The Girl On The Bridge
The traffic moves slowly and the setting sun shines through the driver-side window as I drive on the Golden Gate Bridge toward Marin on a brilliantly beautiful early evening in June. To my right, the city receives the low angle of the sun, moving the twinkling reflection from varying window panes in a choreography of sparkles.
I briefly glance over my shoulder out the passenger window to view the skyline, something I can’t resist. This is my home, I say to myself. I get to live where many only visit.
Oddly, my gaze rests on a face. A young woman is on the outside of the walkway barrier, holding onto the rail, looking toward the traffic as it inches north. She is not where pedestrians should be, she is in danger.
I stare into her dark eyes, flecked with fear and pain. Only a few feet away from me across the walkway we lock gazes for three, maybe four seconds. I am safe in my car; she is on the verge of something drastic, something final.
I lose her focus when her face disappears beneath the rail, and I glimpse the glint of sun reflected off her polished nails when she lets go.
Christmas morning at our house was a joyful and loving celebration, but it was also choreographed in the same manner each year. My four brothers, my one sister and I would get up early, eager to start the day, and open our presents. The night before we reluctantly went up to bed as dad and mom put the finishing touches on the tree just ahead of Santa’s arrival.
But, we could not go down the steps to see the living room filled with gifts, the tree decorated with lights and tinsel or the nativity figures on the mantel in it’s place of honor just yet.
Waiting for Mom and Dad to get dressed and ready before we descended the stairs was torturous, but this is how the yearly ritual began. Dad would be stationed at the bottom of the staircase with his video camera and light bar in place. As the camera buzzed and whirred, we assumed our roles, lining up, oldest to youngest, along the staircase to slowly walk down the steps, then turn left and look into the living room. One by one, our expressions of surprise and astonishment at the sight were captured, our movements and reactions exaggerated for dramatic effect, compensating for the lack of audio. All this was expertly recorded, just as dad had directed.
Once the event was recorded for posterity, we gazed at the display of glittering gifts, the lights twinkling, the glorious tree topped with a silver star, bows on top of unknown treasures yet to be uncovered, unwrapped and discovered. We surveyed the shapes, trying to imagine what might be encased in the festive wrapping paper, searching our memories for what we may have mentioned to Santa when we sat on his lap.
But first: breakfast.
For Sale: Planet Earth.
This planet is newly vacated and move-in ready.
The location could not be more sensational.
Just shy of 93 million miles from the warmth of the sun, and slightly over two hundred thousand miles from the moon, this stunner revolves around the sun once every 365 days, and the weather changes depending on your location. The proximity to this great source of heat and light ensures warm spots for those who prefer hotter weather as well as cooler climates for others.
Earth is mostly rock. Seventy-one percent of its surface is covered by a relatively thin layer of water (some of it frozen), and the entire planet is surrounded by a blanket of air. Land, (also known as earth) is mostly, but not always, composed of dry soil, sand or dirt, and takes up the much smaller 29% of the surface, yet it’s diversity is beyond measure. It consists of mountains, marshes, rocks, caves, glaciers, deserts, canyons, gorges, islands, reefs, rivers, jungles, forests, waterfalls, peninsulas, atolls, grass, trees, bushes, and all manner of flowers. It also contains over 100 million lakes, which are similar to oceans, but land-locked. These features delight the senses of taste, touch, feel and smell, and cannot be found on another planet within 500 million light years.
The diversity of climate, the abundance of flora and fauna, the beauty and the vistas, along with a conglomeration of native creatures make this planet too perfect to pass up.
The opportunity to obtain sustenance from this globe is astounding. The soil can be cultivated to produce a wide range of trees, bushes and vines bearing fruits, and vegetables. Hops, barley and grapes, also grown on the land can be converted to wine and spirits for unending enjoyment.
Some of the aforementioned creatures living on the land are sources of food and sustenance as well. Their variety is a medley of delight to the eyes and in some cases the taste buds too. Without frightening away a potential owner, I must mention that some of these creature wish outsiders of any stripe much bodily harm. (A complete list is available on request along with photos and provenance.)
This sale comes completely furnished. Varied and sundry single-family homes, shacks, silos, barns, out buildings, cottages, cabins, condos, campuses, apartment homes, town homes and resorts, along with McMansions (don’t ask) and office buildings, some reaching a mile into the sky are situated on streets, roads, thoroughfares, drives, avenues, byways, freeways, pathways and lanes. Each features a most diverse variety of luxuries and appointments which will appeal to many individual tastes. Larger structures include churches, schools, universities and the Apple Computer campus. Government-owned property lots are abundant and situated mostly upon large and majestic spaces, from which legislation once spewed forth.
The roads can be traversed employing cars, buses and trucks, which are also included. Farms, boroughs, communities, districts, neighborhoods, precincts, hamlets, burgs, boondocks, cities, villages, towns, provinces, commonwealths and unincorporated areas provide a pleasant variety of locations—planet-wide. Libraries, stores, warehouses and malls—all fully stocked to the rafters are ready for their new owners.
There are vessels which can be used to float on the surface of the ocean or river, as well as airplanes which provide transport from one side of this large planet, (close to 8K miles in diameter) to the other within hours.
Serious inquiries only.
When Tim Came Back
(An excerpt from the novel)
It being Saturday, I hope to sleep just a bit more than usual. I soften my thinking and remain only semi-aware of the light shining through the curtains in my bedroom. I want to slip back into my dream, float through the large yellow and orange door with blinking chase lights into the garden, where Mark Twain is showing me around his newly sprouting row of dictionaries, growing new pages each day. My mother, just a few feet away, tends to her rhubarb plants with a spoon. I am in heaven with Mom and Mark.
Sensing something under the sheets next to me, I realize my cat has gotten quite bold, creeping under the covers: the forbidden zone for those with fur. Hmmm, I don’t hear her purring. I reach over to touch her. Or, more likely, to touch Randy.
Wait, I don’t remember him staying last night.
I open my eyes and I see the back of a man’s head, light brown hair, slightly balding. But Randy’s is gray and white…
Tilting my head up for a better view, I see someone whom I used to know, who used to sleep in this bed, who is dead.
Tim? Quickly, I sit up. I stare, acutely aware that my heart is beating very fast. My mouth goes dry; perspiration forms on my forehead, my upper lip. I speak to the bald spot. “What are you doing here?” My voice is louder than I intend.
There is no immediate movement. Tentatively, I put my hand on the back of someone who could not possibly be alive, and I feel warmth and bone and muscle and life. I pull it away and stare as though it might not be my hand, and I think maybe this is not my bed and none of this is real.
My eyes follow my hand to my arm which is connected to my body. I look at the bed, the sheets, the clock, the cat. Yep, it’s real.
I jump up, run around to the other side of the bed and stare into the face of the man who was my husband and who died eleven years ago.
Tim has come back. What the…? I squat down on the floor, my face level with his. His eyes open and so does my mouth.
My palms go to my cheeks in amazement. I feel heat rising from my solar plexus into my face. The sound of my heartbeat booms in my ears. I swallow once, then again, nervously. I wonder if it’s just a hot flash or if I’m still asleep. No and no.
I push his shoulder, roughly. “Hey!” His face is sideways on the pillow. Absent for so long, his familiar and handsome features animate.
“What’s wrong with you? I’d like to sleep in, do you mind?”
“What are you doing here?” is all I can think to say.
“Why are you yelling?”
“You’re mistaken, obviously”, he states softly, as his eyes again close.
“Tess, what’s the matter with you this morning? Keep your voice down. The neighbors will hear you.”
“Get out of bed and stand up!” I pull at his arm to help him up. His body feels real, soft, his skin warm. His face is sleepy and pink and bemused. He smells like freshly laundered sheets and lavender. Indulging me, he smiles, sits up, then stands.
I slowly sink down onto the bed and look up at him. “You’re dead. You died years ago. Don’t you remember?”
“Remember dying? Not really. What are you talking about?”
I read something once about ghosts and mirrors and pull him into the bathroom for further verification.
We stand looking into the glass at a middle-aged couple with rumpled T-shirts and bed-heads.
“Tessy, did you put on some weight?”
I stomp into the living room, leaving him by the mirror.
“No!” I say aloud to no one, because no one is here but me, in my house, just me. Me and my kitty. That’s all. Wait, what just happened? This is not real. Something is really wrong, and I, I must, I must…what?
Tim walks from the hall toward me. I stand near the dry bar. “Why did you run away? I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong? I don’t think you’re fat or anything, I mean, I love the way you look. That is, you always look good to me.” He smiles and advances to embrace me.
I back away as his eyes refocus to a point behind me, and his expression changes to one of surprise.
“Hey. Why is everything moved and changed around?” He steps past me and walks to the kitchen. “Where is the coffee maker and all my pots and…hey…” He glances into the living room, then strides into the dining area. I stare and watch him walk and talk. “Where is my chair, and where is that oil painting I did for your birthday? Why is this wall painted orange? Who rearranged everything?” He scans the room for more differences and misplaced items. His eyes rest on a silver photo frame on the low table behind the couch. “Who is this man next to you?” He picks it up and turns to me.
“What? Are you crazy? You’ve been dead for years. What’s going on?” I try to find a clue that might explain this impossibility.
“Are you cheating on me?”
“How can you come back to life?”
“Answer me, Tess.”
“Please, Tim, please, just listen. You can’t be alive. You, you are not…”
Where do I begin? I am dumbstruck. I walk toward him and look him in the eye, astonished at this presence, his physical body.
“What year is it?” I ask him.
“It’s 2001, of course.”
“No. It’s not. It is 2012.”
“What? What makes you so sure?”
“I’m the one who’s been alive the whole time, that’s what! Look at the calendar. Look, here’s yesterday’s paper.” I pick up the Chronicle from the coffee table.
He stares at it, then slowly sits on the edge of the ottoman and says, “2012? Wait a minute. How did that happen?”
He peruses the headlines. “Clinton is the president? Again?”
“What are you talking about?” I glance at the headline. Clinton Warns N. Korea on Nukes.
“No, no. That’s Hillary Clinton, not Bill.”
“Hillary Clinton is the president of the United States?”
“No, she is Secretary of State. It’s a long story. We can’t go there right now. The world has changed. But we need to talk about this world right here, first.” Our world.
Valentine’s Day 1980
In February of 1980, I was living in a fourplex on L Street in Sacramento with my sister.
I worked as an art director at a one-man design firm on J Street. Bill, the owner was getting busier with his clients and hired me to produce and design some ads.
I had no experience in the design end of the business, but having pasted-up more mechanicals than I could count, I was in bed with what it looked like. And Bill hoped to be in bed with what I looked like.
Bill was married. I wasn’t interested, nor did I play that way.
It was a fun job and we worked well together. Often we went to lunch at Shanley’s, an old Irish bar/restaurant close to the office. Martinis were always on the tab.
As we began to regularly produce printed collateral, we hired a printer and became friendly with him. On Valentine’s Day, Steve came to the office to deliver our latest hot-off-the-press brochures and take us out for an early dinner at a nice place near the Capitol building.
We were shown a round booth with red and white tablecloths and I slipped in: Bill to my left and Steve to my right.
Drinks were ordered, small talk ensued.
When I felt Bill place his right hand on my left knee, I flinched. I didn’t know what to do. Slapping it off would have embarrassed him in front of his vendor, and besides, I really didn’t want to lose my job.
(What a different world it was before sexual harassment laws.)
Lost in thought about under-the-table activity, I tried to keep up with the light chatter happening above the table. Then, I felt Steve’s left hand rest lightly on my right knee.
Exquisitely amused, a sly smile grew on my face. I was empowered knowing neither man knew what the other was thinking. Nor did they know what I knew.
Sell the Light Bulb to Cave-People.
Have you woken up in the middle of the night to darkness in your cave? The fire has gone out and you need to find the spot which will be named the bathroom in ten million years or so.
You stub your toe on the rock your kid carelessly left in the path to this area as you find your way across the room. Drat! Something should be done!
After a full day of hunting, you drag yourself home, tired and worn out, but you still must field dress the venison from the day’s bounty. The sun is about to go down, and it’s is fading quickly. The campfire offers light, but it’s 90 degrees outside, and being near this heat source is not the best place to begin a difficult task which might take hours.
I want you to experience something that will rock your world. It’s called the lightbulb.
Light. That is what you’ve needed in these instances.
Bulb. A contained source of light.
And it will cost you pennies.
Well, I mean rocks, or whatever your currency is.
Now, all you need is a socket. And a contract with PG&E.
(9) In the foothills of Mount Tamalpais is Mill Valley
(4) The weather is mild
(9) The vistas are breathtaking, same as the real estate
(4) For me, it’s paradise
A Short Bio of My Mom
Mom was born in Philadelphia on January 5, 1920. She was the third child in a second generation German-immigrant family of eight with fervent faith in Catholicism. A smart student with good grades, she was devout even as a young teenager. She met dad shortly after he returned from 12 years as a novice seminarian who had chosen to not take his final vows. Mom was friends with Dad’s sister, Mary. All three were in the choir, and Mary made the introduction. Their courtship was short, and they chose to marry on September 8, the birthday of the mother of Christ, at which time soldiers were returning from WWII in droves. One of dad’s six sisters, and two of Mom’s brothers were married within the same month.
They honeymooned in the Poconos and moved in with her mom. They were both 25. In January, dad’s job took them to Tunis, Tunisia. Mom had never traveled much out of Philadelphia, she only trusted her new husband implicitly.
Dad’s position in the State Department meant they had a pretty nice house with a maid, and when my oldest brother was born in November 1946, a nurse.
Mom deeply loved Dad, and through all the ins and outs of life, through marriage and 6 children, past unemployment and mortgages, struggling and disappointment, their love never faded, with no hint of doubt or questioning. Intertwined with their faith, their love for each other lasted until she passed at 85 after 60 years of marriage.
Winning A Contest
When I was 14 I weighed 90 pounds and everyone told me I was as skinny as Twiggy.
I knew who she was, but I made no connection between me and her.
One day in 1966 there was an ad in the Philadelphia Daily News, the headline read: “Do You Look Like This Girl?”. Next to it was a dramatic portrait of Twiggy, lit from above casting deep shadows on her face. I never considered my facial features when this contest was presented to me. After all, she was a world famous model and I was just, well, me. Awkward, lacking in confidence, insignificant me.
I entered the contest with the help of Mom and Dad. I guess they saw the possibility of success, even though, all their children were equally loved. None of my siblings were different/special/better.
I made it to the top 10 and I remember a number of photo shoots were soon scheduled. One was at the Upper Darby Police station on West Chester Pike, and another at a local golf course.
For the final contest, a booth was built out over the sidewalk outside the Arnold Constable store which was situated in the middle of the block on 69th Street in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, which was closed to traffic for the event. It was a warm summer day, in the morning.
Gimbels and Lit Brothers were the other two sponsors of the contest. I remember being in a dressing room with the others. One girl, Dawn was a model for Gimbels. They provided her with her wardrobe and her makeup was professionally applied by cosmeticians. I was convinced she had an in and would surely win. None of the other girls resembled Twiggy, as far as I could see. They were simply skinny and had short blond hair.
The ten of us were all displayed on the stage and there was quite a crowd and a band playing too. I don’t know who the judges were, but I remember there was one woman.
I wore a horrendous green striped dress made of polyester. I am sure I chose it. My terrible taste in clothes had surfaced early.
I was crying with upset and shock when my name was announced as the winner. My makeup ran. I posed for pictures. The band played a song and dedicated it to me. They sang, “G-L-O-R-I-A”.
I never expected to win, and I had no experience from which I could draw strength. I floundered. I was adrift. Mom and Dad and my siblings were somewhere in the crowd, but I was up on stage. I had no one to cling to, to be reassured by. I was on my own.
Mom and dad could not ground me, because they hardly knew what to do. To “take advantage” of this win would be wrong.
It was an event which came and went, and was barely mentioned again. Of course, the subject was not avoided, just not a point of pride or accomplishment.
I won a $200 wardrobe as the first prize. I could never imagine spending so much on clothes. It came out to $66.66 to be spent at each of the 3 sponsoring stores. Mom insisted that I buy an outfit for my sister, because, well, she was my sister, and just because she doesn’t look like Twiggy shouldn’t mean she can’t share in the win. With the enormous windfall of this great amount of money to spend on clothes, I was certain I would not miss out on much. I also bought mom a blue dress with a matching jacket.
I joined the Philadelphia Models Guild. I did not get any work from them. It would have been a full time job for Mom if I went into modeling. She was not interested nor was she cut out for this type of work.
I went back to school in the fall. I was a freshman in high school by then. All my classmates called me Twiggy, which I did not like.
I was Eileen.
My 13-year-old brother Larry built a tree fort in a tall walnut tree on the side lawn of our home. The wooden-framed structure consisted of one enclosed room and was sturdily situated between three branches. The outside was covered with discarded black siding paper pieces from a nearby home construction site which added waterproofing. The structure featured two small windows and a door which lead to a shelf or a deck from which the preferred exit method was a tethered rope swing.
Seven or eight two-by-fours nailed to the tree were the only path up. Mom and dad allowed him to have overnights in the tree fort which loomed 10 feet over the height of our house. He and his buddies used candles for light and employed “punks” to ward off mosquitoes. Sometimes I would hear his transistor radio which played rock music late into the evening, long past bedtime for those sleeping in the house. They slept in sleeping bags, or maybe just used old blankets and pillows on the wooden floor in the small space, comfort not being a priority.
Girls were not allowed, but I do remember being invited to explore this boys-only play house more than once. I was especially thrilled to use the rope swing, though it was a great height from which to leap, dependent on the rope alone.
I was envious. I wanted a tree fort too. So I scrounged up an old plank of one-inch plywood, 2 feet by 2-1/2 feet, I gathered some nails and one of Dad’s hammers and I climbed a tree near Larry’s walnut. I nailed that plank of wood onto a semi flat crotch in fashion that was more defiant than logical or sound.
Darned if I was going to be excluded from having a tree fort.
Set the Birth of Christ in Modern Times
So this couple, walk into my lobby. I don’t think they’re married, but it looks to me like she is about to pop one. She is uncomfortably pregnant. Her guy is nice and treats her with warmth and affection. There is something going on there between them, a sweet loving vibe.
They are dressed neatly. He wears jeans and a faded Jesus Christ Superstar t-shirt. Her blue and white cotton sundress fits tightly over her big belly bump and her dark hair is pulled back into coiffed dreads. They both sport worn Birkenstocks, dusty from the road but his REI backpack looks kind of new. A faint air of patchouli wafts across my reception desk when they approach.
With no suitcases, they ask for a room for one night. Okay…
I get the drift that have been traveling for a few days, but I wonder why, when she is about to deliver? Go home, check into the hospital, and then continue your adventure, I say to myself.
Hey, none of my business.
My hotel is booked. Google, Facebook and Apple all have holiday parties this week. I suggest a hotel 6-type place down the way a few miles. They thank me kindly and leave quickly.
I am struck by them in someway. We chatted for all of six minutes. They are loving and lovely, soft spoken and desperate. I don’t think they could have afforded a room if I did have one available. There are always one or two reserved for rock stars, emergencies or the bosses’ next assignation, but I’d have hell to pay if I let them have one of these.
From behind my desk I watch them cross the lobby. The automatic door sweeps open when they approach. Dusk is diminishing what’s left of the setting sun. The two silhouetted figures walk to the edge of the paved parking lot, then step off into the dry hayfield. They don’t have a car. Really? They could be homeless, but, no, I think they are just out-of-towners, down on their luck.
The freeway is ahead, maybe they plan to hitch a ride. I am curious and interested and concerned. Their energy, their dynamic is well, compelling. How can they continue to wander around like this with a new baby? What is their backstory? Where are they from?
I consider calling the cops or social services. These two need help, and they can’t afford to pay.
They approach an abandoned outbuilding next to a row of straw stubble, far away from the main house on the other side of the farm. The lady is having trouble walking, she sits and he helps her lean against the grey wooden structure missing most of the roof and some of the clapboard siding. It’s not a place to sleep, or rest, or deliver a baby.
I place a “Be Right Back” sign on my desk, grab my keys and head to the parking lot. I pop open my trunk and find a flash light, a space blanket and a few dated earthquake supplies: nuts, a candle, dried fruit and a bottle of water. The sun is down now and it’s chilly.
As I approach, I hear their muted conversation, but I can’t make it out. My feet crunch the dry hay and they turn toward me. The woman is now lying on her back. She is distressed. Oh no. She’s going to have this kid right here. I offer the supplies and they accept gratefully. Can I call a hospital for you, I ask.
No, we will stay here for now.
Well, you can’t, it’s not safe, I mean sanitary, if she, if you, that is… How can I help you?
No, no worries. We are OK, and we appreciate your concern. Your gifts are most welcomed.
The light from the hotel reflects a shadowy glow on the scene.
Looking up behind the shed, I see a full moon in the clear darkening sky. And that star, it’s so big compared to the others. I never noticed one so bright before. Well, they have some light to see by.
Before I head back, I ask their names.
His is Joe. She has the same name as my mom, Mary.
Good luck, I say. And many blessings to you.
© 2016 Eileen Denny Alexander