The Bridge

I had one clear memory of my brother, Seamus. He was hunched over the kitchen table, drawing in a visual diary with a fineliner. Tawny tendrils of hair hung over his face, his lips clamped in concentration.

One morning he went for a walk and never came back. My parents glued missing posters on trees and telephone poles. There was an article in the local paper. Mum had a blister pack of pills in her bag that she took everywhere, swallowed them dry. Dad putted golf balls on the lawn. All day, every day.

There were no leads, no sightings. I felt as if I lived alone. My parents’ spirits had vacated and I had no one else. I spoke to him in my mind. Seamus, Mum is popping too many pills. Dad is turning into a golf ball. Come home. Please.

He didn’t, of course. On a rain-spattered afternoon a year later, I was walking home from school. The sole of my shoe was coming off; it made a slapping sound on the footpath. My unsupported breasts ached under my school dress. Mum had waved me away when I asked for a bra.

‘Plenty of time for growing up, Leah,’ she said, her eyes glassy. ‘You’ll be wanting to wear all my clothes next.’ She turned to the mirror and tried to apply her lipstick for the fifth time. It was like watching Mr Squiggle draw with his pencil nose.

As I walked up the path, something caught my eye. A flash of turquoise on the side of the brown garage door. I stepped closer, glanced around. No one there. It was a little bridge, rendered with delicacy. I traced its outline with my finger. The paint was tacky and stained my finger blue.

Mum set to work with a rag soaked in methylated spirits when she saw it. All that remained was a curved tinge of blue.

Yet the mystery artist did not give up. The next week the bridge was there again, this time with a line of gumtrees and water beneath. Mum swallowed a pill and handed me the rag.

‘Very odd,’ she said. ‘They usually tag with words, symbols. This one likes landscapes, obviously.’

I took my time cleaning the door, imprinting the image on my mind as it vanished. In that moment I recognised something in the balustrades of the bridge, the gnarled shapes of the branches and the stillness of the water. It was the canal. Seamus had gone there sometimes to draw or smoke pot with his mates.

I dropped the rag and ran, my hair streaming behind me, the cool air pouring into my lungs. The canal was two blocks away, below the housing commission flats.

The bridge was grey, not blue, but the balustrades were the same. A beer bottle floated on the surface of the dun-coloured water and a magpie squawked above my head. I took the steps down to the path and approached the bridge.

What appeared to be a pile of dumped clothing sat at the farthest corner. I ducked my head and called out.

‘Seamus?’

Matted blond hair rose from the pile, a grimy face. A hand raised and the glint of his eyes. He didn’t smile but patted the space next to him.

‘Welcome, Leah. I was hoping you’d come.’

‘Seamus. Is it really you?’

The end of his cigarette glowed as he took a drag, his chin lit yellow like a Halloween trick with a torch. The screeches of birds rang out from above. Water dripped from the underside of the bridge in a regular beat. Tock-tock-tock.

‘Yes. Not how you remember me, I guess.’

‘Will you come home?’

‘Can I?’

I reached for his sleeve, the fabric stiff beneath my fingers. ‘Of course you can.’

‘Leave all of that.’ I motioned to the crumpled clothing and blankets. ‘Someone else might need them.’ He nodded and squinted as he stepped into the light.

We walked home, my brother skeletal and hopeful by my side.

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