The Bridge to Divorce
Janelle Meraz Hooper
It was a silly way to end a thirty-year marriage. And totally unintentional...at least on Margie's part. All she'd really set out to do was get a good pair of shoes on sale.
On dark gloomy Northwest winter days, heavy clouds hung close to the moist rhododendrons, dampening spirits as well as greenery. The three women who ran the office for a little architectural firm on Commerce street in Tacoma raised their spirits on days like this by going on a "shoe run". One glance out the window at the cloudy sky was all it took to make them spontaneously grab whatever sack lunches were in the refrigerator, hop into Margie's red Mustang convertible, and zip through town. Their mission: to each buy at least one pair of shoes before the architects on the second floor ran out of coffee and realized they were gone.
Margie, the office manager, explained the ropes to Anna, who was new to the office. "Shoe-runs like this require an extra thirty-minutes travel time each way because the local malls have shoes, but they don't have bargains. For that, we have to race through downtown Tacoma, leap on the freeway, cross the Narrows Bridge, and hit the outlet mall on the outskirts of Gig Harbor. When we get there, we all split up, grab as many pairs of shoes as we can in fifteen minutes, and race back to the office. Are you in?"
"Is this something we could get fired for?"
"No, our bosses know we're underpaid. They don't expect us to just sit around when they're busy or gone."
"Then I'm in! But when do we eat?" the young girl asked.
"In the car! Just bring a sack lunch everyday and be ready; the trip is worth it. The outlet store has real leather shoes at a fraction of the cost of shoes at the mall. Oh, sure, the color might be last year's navy blue and the style a few months behind Vogue, but we're way past worrying about being on the cutting edge of fashion; we're into quality!"
Everyday, Margie watched Anna bring in a sack lunch big enough for a Seahawk linebacker, and wait, poised to jump into Margie's Mustang at the first signal. "This girl's going to work out just fine," Margie told the rest of the women. Midweek, Susan ran through the office announcing, "All of the architects are going to be gone for the whole afternoon. They're presenting their new renovation design for the old fire station to the county council."
"How does she know they'll be gone all afternoon?" Anna asked. "What if they get to present their design first?"
"Past experience, my dear, past experience," Margie answered. "The county council hasn't stuck to an agenda since fishing was free. We won't see our young creative bosses for the rest of the day." The three women were out the door in four minutes. Make that five. Anna had to run back in and unplug the coffeepot.
During Anna's mad dash back inside, Margie and Susan put the top down on Margie's restored red '66 Mustang. One look at the low thick clouds told them it wasn't really going to rain, it was just going to be moist enough to ruin their hairdos and turn their hairspray into glue.
With the radio tuned to an all-oldies station, they bopped across town and onto the Narrows Bridge. They all cheered when they came over the hill and saw that traffic on the huge bridge was clear. There wasn't a tow truck or blue-flashing light in sight.
Shopping the outlet malls usually meant that each woman got two pairs of shoes for the price of one. Margie found a pair of navy blue leather spike heels that George would love her in for only eighteen dollars. Then she found a pair of Italian leather driving shoes in red and black to match her car for only ten dollars.
The other women didn't come away empty-handed, either. Susan found a pair of stack heels in gray to match her new suit and a pair of tan Birkenstocks for her college-aged daughter. Anna bought rubber slip-on duck shoes, for rainy weather, in all five fashion colors for nine ninety-five a pair.
Their enthusiasm was only slightly dampened when they got back on the freeway and saw the great bridge, bumper to bumper with more blinking lights than a Christmas tree at Nordstom's. While they inched forward, they turned their lunch bags inside out to ferret out any missed morsels and passed their shoeboxes from one lap to another.
They were going to have plenty of time to admire each other's purchases. Up ahead, a pick-up towing a boat much too large for it's size had jack-knifed and stopped all lanes of traffic going both ways.
"Lordy, Lordy," said Margie as she shut off her engine.
"I have to pee," whined Anna from the back seat.
"You don't have to pee. Just don't look at the water. It triggers a psychological response." Susan advised.
"No, that's not it," Anna insisted, "I really have to pee!" they all laughed.
"Next time," Margie instructed, "Go before we leave. You never know what condition traffic on the bridge will be in."
Bridge stoppages were much too common on the Narrows and everyone was out of their cars milling around and stretching. Apparently, a small squall had passed over the bridge, its rain turning the oil on the pavement into slippery patches that caused the man pulling the boat to lose control, which resulted in a mess of fender benders when the cars around him tried to stop. Everyone knew from experience that no one was going anywhere until the state patrol and tow trucks arrived. Margie counted at least three men outside their cars talking on their cell phones. For a businessman, being stuck on the bridge was a nightmare of missed appointments, angry clients, and frustrated bosses.
Margie strolled to the edge of the railing and took a deep breath of fresh, salty air. She'd always loved the view from the bridge. She watched the currents rush into whirlpools and swirl and swirl until they bumped into the next whirlpool, finally disappearing hundreds of feet beneath the water.
She saw few boats. The main salmon run must be over, she thought. Then her eyes fell on a boat that was very familiar, and so was the man in it. There was her George, tied on a long rope to the bridge pilings. He'd told her he was going to put in a new air conditioning system for that old school house that had been turned into condominiums, but there he was, fishing! No--wait! He wasn't fishing, there were no poles in the water, and who was that woman with him?
In less than a second, her brain telegraphed to her heart that her marriage was over. Anna and Susan were busily petting the black labs in the truck behind them and didn't see Margie run to her car for her new navy blue spikes. The first shoe missed its mark and got caught up in a whirlpool, but the second shoe hit the deck right on target. The surprised boaters looked up to see Margie on the bridge staring down at them like an angry goddess. Her blond hair was being whipped by the wind, behind her black clouds boiled and lightning flashed, or so it seemed to George and the woman. Instinctively, the two on board the boat bolted jerkily in several different directions looking for a place to hide. The only shelter was the sleeping cuddy, and they knew it wouldn't improve matters to duck in there. Before Margie turned to get back into the car, her eyes fell on the name of the boat painted on the side: Satisfaction. Before now, it had seemed like a dandy name.
After that trip, the women lost interest in shoe shopping. The office became a quiet, efficient place of business that scared the heck out of the young architects upstairs. Whenever they wanted coffee, Margie was sure that they drew straws to see which one of them would venture downstairs to the coffeepot where the atmosphere was dripping with perpetual gloom
Everyday, Susan and Anna would gather around Margie's desk to hear the latest. Margie told them that George said he'd just met the woman and they'd only dated a few times and it'd never happen again. Margie, broken-hearted, said that wasn't good enough. From there, things took their normal course. Margie filed for separation. George moved out. Margie threw herself into fixing up the house and joined a health club. George spent a lot of time on his Tide-Runner. There was even a rumor going around that he was living on it.
George told Margie that he never did see the other woman again. He didn't even know what made him take her out in the boat. His and Margie's boat. It was a stupid thing to do, he lamented.
From time to time, Margie got reports that George was seen here or there with a woman. Always a different one, by their descriptions. For her part, Margie didn't even bother to date. All of the eligible men her age in Tacoma seemed to be dating girls in their twenties. That left the old coots. Rich old coots, sometimes, but still, Margie wasn't interested. There just didn't seem to be much point.
Then, one gloomy Saturday, she made a speed run to the outlet shoe store by herself and got caught in bridge traffic on the way home. Looking ahead, she could see flashing blue lights blinking across all lanes of traffic. It looked like she was going to be stuck for quite awhile, so she strolled over to the bridge to look at the view. Looking down, she saw George, fishing under the bridge in the same boat, with a new name: Not Worth It. Surprised that she no longer felt any anger, she watched him. Same old George, he was doing more snoozing than fishing. Margie was overcome with loneliness. He used to be her best friend, and she missed him. On a whim, she took off her red and black driving shoe and tossed it at the boat. There was a slight breeze and the shoe missed. Shouting just to say hello might sound silly, or even desperate. As she turned back to her car, she could hear an old country-western song drifting up from his radio, "You were the only girl for me, you were the only girl for me..."
It's just as well, she thought. Traffic began to move again and she ran for her car. On the drive home, she unconsciously hummed the sad song she'd just heard.
Margie limped to her front door on one bare foot, still thinking about George, and how she'd lost her best friend. Sure, his brains got all tangled up with his zipper, but all in all, they'd had a good marriage.
Back on the boat, the fish weren't running. George had really just come out to relax and have a few beers. He was almost lulled to sleep by the slap of the water against the hull of the boat, except for that rhythmic thud. What was that, anyway? He reached over the side, and pulled out a red Italian driving shoe that had been caught in a whirlpool and drawn to his boat. He looked inside and saw it was a familiar size.
Up on the bridge, traffic was moving smoothly and he couldn't see a red Mustang convertible anywhere, but who else threw shoes at him? He dried off the shoe with his flannel shirt and set it on the dash of the boat to dry. Maybe the storm was over. It was about time, it'd lasted over six months. On the way home he'd drop the shoe by her house and test the weather. He missed his best friend.
Later that day, Margie opened her door to find George leaning against one of the porch pillars, close to the steps so that he could make a hasty retreat if she wasn't happy to see him.
"Did you lose this?" George stammered. Just then, his eyes fell on the matching shoe that Margie had kicked off as she'd come in the door.
"It looks familiar," Margie grinned, "where did you find it?"
"Well, I was out on my boat and--do you have any coffee?" George pleaded.
The next Monday, the architects upstairs were puzzled to hear laughter in the downstairs office. It was the first they'd heard in months. Then, Anna brought the men a whole pot of fresh coffee with a platter of assorted doughnuts. The architects were amused to see that their plain glazed doughnuts had been replaced with the goopy kind, with colored sprinkles all over them. Next, it got eerily quiet until they heard tires squealing in the parking lot. The young men ran to the window just in time to see Margie's red topless Mustang race through the intersection in the direction of the Narrows Bridge and bargain shoes.
"What's been going on here the last couple of months?" the youngest architect asked.
"I'm not sure," one of the other architects answered, "But I think it had something to do with a severe weather system that started at the Narrows Bridge and settled over our office and got stalled here. Whatever it was, it's over now," he grinned as he bit into a sugary doughnut and looked out the window at the little red car speeding towards the bridge.
Janelle Meraz Hooper, a Northwest writer, is the author of A Three-Turtle Summer, set in the Southwest. Contact her : http://www.janellemerazhooper.com
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