I watch the footage more than I should. It’s the vid 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. The temporary transit services that have sprung up to replace the bridge are a tangled mess, and no one seems inclined to fix them. The helicopter pad is too close to the float plane dock. Kayaks litter the beach with their batteries depleted. The new jet skis were supposed to provide the ultimate crossing experience, but instead they’ve been likened to “malarial 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.
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! Did you have a good weekend?”
“Good enough.” She tilts her head at the displayscreen, “Did they finally set a date for the trial?”
“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.
I pick up my bag. The lounge will be full of conversations like this one. “I’m going on deck,” I tell her.
“Good luck!” she calls out as I head up 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.
The Bay Bridge is on the periphery. I resent it now, where before I pitied its striving.
My watch dings softly. Thirty minutes until my presentation. A presentation that could make or break my career. It’s been more than two years since BridgeFall. Plenty of time for the citizens of San Francisco to pass through all the stages of grief, and move on to sheer irritation that their bridge is still down.
My proposal is ready to go. It’s not what I expected to be pitching when I took this job, but it is a bold step forward. This project has 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, and that’s why this meeting is so important -
I touch the small stone on the chain around my neck. “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 to the City is passing, and our boat rocks gently in response. It soothes me. So does the view to the west, 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. We used to hike there when I was a child. I still remember the overwhelming aroma of the eucalyptus trees.
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 is 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 today was different, and I stare at the wake of the boat, wondering why.
The bleat of a horn signals our approach to the Marin side. Presentation upcoming. I try to refocus my thoughts as the little boy runs past me, laughing, 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!” There’s a group of sailboats behind us, all with tall masts and twilight-blue sails.
“Silas, get down from the railing. It’s not safe!” His mother starts towards him.
My watch buzzes, and I glance at my wrist. 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.
“Redux means repeat. 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. Fuck.
I pull the chain out from under my shirt and grasp the stone in my hand, up near my face. 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 in recognition. “Oh! You’re - “ The ferry shudders as it approaches the dock, and she reaches out to steady her little boy. “I’m sorry, so 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.