The Floating Bridge
The flatboat and the mule rotated slowly like the inexorable turn of the earth on its axis, drifting down the muddy current of the rain-swollen stream. She watched as the animal – his rope harness dangling – planted four hooves at distant angles and raised his snout, flicked his ears. She tensed for the bray, but there was none. She inclined her head, reached for one dangling ribbon of her bonnet and tugged it aside so she could get a better view. She squinted, searching for a human being somewhere on that boat, but couldn’t see a one. The mule made eye contact with her and seemed to smile as he spun away.
“Oh Lord Almighty,” she muttered, anger making her next step so forceful that the section of the floating bridge she now traversed dipped and rocked. “It ain’t natural; couldn’t have got past this here…” She quieted and returned her attention to the planks beneath her heavy leather shoes, straining for calm and balance. Gradually, the world seemed to settle, the sunlight flickered through the leaves of the late summer trees, and the only sounds were cicadas and water splashing rocks and roots or slapping wood as it sluiced around the log pontoons. “I’ll think on the meaning some other time.”
She crossed the third rectangular section of what the folks who lived along Spruce Fork called a bridge but was more accurately four large rafts made with black locust lumber nailed securely – and lashed for good measure – across the backs of black locust logs. The parts could be unhitched to allow traffic through, or in case of flood. Sometimes during times of drought, the entire string of floats rested like a foot-path on the pebbly stream bed. Today the flow was vigorous but not dangerous and she hefted her sack of remedies, canned vegetables, salted pork, and bolts of cloth with one strong arm like a man, slinging it over one shoulder, and lifted her skirts with her other hand like a dainty princess as she hop-stepped to the last section.
“Jem-MEEENA Cooper!’ A high screech called to her from behind.
“Dear Lord, not now,” she whispered to herself as she paused. It was Iddie Meeks–short, rotund, huffing, puffing Iddie who insisted on pronouncing her name like a judgement, barking out the “MEEN” like mean. “It’s Jem-eye-na, Iddie,” she called over her shoulder. “Which you know ’cause we’ve been acquainted since we were children.” She set her satchel at her feet, slowly turned.