In public, I was never certain if it was better to be seen or not. I could walk home from school on the north side of Allens Lane undisturbed. From that vantage point, I could peek over hedges into the yards of houses on the south side. Or I could choose the south side of the street, hugging the hedges, and risk the lottery of making eye contact with someone.
“Were there places you walked every day?” Blue wants to know.
“Sure. Up Lincoln Drive, jogging over to the railroad tracks, up the path alongside them, across the foot bridge, back up to Allens Lane to school.”
“How did you feel going that way?”
I pause. “I’m small. It’s a lot of ground to cover, and I’m small. The trees are tall, and I have to concentrate on getting there on time. There are honeysuckles growing on the west side of the tracks. I always look forward to how they smell, like Red Riding Hood going to Grandma’s house.”
“Take me there,” he commands.
“I’m leaving school, and right at that corner where the path slopes down to the bridge, a lot of kids turn to go another way. I have to cross the foot bridge. There’s a car bridge, too, but the sidewalk there is very narrow and the cars whiz by so fast…..The path down to the tracks is asphalt and I’m storing a mental map of all the cracks in it. I’m at the bottom of the steps to the foot bridge. I have to adjust my stride to go up the steps because they’re only four or five inches high and they’re old and each step sags down toward the center.” Like old glass pouring down a window pane.
“What do they look like?”
“They’re wood. Old, rotted wood. I can’t tell what color the paint used to be. There’s peeling paint everywhere. I’m at the top step, climbing parallel to the tracks. I’m on the landing and I turn left to the part that bridges. It…it slopes up, it arches up to the center over the tracks. The walls are moldy and there’s graffiti and bird shit everywhere.” My tongue slows, to make certain I am not lying to him. This is not how I remember it at all; I know the bridge was bright and yellow and smelled like pine sap and sweat in summer. But there it hung insistently in the air between Blue’s chest and me, solid and contoured in shadows.
“There’s no safe place to touch. Everything is moldy. There are just different colored patches of mold.”
Wedges of sunlight hit south to north, through jagged openings high up on the walls. The openings are too high for me to look through, but wide, wide enough for birds to fly through and drop their shit. Light only bounces off the high reaches of wall on the other side; it is dark where my feet are. I hear wings fluttering in the rafters, a squirrel scurrying. My legs grow heavy. One foot slips slightly on something wet and I grit my teeth to stay upright. The floor rises up and up toward an arch in the bridge’s center. I put another foot forward, upslope. Someone tall rushes by and the floorboards vibrate. I am not afraid of them but they do not stop. More grown ups rush in the other direction and the entire bridge oscillates. The floor slopes up; it lifts up and up in a slow flick like a banana peel and the opening on the other end recedes………I want someone to reach down and pick me up, to lift my feet off the rotted wood.
“I can’t do this!” I cry out in panic, “Oh God! This is where I live.”
“I know, Mai.” He let me cry until the hour ended.