The Boy Who Only Ever Wanted to Build Bridges

Anne Howkins

Afterwards, all Matt could do was smash everything he and Sam had built together. The Lego Sam obsessed over. All those kits – the pirate ship, the Millennium Falcon, the T-Rex and velociraptors. The humpback, switchback track they’d made with Scalextric, racing their cars to spectacular skirting board crashes. The papier mâché Thunderbirds island, home to heroes who weren’t there when needed.

All of it. His bloody hands left smears on the walls. The playroom floor was a rainbow of plastic. Matt stepped across the bricks as if he were walking on carpet. Nothing hurt anymore.

Jerry called round. Matt’s drawings had landed the firm the contract for that development near the ring road, they needed to crack on, and it was Matt’s designs that got them the job. No pressure, but work might help? Maybe in a couple of weeks… Jerry’s eyes wouldn’t meet mine when I showed him out.

Midnight. I bury my head under pillows. The thumps and thuds vibrate through the walls. If he wants to destroy everything, I won’t stop him. Anything to stop the thumping and thudding in my chest. Then he is beside me, pulling covers, pillows away, thrusting something into my hands. One of those pretentious arty coffee table books about architecture. The sort he’d scoffed over.

Look Jen, look at this. First time he’s used my name in weeks. This is what Sam wanted to do. First time his son’s name isn’t sobbed.

We sit in bed, the book spread over our knees. He turns the pages until he finds the bridges. He tells me the story of each one, the way he must have done with Sam.

The Chinese lucky knot bridge.

A beautiful circular bridge crossing a lagoon in Uruguay. See it’s perfect, Jen.

Another round bridge near Kyoto – a footbridge made for friendship, he says, curves from straight edges. Its not like that though. Is it? I shake my head.

The Elastic Perspective – a Dutch bridge to nowhere, no top or bottom, a never-ending loop. I wonder if that’s where we’re stuck.

Then a bridge in Germany made of giant Lego blocks. It looks ordinary, utilitarian compared to the others. I’ve been there, Matt says, when you stand underneath it, it’s just an illusion. Paint on concrete. But Sam wanted to see it. To see all the other bridges. All the stuff we built was just practice, we were going to build the best bridges in the world.

When we lie in bed, not touching, exhausted by grief, terrified of discussing the future, I want to tell him that our bridge is gossamer, stretching out over the years, a single strand of spider’s silk, almost invisible, but stronger than steel. It’s all I can offer him.

This story won the Runner-Up Prize in the BRIDGES themed flash competition.

About the author: Anne started writing flash fiction in 2019 and relishes the challenge of writing very short stories. Her stories have appeared in print and online, most recently at Retreat West, Flash 500, Reflex Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, National Flash Fiction Day, Lunate, Strands International and Bath Flash Fiction Anthology 2020.

Image courtesy of NEXT Architects.