“The Bridge” by Kerry Muir


Found in Willow Springs 66

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CAMMY TUTTLE IS THE SMARTEST, toughest girl in our whole fifth grade. She has red hair, straw-straight, and wears boys' clothes. Her trademark is a tweed Englishman's cap she got at Hinks department store in downtown Berkeley. She rode the BART train there all by herself, an adventure to Berkeley, to Hinks, and this is what she picked out as a treat—this hat, this Englishman's cap. She wears vests, too. It's 1973 and vests are in, especially corduroy ones with buckles, in earth tones like rust and olive green, colors that look good on Cammy Tuttle—but then, everything does, it seems.

On the playground when we play dodge ball, Cammy slings the ball at whoever's in the middle, hard, with gusto, with glee. But she's good at being in the middle, too. To watch her, you'd think being in the middle is a fabulous place to be. Cammy dances, leaps, and flies in the air. She skids sideways on worn-out tennis shoes. She sings at the ones who try to whack her with the ball: Missed me, missed me, now you have to kiss me. She teases and taunts them, actually tries to make them mad. If they throw the ball at me, I cover my face with both hands. I don't want to see that thing hurtling through the air at me.

Sometimes Cammy's mom subs at the school. Mrs. Tuttle. Her hair is firebird red, whereas Cammy's is more like a fox's. Mrs. Tuttle's hair is not straw-straight, but curly, bushy, and cut in a chic afro. She has spidery, spindly, white-as-moonlight legs, with just the lightest smattering of varicose veins that look like someone drew them there with a toothpick. On her feet, Mrs. Tuttle wears strappy high-heeled red sandals that make her long legs even longer. She wears them in wintertime even when it's cold, wears them with sheer white stockings and a big woolly fur coat.

Mom says Mrs. Tuttle is very ill—that she won't live more than a year. She tells me this because she wants me to be friends with Cammy Tuttle, to play with her, spend time. I think, Cammy is perfect, popular, wins at dodge ball—what does she need me for? But Mom says we should reach out to Cammy Tuttle. Our next door neighbot Mrs. Papini told Mom that Cammy is having a hard time, needs to have fun, needs friends. So Cammy has been invited to my house to play.

I see her in the distance from our kitchen window, crossing the old bridge. The bridge is long—about a quarter mile across. It's wide enough that an automobile could cross it, and probably did, many years ago. But now our house sits at the end of the bridge; if you drove across it now, you'd just end up in our backyard.

I am not allowed to walk on that bridge. Actually, no. one is. The bridge has DO NOT ENTER signs on the chicken-wire fence blocking it off at each end. In the spring, hundreds of ladybugs hatch and spread themselves all over that fence, covering it entirely in red. It's gorgeous. The bridge has holes in its asphalt surface big enough for even an adult to fall clear through. You can look down into those gaping holes and see the brown creek trickling, and rocks, like stepping stones in the water, hundreds of feet below. In bad weather, the bridge swings and creaks, sways on its feeble foundation of long, wobbly wooden stilts clamped to an ancient brace. The brace is corroded and tarnished, rusty and weak—oozing with thick, wet, green pads of moss. I've climbed down the steep slope into the creek many times, sometimes alone. It's a favorite place, of mine. There's a rotting one-room shack down there, just about the water, with the Devil's head painted in red on one side. Long, sloppy drips of paint leak out, dribble down from one of the Devil's horns. In pencil, scrawled along the walls of the shack: Asshole. Fuck. Fuck you. There's wildlife down there, too. My dog Ginger once came home without her collar, wet and muddy, covered in blood and shaking. Puncture wounds from claws covered her neck and throat. Hornets' nests hide in the tall weeds. Once, me and Joanne and Susan Papini happened to step on one; we all got stung in the most terrible way. The bridge used to be painted white, but now only flecks and chips remain. Parts of the railing have crumbled away, so you could fall off the bridge if you aren't careful—or if you had a mind to fall, like Mr. Koshland did.

Back in early October, just about a month ago, Scott Koshland's dad, Mr. Koshland, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. It was in all the papers. Our parents told us to be nice to Scott Koshland because his dad had jumped off a bridge. This haunts me because Scott Koshland's father is like my father—they both have bad legs from polio. Both walk with metal braces on one leg. Both use long metal canes. I saw Dad talking to Mr. Koshland once, on the playground at the school spring fair. They both stood balancing their metal canes, hips jutting out, shifting their weight every now and then—two asymmetrical bookends in loose-fitting khakis and blue plaid. Not even a year ago. Mr. Koshland had seemed normal then—fine. Just like my dad: Normal. Fine.

These days, my normal, fine dad is glued to the Watergate hearings on our black-and-white TV. When the hearings are on, you are not allowed to talk. He sits close to the box, holding the antenna, fiddling with the brown contrast dial. He mumbles things to the TV: Oh for crying in a beer. Good question, Sam. You numbskull. You knucklehead! He turns the volume up loud. You can hear Watergate blaring through every room in the house. You can hear it in the kitchen, where I'm standing, watching Cammy come closer and closer, as she crosses the old bridge.

Cammy walks like an athlete, half skip, half normal walk. She kicks things—dead walnuts, dried-up branches, broken twigs—kicks them like she's kicking a soccer ball. Using two fingers in her mouth, she whistles a boy's sharp whistle that cuts into the air above the creek. She does funny little elfin moves on the bridge—a shuffle hop, a grapevine step, a juggling move, a twirl. A bow to the uppermost branches of a giant walnut tree. She walks up to a pothole and sways over the lip, looking down to see below. With her toes touching the edge, she lifts one leg, balances for a moment, and stretches out both arms. Eventually, she hops over the hole—a hopscotch-type hop—landing on the same leg. When she gets to the end of the bridge, she reads the DO NOT ENTER sign, then flicks it like a booger or a fly.

I open the sliding glass door of the kitchen and walk out. Behind me, the sounds of Watergate: men's voices, tapping on microphones, throats clearing, papers shuffling, southern drawls. It's summer, and my dad, a teacher, is mostly home these days. My mom and sister are out somewhere.

What to do now? Cammy Tuttle is here. What to say? We wander around the backyard, kicking walnuts and twigs, looking at the ground.

You wanna take a walk? 

Cammie shrugs. Suits me. 

I've had two bad secret habits for a while that nobody knows about. One is shoplifting from grocery store. The other is breaking into people's houses and taking a poo or a pee. I don't flush. That's my criminal trademark, not flushing, so they'll know I was there. I never steal from the houses—I just like to look around, see their things, what stuff they have, see their secret lives.

I take Cammy to Craig Wingett's house. An older boy, Craig goes to Alcalanes, the big high school. After knocking on the door a couple times to make sure that no one's home, we enter the Wingetts' through the side door and step into the kitchen. I've never been here before. My face, my arms, the hair on my head feel coated with electricity. My legs are prickly, bursting with energy. I feel wiry, capable, sharp, alive. Things look vivid, dangerous, frightening, bright: the gleam of pots and pans on the wall, the glint of knives in the rack. An old-fashioned was tub sits in the sink, filled with water and suds. Bras dry on a string in the air about the sink. Two plastic angels stand next to a row of containers that say: Sugar, Flour, Salt, Rice, Tea. Cammy finds a round blue tin of butter cookies, takes one for herself and tosses one to me. It's good. We look around, touching everything: the bowl of red apples on the kitchen table, the two place settings on rubber olive-green place mats. I go down the hall—the carpet is gold shag—past photos of Craig at age five, six, seven, eight, nine, until he's about sixteen. I can tell they're school photos because they all have that same swirly blue wall behind his head. There's Craig—or someone—as a baby. Mr. Wingett in Buddy Holly glasses with Mrs. Wingett, beehive hairdo, rays of light beaming behind their heads. A smooth golden Jesus nailed to a smooth golden cross, with a smooth golden crown of thorns upon his head. To my right, a bedroom door is the tiniest bit ajar. I peek in and see a long glass-topped dresser, silver hand mirror, silver brush, comb, perfume bottle with round rubber squirter, golden-cased lipstick. I walk in with my eye on the perfume, give myself a squirt, look at myself in the mirror. I decide I hate my overalls and short hair, wish I'd never let Mom cut off my braids. In the bathroom, I don't turn on the light when I pee.

Back in the kitchen, Cammy's twirling her Englishman's cap on one finger. She throws it up in the air, lets it land back on her finger, keeps it spinning round and round. Says to me, Hey. Come here. 


You have to see the masterpiece. 

Like Carol Merrill on Let's Make a Deal, Cammy points to the center of the kitchen table, between the place mats. The tin wash tub, still full of suds, now has Mrs. Wingett's laciest, blackest bra stretched around it, fastened in the back. There's a big red apple in each cup. Cammy takes suds from the washtub, dots bubbles on the places where nipples would be. We crack up, take bites from the apples, put them, bitten, back in the bra, and crack up all over again.

It takes about five minutes to find Craig Wingett's stash of Playboys, a stack under his bed. We sit on the floor, we crouch, we kneel, we curl up. We open to the centerfold, Miss Whatever-month, an oiled-up blonde on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire. From what I can tell, she's in a cabin in Alaska somewhere. She's wearing a diamond choker, black spike heels, and nothing else. Her boobs are bigger than her head. We read the blurb about her in the bubblegum-pink box: her name is Kimberly. She likes warm smiles, riding horses bareback, swimming naked at the beach. Dislikes negativity. l look at Cammy. She is staring at Kimberly the way my dad stares at the Watergate hearings on our black-and-white TV. Leaning forward a little. Not blinking.

There's the sound of a car pulling into the driveway outside, and the squeak of brakes. The electricity in my body wakes up again, shocking me down to my toes. There's a scramble of Cammy and me pushing, stumbling, knocking into Craig's doorway, bumping each other, getting tangled, grabbing, clawing at walls.

Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! God! Go!

We shove each other down the narrow hall, losing our balance, hitting every photograph and tchotchke on the wall: Craig as a baby, Craig as a teen, Craig at eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, and five, the golden Jesus, the kitchen table, kitchen door. Just as we're almost free and clear, Cammy stops, turns on her heel, and runs back in the house again.

Cammy! Cammy! Cammy! Cam!

I dance back and forth on my toes, pounding the frame of the doorway. In a flash, Cammy is back, now clutching her Englishman's cap.

Go! Go! Go!

Sound of car doors slamming. The trunk door opening. Paper bags. Words.

We fly out the back door, clutching each other's sleeves, each other's hands. Cammy shoves me into a hedge, skids down next to me on the ground. I'm on my butt in the dirt, squashed in the space between house and hedge, hand over my face. I want to laugh so bad. I peek out through two fingers at Cammy, who stares straight through the leaves of the hedge. Whenever I start to lose it, she digs her fingernails into my knee. I bite my knuckle, twist my hand. I try to think of something serious and sad, to keep from laughing out loud. I think of Watergate and southern drawls, throats clearing, papers shuffling, microphones tapping. I think of Scott Koshland's dad, the air rushing fast and hard against his face; I think of a wish he might have had, just moments too late, to fly back upward, as if he had wings, to the place he'd stood only seconds before, there on the Golden Gate Bridge. I think of Mrs. Tuttle's high-heeled strappy sandals, her black coat, red hair, long legs, varicose veins, of Scott Koshland at the desk next to me, staring straight ahead. I think of anything, anything to keep from exploding and laughing and screaming and blowing it, getting caught, getting punished, getting put away. Meanwhile, goddamned Mrs. Wingett and Craig are taking about four hours to get the groceries out of their silver-blue Chevrolet. Finally, finally there's the sound of a screen door slamming shut, banging twice. Then silence, a few seconds—and Mrs. Wingett's high-pitched, wailing shriek.

That does it, we're gone, Cammy and me, running wild down Nordstrom Lane, screaming, laughing, crying, panting, sprinting through backyards. In a vacant lot where someone's starting construction, cement mixers and cinder blocks scattered everywhere, we bend over, grab our knees, hit the ground, roll, laugh, pound the dried-up earth, hold our stomachs, scream and scream and howl and cry and scream all over again.

We lie in the dirt, breathing hard in the sun. Cammy presses her forehead into the earth. Laugher bubbles up, recedes. I make a snow angel in some loose dirt. Cammy stands up, walks around. Takes off her Englishman's cap. Stares at it. Puts it back on.

I feel like an excursions, she says. I feel like going to Hinks. 

Right now? 

Yes, now. 

By yourself? 

No, stupid. With you. 

And so, less than an hour later, I follow Cammy across the old bridge, away from my house, toward the road that leads to the BART. The bridge sways and creaks, a great gray elephant's back under our feet. We look into potholes and see clear down to the bottom of the creek. I see the roof of the Devil's fuck-you shack, the muddy curve of the creek, water barely moving. I see the tall, tangled weeds, plants with red berries, thorns. Giant trees loom around us, their branches waving in the wind, forming a lacy veil of leaves over our heads like a canopy.

I follow Cammy across the bridge.

And for one moment it occurs to me, It's possible we might die.

Our odds could be that bad, our timing so crappy, our luck so slim that today might be the very day the bridge collapses and crumbles, the day the bridge falls.

But it's only fear.

Soon Cammy and I will be on the other side of the bridge, walking down Happy Valley Road. We'll ride BART to Berkeley, get off at Shattuck Avenue, go into Hinks and look around at the tall, pale walls. Cammy will get to buy one thing (a gift from her mother, perhaps?). She will choose her one thing from the men's department: a bright red paisley bow tie. I will go next door and shoplift a halter top for JCPenney's, with pale blue and white checks, its neckline a plunging V. We will ride BART back home, her wearing her new bow tie, me fidgeting with the halter top, looping it round and round the knuckles of one hand. The station in suburban Lafayette will be almost empty, the sky yellow, getting ready to turn dark.

Walking home along Happy Valley Road, Cammy will let me wear her tweed Englishman's cap. I'll let her wear the halter top, which she'll pull on over her olive-green sweater. She'll wiggle her hips as she walks and fills the cups of the halter with her thumbs, pretending to have boobs like Kimberly in Craig Wingett's Playboy magazine. By the time we get to the bridge there will be no light in the sky at all. I'll stick very close to Cammy when we walk back across. I will ask Cammy, Don't you feel cold? And she'll say, Nope, not me. I will feel tired, trying my best to keep up. Sometimes Cammy will be a step or two ahead of me, but other times I'll catch up with her and walk next to her, side by side. Every once in a while she'll say Look out. . . or Watch it there. . . , pointing to a gaping pothole. I'll tell her if I see one, too—I'll say Cammy, there's one over there. Over here, Cam. It will take us a long time to cross, but eventually, we'll get to the other side. We'll pick our way carefully, deliberately, down the bridge's pockmarked asphalt center, tiptoeing around all those potholes, so many potholes, floating in the dark.

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