Quentin Paquette
and Aberham Berhanu

Aberham Berhanu
Inspiration piece

The Bridge
By Quentin Paquette

The bridge shows up on the hospital campus map only as an unmarked connection between Garage 2 and Admissions. There’s nothing in the key that captures how it is also a walkway between worlds.

I first walked it as a visitor headed for a tour of Labor and Delivery. Everything I saw that day I thought of as an adjunct to the larger world outside. I was a stranger there, and content to be, letting myself become acquainted with the general shape of it, but none of the details. They were merely instrumental in a life that would involve them only for a day, and then leave to join the outside world with me.

The day came seven weeks earlier than expected, and since then I have crossed this bridge each way three or four times a day. I’ve come in the heat of the day, in the cool of a rainy evening, in a muggy midnight, in a bleary early morning as the eastern sky just started to lighten. Each time, I passed into a weatherless place where the clock hands turn with no other indication of time advancing.

There is a terror that hunts me here that I do everything I can to evade. I keep moving in the halls, act cheerful and confident, try not to leave a trail of fear, turn away from looking at it directly. Still, in its own time, it grabs me by the neck and spins me around to stare me down. I haven’t blinked yet, but my sweat rolls and my stomach drops out and my feet become ice. But I haven’t yet blinked.

On the outside, I’m coasting. The things that held my attention before that day still need tending to, and my body goes through the motions they have trained me to perform. I’m stuck in an out-of-body experience, bodily present, having an effect, but not able to fully appear in the moment. Participating physically without will in a physical world without meaning. Lost beyond lost, for in those moments when I manage to possess my body, I find I’m in a ghost world.

The world on this side of the bridge has become the true one. I can walk it in my sleep, sometimes I must have, finding myself arriving without being able to remember what happened between the car and the desk. At the same time, being able to close my eyes and make the walk in my mind, in color. This far across the bridge. Elevator call button at this height. Turn right out of the elevator. The options at the vending machines and how much each costs. Men’s room here on the right, the light inside always flickers three times before finally coming on. The family waiting room, which chair is best to sit in and read, which ones best to pull your knees up to your chest and close your eyes and still be able to hear your name called when it’s time to go in. The routine at the wash sink, the video instruction loop, every word, every inflection. Where to sign in at the desk, where to find a fresh sign-in sheet if the one on the clipboard is full, where the pens are, where the button is that opens the door, just in case they ever thought they could stop me.

Of course, they would never try without reason. Everyone knows my name, and I know theirs, and we all know why we’re here together. All except the one, the one I’m here for. She’s the little one in the box with the leads and the lines tying her to the machines. She doesn’t know my name yet. She hasn’t yet seen me, hasn’t yet pressed into my chest to feel being held like I will hold her. This time she is restless under the bright white lights of the box when I arrive, shifting and kicking quivery little kicks and opening her mouth so wide she projects a far louder cry than what actually sounds. I reach in through the portal and stroke her temple, pat her tiny bottom like I always do, and she calms and waits. I sing into the box for her, the song I always sing when it’s time for her to sleep, and she goes to sleep. I imagine she dreams, with me, of that time we’ll go across that bridge together.


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