Over the Bay Bridge
(an Odd Adventure with your Other Father)
“Celia, the first time I thought the world ended was your other father’s fault. Of course, neither of us knew it at the time. We were just two guys, fresh in love and fresh out of college, little dreaming what odd adventures awaited us. I’ll tell you the story again…”
May of 1985, our graduation ceremony was hours behind us, and we rode Jack’s punch-red VW Beetle across the wide span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Jack was driving, stubborn since it was his car, but he should have surrendered the wheel to me. He hated bridges in general, but the Bay Bridge was its own kind of beast: three lanes wide on the westbound span and 4.3 miles from end to end.
Jack was tall, so he had to lean close so his head didn’t hit the roof of the small car. His hands gripped the wheel like he was ready to pull it from the dashboard. He was like somebody’s nervous grandmother sitting atop two phonebooks — which was funny, since he zipped that Bug like a racecar through the small-town streets of Kent County, Maryland.
The problem was the water that stretched around us for miles on either side, a calm light blue with sun glimmers on tiny peaks. Jack had never learned how to swim.
Two miles in, and I worried maybe he was going to pass out. I touched the top of his knee with a supportive squeeze, and his leg jolted against the accelerator in nervous response.
Okay. Maybe touching him wasn’t such a good idea.
And all the while I’m thinking What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like Jack’s tiny car could crash like a battering ram through the side wall, sending us on a deadly plummet toward the Bay.
June air rushed through the car’s open windows, like a blast from a hand dryer. Our lane had a metal lattice section down the middle, making the tires hum whenever Jack drifted off center.
“It’s pretty solid construction. Concrete and steel cable.”
“Thanks,” Jack said through clenched teeth. Guess I forgot that logic couldn’t compete with somebody’s long-held phobia.
Then one of the steel suspension cables snapped. A dozen or so car lengths ahead, the bridge cracked down the middle as if a giant zipper-tab dragged open the section of metal lattice in our lane.
Gusts of air through the car window, tires on asphalt, the toy-car putter of the VW engine, and my scream.
More cables snapped. Ahead, cars in our lane dipped into the opening — a widening split-span of asphalt and steel and concrete, the flicker of water shining beneath, sun flecks now sharp as broken glass. The sides of the bridge buckled, and cars in the outside lanes began to tumble and slide toward the gaping crevice.
What do you say to someone when you’re both about to die? I shouted Jack’s name, said “love,” then spread one arm across his chest while the other hand gripped the shoulder strap of my seatbelt.
I might have uttered the word “brake” also, in the vain hope that slowing the car would give us a chance.
Jack kept driving at his steady pace. The car’s hood flew up, blocking the view through the windshield. I closed my eyes, fighting the sick-stomach sensation of falling, falling.
“Jesus, Shawn. I’m having enough trouble on this damn bridge without you spazzing out.”
Jack’s hands granny-gripped the steering wheel. The hood was fine. The road ahead was smooth. I turned in my seat: through the rear windshield, the intact
I must have fallen asleep, had a nightmare . . .
“Pretty solid construction. All concrete and steel.” Jack’s imitation of my voice wasn’t very good, but the sarcasm was pretty effective.
I was trembling. My heartbeat raced, and my breaths started to wheeze.
And since my asthma never seemed serious enough to merit an inhaler, there was nothing to do but wait it out.
Jack attempted humor, to distract me from my tight, desperate gasps. “What was in the punch at the graduation picnic? Glad I didn’t drink any.” The comment actually made things worse. I was drugged, having a bad trip. That meant more awful images were on their way.
Don’t think of anything bad, I told myself.
Bright colors. Flowers. Kittens and rainbows.
Don’t think of a rock smashing through the windshield. Don’t think of a bolt of lightning flashing toward us. Don’t think about a nest of spiders in the seat well, an egg sack bursting open as newborns pour out, the tickle of a thousand tiny legs that crawl beneath the cuff of my pants.
Yeah, none of that happened. No more awful hallucinations.
At least, not yet…
“Later I discovered that Jack had unintentionally projected his own fears into my mind — a strange ability he eventually learned to control.
“Celia, it may have been the first, but it wasn’t the only time your other father showed me the end of the world.”
Author’s Note: Today’s entry exists in the world of my first novel, Odd Adventures with your Other Father, currently discounted to ONLY $1 at Amazon in the US and Canada. If you’re enjoying this or other posts on the Apocalypse-a-Day blog, please consider reading more of Jack and Shawn’s Odd Adventures by clicking the appropriate link: Amazon US, Amazon Canada.