Crossposted [Virtual Brush Box]
Another one that started as a question on a blog. In Millennial Life Crisis: Solo Road-Tripping the ‘Highway Thru Hell’, the author ponders initials and names carved on a bridge, “I can’t help but wonder if Abby and Brad ever worked out.”
No. They didn’t.
The Old Bridge
by Katherine Walcott
My neighbor Vicky and I were on our way into town. I was driving. She was recounting her most recent adventures with online dating. The stories made me thankful to be married. When I turned off Mill Road, she interrupted herself, “Why are you going this way?”
“Family habit,” I said. “We always go this way.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Vicky turning to stare at me. “It’s got to be 10 miles out of the way”
“11.4.” I said.
“11.4 miles. I’ve measured it.”
“My grandmother used to drive to this way. She said it was prettier.”
We drove in silence for a few miles.
After a few more miles of trees, Vicky said. You know the old bridge is perfectly safe, don’t you. All the important bits have been replaced. The wooden parts are strictly decorative. I mean, I’m all for highway scenery, but at this speed, that’s 25 minutes. With the return trip, that’s almost an hour of your life. Was your grandmother that into trees?”
“My Mom has a theory. You know how the wooden slats of the old bridge have names and initials on them? On the upstream side someone carved “Abby & Brad.” You can see it from the car if you know where to look. Well, my grandmother’s name was Abby. My grandfather’s name was not Brad.”
I paused for dramatic effect. I glanced at Vicky. She looked suitable impressed.
“My mom thinks my grandmother drove this way so she didn’t have to go over the bridge and pass those names.”
“Did she ever ask?” Vicky wondered.
“Sure. She said every time she asked, Grammy told her not to be silly and then changed the subject.”
“It’s weird to think of your grandparents as young enough to date.”
“I know, right?”
“Do you think she loved Brad all those years? If she were truly over him, she’d be indifferent. She would have no trouble driving right past.
“Maybe it wasn’t heartache,” I said. “Maybe they broke up after a huge public fight at the Homecoming game. From then on the sight of his name filled her with with righteous rage at the memory of finding him under the bleachers with another woman.”
Vicky countered. “Maybe it was a forbidden romance. Brad was visiting from downstate for the summer. They fell in love. He was heir to the Kwik Loc fortune. He would never be allowed to marry an upstater.”
“Yeah, those little thingies that keep bread bags closed,” she explained. “Somebody has to be making money from them. Those things are everywhere.”
“Maybe Brad was charming but old-fashioned.” I said. “He proposed but she wanted to marry someone who would treat her more as an equal. Each time she saw their names together she was overcome with melancholy for what might have been, but she knows she made the right decision. People can have conflicting reasons for what they do.”
Vicky began ranting, “Maybe he was a jerk and she was sorry that she ever saw anything in him and now she can’t stand to drive by his name and she hates herself for thinking he was ever worth wasting time on.”
I glanced at her, “Over-identify much?”
“We all make mistakes. Moving on.” Vicky changed the subject. “Do you know what happened to Brad?”
I shrugged. “History does not record.”
“Imagine if she’d married him instead of your grandfather. Then your inheritance would have been substantially more than questionable driving choices.”
“But then I would never know if anyone liked me for myself or for my bread bag fortune.”
“Bread bag CLOSURE fortune.” she corrected. “Bread BAG money takes their vacations in the islands. They’re kind of snobby.”
I paused to negotiate a tricky corner.
“But seriously, I think Brad was a perfectly normal guy.” I said. “They had a teen romance that didn’t work out. He grew up to be a nice person. He married that other woman and they had 2.3 kids and a station wagon. He spent his life taking the bridge up by the highway, driving 10 miles out of his way in the other direction to avoid the wooden mill bridge. I imagine them constantly circling in opposing orbits with the Abby & Brad bridge at the center.
I considered the scenery. “So I drive this way and think about my grandmother.”
Vicky considered the scenery. “It is a pretty road.”