The Causeway

Ralph Black

How odd it is to have your childhood pulled from the layers of your mind, yanked out from the wreckage of adulthood. All because of a journal and a pile of old photographs.

My mother used to tell me their stories and show me what each photo meant, and how each photo reeked of dreams long forgotten, but that was before she succumbed to the failure the rest of the town was infected with.

The plan was to build a road across the water. They were going to make it beautiful. The Mayor talked about it with such pride. You could see his chest swell at even the mention of it. It would wake us from our lonely, aimless reverie. We needed this hope.

A woman clings to a bottle while children roughhouse around a father failing to maintain control.

It was his idea. The Mayor won the campaign with it. He told us about how it would bring people from far and wide; it would make our relations with other countries easier, it would bring tourists, and it would be beautiful. It would be something the world would never forget. People would speak of it in every nation.

An elderly lady waters plants in her garden, tending to her tulips with a fondness reserved for one’s own creations. A forgotten son watches from the gate, reminiscing about times lost in a parade of heartbreak. He begins to approach her. While you cannot see it, a gentleman shifts in his grave, a hope brewing in his lifeless eyes.

The Mayor decided to begin right away after he was elected. He wanted to prove that he intended to keep his promises. He began the causeway, and it was inspiring. My mother would sit and watch them for days, watching all the progress come together to make a thing of beauty. She told me that I loved watching them work. She said it made me want to work too; I would mimic their moves with the strength and carefree ability of the young.

The construction men perspire, but they keep working. Even after they have been told they can go home, they keep working. One would have to go back to a child that hates him. Another would have to confront his wife. Another would have to go home alone, again. But here, here they can imagine. Here they can feel that they are loved, that they have a purpose, that they are good.

The causeway grew. They had put in the foundations for it and already I could see that it was bringing joy to those who had built it and comfort to those who would soon walk upon it. The townspeople changed with the causeway. Each step the road that would traverse the waters took towards being built set the folks to dreaming. Each of them dreamt of what it might feel like to be something other than trapped.

A woman is cleaning her kitchen counter meticulously. It is worn from use and persistent cleansing. She stares at the clock and frowns. In a second photograph, it is five minutes later; she starts cleaning the already clean floors. In the third picture, she is looking at the clock again, waiting. In a corner of the abused countertop, she stands with a construction worker, grinning broadly; the beauty of the moment so far faded that only the picture frame remembers it.

The causeway had grown railings. My little sister didn’t understand it. Daddy told her the tooth fairy was using all of her little baby teeth to build the causeway. She was grossed out and decided she didn’t want to watch it grow anymore. Even so, she knew what it meant. This would fix everything. She wanted that nice little jacket in the department window, and knowing that the road was growing meant that Daddy might bring her gifts. It gave her solace.

A man paces outside of an apartment door that has been cleaned so rigorously it looks wounded by the action. He looks at his watch and sighs. He knows he can’t do it. He throws the flowers away, again.

He turns and sees the bridge. You can see how his face changes when he sees it. He turns abruptly and pounds on the door with a fierce conviction.

The railings were beautiful! Now that they had added the bars, it began to look like a piece of art. Momma liked the bridge too. She would come out to watch it with me, no bottle in hand. You could see her dreams rise with the causeway.

The mayor proudly watches his work emerge from the window in his office. In the corner of the photograph is a picture of a forgotten woman, but he need not think about that now.

The bridge. It is built. The town celebrates like there is no tomorrow. Children gleefully parade around a fond mother and father, their twirling motions matching the design of the newly made railings. An elderly woman and her son stand as united and intertwined as the bars of the causeway. The construction men stand arm in arm, chained like the links they created, their success looming above them, leaving room for no other thoughts than euphoria. A worn-looking woman whose hands are cracked from years of ferocious cleaning are now holding flowers and a pleasant-looking man stands beside her, fitting the same way the wooden slats on the causeway’s foundation align. The mayor is smiling.

My mother collected a few more photographs before she lost herself to the bottle again and her children succumbed to life’s calling: following a path of drunken laughter and sober tears, remembering their lost dreams.

An elderly woman continues to tend to her tulips. There is a palpable sense of something missing from the photograph as a weary soul sighs in his grave, the memories a stark contrast to the fervent exuberance in the previous photographs. Some things cannot be mended with one day of joy.

The construction men are not needed, they are not loved, they are not good.

Two of the men are back at work; concern furrows one brow, sorrow another. A separate photo stuck to this one with what may be tears contains a headstone; he is lonely no more.

A woman can be seen furiously scrubbing the sidewalk in front of her home, the chemicals from the cleaning substance darkening a ring on her finger. She cherishes the memory of a sunny day long past.

A broken man sits at an official-looking desk, his brow furrowed with the burdens his changes have brought; the photograph of the woman on the corner of the desk has gathered dust.

A man sits alone surrounded by cardboard boxes and broken bottles, staring at photographs with nostalgia so powerful that it brings tears to his eyes.

Hope is nothing when faced with the drudgery of life.

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