Weissenbach Bridge (+ commentary: what makes a good short story)

 Note: I wrote Weißenbach Bridge almost ten years ago. It was published in a couple of magazines. I had intended that I would write a collection of stories about the bridge and this one would be called “The Bartender’s Tale.” I started a much longer one that was titled, “The Knight’s Tale.” I really liked it, but couldn’t weave my way to the end and just gave up on it. Now when I think about finishing it, I always find something else I would rather do.  Although this story got pretty good critiques, at least average, which is fine for it, the one critique that sticks in my mind is, of course, negative. The reviewer felt like it wasn’t a good story because the ending was no surprise. It’s like when you make an ironic statement and the person you are talking to takes you seriously. To me there is no response to that; at least not a polite one. Do you tell him that he is an idiot, like you want to, or do you just ignore him and go on? In regard to the story, it just might be that its intend was to elicit emotions, foster good feelings or satisfaction, maybe cause a chuckle or tear, or just report an event.  So as you read this, if you figure out the ending before you get there, look for something else in it.

The original story had to be written with a limited number of words, hence it is called “Flash Fiction.”

 

Legend says that under a new moon a hole in time sometimes occurs on the bridge near Weissenbach, Germany. A crusader might come into the twentieth century, or a modern person could drop to medieval times.

In medieval times, villagers crossed themselves before speaking of it. Modern folks dismiss these tales as folklore of the Black Forest.

Andrew Krause’s bar was across the street from the bridge and he knew better. Tethered to the bar by a promise, for fifty years he had watched new moons come and go while he waited to complete his vow. At seventy-one, he used a photo to refresh his memory of the oath he’d made, but his commitment never faltered.

One sauna summer eve in 2008, he unlocked the bar, his mind plotting through daily routines, but his arms goose-pimpled and his heart skipped as he crossed the quiet shadowed floor.

He lifted the old photo of his grandparents from the wall and let the light play across their faces, then he placed it under the counter with the frosted cherry schnapps bottles.

After dark, a party of young Berliners took the outside tables for a new moon vigil of the bridge. Erica, with freckled-cheeks, and her boyfriend, Friedrich, were among them.

Her silhouette in the dim porch light jarred his senses and he rushed back inside, leaving his barmaids to serve the guests.

During the evening, Friedrich’s attention drifted to a buxom waitress and around midnight, Erica came inside alone.

“You have that famous schnapps?” She forced a smile but her voice quivered.

Andrew trembled as he poured for her. “Schnapps and the bridge go together,” he said, saluting with his glass.

She sipped hers. “So, another tale of the bridge?” she asked and glanced back to see the waitress flop onto Friedrich’s lap. “It seems that I have plenty of time.” Her smile sagged.

He followed her eyes and offered, “Business has thinned. I can send her home.”

“Na, he’ll just follow her, or another.” She dabbed a napkin to her eyes.

“The bridge and the schnapps, not a big tale, only a family tradition.” He made his voice upbeat and cheery.

He topped off their drinks. His face thoughtful and distant, he said, “Yet, the biggest deal, it’s family.”

She took a gulp and wrenched up a grin. “It’ll be a pleasant diversion, can you tell me?”

“Of course,” he said, his nervousness gone; his mind lost in the past. “During summer new moons, my grandparents stood on that bridge at sunset and toasted themselves and the bridge. Locked as one, they finished their drinks and dared the bridge to take them.

“We kids begged to go too, but grandma was adamant: No one on the bridge after sunset—ever! She said that she and grandpa, together, would be okay anywhere, in any time. Not so for us kids. We hadn’t met our loves yet. She had a wonderful impish smile too, Erica.”

Erica traced her finger over the lip of the glass. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh!” He threw his hands high, a villain revealed, and laughed. His insides turning, he explained, “A bartender must know all customers’ names, your disappointments, and your dreams, or he goes out of business.

“You deserve better than him,” he added with a nod toward Friedrich. “You deserve a life of joy like my grandmother’s.” His eyes watered and his breath gushed out with an emotional sigh.

She glanced quickly at Friedrich. Her face twisted with disdain. She downed her drink and asked for a refill. “I’m going to walk onto that bridge and challenge the gods to give me a new life,” she said.

He passed the schnapps bottle to her. “Take it with you, Erica. Do it up right.” Tears streaked down his cheeks.

She took the bottle, touched his hand, and said she would be okay.

He knew she would.

He watched her cross the porch and saw her again under the streetlamp. Then she stepped onto the bridge.

She was gone.

The vow he had made on her deathbed fulfilled, he dropped his head to the counter and sobbed. It took time, but he finally managed a deep breath, wiped his eyes and retrieved the photo. Older then, Grandpa Wilhelm’s arm over her shoulder, she spouted her impish smile and held out her frosted schnapps bottle.

Grandma Erica had been given her life of joy.

 

 

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