Part One

She came to the bridge again today. Maybe this time she will cross it, but probably not. After all, she’s been coming to this bridge every day for months now. Why should today be any different? Maybe she will step on the bridge this time. She’s done that before. Maybe she will walk on it a bit, just to that clump of moss, where the shadow from the birch bough falls.

Deep down, she knows she’ll probably never cross the bridge. Perhaps she doesn’t even want to. She must want to, otherwise why would she keep coming? Yes, she wants to cross the bridge, and someday she will. But crossing the bridge isn’t really the point. She keeps coming every day, and sometimes she steps on the bridge. That’s progress, isn’t it? That’s the main thing.

The bridge is long. Much longer than the sort of bridges people normally consider crossing. It’s old, which is why mosses grow on it, and made of wood. It cuts through the trees clinging to the edge of the ravine, spans the big creek. Further on it looks like a hill rises up to meet the bridge but she can’t quite see where the bridge ends. But as she’s already decided, actually crossing the bridge isn’t really the point, as long as she does it some day.

Certainly not today. But she will probably step on the bridge today. She should make sure her shoe laces are properly tied first. The shoes are new, at least new to her. She bought them at a thrift store, and it didn’t look like they’d seen much use. Her laces were tied already, but not with a double knot. So she retied the laces, making sure to end with a square knot, so the bow lay perpendicular to the length of her foot. Then her shoe laces would be much less likely to come untied if she walked on the bridge.

But probably not today. It is cloudy, and looks as though it might rain. There are damp patches on the bridge already. It might be slippery, especially with the moss.

She turns to leave but hesitates. This is why she wore the running shoes in the first place. In case of slippery patches or big splinters or bugs, possibly. Visiting the bridge is enough progress for anyone, but she’s here already, so she may as well walk on the bridge.

She takes three steps on the bridge without it creaking. By now she knows the creaky spots pretty well, at least up until this point. She takes another step, and it creaks. Another step, and it doesn’t creak.

She hasn’t decided what to make of the creaking, though she’s spent a lot of time thinking about it. Is it a complaint? A greeting, of sorts? A warning?

Sparkles of light reflected off the creek below peek up at her through gaps in the boards. She can’t see any more of what lies on the other side of the bridge. It’s still shrouded in shadow and branches. The bridge might curve a bit, actually. The point where she thought the end was might just be a curve where the bridge goes off in an other direction.

It is a very long bridge.

That’s enough for today. She turns around and hurries back to solid ground. On the walk home, she thinks about corners and curvy things. Maybe she will make cinnamon buns.

Part Two

For months, maybe even over a year now, she has come to the bridge everyday. It is a good routine, even though she has never accomplished what she came there for. It gets her out of the house. The walk is very pleasant, good for the mind and the body.

One way or another, today it will be over. Tomorrow she is moving to another city. So today she will either cross the bridge, or she won’t.

One might think the right course of action is to finally cross the bridge, since that is ostensibly why she’s come. That is the obvious answer. She stands at the end of the bridge, where the boundary between land and bridge blurs as dirt and moss creeps onto the wooden planks.

But not crossing the bridge has almost become a tradition in and of itself. She can’t deny that. Still, even though she hasn’t crossed the bridge, she has always intended to do so eventually. Will failing to ultimately cross the bridge render all those other days meaningless?

Surely not. And yet, she can’t deny it would necessarily rob them of some meaning, at least.

Slowly, almost unwillingly, she begins to walk across the bridge. Butterflies rise in her stomach as she passes the furthest point she’s ever reached, and keeps going into the veil of branches and leaves that hide the other side of the bridge from sight.

It is longer than she’d realized. There is a curve in the bridge, as she suspected. As she walks, she thinks she can feel the bridge start to wobble under her feet. A few yards further, and it starts creaking ominously.

Finally, she sees the other side of the bridge, where the wooden planks meet land again. Only they don’t. The bridge is broken, and stops short about three feet from the land.

Obviously, it will be necessary to turn back at this point. But she has come so far. Now that she is out here, she doesn’t want to turn back. Suppose she can jump the gap? She doesn’t have a great deal of experience in jumping over things. But surely that distance is doable.

The boards immediately in front of the gap are not very stable, and they creak and sag as she edges her way closer to the gap. But finally she gets close enough and flings herself onto solid earth. She stumbles but catches herself.

There, she has done it. She looks around. It is, in all honesty, not that much different from the forest on the other side of the bridge, albeit the undergrowth grows thick and exuberant here.

There is something of a path, though the forest has begun to retake it. Obviously since the bridge is broken, it must have been a long time since anyone had travelled this path. She finds a strange satisfaction in that. The path belongs to her. And anyone else with the guts to jump the gap, but there can’t be many others.

Actually, she is a bit worried about getting back. She knows she can make the jump now, but she will have to land on those creaky planks, instead of the solid hillside. That can wait, now that she is finally here, she has to fully take in the moment.

She walks down the overgrown path, noticing flowers and birdsong and the way the light falls through the leaves. A hummingbird flits through the woods. These are rare in her region. She’s only seen one once before, and to see one now feels like a reward for finally making the crossing.

As she walks, though, anxiety about getting back pools in her stomach. Soon, perhaps too soon, she feels she has to return to her side of the bridge just to be sure she can.

The bare planks stretching out towards her feel mocking rather than reassuring. She looks down into the gap uncertainly. The slope of the hillside and thick branches make it difficult to judge how bad a fall might be. It isn’t a tremendous distance, at least not until past the point where she is likely to fall. But it would almost certainly be more than the maximum jarring hop one might undertake voluntarily.

But jump she must, whether she is bound to fall or not. There might have been some controversy about whether crossing the bridge was strictly necessary, but getting back is certainly mandatory.

She gathers herself, takes a running start, and jumps. Her foot strikes a plank; it bent but seems to hold, but her other foot strikes an unstable plank that twists underfoot and she looses her balance. She falls, crashes through branches, hits the ground hard and rolls downhill into the creek.

Wet, muddy and stunned, she sits up. Her jeans are torn and her leg badly scraped, but on the whole, she is unharmed. She sits in the creek for a few moments while her mind catches up with her predicament. The cool water feels good on her bruises, but the water makes her clothes heavy and uncomfortable.

She stands up on shaky legs and begins to slog through the creek towards her side of the bridge. At this point, she has to concede that she’d never been meant to cross the bridge, though it was conceivable she might think differently later.