by Johanna Hibbard
The town has ten bridges. Four, five, six times a day I cross the river. I know the west side mansions and the east side taverns. It’s my job to move cargo across the bridges. Hardly anyone sees me or knows my name. I was raised an only child. I know how to be still and silent. I'm counted upon to do it right, in my quiet way.
I begin in darkness. The hot sweet coffee is my beacon. Most days are dreary. We have nine months of November here. We know grey like the Eskimos know snow. Precipitation, showers, sprinkles, drizzle, fog, mist, rain. The bridges are so high that if you're not careful the wind will blow you into oncoming traffic. If the wind isn't blowing then its the rain. It makes the bridges slick. You have to keep an eye on the pedestrians too. You never know when you'll get a jumper. Lots of good, tall bridges to choose from.
I know a woman who used to do my job. Won't do it now. She's afraid of driving over the bridges. She imagined her van would slip, crack the thin eggshell of the guard rail, and go the way of the jumpers. Newspapers say a big earthquake is coming. A heavy rain of masonry will befoul our streets. The bridges will be knocked out.How would I do my job then? I'm thinking about getting an inflatable raft and keeping it in my garage. A woman like me, with a boat, in that situation, could move a lot of cargo. I've got a dog. He keeps me company on the drive. After our deliveries we walk in the forest, turning our shoulders to the wind. He points his gaze upward. The rain pierces the membrane of white sky. A squirrel teases and chitters. The dog is off, beyond my bellowing for his return. As a middle-aged woman I naturally go unnoticed and unrecognized, but he is a Catahoula Leopard Dog. He draws many an admiring nod.
Days I can't face the cold and the mud I take my exercise indoors.
"Punch it out!" My noodle arm jabs in mock boxer stance. I watch the woman in front of me whose husband has left her with four young children "to be the architect of his own life." She jabs like she means it. Her punch connects. But this is Jazzercise and I don't linger too long on the single mother of four. I don't linger too long on anyone. They don't know my name. Got to shower and eat lunch before my next pick-up. This one is always a bit tense. I have to get from my east side pick-up to the west side pick-up in ten minutes or less. My east side loads very slowly. My west side is impatient and easily bored. The bridge is up. The passing fancy of a hobby sailor can bring the city to a stand still. Barges, yachts, cruise ships they all get the drawbridges raised for them. As the first car behind the safety arm I have a good view of the road as it folds towards me. The cyclists are horses at the starting gate, skittish and surly. My cargo thinks nothing of the ten foot tall bike whose rider has a face full of Maori tattoos. They've seen it before. The grocery store. Its hold on my life is inevitable, like evacuating my bowels. Rain falls here too, rendering the hyperbolic cheer of artificial lights and food stuffs mute. The question of what to eat makes people dull. I have no budget, but I always go over it. The tender bud of hope insists that this bottle of wine from Spain or this unguent from East Africa will bring some reward to my day. I have one last pick up. At the close of any work day there is glory. Cross the bridge two more times and I don't have to look at the van until tomorrow. What happens to the cargo between deliveries? Very few words are spoken. I drive. I am diligent. Much of life is mysterious.
The city prepares its toilette for the evening. Pink lights illuminate the bridge. Curtains are closed against the grey river. All that has been private during the day seeps out in the relief of home.
Johanna Hibbard is a filmmaker and teacher who lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and three children.