10/31/06 10:45 pm
It was cold along the river. The wind clawed its way down Beth's back. From the side of the bridge, the catwalk hung out over the water. Scratches on her knees and palms burned as she carefully crawled along. With each gained inch, she sobbed. The walk seemed to grow narrower and the knots in her stomach twisted tighter.
When she reached the center, she clutched the railing and pushed her back against the girder, only then could she breath. She did not look down.
From her perch she could see where the dark waters flowed over the banks and lapped at the walls of the raised fishing shacks. Lights glowed in those the water had not yet reached. If she looked directly ahead, she could see the rippling path of the harvest moon on the water. It beckoned.
Beth traced the moonpath until she looked directly at the glowing orb, suspended in the center of its halo. The sad face still watched her. For the last century she had watched him rise over the water and wondered what made him so sad. She shivered and pulled the thin jacket close around her shoulders. She lifted the thick chain at her neck, looked at the round, gold watch and laughed. It wasn't a century at all, just an hour since she'd come to this place. It was 11:30, almost the witching hour. The heavy gold chain caught the moonlight and threw it back defiantly.
Beth wondered at his sadness and almost felt sorry for him. What could he possibly know of sadness? He was cold and empty and barren. Always, he beheld the world with sadness. If the world became too much for him, he turned his face from it.
Perhaps it wasn't sadness. She studied the expression closely. Perhaps it was frowning disapproval. Endless attempts to pull away from the earth, only to be pulled back must be a great frustration. Yes, yes, she thought, that's it, frowning disapproval. Disgust made him turn away, longing to be free.
As she looked at the moon, Beth felt her anger grow. Who is he to sit in judgment on me, she thought. He, a pale reflection of strength, had nothing of his own to give.
"What do you know of anything?" she flung at him.
He did not answer, just continued to frown. How did the he continue to shine like that? How keep that same face, revealing nothing.
How did he combat the frustration, the wretched helplessness that engulfed the mind and still smile? She had been unable to shut it out for weeks now. There had not been enough work, enough to read, watch or eat to drive it away. Until now... until now there had been no way out of the flood of ceaseless thought, of looking for a way out.
"Now I can forget," she whispered. The slow, agonizing crawl had made her forget. Only a fear greater than any other had conquered the relentless gnawing in her mind. But only for awhile. She knew if she went back it would be waiting for her. Already she sensed it beginning to push against the doors she had barred in her mind.
Beth studied the path that started just beneath where she sat. It was so lovely and silvery. Stretching away to where the moon hung, watching her. Waiting. She imagined that if she stepped down she would find that path was truly made of silver. It would be cool and smooth. Walking would only be a matter of gliding along, no effort.
Life, she thought, has become too difficult. I just want to stop thinking about it. I want to leave it all behind. I don't want to get up tomorrow and find the problems standing by my bed. Debts must be paid, children must be clothed, fed and housed and there was not enough time. I want time to laugh, to rest, to be at peace. I'm so tired.
She leaned her head back against the cold steel and closed her eyes. Tears rolled, long and slow, down her cold cheeks. "I am so old and I have no time."
Her voice broke. Beth clenched her fist and pushed hard against the walk, trying to ease the ache pushing at her chest, at her mind. She opened her eyes and looked at the frowning face before her.
"I miss reading stories to the children, baking cookies, sewing, making my house a home. I miss reading a good book before bed. I miss the late night laughter with my husband. It's work from morning until night with no leisure."
"I don't mind work," she said to the frowning face. "I just want to be something more than a machine. I want to count for something more than how much money I make. I want to think of more than how I'll pay the next bill. I want to matter to someone. I want to laugh. I want to enjoy living again. But I can't do everything. I don't have enough time."
She pounded the walk, anger pouring out, setting ripples in the path. There had never been choices, never a right time. There always seemed to be only one path.
She raged up at that face, "Why couldn't I have had a choice? Why wasn't I asked what I wanted from life? But no, events were simply dished out, regardless of how much pain they caused or how close I came to the edge."
"I can get very close to the edge now," she said softly to the glowing white face. "I have learned to dance on the edge. Once I couldn't have got this far. Just look at me now."
She put her feet under her. Grasping the girders on either side of her, she carefully pushed herself to a standing position, her back pushed hard against the bridge footing behind her.
"See," she whispered breathless, triumphant. "See! Once I couldn't do this."
Long ago she had learned to wear a smiling mask and laugh at herself. No one had asked her if she was happy. They simply assumed she was. You must never let anyone see you cry. Never let anyone see the pain or fear.
"I have tried to tell them, you know, to explain." She stared out at the disgusted face. "I never seem to have enough time to do everything. I want to but I just can't. I want to be all the people they want me to be but when do I get to be who I want to be?"
"Don't glare at me like that." She clenched the steel beams at her sides. They were smooth and cold beneath her hands. The tears on her face felt like drops of ice and the knot in her chest became a stone.
"You have no right to judge me. You hang there night after night, scorning people you don't even know, all the while taking your light from another. You can't even pull yourself away from your own chains."
With one cold hand she again caught the chain around her neck and dangled the round watch in front of her. "Just as I am tied to this, you too are tied." She hesitated, a slow, sly smile stealing over her face. "But I can remove my chains. I can cast off all my chains."
She let go of the other beam and used both hands to lift the chain over her head. Holding it aloft, she laughed out loud. "See how easy it is for me."
Again she laughed at the face of the moon. It seemed pleased and returned her smile. The moonpath wavered and shimmered beneath her, as if anticipating. The moon sank lower.
"Wait! Please, don't go. I have to show you." She reached up, stretching the watch out toward the smiling face. "See, I'm free, I'm free."
She swung with all her might. The golden orb with its heavy chain was, for a moment, suspended before the smiling face of the moon. Then, with gathering speed it descended in a glittering arc to the moonpath below.
The smooth, sliver surface cracked, splintered and disappeared. The smiling moon slipped beneath the horizon as the night echoed with a final cry of liberation.
The little girl ran along the bank of the river and laughed in delight. The moist ground felt wonderful under her feet.
"Jennie, come back. You mustn't get too far ahead."
"Oh but mama, just feel how cool it is on your feet. It don't squish up 'tween my toes neither."
Mary laughed and slipped off her shoes. It did feel good. This land was flooded in the fall. They had feared the spring rain would do the same. It had not and Jim got the crop in the ground on time.
Jenny stopped and looked up at the blue sky. "Mama, look, Mr. Moon is showin' his round ole face in the daytime. Why?"
"Well, maybe he wanted to share this golden day, Jennie. Maybe he's lonesome."
"Well, with that frowny ole face, I reckon so." Jenny had no time for the moon. Something ahead beckoned to her. It caught the sunlight and threw it into her eyes. She darted off.
Jennie giggled and ran ahead. She squatted on the ground and the small fingers scratched at the black silt. It resisted the efforts to release the prize. Jennie was persistent. She dug her nails into the new earth and curled them around the dazzle. She pulled.
"What have you got, Jennie?" said Mary.
Jennie held up her find. "Gold," she said.
Mary took the object gently in her hand. "Why, it's a watch on a gold chain. Oh my, Jennie, this looks expensive."
"What time is it, mama?"
"Oh, it doesn't work, dear. After being in the river, it wouldn't. Nothing but a fish could survive the river. It stopped at twelve o'clock." She studied it carefully.
"Perhaps we can get it repaired for you."