Pasquat was a peaceful little town. I say was, cuz I’m speaking from memory, thinking ‘bout the day I left some thirty years ago. Funny, seems like yesterday. Wish it seemed like it was a thousand million years ago. Coming back doesn’t seem right, but there’s unfinished business, my business.
Thirty years ago there was only one road, over a bridge, that would get you to Pasquat. Visitors would cross over the bridge, and in a minutes time find themselves in the large center, paved roundabout of downtown, ringed by a café, Thrifty White, couple of small bars, a Coast to Coast, Church, and assorted ilk. Visitors, even if they bothered to stop, didn’t stay long, and headed out the way they came, back across the bridge over the Wild River.
Visitors could do that, leave. People like me, born and raised, blood soiled, mixed with the earth couldn’t. We were raised different, raised to believe that where you were, you stayed. Stayed cuz you owed a debt, a debt to your mom, pop, and the community that not only raised, but watched over you. One of the reasons there was never no other road to Pasquat, was by design, to keep people in. Not that we minded visitors, in fact we kinda needed ‘em, so they had built the old concrete bridge back in the heyday of transportation. Course, there had been an old wooden rickety bridge, but that was before my time. The only bridge I ever knew was the one I was looking at now, or rather what was left of it.
As a youngster, we’d fish off the rock pilings, had an old tire swing off that gnarled, ancient river poplar, and play hide ‘n seek along the sloping, brushed banks. Once, I tied a group of old cottonwood branches together, thinking I’d see how far I could float down the river. That particular day was when I started thinking I might want to leave someday, or better said, was when my natural curiosity of what was beyond the bridge manifested. The fact that I ended up right where I started didn’t do much to quell that desire, and truth be told, made me start to wonder what life was all about.
As a young one, I liked to ask a lot of questions. Mom and Pop, and most of the town, including friends just kinda laughed ‘em away. Never got much in the way of answers other then, ‘just the way it is’. The thing is, I wasn’t satisfied with everything being just the way it is. Didn’t understand why no one ever left Pasquat. We all knew there was a bigger world out beyond the bridge. We were able to view that world in our daily paper, on our televisions, in our theaters, our books and the occasional café stranger.
We just couldn’t cross the river. No one born and raised in Pasquat could! Physically! I guess at some point in time, people just surrendered to the fact. First time I tried was when I was 15. Dad had asked that I pick up a pound of pole barn nails at the Coast store, and as I tossed the paper bag on the seat of the old pickup I got the notion to drive across the bridge. I no sooner got across the bridge, crossing the river when I ended up right downtown, driving past the hardware store, headed toward the bridge.
I came to a real, cautious stop just before the bridge, a fire burning deep within, and I seared a promise deep into my soul, that one day, that bridge would come down. That one day, I would stand on the far banks of the Wild River, turn, and never look back.
That was well past thirty years ago, and here I stand today wondering how to get back cross that river, to Pasquat.
I had spent seven years studying the history of Pasquat, watching, listening to the old timers, reading old, weathered newspapers, some going back a hundred years. Lot of stories, lots of talk about God, demons, time warps and strange things going on in the woods. Lot of plain folk felt we were being punished for some wrong doing our grand daddies did, long time back. Only thing conclusive I came up with is that nobody had a clue why no one born and raised in Pasquat couldn’t cross the bridge. That’s when I figured out my first, real attempt to cross the bridge. Shouldn’t of done it, got some people pissed, and there were some real consequences, specially for the nice family whose truck I hid in. Wasn’t their fault, they just happened to come along, stop by the café, and have a large enough pickup with a bed I could hide in. Long story short, they weren’t able to leave Pasquat either, and their retribution for being unknowing accomplices was the distinguished position of being the first of Pasquat’s new citizens in over seventy five years.
Not long after that, there was headline news about a building being blown to hell and back and that fertilizer had been used in making the bomb. That got me thinking, and it also got me wondering about consequences.
The night was humid, full of insects flirting about under a full moon and cloudless sky. Every breath was a chore as the sweat glistened in the soft spell of the warm moon. One way or another, the bridge would be gone, and so would I, and since the good people of Pasquat were satisfied with their lives, no one would care the bridge was gone. Course, there lives would come to a standstill, no more occasional visitors, no more new books, movies, or news. I figured they didn’t care that much, and if they did, they could rebuild the bridge.
The only thing I struggled with, was quit unsure with, is how it all worked. Not the homespun bomb, I knew that was going to work, but rather once the bridge went down, would I stay on the other side or somehow, be transported magically back to the other side, stuck in Pasquat without even a bridge.
By my way of thinking, I had to be on the bridge when it started to crumble. I needed the explosion behind me, so there was no bridge to cross over and yet I couldn’t be too far along on the bridge where it bought me right back, and I had been proven right with a couple of simple experiments. I knew right where I had to be on the bridge when the damn bomb went off. Question was, could I run the 20 some feet past the supports on the west end before I went down with the bridge.
Turns out I couldn’t!
When I woke up the full moon was setting and the dust of rebar and concrete had replaced the choking mouthful of flying bugs, and it struck me quickly, I was on the other side of the river banks. In the diming light of the moon, figures were made out moving in the dawning darkness across the river, muted voices, questioning, concerned.
I sat up, stood up, climbed the steep bank, over crushed concreted, avoiding spouts of rebar and looked back only once, and then never again.
Not much had changed in the decades. The dust had settled, but that was about it as I walked to the bank. I knew that I couldn’t just wander down over the old broken bridge, swim across the Wild River and walk into downtown Pasquat. I had tried that the week before.
I heard the truck before it pulled up behind my favorite Mustang. I didn’t bother to turn and greet the young man as he walked up to stand right aside me.
‘This it, huh?’
‘We start building tomorrow.’