Shoe On The Side Of The Bridge

by Killian Troy

“It’s not so far,” I said, stretching my head skyward.

The bridge was built from planks and slender wooden posts, the wrought iron casting dulled to a discoloured bronze. I could see some sparrow had made its nest in the crook of the joints, and tufts of greenery had begun to sprout among the rails.

“Only looks that way from down here,” said Fionn.

“It’s called…” He`s racking his brain now, chewing his tongue as he did. I could almost see the answer trickle into his head.

“Depth perception, it’s eye science.”

“Where’d you learn that? Read it in a big book?”

“My brother told me.” 

I nodded, satisfied. I tended to write off any of the sacred knowledge of my elders as the word of God.

Up close the bridge was a hulking construction, stretching from one side of the valley to the other. The cerulean river churning away below. Despite my curiosity, I still viewed the bridge with a healthy dose of fear. My mind was ablaze at the possibility of scaling the behemoth. 

“We`ll be up and down in no time,” I said flicking my hand up at it.

“Easy to be brave when you’ve two feet on the ground,” said Fionn poking me in the ribs.

“I don’t see you up there either,” I snapped, rubbing my side. The bridge had always been fascinating to me. There was little in our town in the way of mystery; it had sprouted up in the olden days, the sixties I’d been told. But the bridge was older; it had the authenticity of experience I found lacking in the well-planned streets of my town. I was drawn to it, like the moon draws water. The silence between us lengthened. We stood on the banks listening to the river churn. 

“If we can’t do it now, we won’t be able to do it for Orla tomorrow,” I said.

Fionn nodded his head in agreement. Our campaign to impress the girls in our class had reached an all-time boiling point. Fionn and I had cooked up the plan to scale the bridge if the girls would come to watch. They had agreed to watch after school on Friday, maybe hoping to see us fall and wind up in the river. I know if I was them, I would like to see that and they would have front row seats. Even now I wonder, what kind of frenzy had overtaken me to propose such an idea, but Fionn and I knew that once we’d thrown down the gauntlet, there was no turning back.

“We best get it done then,” he said. “If we get the picture, we won’t have to do it again. Did you bring Declan’s camera?”

The camera! I’d specifically put it in my sports bag last night and had promptly forgotten that in the excited rush out the door this morning.

“Shit, I left it at home. How are we going to show everyone we did go up here?”

“We’ll figure something out. First let’s at least get onto the bridge.”

We started off up the track, through the forest and up towards the steep mud bank that ran up alongside the bridge. We climbed steadily for a few minutes making idle chat. Once the bridge had fallen from sight, Fionn seemed to have no fear of it. He even became boastful. 

“I’d say we’ll go further than any kid in town has, even further than Jackie did,” he said assuredly. 

“Remember when all you had to do was be fast to get the girls to like you. When did climbing bridges become the new fashion?”

Fionn continued to prattle away, swinging his arms zestfully. He kept banging his arm into mine. I pretended not to mind, only quickened my pace. 

The mud slope began to level out and just in time, my shoes were caked in the brown dirt. Reaching the top of the mound we spotted the rail tracks. Weathered a fair bit, the tracks had rusted orange and the planks were rotting. A smell of dampness clung in the air. Bright rays of sun pierced the thick woodlands, painting everything a hue of vibrant green. There were faded cans on the side of the tracks and blacked sots where fires had once been. Fionn was kicking a Lucozade bottle along the tracks.

We followed the track, tracking over the soggy mud banks until we were charmed still by the sight of the bridge. 

My curiosity, which had been bursting down on the banks, had gone quiet as we peered down from the bridge’s edge into the valley and rushing river below. I had always been poor at maths, but I would’ve guessed we were pushing close to the height of eighty feet. In the face of the thing, my mind had gone opaque. It had been big down below, but up close it was bloody huge.

Fionn sucked his finger and raised it.

“Winds blowing towards us. So, we won’t get pushed off the bridge or nothing.”

“Brilliant, it’ll only be the old rails we have to worry about,” I said jauntily, but my voice betrayed me. “You ready?”

He shot me a shaky grin, but I doubt Fionn had ever looked more unready in his life; but if I was going, he would.

“Who’s going first?” he asked. 

The look on Fionn’s face told me I had the honour of making first contact. I jerked my head in a nod and made to move onto the bridge. Fionn gripped my arm.

“Woah cool it for a sec. Check your laces first.”

He was right. Having tied laces was bridge walking 101. I knelt and my fingers knitted my lace into a rough knot before I rose to my feet. Fionn was looking around, as if to check if we had forgotten something. He had taken a keen interest in his shoes.

I always seem to be the one who goes first, I thought, looking at my moral support, although he was the only one who would come with me.

I turned towards the bridge and looked out across it. It loomed forth, surging further across the valley. I had never seen it myself, but I’d heard word of it from some of the older kids on my road. It was not hard to see why it had the imaginative nickname of old Rusty. It seemed its triangular trusses had been bled of their colour.

I rested my hand on the railing and breathed out. I willed my left foot forward, testing the sturdiness of the bridge’s surface. Waiting for the terrible groan. But it never came; there was no sickening creak. Bolstered by this victory I continued, edging my other foot forward. When I had taken five steps, Fionn followed suit, letting out a whoop. 

“Built to last,” he said, clapping me on the back.

“Easy, I don’t want you knocking me off.”

We began crossing the bridge at a stolid pace, testing each plank with half a foot before proceeding. Anticipating the inevitable crunch of us slipping through, but it never came. My brow was slick with sweat from the hike up. I could feel my tee-shirt clinging to me. We were brought to a halt several times, where the wood had rotted away leaving a chasm. We edged across these parts, not daring to look down.

Bit by bit, my confidence grew until I was positively waltzing across the bridge. As we moved, I looked ahead, imagining a train powering across the rails, wafting steam all the while. Fionn was in tow, still lingering back a couple of feet, likely waiting a moment to see if the wood would support my weight. I doubted Fionn’s milky pale arms could hoist me back up if a plank broke. 

After what seemed an age, we reached what must have been the middle of the bridge. Squinting my eyes I could make out the far side of the river, trees pressing in close over the tracks. We pulled to a stop to admire our progress.

“I think this is it,” said Fionn.

I stood craning my head over the edge, ever so slightly. Just to glimpse the waters below. I could spot the patches of deep blue where the river ran deepest in comparison with the teal blue beside the banks. 

Fionn sat down on the track side and let his legs hang over, carefully I followed suit, kicking my legs out.

Fionn let out a low whistle.

“What a view, we can see the whole valley from here.”

He was right, the sloping hills rumbled out before us. The valley camouflaged by a teeming sea of greens and browns.

“I didn’t think we’d actually do it. Waiting to do it was the worst,” said Fionn, staring out.

“Yeah, we’ll have to do this again tomorrow since we’ve no proof.”

Fionn scratched his head.

“We’ll have to leave something, to mark it. What about your jeans?”

“Nice try, my mam would kill me. And how come it’s on me to leave something?”

“You forgot the camera,” pointed out Fionn.

That was true. We’d have something to show for our efforts if I wasn’t so forgetful.

An idea slipped into my mind. I pulled my left leg up and started pulling at my laces.

Fionn cocked his head to the side.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ll leave my shoe, it’s an old pair anyway. We’ll just get the girls to bring a pair of binoculars.”

Pulling it off I leaned forward and fastened it to one of the planks, leaving it dangling by its laces. We waited for a time after, enjoying each other’s silence.

“Now,” said Fionn, rising to his feet, “let’s go, it’s getting dark. And we’ve been up too long.”

We began to cross to the other side of the bridge, Fionn slightly in front, my hands outstretched, palms facing the waters below. We were making good progress. I should have known then, God only puts rugs beneath people, to slip them out afterwards.

The plank must have loosened as Fionn passed over it.  As my foot landed on it, I heard the crack. I felt the wood bend and splinter, my leg sinking downwards. It happened at such a speed I did not make a sound. It must’ve looked like something had yanked me through the railings.

I landed rough, my arms outstretched and flailing, looking for anything to anchor myself to. My hands clamped onto the planks in front of me.

“Fionn,” I cried, “Fionn, help me!” My voice cracked; I could feel my leg swinging over the great nothing below.

Fionn whipped around and scrambled forward. 

“I’ve gotcha, don’t worry.”

He slipped one hand beneath my shoulder and the other on my collar and tugged me forward.

I could feel my heartbeat slamming in my head now.

“Pick me up, get me up,” I tried to say, but it came out as a breathless rasp. The dark perfume of the rotten wood filled my nose. My hands were going white from the strain, my nails digging into the wood. I could feel the splinters pushing in under my nails, but no force on God’s green earth could have persuaded me to loosen my grip. I felt my weight lurch down again.

I’m sliding backwards I thought deliriously, my fingers aching and slipping off the planks. Fionn’s face swimming above me, a look of dread etched into his features.

Fionn reached forward and seized my forearms, pulled with a grunt. 

“Come on you, work with me!” he shouted.

I forced myself up with him, moving slowly; dreamily I felt myself rising out of the hole. Fionn hoisted me up and back onto the rails. I scrambled to my feet without looking back. I did not need to see what was back there. Every fibre of my being was focused on moving forward.

I hooked my arms around the iron beams, like a child who clings to the stair bannisters. We inched by at this petty pace until we reached our end.

Once I reached the banks I sagged to the ground, feet tangled together. Our chests were heaving, gulping in air. The sweat was like a layer of frost on my back.

I became aware of the searing ache in my right leg. I gingerly explored it with my hand.

The wood had raked through my jean legs, tearing it open, the fabric flapping loose. I could see the dark red spots forming underneath, welling through the holes. 

Fionn looked over at me, his glasses, sliding down his nose. 

“I think we might have to give it a miss tomorrow.”

And so we lay there and after a while, we left. The only sign of our feat, a gaping hole on the line and a worn converse shoe. Alone and rumpled, hanging off the old rails.

Killian Troy

Killian is a third year English and creative writing student minoring in psychology. His work is semi autobiographical but exaggerated and dramatized for the purpose of the narrative. He describes this piece as a simple story that deals with themes of friendship and childhood. It also delves into that childhood experience of confronting a fear or curiosity with a friend, each egging one another on.