A Gated Memory

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2003

By Max Strebel, Illustrated by the author

Swish, Swish . . . The repetitive motion of the windshield wipers flicks the tapping droplets to the side. The fog flushes out everything as if someone poured the foam from a soda over San Francisco. Only the tops of the Golden Gate’s 746-foot towers protrude out of the milky sky. Going over the bridge, I see a man. The man is barely visible through the misty window and the thick fog, but visible enough to see him slip on the concrete glazed by the shimmering water.

*          *          *

There he was. The radio was on. President Roosevelt was talking to the nation. He loved fireside chats and therefore paid close attention. It was our lunch break, and we were all sitting on one of the big icy-cold beams. The loudspeaker was perched above us. He stopped eating and concentrated on the fuzzy radio transmission. Once Roosevelt said “the New Deal,” he kept eating. Our boss blew the horn and said, “Lunch is over.” We packed up our lunches and put back on our helmets.

My brother and I picked up our tool belts, strapped them around our waists, and went back to work. His gentle face didn’t fit the ominous structure looming above us. With one hand he grasped the metal ladder and started to ascend the structure that would one day span from San Francisco to Marin. His weary posture struggled to climb toward the cries of seagulls above. After listening to “The Shadow” all night, his tired body could barely make it. However, he maintained his high spirits and flashed me a smile.

a gated memory hard hat guy climbing a bridge

His weary posture struggled to climb toward the cries of seagulls above

As I looked down, I was thankful to see the safety nets protecting us from the darkened water below. The criss-crossing ropes had saved many of my friends, so I knew I had little to fear. But as my courageous brother reached for a dangling cable, his foot slipped on the steady hold, and he fell forward into those loving nets. I gasped as I saw my brother fall through the chilled wind, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight to follow. After he hit the net, he began to struggle to his feet. But before he could stand upright, a snap echoed through the hills, and I saw my brother plunge into the murderous blue below. My eyes clung to the spot where he had landed on the concrete waters, until the fog swallowed the ripples of my heart.

*          *          *

As I finish crossing the bridge, I notice a strip of sunlight piercing through the rainy sky. I look back through my misty windshield and the man is gone. Was he the key to my buried memory? Now the stranger is gone too. Or was he just a reminder? I focus on something, but only the gray looks back.

a gated memory max strebel

Max Strebel, 13
San Francisco, California

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