The last crossing
He waits on the corner where the towpath joins the road into town. The time is unpredictable but the place is always the same.
Sometimes he appears older, sometimes younger, though he always has the same face, and always makes the same offer.
Cross the bridge, he tells you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve come looking for, this is always his answer. Cross the bridge and you’ll find what you need.
But, you say, there’s no bridge here. At which he smiles his half-smile, pulls back a curtain where there isn’t one, and there it is, unfolding over the mucky water. It is paper-thin and yet somehow seems sturdy enough when you place a foot very, very carefully on the slats. Your first steps are slow, and even on the other side you find yourself looking back the way you came, just to see if the bridge is really there.
And he is quite correct. On the other side, you find- for it is always there waiting- exactly what you need.
You get so caught up in having found it, finally, you don’t notice the loophole. You find out soon enough, when you try to step back onto the bridge and find the way blocked.
Take something, leave something. Balance. You know it suddenly, and certainly. And you see why it is you were waited for, what is wanted.
And then you smile your own half smile, find some soft earth by the water, and press your feet into the mud.
“Footprints,” you say, and with that you walk quickly over the bridge and back down the towpath, leaving him to stare after you, angry and dumbfounded, in the dusk.