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Saturday, February 08, 2003

On the bridge

I'm not even sure who she is. I have a fleeting recollection of having met her once. Was it in high school? That can't be right since she's older than me. Maybe she was a former client of one of my bosses. Or, maybe I never met her at all. Maybe someone just mentioned her to me once. Or perhaps, a long time ago, someone told me more than I needed to know about her, but I never knew her by name. There's some connection which I can't quite put my finger on.

Her name is Patricia. They call her Patti. She's missing. For some unknown reason I was drafted to be part of the search party. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the more people looking, the better the chances of finding her. It's hard to explain. Especially since I seem to be the only person in the search party.

It's a cold clear Saturday morning in February. The day is quiet. I'm crossing the bridge. My feet are freezing. My knees are aching. I'm nearly out of breath from miles of speed walking. Fortunately, I've passed the center of the bridge and the grade is slightly downhill. At least now I can catch my breath. That makes the going a little easier.

I take off my right glove and run my hand along the smooth weatherworn cold surface of the concrete railing.

As I glance to my right over the side of the bridge, I'm struck by the fact that the edge of the lake meets a sandy beach. This is a bit strange since the public beach is at the opposite end of the bridge. You see, sand is not naturally occurring around these parts. On the contrary, we're well known for our black dirt. Around here, if we want sand, we have to pay to have it trucked in. I wonder if the sand has always been there, and I simply never noticed it. The question hits me, why would the city shell out precious taxpayer money on something so frivolous as sand? Don't they realize we're in an economic crisis? I make a mental note to write a letter to the mayor.

Just beyond the unexpected wasteful, but beautiful, sandy beach is a line of trees. Woods. It's thick and dark in there. Lots of thorny brush and jack pines and, undoubtedly, cockle burrs. There's an animal slowly making its way into the woods. It's a lion. A lion? This seems extraordinarily strange. How can there be a lion roaming wild around here? Maybe it's really a deer. No, it's definitely a lion. And it's male. I know this because I've seen the lions at the zoo. He seems unreasonably skinny. I bet he's hungry. Following about 30 feet behind him is a cub lion. I wonder, if by the time I get down there, if I'll have the courage to go in the thorny woods where lions absurdly roam free. I wonder where the female is. I further wonder if there is a female.

As I'm nearing the end of the bridge, I hear the sound of pounding footsteps behind me. I look back to see a girl I went from kindergarten through 12th grade with. We were the best of friends back in grade school. The teachers always got us confused because we looked like twins way back then. She's running towards me, a piece of paper in her hand. The tails of her camel hair coat are flapping around her knees. She must be part of the search party too. I stop and wait for her to catch up with me. She's out of breath.

I consider pointing out to her the strangeness that is the sandy beach and lions, but stop myself as I realize this isn't the time or place. Without a word she hands me the paper. It's an 8-1/2 by 11 piece of white copy paper. Printed on it is a color photograph of a woman. I look at it and ask if this is Patti? Still trying to catch her breath, bent over with her hands on her knees, she nods affirmatively.

Finally, I get to see what the person actually looks like that I'm searching for. Obviously, someone has downloaded her picture from the Internet. It's slightly grainy. Patti is smiling brightly. A smiley face girl. My mind begins to wander back in time.

Startling me back to the present, my old school friend, having caught her breath, says, "I never realized how steep this bridge is. I'm taking the shortcut back." With that she jumped over the side of the bridge. Oh my God! My mind started racing. My heart leapt into my throat with fear that she had just jumped 30 feet to her death right in front of me. In what seemed like slow motion, I closed my eyes and leaned over the railing. Slowly I opened my eyes and focused downward. She was there. She was laying on her back in the shallow water her feet on dry sand, eyes open. Her camel hair coat was brown with wetness. I yelled down, Jan, are you okay? She gasped, "yes" as she pushed off with her feet, and began to backstroke back across the lake in her wet camel hair coat.

Then I woke up.

Edit after the fact: I was never asleep.

Posted by Marie at February 8, 2003 8:10 PM