A gorgeous story about a girl on a bridge by Philippa Burne.
The first in a series of specially invited guest contributions by friends whose work inspires and relates in some way to bridges. We’ve had the pleasure of traveling and meeting in many places and I’m looking forward to the 5th April, Millennium Bridge London for my 10th Anniversary champagne celebration!
By Philippa Burne
They met on a bridge in Moscow. She was there to install an artwork, a neon sculpture of a girl skipping lightly over a white metal arch. He was there to stop her causing damage.
His bridge had a Russian accent. It was called Большой Каменный мост. Her tongue did not fit easily around its unfamiliar shape. She pronounced it as Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge.
On the first day, they met in the middle and shook hands. Then they walked the length of the bridge. Every morning suited workers trod past resolved to do the best they could in their narrow office cubicles; in the evenings they hurried home with minds freed to dream for a few hours. For five years he had been unseen, enclosed in his thick dark wool coat, maintaining the worn stone path for those everyday people. Content to remain outside on his bridge.
On the second day, they met to measure for bolts and cables. She brought him a coffee. The steam rose in the cold midday air as he sipped and stared across the slow-moving river towards the Kremlin, unsure what to say unless it was a technical specification. He could not help but notice her long brown hair wisping around in the breeze, the sun catching on the lights of gold caught in the strands. She asked about the buildings surrounding them on the left and right banks of the Moskva. He watched the way her red lips shaped easily around words difficult to him. He told her the history of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Храм Христа Спасителя or Khram Khrista Spasitelya. When he spoke he formed his English carefully, his Russian slowly, wondering if she might learn his sounds. He tried to hold her intent grey-eyed stare.
On the third day, she arrived to find him with bolt cutters in his hands. She wondered what he was doing and he took her to the middle of the bridge where rusting mesh fenced stone pillars, and showed her the locks. Gleaming padlocks of new love, the keys thrown into the river for eternal fidelity. Pen scrawl of a date on one side, two names on the other. Locks of love. His job was to cut them off.
She did not come for the next few days.
When she finally reappeared she had another man with her. Then another. And another. These were the men who would make her girl skip.
He watched her carefully unwrap the packing. Tenderly handle the neon. Laughing with pleasure when the first girl lit up. White legs, green skirt, blue top, red ponytail. One by one girl after girl lit up on the bridge, a sequence of steps, coloured light running over the top of his hard metal arch. She began to skip. The real girl ran beneath her creation. As the workmen left, she turned to him and grabbed his hands, her grey eyes shining with tears. Her wondered if the cold wind was bothering her. She shook her head and the tears wet her cheeks with joy.
While the mink-wrapped art world toasted her success with champagne, he stood to one side. She brought him a glass, pulled him out of the shadows. When no-one else demanded her time, she spent it with him. Watching her girl run over his bridge.
Next morning, she brought him a coffee. They hung over the hard stone sides and watched the water flow by. She taught him to play pooh sticks and raced him from one side of the bridge to the other until exhausted they rested in the middle where she noticed a new lock that he had not cut off.
As the girl skipped above them, they listened to the everyday people’s reactions. He translated for her, leaving out what he thought would upset. She asked him to teach her some words. He began gently but she asked him for more. She wanted to share the passion of language. Words such as tantalise, caress, embrace, mystify, en-trance, overwhelm. She said them in English, he said them in Russian. She said them in Russian, he said them in English. Their tongues danced with new sounds and they forgot the people passing by.
Then the men arrived to remove the girl. His bridge plunged back into shadow when her light was turned off. He watched as they repacked the girl, put her into crates, nailed down the lids. The workmen carried the boxes away off the bridge.
He walked the length of the bridge, then back to the middle. Despite his vigilance there was a crack in the stone. He cut down the lock.