I rewatch the footage more than I should, from the camera on Alcatraz looking west: The night is fuzzy and grey, but the halo of streetlights is visible across the entire expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Only the top of the towers are obscured by fog.
Suddenly, a massive flame arcs from one end of the roadway to the other, very fast.
Two fireballs explode, one at each tower. Cables snap, and the roadway sways and tilts. The cars are visible, just for an instant, and then the lights above them go out. There’s a terrible glow, orange and red, and belching clouds of smoke. So much smoke. It rolls forward in unending banks, an evil twin of the fog.
Eventually, the towers fold. By then there’s a small army of drones shining their bright lights onto the scene, so everything is clear. The south tower seems to melt; it bends to the side very slowly and then stops, leaning precariously towards the Bay. The north tower is more dramatic. It simply crumples into the water as though a giant thumb pressed it down.
BridgeFall. One stooped tower, a roadway mangled beyond repair, and a smoldering, gaping hole. The debris has long been cleared away. But every San Franciscan is waiting for what comes next: a day of reckoning and then the resurrection.
And they both depend on me.
I’m in danger of missing my crossing. Only four minutes to go, and I’m battling the rush hour flurry at Crissy Field. People surge in every direction but once I spot my coffee cart, I’m inspired to soldier on.
“It took me forever to find you,” I tell the barista as I hand over my thermos.
“They moved all the vendors around this weekend,” he says, reaching for the carafe of my coffee. His movements are always graceful. “Not sure why.”
A pink-haired girl at the neighboring booth pops her gum, “Someone said they’re pushing us back so they can start digging for the new bridge.” She’s a trick-kite artisan, says her sign, and there’s plenty of colorful ribbons flying around her to prove it.
The barista looks at me, “That true?”
“We’re not ready to dig,” I say as I reach for the thermos.
The girl stares at me. Girl - she’s in her twenties. Late twenties, like me, judging from the frown lines that just popped out on her face.
“I’m sorry, I have to - “ I gesture towards the dock.
“Are they ever going to be ready?” I hear her say as I weave away through the crowd.
It’s been more than two years since BridgeFall. Plenty of time for the locals to pass through all the stages of grief and move on to sheer irritation that they’re still lacking a span. The Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t just a tourist attraction. Every morning commuters emerged from the tunnel on the Marin side, the red-rust posts pulling them towards the City. On the other side their counterparts crawled towards the headlands - ocean to the left, islands to the right. Then one day the connector was gone.
The temporary transit services that have sprung up to replace the bridge are a mess. The helicopter pad is too close to the float plane dock; sometimes the air traffic controllers have to suddenly ground one or the other to straighten out the tangle. The jet ski fleet is relatively new but already it’s provoked debate. One reviewer said the new craft were reminiscent of the Venetian traghetti, simple skiffs that purposefully transport the locals back and forth across the canals. Another likened them to “malignant mosquitoes”.
I’m ambivalent about the jet skis. My vehicle of choice is the ferry. Not as fast but cheaper, and forgiving. I wave to the steward as I run towards the ramp and he waits until I’m on board to give the all clear.
As I pause in the lounge to catch my breath, a headline scrolls across the displayscreen in front of me: Bridge Still Up In The Air As Bomber Trial Looms.
That’s not the reaction I should be having. We all want the BridgeFall Bomber brought to justice. I should be relieved that the trial is getting underway after months of “further investigation”. Even if my family will come under scrutiny again. Me especially - that headline is just the beginning. But after the trial our lives can return to normal, or whatever normal has become.
Another 8:25 regular is standing next to me, expertly applying lipstick despite the bump of the boat. She glances my way, “Hey, Cara.”
“Hey.” I’m still clutching my thermos; I take a quick sip. “Did you have a good weekend?”
“Good enough.” She tilts her head at the displayscreen, “So have they set a date for the trial?”
Here we go. “Not that I’ve heard.”
“Well you would know.” She deactivates her mirror and turns her full attention on me, “It must be getting pretty intense for you at work.”
I bolster my voice, “Actually I’m presenting a new bridge proposal to my boss today. Pretty sure this one will be a go.”
“Vibe.” She smiles but I read the doubt in her eyes.
The lounge will be full of conversations like this one. I take another draught of coffee and then stow the thermos in my bag. “I’m going on deck,” I tell her.
“Good luck!” she calls out as I head upward, my boots clanging on the metal stairs.
As I step outside a helicopter buzzes overhead and whirs directly through the void. The place where the Golden Gate Bridge used to be. Even against the brightness of the sky I can see its ghost. The girders lacing underneath, the towers climbing above, the cables curving in between.
I suck in my breath and look around. There are only two other people up here, a young woman with a backpack and a little boy. The woman squats down, “Are you finished with your juice? Mama can take it.”
“All done!” pipes the little voice.
I walk past them and lean against the white metal railing that encircles the deck. The City is fanned out before me. The dock by the Marina Green, and the spires of the boats - more boats now than there used to be. The hills, with the streets ribboning up them. Then the tall buildings downtown. There’s more of them too, as though someone copy-pasted them into the background and no one yelled “Stop!”. But my eyes are drawn to the town that’s been there longer: the pyramid, the church steeples, the gabled houses. Coit Tower, perched on the edge like a wave good-bye.
My watch dings softly. It’s my alarm. Thirty minutes until my presentation to my boss. A presentation that could make or break my career.
My proposal is ready to go. It’s not what I expected to be pitching when I took the job, but it is a bold step forward. Things have been stalled for too long. It’s not my fault, exactly, but it’s my responsibility to get a new bridge approved, even if I have to do it without the help I expected. Without any help at all, really, that’s why this meeting is so important -
I touch the stone on the chain around my neck. It looks so nondescript, like a pebble picked up from the ground, small and grey and smooth. “Find something you can focus on when you feel overwhelmed,” the counselor advised me. “Something that brings you calm.”
Once, twice. Breathe and let go.
The opposing ferry carrying people into the City is passing, and our boat rocks gently in response. The view to the west is serene: the Presidio stretched out, as though the ocean heaved up a great swath of greenery to distance itself from the melee that is San Francisco. My dad and I used to hike there, inhaling the heady aroma of the eucalyptus trees. “They’re not sick.” He would point to the motley trunks. “The bark’s supposed to peel off like that.”
There’s a squeal on deck; I look over. The young woman with the backpack is slathering sunscreen on the little boy's face and he is trying to wriggle free from her grasp. It’s a struggle familiar to me. The little boy looks about three years old, the same age as my daughter.
This morning Taima slid under the covers on my side of the bed. Put her hands on my face, her warm chubby little-kid hands, and smiled a secret little smile at me. Maybe she was remembering a dream for the first time in her life. Maybe she’d just experienced a satisfying fart. Whatever it was she had kept it to herself.
Her usual style was a steady stream of consciousness: “I done my cereal now Mommy. What are you doing? I want to play ball now, where is my blue ball, can you play with me Mommy?” But this morning was different, and I stare at the wake of the boat, wondering why.
As if on cue the little boy runs past me, sunscreen still smeared on his face. His mother calls out, “Silas! Come back here.”
Silas is ignoring his mother. He climbs onto the railing not far from me and points out to the Bay. “Lookit the boats! Mama! Lookit!” A group of sailboats is sliding by, all with tall masts and twilight-blue sails.
“Silas, get down from the railing. It’s not safe!” His mother starts towards him.
The bleat of a horn signals our approach to the Marin side. My watch buzzes, and I glance at my wrist. But it’s not my alarm, it’s a tweet. It’s -
Moral Compass @MoralCompass
“Provocation - a house divided against itself cannot stand. The time has come to dissolve the union. #redux”
Moral Compass? I bring the watch up closer to my face so I can read the tweet again. It doesn’t make sense. That account has been dormant for a decade, so why would -
“What does ‘redux’ mean?” I whisper to my watch, as the little boy’s mother stalks past me in pursuit of her child.
“Redux means repeat,” the watch replies. “Also, renew. Start again.”
My heartbeat starts to rev, and there's a bizarre tickling inside my mouth. Like a fly, buzzing at the back of my tongue. I clear my throat but it doesn't help. Shit.
I pull the chain out from under my shirt and grasp the stone in my hand, up near my face. It vibrates gently, and I close my eyes. Then I start to hum.
The mother’s voice breaks through, “Silas, I told you to get down. Give me your hand or we go inside right - this - second.”
“I don’t want to,” Silas protests. “Go away from me, Mama!”
What follows must surely happen in slow-motion: Footsteps, then a small body slams into mine. My eyes open and I jerk forward. The chain around my neck snaps and the stone, the stone flies free from my hand. Lands in the blue-green water with hardly a splash, and disappears from sight.
I whirl around. The little boy’s face is red and I see his mother’s eyes widen. “Oh! No - ” The ferry shudders as it approaches the dock; the mother reaches out to steady her little boy. “I’m sorry. Silas, say you’re sorry.” She pushes him forward but he takes off running towards the stairs that lead inside. “I’m sorry,” she calls out again as she follows after him. And then they are gone.
My breath is ragged. What is wrong with her, this mother who can’t control her child. She said it herself, it’s not safe, up here on deck. Then she lets her kid run around, she doesn’t pay attention - and look what happens! I turn around and grip the railing, my heart still pounding.
The water slaps cold and grey below. All I can think to do is stare into its depths, as though the Bay might relent and spit that precious stone back at me.