to. Waiting. He feels our silence, he says, “It’s a suspension bridge; there was nowhere for it to go. I don’t know why the stays broke in the middle. Must have been mechanical failure. We had –”
“Well of course it was mechanical failure!” yells Sue. I don’t know how she knows how to say things like that. She’s only eight, but she can say anything she wants when she’s mad. She’s got a better vocabulary than the rest of us. “STUPID!” She finishes.
No one says anything. Dad shakes his head. “Susie-bell, baby, we’re all upset, but we don’t talk that way.”
And before you can even hear the last word swimming down your ear, she’s already there with “Sorry dadddyyy.” What a little kiss ass, I think, and I look at Josh, and he’s thinking the same thing.
“Turn it up,” says Dad. And I realize I haven’t heard a thing the reporters were saying. But they’re saying it was infrastructure problems, and that there was a bill in the state to… to do something. Fix it, I guess. But, “budgetary” and something about oil prices. Gas…steel prices.
Something about oil prices and fixing things, that’s what they were talking about. But the wind was still fierce, and the TV showed one white and red boat on the river with lights on. “That’s National Guard,” Josh says. “No…Coast Guard…I can’t tell.”
“I hope they get more boats out there fast, says Dad. “Or a lot of people are gonna be crying tonight.”
– – –
This is Story 15 in 15×15. A story written and edited in one to two hours with no major revisions.