I wake up and she’s there, her head tucked under my chin.
Sometimes, this is the best part of the day.
Yep. It was the best part of the day. I pulled the eleven to seven shift at the diner again, delivering decent food to ungrateful tippers and yelling at chefs for messing up my orders. The diner gets surprisingly crowded on a Tuesday, and after eight hours on my feet, the only thing I’m good for is loafing on the couch and watching old sitcoms.
As I drive home from work in my beat-up Camry, I contemplate life. Tuesdays are dismal. Tuesday night is Girls’ Night, and the house feels empty without my girlfriend, Bridgett.
We’ve been together for just about four years. I still can’t understand how someone like her can find my stringy self attractive. Anyway, on Tuesdays she goes out with her friends, Kayla and Laurie.
My phone starts vibrating in my pocket and I pull it out. I snap it open, heedless of any over-zealous cops. It’s probably Bob. Sometimes, he’ll come by to chill and commiserate.
“Hello?” I answer.
“Hey man! Hey! How y’doo-in?”
Shit. Not Bob. I instantly regret answering. This voice belongs to Lobo, my token annoying friend.
The condo’s foyer smells of medical tape, but as soon as I open our door, I’m embraced by the fruity odor of raspberries, Bridge’s trademark perfume.
“Uh-huh,” I say into my cell. “Sounds good, man. O.K., I’ll see ya.” I finally hang up. Lobo’s the only guy I know who can talk non-stop for fifteen minutes about nothing.
“Who was that?” Bridgett pokes her head out of the bathroom. I can’t help but smile when I see her. Suddenly, all the trivialities and aches from the day fade.
“Lobo. He wants me to check out that lab he has in the city. Something about experiments with dead cats,” I say, toeing off my shoes.
Bridge chuckles. “Ah, Lobo.”
Whenever I mention Lobo, Bridge responds with an amused ‘Ah, Lobo,’ and a shake of the head. Which is merited. The guy is a character.
Lobo is a self-fashioned mad scientist. A few years back, he got a job at a prestigious research facility in the city. This research is literally his life. Everyday it’s wake up, go to work, put in overtime, fall asleep in the office, wake up and realize you have to go home. He hardly has time to bother me, or watch his beloved Lord Of The Rings. Lobo views Tolkein’s works as the prime medium of mainstream understanding. He doesn’t know that discussing the pros and cons of elf versus orc isn’t exactly high ranking conversation on the social scale.
But that’s not what makes him a character. Lobo’s problem is he tries to be normal. He expresses a manic interest in sports, particularly hockey, and buys label clothing, but then draws excessive attention to it.
I’m cool with it though. In small doses, it’s amusing. Plus, I feel bad for the guy; I know he doesn’t get out often.
“You gonna go? Take a train to see the cats and the lab?” Bridge asks, disappearing back into the bathroom.
“Nah. I’m a busy guy. But I would love to another day,” I say, with the slightest hint of sarcastic mockery. I follow Bridge into the bathroom. I hug her from behind and nuzzle her neck.
“Aw…” Bridge puts down her mascara and turns around to give me a kiss. Instead, I’m greeted with an expression of mild disgust. “Ugh, your breath stinks,” she says.
“I had a salad with balsamic vinaigrette from work. Maybe that’s it.”
“You? A salad? Are you turning into me?
Bridge always had a bit of hippie spirit. Whole foods. All natural. She’s big into the ‘what will be, will be’ mentality, and is convinced things happen for a reason.
Me, I’m a Big Mac chomping, chaos theory advocate. Life is ruled by random chance. No mystical messages for me, no thanks.
Nevertheless, she shrugs, gives me a peck on my smelly lips, and runs her small hands through her hair.
“I look O.K.?” she asks.
“Yeah. You’re being mean to Kayla and Laurie though. Their frumpy asses can’t compete.”
“That’s not nice,” she says, but she’s laughing, and I can tell she’s pleased. She checks her cell.
“Shit, it’s seven, I have to go pick them up.”
“So what’s the plan?” I ask as she skips to the front door. Once again, I follow her.
“Nothing major. Dinner, Barnes and Noble.” She stops to slip on her shoes. Flats. Characteristically Bridge.
“Wow. Yeah. Girls’ Night.” I roll my eyes. She gets on tiptoes to give me a goodbye hug.
“Augh, you’re breathing on me,” she laughs again, breaks away, and opens the door.
“Get outta here,” I retort, and give her a shove to the shoulder. I can’t resist touching her. She arches an eyebrow and grins. Then she turns and closes the door behind her.
The police told me it happened on Union Valley Road. Bridge was driving. I can picture the three girls, chirping and chattering about the bullshit they chirp and chatter about: the ongoing feuds at work, the antics of Laurie’s little sister, or where they want to be in a year, two years, from now.
Devin Allister was also on Union Valley Road. I know Devin; I graduated with him. His father is the chief of police. They tell me he was wasted. I can picture how that went too. Devin and his cronies at a club, downing shots. Devin and his buds in the basement, guzzling beers. Or Devin, alone, getting drunk for the hell of it and then deciding a joyride was a good idea.
The ambulance took sixteen fucking minutes to get there. I know this because Laurie told me, or, rather, the sad, current version of Laurie wrote this down for me, because the girl can’t talk. She knows it was sixteen minutes, because it’s tough being pinned in the shell of a car while your best friends are dying, bleeding, whimpering in shattered pain, and all you can do is sit fucking tight until help comes, and those minutes are long and indelible. Sixteen minutes.
Kayla shattered her hip in the crash. They hope she can walk. Laurie busted a rib, and the teeth from her bottom jaw are gone. Just gone. Those rumors about dental problems and missing teeth causing Mona Lisa’s weird smile? Kinda true.
Devin was unhurt. We all want to press charges, but this is a small town. He’ll be acquitted because his father’s the chief of police, and he’ll be fine.
It’s been a week. The only thing I do is sleep. I sleep all day if I can. I call up my diner buddies so they can cover shifts for me, and then I go back to the frumpled mess that is (our) my bed.
I left the house to buy toilet paper. This was an accomplishment. It didn’t go so well. I almost broke down in the middle of ShopRite when I walked past the dairy aisle and saw the yogurt brand she liked.
Bob calls me every so often, proposing hang-outs. I decline. It’s not like I have plans, I just don’t feel like doing anything. He says he understands.
I wish people would stop calling me and asking me to do normal, everyday things. Assuming I’d want to hang out is insane. How can he comprehend my non-Life now, how dare he treat me with brittle, walking-on-ice attempts at comfort?
God, I miss everything. It’s not our bed anymore. It’s not our place.
The phone. Rings.
I consider picking it up. It rings again, and I wince.
“Hello?” My voice sounds old. Unused.
“Hey! Hey man! It’s Lobo!”
O.K. This was not what I expected. “Lobo?”
“Y’man, you forgot about me?” His ridiculously excited tone confuses my already numb brain. I really don’t know how to react. I need to get off the phone with him. “Listen, I want you to come up to the Lab,” he says.
“I’m…I’m not really in the mood, Lobo. You know,” I say, running a hand through my hair. And I’m not. I am in no mood for a conversation about Gandalf or serotonin. I am in no mood, period.
“Yeah. I know.” And, the way he says it, I’m mislead into thinking he is trying to be considerate of my ruined feelings.
“Look, can I call you back?”
“Nah, man. You need to come here.” It took Lobo only two seconds to blow it.
“Look, Lobo, I can’t right now. O.K.?” I feel myself getting upset, testy, my voice cracking.
“It’s about Bridge,” Lobo blurts. “She’s alive.”
The heartache is like a bullet tearing through my chest. There’s an actual, physical, pain.
I lay back, dumbly, on the bed.
“…what…” I whisper, after a long pause.
“Hey! Hey man! You hear me?”
I’m in shock. Maybe the massive overdrive of emotion has paralyzed my system, negating it to a numbed state. I try croaking again, and am only able to repeat myself.
“I’ll tell you everything if you come up here. You think you’d be able to make it tonight? Hop over on the ol’ choo-choo train?”
I tear the covers off, and fish a pair of pants off the floor, almost dropping the phone in the process. I yank the pants on while making my way to the front door, which hobbles my gait. I fumble for wallet, car keys, pants zipper, all at the same frenzied time. Make it there tonight? Hells yeah.
“Lobo, if you’re lying to me-” I say, although I’m grabbing my jacket from the front doorknob.
“Only one way you’ll know, huh? Buddy, you’ll be able to talk to her! She’s here, in the, er, flesh. I swear. Room 205!”
I bang the door open and shut in my haste, almost forgetting to lock it.
She’s alive. Alive. I turn these words over like some forty niner panning for gold. I’m trying to hold onto this cruel glimmer as long as I can. There’s a chance she’s alive. Bridgett. My Bridge.
The doors of the research facility are glass and automatic, easy to pass through. There’s a receptionist inside, but she doesn’t harass me. People who look like me, like someone possessed and who hasn’t showered in a few days, are not to be deterred from their destination by sign-in procedures.
There is nothing in my way, there is nothing that will stop me from seeing her.
The inside of the lab facility blurs into pastel mints and whites, the tiling and walls unimportant, featureless. I find the door Lobo told me about and swing it open, recklessly. I have to know-
-a dozen machines surround a bed, almost obscuring the girl laying in it.
It’s her. Wrapped in stained bandages like an ancient mummy, with a sick labyrinth of tubes threading into her body at unnatural points. Her arm is slung at an awkward, stiff, angle. A weird, glossy film covers the few visible sections of her skin, and it looks drowned, puffy, discolored. But it’s her. I can still see her under this medical mess…
“Bridge,” I croak. When people check the ‘donate my body to science’ box, I doubt they consider something like this happening.
Just as she is about to say my name (Can she even speak? I don’t know. How is all this possible?) Lobo appears, grabs my shoulder, nudges my shocked and weightless self outside. I hadn’t even seen him alongside the bed.
“Lobo,” I stammer, looking straight at him. He holds me by both shoulders and gives me this big goofy grin, his puppy-dog brown eyes looking for a bone of congratulations. His lab coat is stained with something dried and dark. “Lobo.” I try again. I’m overwhelmed. “How is this-“
“Oh, it’s possible, pal. She’s like the Bride of Frankenstein. Night of the Living Dead. 28 Days Later.”
I know he’s a socially inept asshole, but I have no idea what he’s talking about. And, I realize I have lost interest in the multitude of questions I thought about during the train ride. I
realize they do not matter. Not a bit. I have one answer to keep me satisfied, and that answer is simple: yes, she’s alive. All I care about is My Bridge, behind that door. “Lobo. Thank you. I don’t care how you did this, or if she’s a- what you’re saying, she’s a- look, we can talk about that later. I don’t want to know. All I care about is, she’s here. I need to see her. Talk to her. Please, Lobo, please. This is one of the few times I’ve been out of the house, except to buy toilet paper.”
Lobo considers this, and then takes the opportunity to confide in me further. “She won’t survive for very long if we unplug her. All of her vitals…they wouldn’t last. And her rejuvenating tissues, like her skin. It’d die, all over again.”
(All over again.)
I decide I couldn’t care less. “Lobo. She’s here. That’s all that matters. You’ve done…what you’ve done is phenomenal.”
Of course, he doesn’t understand. “I’m trying to improve all this. You know, self support, facial reconstruction. You know. She doesn’t like it. Thinks she’s a monster.” He sniffs. “So, uh, I take it you two want to be alone together? Huh?” Lobo asks, wagging his eyebrows. (God, he’s annoying. But a genius. I can’t believe this…
He opens the door and leaves me alone with a carnival of blinking IV pumps and broad, multi-buttoned blocks of metal. They beep in rhythm, a twisted sideshow.
This is an unreal dream, this is some beautiful, unreal dream, and I will savor every second. This is everything I’ve dreamed for, just to have her back, just to be with her, and I feel waves of nervousness mixed with bliss.
“I wish you didn’t have to see me like this,” she speaks, a hoarse whisper.
She can speak. Whatever semblance of control I had while with Lobo instantly dissolves. I’m shaking again, and I can’t comprehend who’s in front of me…
“I missed you,” I say, my voice cracking, and I can feel tears in my eyes again. I want to touch her. I don’t know if I can. Will it hurt her? I wrap my arms around my skinny chest instead, trying to stabilize myself.
“…that’s life,” she says, in that tissue-paper whisper.
I see a chair near the bedside, and I take it, sitting down so I can see her better. Her eyes move towards me, and I see regret and timid fear.
“Can I…would it hurt if I hugged you?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Go for it.” Her eyes look nervous, but willing to take a risk. Who would’ve guessed that a simple hug between us could be fraught with so much…uncertainty?
I pull my chair closer to her bed, and, carefully, rest my arms around her shoulders, letting them relax naturally bit by bit. Gradually, in case it should hurt her. I hear her sigh, and I startle upwards, afraid that I’ve done it, that I’ve wounded her fragile self somehow, but she calms me, saying it’s O.K, and I relax again, and, for the umpteenth time in who cares how many days, I cry.
It’s been another week. Bridge and I both added another week onto our mortal coil. I’m at the Research Facility with her every possible minute, or on the train, on my way to her. I’ve been treasuring every day with her.
I still don’t know or care about the details. Medical professionals shuffle in and out around us, Lobo hovers like a fly, proudly buzzing away. They’re talking about more media exposure soon since her condition’s stabilized. She still needs the machines, though. That’s O.K. by me. But, not by her.
“You call this life? Look at me. Please,” she says, making a feeble motion with her cast-encased arm. The tubes still run in and out of her, her skin is still gray and puffy, developing splotches of bedsores. But I don’t care. She’s here. “This is half-life.”
“Lobo’s working, you know that. He’s trying to improve everything for you,” I say. But, I feel like a recording, miming back what we both have overheard. I know that feels false, so I speak genuinely, lovingly. “Bridge, who cares if you can’t go out or whatever. You’re still here. That’s all we’ve wanted.”
She remains unappeased. I’m not getting her drift. “Whatever. Even if Lobo’s able to ‘improve’ me and all that. This is still a false-life. I’m going on borrowed time and it’s just not right. I’m a monster.”
“Bridge…You’re not a monster.” This wracks me, the thought she should consider herself such. When I do go home at night, this bothers me the most. “And I don’t care if you think this ‘isn’t right.’ I don’t know how to convince you. This is fine. You’re fine. You’re a goddamn miracle.”
She looks disconsolately to the side. “It doesn’t matter,” she repeats, quietly, “I shouldn’t be here.”
And I begin to feel a slow panic building.
“What’s all this mean? Bridge? What’s that mean?”
She doesn’t reply. She seems to either be trying to think of the right response, or on the brink of tears. Can she cry? (half-life, false-life) Did Lobo take the time to reconnect whatever ducts and glands she needs to make tears?
“Bridge…” I can’t stand that hopeless look on her face. I slide onto the sheets next to her and, as gently as I can, put my arms around her. She lets her head rest under my chin, and I remember a morning when this nightmare of smashed cars and tubes did not yet exist and antiseptic odors
only existed in a funky, medical tape manner curious to our condo.
This is peace. I try to hold onto this moment, that memory, for as long as I can.
We wind up talking, laughing, petting each other with ginger, restrained care, for hours. Talking about what we used to talk about. Laughing over the absurdity of the serious things in life. She does her best to leave me with a handful of gilded memories, meant to last the rest of my lifetime. Or, maybe, just the rest of hers. She does her best.
Do you know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice? Bridge enjoyed it, but it irritated me. It’s a Greek myth, about a guy named Orpheus and his bride, Eurydice. She’s bitten by a snake and dies on their wedding night. Distraught, Orpheus travels to the Underworld, and plays his lute for Hades, the king down there. Hades is so impressed that he agrees to let Eurydice return to the living world…on one condition. If Orpheus turns back before the couple reaches the land of the living, Eurydice will return to the Underworld.
And guess what? The stupid guy looks back.
To me, Orpheus clearly messed up. But Bridge would just shake her head, smirk a little, and say, “Nah, I think she was meant to go back.”
The next day, she is not there. Lobo is. And he is very vocal and angry about her disappearance.
I stand at the doorframe, watching dumbly, my attention divided between the emptiness of the bed and Lobo’s outrageous fury. He tosses an IV pole out of his way as if he expects to find her behind it.
“Where is she!” He hollers, the cords on his neck stringy, his face a violent shade of plum. I hear Bridge’s voice in my head.
(I shouldn’t be here.)
And I know she’s nowhere in this lab. Knowing this search is hopeless, that this remnant of myself is hopeless, I take the sheet off the bed, and try to find a shred of her scent (marred, hidden by the medical smells) and let myself slide to the floor while Lobo carries on his frenzied rampage.
I should’ve expected this.
They find her later. She didn’t have a chance to get very far; her (dead) body couldn’t support her past the hedges outside the Facility when the artificial life granted by the machines ran out.
My Bridge. Bridge, was it really so bad…? Why’d you turn back?