The Bridge by Micah Hyatt

Micah Hyatt is the author of “The Bridge”. Throughout history men have risked their lives to achieve great feats of engineering: The pyramids of Giza. The Empire State building. The Panama canal. But those who build The Bridge risk their very souls.

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The year is nineteen-eighteen and the bridge is in its infancy.

Danny is a rivet man. His job is to crawl along the beams and inspect the places where steel meets steel. When Danny goes to work it is late in the afternoon. The sun is settling down amidst the garbage barges and the rusting skiffs. From his perch, he can turn his head to the side and watch the ships glide across the river. He climbs hand over hand, up endless peg footholds, and he knows that his attention is being drawn away by the sunset and that this is a dangerous thing. His only protection should he lose his grip is a long leather strap, but it’s useless for the climb up. When he reaches the top of the beam he’ll loop the strap around and fasten it tight, but for now he climbs with nothing but open air at his back.

He’s got his heavy tool belt with all the instruments for the job: ten different-sized wrenches, a ball peen hammer, bolt cutters, a little tin of grease, and a pair of leather gloves stiff from a month’s accumulated sweat. Also on his tool belt is a dented metal lunchbox. His wife puts in things like white cake and roast beef sandwiches when they have the money, and when they don’t she puts in a sloppy poorboy sandwich and two apples and a note that says she loves him.

Danny works from the red of afternoon to the red of morning. It gets cold on the beams at night. Sometimes he hugs his lantern to his jacket to warm himself, careful to pull it away before the skin beneath the leather burns. Sometimes his lantern goes out before he can come down from the beams and all he can see is a black world and a few feet of steel.

Danny is eating his lunch in darkness and thinking about his two year-old son. He misses his boy, but knows he is lucky to have the work. Last month they cut fifty men, even though the amount of work stayed the same. The fatigue of too many hours is creeping up on him, but he has no other option if he wants to keep his family off the street.

Several hundred feet below, a crew is pouring cement into a hole in the ocean. Soon they will drop another support pillar into place and the bridge will grow longer. More beams to crawl along and another month’s work. The big mixing machines cause the beam to sway gently. Danny tightens the leather strap around his waist because the food and the swaying are making him drowsy. He listens to the chug chug chug of the cement machines and tries to stay awake, but he realizes he’s fading.

Danny pulls the leather strap tight until it presses him hard against the beam. He trusts the bridge will hold him.

Under the moonlight, secretly, silently, the bridge plays a trick on Danny. It rolls its steel in wave after tiny wave until Danny’s leather strap makes contact with the sheer corner of a rivet. The beam rolls, chug chug chug, until a groove forms in the strap. The fibrous meat of the leather becomes exposed as the cut goes deeper, until one more chug breaks the strap apart. Danny wakes up with a jolt and reaches for the beam. He grabs the handle of his lunchbox instead. It pops open, spilling two apple cores and a note.

He falls through the dark, unsure of up or down. When he hits the icy water, it nearly knocks him unconscious. Even in his daze, he realizes he has fallen where the cement is being poured. He swims, not thinking about his son or his wife or the past or the future. He goes round and round the hole in the ocean like a rat trying to out swim a sewage drain. Second by second, stroke by stroke, his heavy winter clothes suck up the water. Chug by chug the bridge draws him down. Danny goes under choking on salt water and grit.

A note lands somewhere on the surface.

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