hi, touch me
My message reads. He’s quick to reply:
waiting for you
I quickly shower, change and head out. The sun is scorching my neck. It’s so hot, I want to dive right into the river. When I reach the bridge that leads to his apartment, I notice some significant chunks of concrete missing from one of its pillars. Perhaps a boat lost its way and rammed into it.
Making my way across, I'm conscious of how heavy it must be. This bridge is fairly old, though I'm sure it’s being maintained. That crumbling pillar should be repaired soon. People of this city who know about bridges, take care of this one, I think.
An hour or two later the sunlight is gone, though I can still feel the warmth of the day inside his apartment. Our shared silence draws out for long enough, I begin to gather my clothing. Through a shiny plastic window, I see his surname printed on a utilities bill left on the dresser.
I’m settling back into the city. The air smells sweet again, I didn’t realise how much I missed being near the water. During my time away, I thought of him from time to time, though there was no reason to message.
Charlie! Of course I remember you. Where have you been?
Far from here, you still around?
I am, you free this afternoon?
Free as a bird
Let’s meet in the park near my place?
I stopped to get ice blocks on the way. The day was dragging on, still sunny and humid when he arrived. He looks big and old, more so than the last time we saw each other. His face had a soft red glow, perhaps a marker of something unhealthy, like he had been working out compulsively and eating terribly.
His head glistened with tiny beads of sweat, the skin on it showing signs of the sun. The familiar smell of his detergent struck me as we hugged and shared a kiss on the cheek.
You look better than I’ve ever seen, Arlo, I said, leaving my hand on his shoulder.
Stop it, I'm nearly dead, he sighed, tilting his head back and looking toward the sky.
No, really, you look great.
I slide my hand across his shoulder, landing it on the back of his upper arm.
You must be well into your fifties now?
And you must be really old now too, Charlie?
Settling into old age well, I said with a smirk as we both sat down on the bench.
I brought us ice-blocks, and they’re melting fast.
I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, Arlo said as I handed him the ice-block.
The laughter coming from small groups passing by seemed unnaturally enthusiastic, like the sounds that come from the brothel next to my house. The day is bright and warm, I suppose.
I admired his eating strategy, bent forward, holding it away from his body in between parted legs. I’ve been trying not to make a mess, but my focus in on the bridge, its two sturdy pillars plunging into the water. Each of them standing parallel, supporting the same platform. He is one of those pillars, I think. My hands feel sticky all over.
It’s clear we share a fundamental understanding, yet even after all these years, we have volunteered very little information of ourselves. This dynamic never changed, and I wasn’t sure what that stood for. In fact, we’d never met outside of his apartment. It felt abnormal that we were suddenly in this park together.
Distracted, I trip a little as I step away from the park bench. He must have been watching me, because he was quick to pat my upper back affectionately, like a teacher would.
Sticky and out of breath, through his bedroom window, the tip of the bridge is in view. The weight of it impossible to comprehend. The warm glow of the streetlights streaming onto my body, I can feel my hair receding, my neck and knees hurt. The only way I can break the sudden stillness is to let out a dramatic sigh.
Some of the mystery was gone, because earlier today I found his wikipedia page. He probably didn’t write it himself, because it turned out he was somewhat famous. Well, in certain circles.
Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving? He asked.
My head resting on his chest, it took some time to form my words.
I didn’t think you’d care
Of course I care
I raised my body away from his and turned my face in his direction.
Arlo, I didn’t know that
Well, you do now
With another sigh, I let my body fall back onto the bed.
I'm glad you’re back, Charlie, he said rolling towards me, placing his hand on my chest.
For the first time, his movements aren’t pressuring me to leave, the bridge is. The distance from it to the water seems bigger than ever. Both pillars are fundamental to keeping it above the water, and the cracked one is still crumbling, I think, feeling a mutual sense of inadequacy.
The distant sound of construction floats through the window as I get dressed. Maybe they’re finally fixing it, I think, heading down the stairs.
See you in four years! I call out from the bottom of the stairs.
From the street, I can see him in the window. He is smiling and gesturing for me to come back, but I’m already on my way.
The sound of heavy drilling becomes louder as I approach the bridge. In the water, a small boat is pulled up against the foot of the crumbling pillar, a construction worker has their palms pressed against it.
Thank you for your work, I think.