Only the rabbits noticed when the bridge appeared one day, like an afterthought to sunrise. It laid itself across a nothing-much stretch of dried grass and brambles, rabbit dens, and snakes. Even then, the bridge looked like it wanted to mean something, a spindly groove against the sky, lengthened by shadows, and hardly worth the weight of shoes.
Even so, when the mayor finally drove out two days later, a speech in his pocket and the town on his lips, there were already a few pairs of Oxfords lined up neatly at the edge.
By the time the mayor’s granddaughter turned seventeen, the pile of shoes was as high as her waist, a sprawling mishmash that no one but the weather dared to sweep away. Weeds took root in the soles of boots and brogues alike. Green shoots sprouted through the openings of peep-toes and sling-backs. Modern running shoes were closer to the top, along with brown leather loafers and high strappy heels.
But most of the shoes were old and cracked and dusty. Hardly anyone tried to cross anymore. No one had any use for a bridge that came apart halfway past the middle, dissolving into a misty version of itself, pixellated atoms spread across a screen of sky. Some made it farther than others, but everyone walked barefoot back to town, not bothering to reclaim cast-off canvass and leather, reminders of incompletion.
By the time the girl was seventeen, no one had tried in years.
She brought an apple and a pen, because they seemed necessary and right. Her red flip-flops rocked a little, back and forth, on the top of the pile. Beneath her feet, the gray boards felt smooth and warmer than they should have.
She wasn’t unhappy, by current definitions, but she wasn’t sure what happy was and she was tired of floating in middles.
Two deep breaths. A rabbit darted from the shadows and disappeared beneath the arching grasses. Below her, the girl could see a faded hightop. Purple. She had never seen a purple shoe. The moon still hung in the sea-blue sky and she smelled lemongrass and cocoa along a twist of breeze.
Her shadow seemed a year away, down below, along the tangled brambles. Twenty yards to her left, the bridge shifted into mist, like steam from a pot.
She took a step forward. Another. It seemed her shadow stayed behind, unmoving, where she left it. The wood beneath her feet was half-way gone, and then it was gone entirely and she had leapt without realizing it, and there was nothing to hold her up. She kept walking, rabbits in a wild scurry beneath her, pursued by the flick of a fox’s wild tail, the bridge a fading memory and everything after just waiting, waiting to begin wherever she stopped.
Far behind her, two red flip-flops slid from the mountain of shoes and disappeared into sunset. Only the rabbits noticed.
~ Photo by Brenda Gottsabend; Story by Lisa Ahn.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here.