I miss the magic, from when bridges were rickety things that swayed in the wind, held up by twisted hemp and every last ounce of latent psychokinetic wishcraft of the one single person under which it could be hoped to hold up at any particular time. I miss the creaking tension in -- well, I mentioned the ropes, but mostly in the fraying nerves of the crossers as they tried to decide whether it was safer to creep across and not cause too much bouncing or break into a full-tilt run the sooner to get off the damned thing, just in case it wasn't a matter of remaining strength in what passed for the structure, but merely a matter of time.
The magic was in the fear, and in the mastery of that fear. Fear was the guardian of the bridge, regardless of what the guardian was called or what form it took. The troll under the bridge was -- still is -- nearly arbitrary. More often than not, the troll is the spirit of the last life that the bridge had claimed. A spirit that would only be released when the bridge claimed another life.
The kicker is that this bridge claims a hundred thousand lives every day.
This is the bridge at 125th Street and Broadway, in Harlem. It doesn't cross a river, though I can clearly see one from here. The churning, roiling mass of death this bridge lofts over is, well, Harlem. And not even the worst parts. I can see the Cotton Club from here. The Fairway outdoor market. Chunks of the creeping mass of Columbia University. A couple of seminaries. The huge cathedral that is the Riverside Church. Some uninspired housing towers.
Morningside Park is obscured, but I hear it's nice.
The bridge erupts from underneath Seminary Row and plunges back underground at 135th Street. Or vice versa. Encapsulated people, completely saturated in unmastered fear -- I can smell it raining down -- get a brief taste of sunlight here from inside their safe metal subway cars, and the next sky they'll see headed north is what used to be farmland up at Dyckman, sixty-five blocks away. If they're headed south, they won't see the sky again at all until they emerge blinking from the tunnels via whatever exit they find. Or maybe not ever.
It's perfectly possible to never breathe open air if you live in the right place and work in the right place. You can live the entirety of your life underhill, in the realm of goblins and fairies. In the afterlife. Stinking of fear.
I'm the last troll of 125th Street and Broadway, hung up on a technicality. I live under this bridge, feeding off of the charity of passersby. But I am aboveground in this little valley, under the sky, in the elements, feeling rain and snow, breathing open air. Alive. Every day, alive.
Zipping all along the bridge, just passing through paradoxically overhead, are the spirits that live underground, work underground, eat and play and work and screw underground, that swear to me and to themselves that they are the ones that are alive. That somehow, charmingly, I am the monster. The troll under the bridge.
Persephone walks by here all the time, dropping off change and sometimes some passable restaurant leftovers. Or the odd half-pack of cigarettes she found in the park with the cherry trees in it. Ask her. She knows the difference.
Posted by Laszlo Q. V. St-J. Xalieri