Story, “Bridges Made From Junk,” by Stephen Page

Bridges Made From Junk

By Stephen Page

brookln bridge under constructionAs the glass and metal doors slide open, Jonathan Burns steps outside into the cool October air. Crisp brown leaves scrape across the sidewalk. He rolls up a sheaf of poems, sticks it in his jacket pocket, takes out a pack of cigarettes, lights on, inhales deeply then lifts his face to the sun and feels the nicotine rush wash over his body. First cigarette he has had in weeks. He takes another drag, exhales, and watches the smoke tunnel out of his mouth. When the doors close behind him, he walks down the drive and out the front gates, finds the nearest bar, and orders a beer.

Jonathan is walking down a cobblestone street. Choral music emanates from one of the many churches that line the street. Bells are calling people to prayer. Holy men, their faces dark in the shadows of hooded robes, stand within pointed window frames. Jonathan looks inside one of the churches and notices the ribbed, Gothic-style vault. The masonry is smooth and gray and smells freshly built. He goes in, steals the sacrificial wine, and runs outside into the blaring sun.

He is sitting cross-legged on a tapestry rug, smoking hashish from a water pipe, listening to Jimi Hendrix play If 6 was 9. Jimi wears a multicolored silk shirt and strangles notes from his white Stratocaster within the confines of a black-light poster that hangs upon a wall. The poster melts, swirls, and transforms into a gilt-framed painting. It is Rembrandt’s Self-portrait c. 1667. The paint is glistening. A bowling trophy sits on a table below the Rembrandt. A woman wearing a minute array of transparent veils glides into the room. Her skin is the color of lightly creamed coffee. She is sable-haired, has sweeping cheekbones, wears small jeweled rings, and has thin gold chains adorning her wrists, waist, and ankles. She is carrying a cardboard shoe box. Jonathan wants to reach out and touch her, to place his cheek against the mouth of her belly. She sits in a chair behind the table, pushes the bowling trophy aside, sets the shoe box upon the table, and slowly lifts the lid. From inside the box, she carefully extracts a note pad, a pencil, and a stack of cards. She methodically positions them equally apart in front of her. She sets the empty box near her nude feet. One at a time, she turns over each card, examines it front to back, then stacks it face down into a new pile. When she has gone through the entire deck, she lifts the pencil and writes something in the note pad. She looks up at him. Her eyes are crystal yellow.

Jonathan is in a red-draped room. An early jazz song sung in French begins to play. All around him are women in various stages of undress, and men wearing Nazi uniforms stand near the women. They are all talking, laughing, drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes. A white-gloves hand offers Jonathan an enormous bottle of Dom Pérignon ‘38 and he pours himself a glass. As he sips, the cool bubbles burst inside his nose, releasing small drops of chilled, fragrant air. He peers over the rim of his glass. The harem girl is still at the table in front of him, as are the Rembrandt above her, the bowling trophy near her, the cards, the note pad, the pencil, the rectangular box at her feet. She gazes into his eyes and begins to shuffle the cards.

The jukebox against the wall of the soda shop blasts American pop tunes. Girls in tight sweaters, poodle skirts, bobbysocks, and saddle shoes dance with boys that have their hair slicked back and packs of cigarettes rolled up in their T-shirt sleeves. One of the boys, an old friend of Jonathan who looks exactly the same as he had in high school, hands him an open pint of bourbon that smells like paint thinner. The harem girl is staring intently at him, and she begins to flip the cards face up and lay them out in neat vertical rows.

Jonathan and the harem girl are sitting together at the back of a dark, smoke-filled bar. Musicians on a low stage in the corner play bluesy jazz music with complicated be-bop riffs. Jonathan is squeezing the girl’s thigh. She is cradling the empty shoe box in one arm and pressing a breast into his ribs. They are sipping scotch. A man wearing a long black leather jacket walks up to their table and deposits a small packet of tinfoil. Jonathan pays the man, opens the packet, and puts the brown clump onto a spoon. It is the same color as the girl’s skin. He adds a few drops of water from a dripping ice cube, lights two matches, puts the flame under the spoon, allows the brown liquid to boil, and extracts it into a syringe. While the girl squeezes his biceps with one hand, he inserts the needle into a vein. She releases her hand. He jerks once and the girl drops the box, opens his shirt and frantically runs her fingers through his chest hair. His eyes flip closed. He floats with the girl to a small room in the back of the bar and drifts onto a bed. She removes his clothes, then, swaying to the music, slowly slips off her veils. She lies next to him and pulls him towards her so that his backbone is embedded in her warm spot and his shoulder blades upon her stomach. She turns his head, sets his cheek upon her breasts, wraps her legs around him, and places the soles of her feet upon his flaccid penis. She begins to hum. Her body smells of jasmine and salt. He falls asleep rocked in her arms.

Through the glass of a cracked-paint window frame is a view of the Brooklyn Bridge under construction. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D plays on a gramophone on the floor. Jonathan sits comfortably in an old brown chair, the only item of furniture in the flat, and stares at a wet spot on the hardwood floor. he has not changed his clothes nor shaven for a week. Roaches crawl on the walls. He is at peace.

Punk rock music is blaring. Jonathan is screaming. The ground is shaking and the ceiling of a dank basement is falling in chunks upon him. In front of him, the Rembrandt is hanging upside-down, the bowling trophy is smashed, the cards are scattered on the floor, and the girl is gone. Someone is lying in the box.

Brightness knifes into Jonathan’s eyes. The walls are white. Blaringly white. He is lying inert, face-down with his cheek on the cool white fabric of the floor. He pukes and lies there with his nose and cheek in the putrid, lumpy vomit. His throat is burning, his mouth feels sticky, he can feel bile clogged in his nasal passages. His intestines feel wrapped around his stomach and are moving up toward a point at the back of his throat. He pukes again. Attempting to rise, he finds it impossible to move his arms. The room begins to spin. He screams and a blonde, blue-eyed, beautifully pale woman wearing a white gown is standing over him.

 

 

this story first published on amphibi.us:

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