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Tuckerman's Bridge

Short story By: Yankee0455
Other



A land developer has progress halted by a squatter on the property who uses a parable to provide him with a different perspective on life and living


Submitted:Aug 13, 2013    Reads: 7    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


TUCKERMAN'S BRIDGE

I was a builder of shopping malls until she made me a builder of bridges.

I was called down to the construction site whose clearing was already behind schedule due to an old woman who had staked a claim and was refusing to leave. I found her with her back to a pine tree; a dead one at that, one whose time had come. She had a ripened face and crooked body from old age or neglect. Her teeth were yellow or gone, but she smiled unconditionally as she gazed up at me. "I can have you forcibly removed," I said, refusing her affability.

"But you won't," she said.

"Sure on that, are you?"

"You would have done it by now," she said. "And you wouldn't have come down yourself to do it."

"I have to; I own the company. And," I added with emphasis, "this piece of property."

It was 98 acres of woodland and open field. I liked it because it was at the confluence of an Interstate and major boulevard going into the downtown. I liked it because it was the last usable parcel in the northern section of the city, a fact she was aware of. "You're taking away the last piece of earth," she said.

"Not this tripe," I said. "The last census I saw showed no hunter-gatherers living on this tract."

"You're taking the last place of solitude, what are you giving back?" she said.

"Stores to shop in and work at," I snapped.

"Sit," she said. I stared down on her fragile head and shoulders. She patted the pine straw beside her, transporting a pungent scent of pine and wet earth up to me.

I looked around. We were alone. The machinery sat idle in the distance. I tugged at my Dockers and knelt gingerly.

"Come now," she implored, "sit."

I have built thirteen shopping centers of varying sizes throughout the state. I have fought, bribed, cajoled, and lied my way into thousands of acres. Never have I sat on wet dirt beside an old woman. "Most of the world are givers and takers, and a good many are just takers. But the givers," she said, touching me on the sleeve, "will always be too few. Can I tell you a story?"

"I haven't got time to hear a. . ." I started, but then, she told me.

Tuck was an old man who lived in a steep valley between two towns, Ubertas and Attero. One morning he climbed out of the valley into the town of Attero with two large burlap sacks over each shoulder. No one in town had ever seen him before. He smiled, toothless and gray, at everyone he saw as he walked to the library which was just a rickety old house in the center of town. There, he dropped his sacks as a small group of curious Atteroans looked on. Before unloading, he stood as straight as his crooked back would allow and addressed the crowd. "My friends call me Tuck," he said. "So please, call me Tuck."

"What's in the sacks?" they all shouted.

Now Attero was a poor town that sat near the top of the highest peak in the region. Its remote location had cut it off from other towns, including prosperous Ubertas. For years its people suffered from droughts and disease and near famine. Folks didn't leave Attero because it was surrounded by the steep valley where Tuck lived. Few could carry themselves, never mind all their belongings, through the valley. And for the same reason, new folks didn't come to Attero which made old Tuck's arrival even more exceptional.

"I have been blessed beyond my wants and would like to come to Attero to share my good fortunes with you, if you will have me," Tuck said.

"Yes," they screamed impatiently, for Atteroans were not used to being brought things. "Empty your sacks for us to see."

Slowly and gently he bent over and opened them. He took out books of all sizes. There were hard covers and paperbacks, adult and children, historical and science. "What are these?" a woman said.

"Books."

"For what?"

"Your library."

Attero was not a town that took to learning new ways. They were content, some say happy, to stick to the ways of their fathers and grandfathers. Some called it pride, some called it arrogance, most didn't know the difference between the two.

Several of the women stepped forward and inspected them. "What we need is food for our children. What good are books if the children are too weak to read them."

"Or too blind," one said.

"Or too sick," said another.

Tuck nodded in agreement. "You keep the books. I'll stack them in the library. Next time, I'll bring food for your children. When they are strong and healthy, they can read and learn to make themselves stronger in mind and spirit."

True to his word, Tuck returned the next month with two more sacks, one very large, one much smaller. In the large sack he had vegetables: potatoes, carrots, beans, onions, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers. In the smaller, he carried the seeds.

The farms of Attero had grown dry and parched over the decades. The farmers had given up trying to revive them, giving in to droughts, soil diseases, and pests. "Why do you give us seeds," the old farmers said. "We have no good farmland left."

"You wasted space where you could have brought twice as much food," the women told him.

"The game is scarce," one of the men said. "We could do with meat to go with the vegetables."

"Yes," said Tuck. "I can see your farms have withered. Perhaps you can restore them with work, but I will bring you meat in the meantime."

As promised, the next month Tuck climbed up he steep cliffs with two more sacks that wiggled and squirmed. He asked to be brought to a fenced in pen where there he released two young piglets, one male, one female. "Why these scrawny things wouldn't feed me," a frail man said.

"Not yet, but they will grow and bear young ones who will," Tuck said.

"My children are hungry now," a woman said.

"We can't wait for these two to grow and breed," a man said. "We'll die waiting."

"I will bring more food," Tuck said, "more food so you can begin to populate your forests and farms and lakes."

He returned every week for the next two months, each time with two sacks filled with hens and roosters, rabbits, trout, bass, young lambs, pheasants, poults, and grouse. The townspeople grew impatient with Tuck. "You don't understand," they said. "We are many and you bring so few. It will take years for them to be able to feed us all."

"Patience with nature is what you need, rewards are what you will receive," is all he said each time he came and left.

A meeting was held in the Attero library that now housed the books Tuck had brought in. No one knew what to make of this old man who came too often with too much for a man who lived in the deep valley. "How does he get up and down those cliffs?" one asked.

"And at his age?"

"With heavy sacks?"

"Why, is what I want to know," said a woman.

A large man who had called the meeting stomped heavy on the floor. All eyes turned to him. With his thick arms folded across his chest he boomed, "Why indeed. More importantly, where does he get such things?"

The crowd buzzed. "Yes, where? Where does he get this food and seeds and books?"

"The seeds could be poisoned," the man said. "The animals could have diseases."

No one stopped to ask why Tuck would do such a thing, why he would try to hurt the poor people of Attero. They were too concerned with why he would try to help them, and so it was decided that next time he came up with his gifts, he would be followed by one of the younger, stronger townsfolk to find where he lived.

Tuck came again with several hunting rifles and shells. "Who gets the guns," the big man asked.

"The town," Tuck said.

"But who in the town?"

"I never really thought about one person," Tuck said. "They are to help you in the hunt when it's time. I guess when it's time you will know who."

They allowed Tuck to disappear down into the valley before sending the boy in to follow him. All night and early into the next morning four of them, two men and two women, waited for him to return. Maybe the old man killed him," a woman said.

"Could have," said the other, "he knows the valley, that's for sure. That boy, he's never gone down before."

But the boy did return, scraped and exhausted. After getting water and taking time to recover, he told his story. "The old man took off down that cliff like a swollen river," he said. "Almost lost him outta the shoot."

"Was he tryin' to get away from ya, boy?" they asked.

"Not tryin', just doin'," he said.

"He took me through the toughest brush I ever seen. He went through it like rainwater but it ripped me up awful. Got to his place finally."

"What place?"

"A lean-to in the base of the valley. Little place. Smaller than Ernie Rutherford's."

The one Ernie needs to lay sideways in so's his feet don't stick out?" a man said.

"Pretty near."

"I'm not believin' that."

"Truth," the boy said.

The men and women looked at each other. How could that be? This man had books. He had vegetables and seeds. He had wild game and farm animals. He had guns and bullets. He had money.

"Then what?" they asked.

"Then nuthin'. I came home."

They told the boy to get on home. Then they began to think. "That man, that Tuck, he's up to something."

"He's got stuff hidden is what he's up to."

"No. No, that's not it," the big man said. "I didn't want to be sayin' this less I was sure but now, I'm sure."

"Sure of what?"

"Thief," he said.

Being a poor town, Atteroans could forgive almost any sin but thievery. People in Attero couldn't afford to give; they surely could afford to be taken from. It was decided that the two men would go into the valley before the rest of the townspeople awoke to set justice right. So they took a gun brought to them by Tuck, and some shells, and they slid and tripped and tumbled and cursed their way into the valley below.

At long last they were on the valley floor. The boy's directions were true, his description of Tuck's place accurate; a lean-to, very tiny. It was nestled snugly against a sheer cliff face so that neither wind nor rain nor wild animal could enter, nor could the men.

Feeling confident and brazen with the power of the rifle in their hands, they approached the lean-to. "Old man," the big one hollered, "come out."

Some rustling, a thud, a metallic bang, and Tuck appeared at the entrance. He carried a black-as-coal frying pan and a large spoon. "Good day to you," he said, beaming. "I get no visitors and now, I get two of my new friends. You're hungry; I know I am after such a climb. Have breakfast with me."

"No," they said.

"It isn't much, but it'll stick to your ribs and get you home."

The big man carried the rifle cradled in his arms. He looked around at the valley, the sheer cliff, the deathly stillness. "You bring us books but I see no stores," he said.

"Not in the valley," Tuck said.

"You bring vegetables, but I see no garden," he said.

"No," said Tuck. "No garden."

"You bring farm animals, but I see no barn."

"No barn either."

"You bring wild game but this valley is empty."

Tuck nodded. "Pretty much."

"And this gun and shells."

"I'm glad you've found them useful."

"So from where?" the man asked.

"No matter from where, what matter is to who."

"You're wrong old man. In Attero, where is very important. And how. Have you money to buy these things?"

"I have no money," Tuck said.

"No source, no means," the man said. "So you steal."

"Never," Tuck said, showing a hint of hostility.

"Show us what you have," the man said, moving toward the open doorway.

"All you see is all I have."

"Let us in."

Tuck stood firm. "You have come as far as I will allow, given your attitude, but please, you may sit out here and we can talk."

The big man motioned to his compatriot to move Tuck aside. Firmly, Tuck was thrown down and the two entered the cramped quarters. It was as Tuck said, empty of anything interesting. From outside, Tuck called in, "Why do you question good deeds when the evils of waste, neglect, slothfulness, and ignorance surround you?"

The two came out. "Where are you hiding it?" they demanded.

"Nothing is hidden."

They hit him across the shoulders with the butt of the rifle and he crumbled.

"Where?" they demanded.

"All I have is all you can see."

They hit him again, harder. And so it went as they demanded answers he couldn't give until finally he lay lifeless. They tore the hut board-by-board but found no food, no guns, no bullets, no money. They found several books they had no time to look at.

They dragged Tuck a mile to bury him so that no one would discover his body, though they needn't have bothered. On the way back up the cliff they spotted a deer. Hungry and needing a reason for why they had gone into the valley, they shot it and attempted to haul it back to Attero, giving up and abandoning the carcass.

Several years later, after most of town had forgotten about Tuck, the woods of Attero were filled with small game, the lake abundant with trout and bass. Barns and pastures were built for the hogs, sheep, chickens, and roosters. Someone read the books and made good the soil once again. Now gardens were brimming with vegetables.

In the distance, drilling and hammering could be heard. Day-after-day, it drew closer until finally, looking across the valley, the people of Attero could watch a great bridge being erected. Breathlessly, they watched as the bridge, Ubertas, and the rest of the world drew close to them.

On the day it was completed, a ceremony was held. A tall man in a black suit stood on a scaffold as he spoke to the people of Ubertas and Attero who had come to watch the dedication. He spoke of goodwill and harmony and helping those in need. He told them the world no longer needed to be separated by valleys or mountains or oceans or cold hearts. He said that when one extends a hand, another is sure to grab hold until the grasp is no longer one of desperation but of friendship. He then cut a ribbon and away fell a curtain from a sign proclaiming this, "Tuckerman's Bridge."

Those of Attero who dared to remember, including the big man and his comrade of that day, approached the speaker after and ask about the name. "We called him Tuck," the man said, solemnly. "But his name was Ernie Tuckerman. I knew him as a young boy. He was sickly and developed a bad leg when he was old enough to walk. It wasn't a leg, exactly, more like a waterlogged stump he carried around with him. He was ridiculed mercilessly, though he tried hard to fit in.

"When he grew up, he started a restaurant, but he was so slow and uncoordinated when serving that he went out of business. He tried as a barber but couldn't stand long enough. As a painter, he couldn't climb a ladder; as a security guard, he couldn't walk rounds or chase anyone. All he could do was sit. But Tuck wouldn't sit.

"He never married or settled down. That is, until he left Ubertas and went into the valley. He was gone for years. Then he returned. I own a book store, and without even saying hello, he said, 'Can I please have some books. I have no money but I can work now. I can paint and mow grass and rake leaves and cut logs. I can walk up your ladder and stock your bookshelves. I can carry boxes, heavy boxes, off trucks and into your store.'

"And he could. And he did. I gave him books that he put in sacks to take down into the valley. He came back again and again and worked for people. Hard, back breaking work that no one in Ubertas would do. That no one could do. Some would give him what they could when he asked; others, he did the work for free.

"I stopped him one day as he was going back home with a huge sack of vegetables from an old woman's garden. He had plowed and tilled her field for days all for that one sack of vegetables and a bag of seed. 'Where do you take all this?' I asked him. 'To the other side of the world,' he said. 'Your leg,' I said pointing. 'Yes,' he said. 'It's fine now, strong and straight. All that time I stood still, thinking that was what it needed, only to find what I needed was to walk the cliffs. That's where I found the other side of the world' 'Where's that?' I asked him. 'It's no where I can take you, but I do hope you get there sometime in your life,' is how he explained himself. 'So why?' I asked. I can never forget that smile he gave me, wider than this bridge. 'Because now I can,' he said."

"What happened to him?" asked a young girl who wasn't old enough to remember.

"We don't know," the man said, sadly. "One day he just stopped coming. We searched as much as we could, but the cliffs were so steep and the valley so deep. . . . We never even found evidence of all he had brought down with him, just the remnants of an old lean-to which we supposed was his. We like to joke that maybe he really did go to the other side of the world.

"So we've made this bridge in honor of him and you , our neighbors on the other side of the world. Let no valley keep people apart."

* * *

She left me with this: "The young paint bridges, in middle-age we rest on them, and in old age we cross them. But it's the wise who build them."

A year later, most of the vacant parcel was gone and my mall was just a fraction of its planned size. In its place was a compromise, my first that didn't involve finances of some kind. Truth is, I'm not a giver. I know of only one who was, and I don't think they'll ever be another. Commingled with the complex is a park with ornamental trees, gardens, walking trails, a play structure, and a stocked retention pond for fishing.

Throughout the construction, I returned to insure the two endeavors fit seamlessly together. In the end, I suppose it does. I looked for the old woman but never did see her again. I asked around but stopped when the crew began to wonder if I was losing my mind. Seemed no one recalled the woman or the incident she caused.

Perhaps it was early dementia. Or maybe a dream I met half way. I believe that good intentions aren't always planned, that most come about by listening to voices from inside and out, and seeing the world through those voices.

But in truth, I don't believe it was dementia. I'd rather believe I was made a wise man that day, one who built a bridge to be painted, rested on, then crossed.

TUCKERMAN'S BRIDGE

I was a builder of shopping malls until she made me a builder of bridges.

I was called down to the construction site whose clearing was already behind schedule due to an old woman who had staked a claim and was refusing to leave. I found her with her back to a pine tree; a dead one at that, one whose time had come. She had a ripened face and crooked body from old age or neglect. Her teeth were yellow or gone, but she smiled unconditionally as she gazed up at me. "I can have you forcibly removed," I said, refusing her affability.

"But you won't," she said.

"Sure on that, are you?"

"You would have done it by now," she said. "And you wouldn't have come down yourself to do it."

"I have to; I own the company. And," I added with emphasis, "this piece of property."

It was 98 acres of woodland and open field. I liked it because it was at the confluence of an Interstate and major boulevard going into the downtown. I liked it because it was the last usable parcel in the northern section of the city, a fact she was aware of. "You're taking away the last piece of earth," she said.

"Not this tripe," I said. "The last census I saw showed no hunter-gatherers living on this tract."

"You're taking the last place of solitude, what are you giving back?" she said.

"Stores to shop in and work at," I snapped.

"Sit," she said. I stared down on her fragile head and shoulders. She patted the pine straw beside her, transporting a pungent scent of pine and wet earth up to me.

I looked around. We were alone. The machinery sat idle in the distance. I tugged at my Dockers and knelt gingerly.

"Come now," she implored, "sit."

I have built thirteen shopping centers of varying sizes throughout the state. I have fought, bribed, cajoled, and lied my way into thousands of acres. Never have I sat on wet dirt beside an old woman. "Most of the world are givers and takers, and a good many are just takers. But the givers," she said, touching me on the sleeve, "will always be too few. Can I tell you a story?"

"I haven't got time to hear a. . ." I started, but then, she told me.

Tuck was an old man who lived in a steep valley between two towns, Ubertas and Attero. One morning he climbed out of the valley into the town of Attero with two large burlap sacks over each shoulder. No one in town had ever seen him before. He smiled, toothless and gray, at everyone he saw as he walked to the library which was just a rickety old house in the center of town. There, he dropped his sacks as a small group of curious Atteroans looked on. Before unloading, he stood as straight as his crooked back would allow and addressed the crowd. "My friends call me Tuck," he said. "So please, call me Tuck."

"What's in the sacks?" they all shouted.

Now Attero was a poor town that sat near the top of the highest peak in the region. Its remote location had cut it off from other towns, including prosperous Ubertas. For years its people suffered from droughts and disease and near famine. Folks didn't leave Attero because it was surrounded by the steep valley where Tuck lived. Few could carry themselves, never mind all their belongings, through the valley. And for the same reason, new folks didn't come to Attero which made old Tuck's arrival even more exceptional.

"I have been blessed beyond my wants and would like to come to Attero to share my good fortunes with you, if you will have me," Tuck said.

"Yes," they screamed impatiently, for Atteroans were not used to being brought things. "Empty your sacks for us to see."

Slowly and gently he bent over and opened them. He took out books of all sizes. There were hard covers and paperbacks, adult and children, historical and science. "What are these?" a woman said.

"Books."

"For what?"

"Your library."

Attero was not a town that took to learning new ways. They were content, some say happy, to stick to the ways of their fathers and grandfathers. Some called it pride, some called it arrogance, most didn't know the difference between the two.

Several of the women stepped forward and inspected them. "What we need is food for our children. What good are books if the children are too weak to read them."

"Or too blind," one said.

"Or too sick," said another.

Tuck nodded in agreement. "You keep the books. I'll stack them in the library. Next time, I'll bring food for your children. When they are strong and healthy, they can read and learn to make themselves stronger in mind and spirit."

True to his word, Tuck returned the next month with two more sacks, one very large, one much smaller. In the large sack he had vegetables: potatoes, carrots, beans, onions, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers. In the smaller, he carried the seeds.

The farms of Attero had grown dry and parched over the decades. The farmers had given up trying to revive them, giving in to droughts, soil diseases, and pests. "Why do you give us seeds," the old farmers said. "We have no good farmland left."

"You wasted space where you could have brought twice as much food," the women told him.

"The game is scarce," one of the men said. "We could do with meat to go with the vegetables."

"Yes," said Tuck. "I can see your farms have withered. Perhaps you can restore them with work, but I will bring you meat in the meantime."

As promised, the next month Tuck climbed up he steep cliffs with two more sacks that wiggled and squirmed. He asked to be brought to a fenced in pen where there he released two young piglets, one male, one female. "Why these scrawny things wouldn't feed me," a frail man said.

"Not yet, but they will grow and bear young ones who will," Tuck said.

"My children are hungry now," a woman said.

"We can't wait for these two to grow and breed," a man said. "We'll die waiting."

"I will bring more food," Tuck said, "more food so you can begin to populate your forests and farms and lakes."

He returned every week for the next two months, each time with two sacks filled with hens and roosters, rabbits, trout, bass, young lambs, pheasants, poults, and grouse. The townspeople grew impatient with Tuck. "You don't understand," they said. "We are many and you bring so few. It will take years for them to be able to feed us all."

"Patience with nature is what you need, rewards are what you will receive," is all he said each time he came and left.

A meeting was held in the Attero library that now housed the books Tuck had brought in. No one knew what to make of this old man who came too often with too much for a man who lived in the deep valley. "How does he get up and down those cliffs?" one asked.

"And at his age?"

"With heavy sacks?"

"Why, is what I want to know," said a woman.

A large man who had called the meeting stomped heavy on the floor. All eyes turned to him. With his thick arms folded across his chest he boomed, "Why indeed. More importantly, where does he get such things?"

The crowd buzzed. "Yes, where? Where does he get this food and seeds and books?"

"The seeds could be poisoned," the man said. "The animals could have diseases."

No one stopped to ask why Tuck would do such a thing, why he would try to hurt the poor people of Attero. They were too concerned with why he would try to help them, and so it was decided that next time he came up with his gifts, he would be followed by one of the younger, stronger townsfolk to find where he lived.

Tuck came again with several hunting rifles and shells. "Who gets the guns," the big man asked.

"The town," Tuck said.

"But who in the town?"

"I never really thought about one person," Tuck said. "They are to help you in the hunt when it's time. I guess when it's time you will know who."

They allowed Tuck to disappear down into the valley before sending the boy in to follow him. All night and early into the next morning four of them, two men and two women, waited for him to return. Maybe the old man killed him," a woman said.

"Could have," said the other, "he knows the valley, that's for sure. That boy, he's never gone down before."

But the boy did return, scraped and exhausted. After getting water and taking time to recover, he told his story. "The old man took off down that cliff like a swollen river," he said. "Almost lost him outta the shoot."

"Was he tryin' to get away from ya, boy?" they asked.

"Not tryin', just doin'," he said.

"He took me through the toughest brush I ever seen. He went through it like rainwater but it ripped me up awful. Got to his place finally."

"What place?"

"A lean-to in the base of the valley. Little place. Smaller than Ernie Rutherford's."

The one Ernie needs to lay sideways in so's his feet don't stick out?" a man said.

"Pretty near."

"I'm not believin' that."

"Truth," the boy said.

The men and women looked at each other. How could that be? This man had books. He had vegetables and seeds. He had wild game and farm animals. He had guns and bullets. He had money.

"Then what?" they asked.

"Then nuthin'. I came home."

They told the boy to get on home. Then they began to think. "That man, that Tuck, he's up to something."

"He's got stuff hidden is what he's up to."

"No. No, that's not it," the big man said. "I didn't want to be sayin' this less I was sure but now, I'm sure."

"Sure of what?"

"Thief," he said.

Being a poor town, Atteroans could forgive almost any sin but thievery. People in Attero couldn't afford to give; they surely could afford to be taken from. It was decided that the two men would go into the valley before the rest of the townspeople awoke to set justice right. So they took a gun brought to them by Tuck, and some shells, and they slid and tripped and tumbled and cursed their way into the valley below.

At long last they were on the valley floor. The boy's directions were true, his description of Tuck's place accurate; a lean-to, very tiny. It was nestled snugly against a sheer cliff face so that neither wind nor rain nor wild animal could enter, nor could the men.

Feeling confident and brazen with the power of the rifle in their hands, they approached the lean-to. "Old man," the big one hollered, "come out."

Some rustling, a thud, a metallic bang, and Tuck appeared at the entrance. He carried a black-as-coal frying pan and a large spoon. "Good day to you," he said, beaming. "I get no visitors and now, I get two of my new friends. You're hungry; I know I am after such a climb. Have breakfast with me."

"No," they said.

"It isn't much, but it'll stick to your ribs and get you home."

The big man carried the rifle cradled in his arms. He looked around at the valley, the sheer cliff, the deathly stillness. "You bring us books but I see no stores," he said.

"Not in the valley," Tuck said.

"You bring vegetables, but I see no garden," he said.

"No," said Tuck. "No garden."

"You bring farm animals, but I see no barn."

"No barn either."

"You bring wild game but this valley is empty."

Tuck nodded. "Pretty much."

"And this gun and shells."

"I'm glad you've found them useful."

"So from where?" the man asked.

"No matter from where, what matter is to who."

"You're wrong old man. In Attero, where is very important. And how. Have you money to buy these things?"

"I have no money," Tuck said.

"No source, no means," the man said. "So you steal."

"Never," Tuck said, showing a hint of hostility.

"Show us what you have," the man said, moving toward the open doorway.

"All you see is all I have."

"Let us in."

Tuck stood firm. "You have come as far as I will allow, given your attitude, but please, you may sit out here and we can talk."

The big man motioned to his compatriot to move Tuck aside. Firmly, Tuck was thrown down and the two entered the cramped quarters. It was as Tuck said, empty of anything interesting. From outside, Tuck called in, "Why do you question good deeds when the evils of waste, neglect, slothfulness, and ignorance surround you?"

The two came out. "Where are you hiding it?" they demanded.

"Nothing is hidden."

They hit him across the shoulders with the butt of the rifle and he crumbled.

"Where?" they demanded.

"All I have is all you can see."

They hit him again, harder. And so it went as they demanded answers he couldn't give until finally he lay lifeless. They tore the hut board-by-board but found no food, no guns, no bullets, no money. They found several books they had no time to look at.

They dragged Tuck a mile to bury him so that no one would discover his body, though they needn't have bothered. On the way back up the cliff they spotted a deer. Hungry and needing a reason for why they had gone into the valley, they shot it and attempted to haul it back to Attero, giving up and abandoning the carcass.

Several years later, after most of town had forgotten about Tuck, the woods of Attero were filled with small game, the lake abundant with trout and bass. Barns and pastures were built for the hogs, sheep, chickens, and roosters. Someone read the books and made good the soil once again. Now gardens were brimming with vegetables.

In the distance, drilling and hammering could be heard. Day-after-day, it drew closer until finally, looking across the valley, the people of Attero could watch a great bridge being erected. Breathlessly, they watched as the bridge, Ubertas, and the rest of the world drew close to them.

On the day it was completed, a ceremony was held. A tall man in a black suit stood on a scaffold as he spoke to the people of Ubertas and Attero who had come to watch the dedication. He spoke of goodwill and harmony and helping those in need. He told them the world no longer needed to be separated by valleys or mountains or oceans or cold hearts. He said that when one extends a hand, another is sure to grab hold until the grasp is no longer one of desperation but of friendship. He then cut a ribbon and away fell a curtain from a sign proclaiming this, "Tuckerman's Bridge."

Those of Attero who dared to remember, including the big man and his comrade of that day, approached the speaker after and ask about the name. "We called him Tuck," the man said, solemnly. "But his name was Ernie Tuckerman. I knew him as a young boy. He was sickly and developed a bad leg when he was old enough to walk. It wasn't a leg, exactly, more like a waterlogged stump he carried around with him. He was ridiculed mercilessly, though he tried hard to fit in.

"When he grew up, he started a restaurant, but he was so slow and uncoordinated when serving that he went out of business. He tried as a barber but couldn't stand long enough. As a painter, he couldn't climb a ladder; as a security guard, he couldn't walk rounds or chase anyone. All he could do was sit. But Tuck wouldn't sit.

"He never married or settled down. That is, until he left Ubertas and went into the valley. He was gone for years. Then he returned. I own a book store, and without even saying hello, he said, 'Can I please have some books. I have no money but I can work now. I can paint and mow grass and rake leaves and cut logs. I can walk up your ladder and stock your bookshelves. I can carry boxes, heavy boxes, off trucks and into your store.'

"And he could. And he did. I gave him books that he put in sacks to take down into the valley. He came back again and again and worked for people. Hard, back breaking work that no one in Ubertas would do. That no one could do. Some would give him what they could when he asked; others, he did the work for free.

"I stopped him one day as he was going back home with a huge sack of vegetables from an old woman's garden. He had plowed and tilled her field for days all for that one sack of vegetables and a bag of seed. 'Where do you take all this?' I asked him. 'To the other side of the world,' he said. 'Your leg,' I said pointing. 'Yes,' he said. 'It's fine now, strong and straight. All that time I stood still, thinking that was what it needed, only to find what I needed was to walk the cliffs. That's where I found the other side of the world' 'Where's that?' I asked him. 'It's no where I can take you, but I do hope you get there sometime in your life,' is how he explained himself. 'So why?' I asked. I can never forget that smile he gave me, wider than this bridge. 'Because now I can,' he said."

"What happened to him?" asked a young girl who wasn't old enough to remember.

"We don't know," the man said, sadly. "One day he just stopped coming. We searched as much as we could, but the cliffs were so steep and the valley so deep. . . . We never even found evidence of all he had brought down with him, just the remnants of an old lean-to which we supposed was his. We like to joke that maybe he really did go to the other side of the world.

"So we've made this bridge in honor of him and you , our neighbors on the other side of the world. Let no valley keep people apart."

* * *

She left me with this: "The young paint bridges, in middle-age we rest on them, and in old age we cross them. But it's the wise who build them."

A year later, most of the vacant parcel was gone and my mall was just a fraction of its planned size. In its place was a compromise, my first that didn't involve finances of some kind. Truth is, I'm not a giver. I know of only one who was, and I don't think they'll ever be another. Commingled with the complex is a park with ornamental trees, gardens, walking trails, a play structure, and a stocked retention pond for fishing.

Throughout the construction, I returned to insure the two endeavors fit seamlessly together. In the end, I suppose it does. I looked for the old woman but never did see her again. I asked around but stopped when the crew began to wonder if I was losing my mind. Seemed no one recalled the woman or the incident she caused.

Perhaps it was early dementia. Or maybe a dream I met half way. I believe that good intentions aren't always planned, that most come about by listening to voices from inside and out, and seeing the world through those voices.

But in truth, I don't believe it was dementia. I'd rather believe I was made a wise man that day, one who built a bridge to be painted, rested on, then crossed.





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