Long ago, and perhaps not so far away, a village lay cradled in an alpine valley,
craggy mountains looming above in benevolent and splendid protectiveness,
silently observing the dwellers far below.
A deep chasm pierced the valley, its sheer sides descending into oblivion,
jutting stones and overhangs balanced tenuously, snarling roots reaching with
gnarled fingers. Be it water or endless blackness at the bottom of the cleft, no
one knew; no resounding rattle answered the dropping of a pebble into its
A stone bridge spanned the chasm, arching prettily over the narrow crevasse, the
sun-warmed hues of the rocks beckoning alluringly, a summons to stroll over the
gentle swell, to feel the cobblestones, smoothed and caressed by misting rain,
Yet, no foot ever trod the delightful bridge. Never did the dwellers from the
far side of the valley village mingle with the dwellers from the near side. They
did not meet or speak or make any reason to cross over the divide. A
disagreement had arisen, creating the two sides, and indeed, the grounds for the
dispute had long ago faded from memory.
“Stay away from the bridge,” warned mothers when their children went to play in
blossom sprinkled fields.
“Mind the sheep don’t stray near the bridge,” cautioned farmers as their young
sons tended flocks in rich meadows.
Young lovers avoided the picturesque bridge, although it would have been an
idyllic venue for a romantic interlude with its unspoiled view of the setting sun
and the indigo-hued mountains soaring overhead.
One day, everything changed. Time ripens, like a peach, and hangs suspended
until the moment arrives for plucking, the instant when all is as it must be and
will not be precisely this way again.
Winter’s first snow was wearying the skies, releasing reeling flakes on uncertain
gusts, nudging snow into uneven heaps and turning knots of dried weeds into
wintery sculpture. Smoke swirled from chimney pots into the greying afternoon
The village lanes were nearly deserted as merchants pulled in their handcarts of
potatoes and cabbages or drew closed their shutters, and those who’d purchased
bread or ribbons stuffed their goods into pockets and folded up collars against
the polar wind. They leaned into the squall, intent on cozy hearths, hot tea,
and warm slippers. Though flaming leaves and bittersweet mornings had indicated
its pending arrival, the storm seemed unheralded, unreasonably intense, almost
A mother called for her child, first gently, then more urgently. Suddenly, there
was a keening wail. Doors opened and curious villagers peered out, anxious to
see what had caused the sound of grief.
“My child.” The anguished woman ran into the lane, frantically twisting her
hands and drawing her shawl tighter in an effort to quiet herself. Neighbours
stepped out, knowing the missing child was a tiny one, too young to know his way
Several women comforted the agitated mother while the other villagers began to
search. Up and down, looking in gardens, under shrubbery, on porch chairs,
behind water barrels, anywhere a small child might hide or become caught.
At last, the little one was found.
He stood on the bridge, on the swell, piled now with drifts of powdery snow.
Mesmerized by the blackness of the abyss and the cold breath rising from its
unknown deepness, he was still. He did not respond to the cluster of people
calling his name from his side of the village, nor did he appear to notice the
gathering of dwellers from the far side.
“Son,” cried his mother.
The mothers cajoled and bribed with all manner of sweetmeats and treats.
The sages conferred with one another, but could not decide on a plan.
The villagers from the far side whispered and watched.
The mother approached the bridge.
She stepped in her child’s footprints, slipping on the icy cobblestones beneath.
Recovering, she watched as sheathes of snow slipped from the edges of the bridge,
then in horror as slabs of stone crumbled and fell away.
Still, no one moved.
Snow swirled into the yawning hole, then great chunks of rock fragmented,
splintered by cold, neglect, and age. The bridge narrowed, the gentle swell
softened, then with a sigh, collapsed.
The child, as if he were slipping into his father’s arms, surrendered to the
The villagers gazed at each other across the chasm, grasping the magnitude of the
tragedy and suddenly understanding their ignorance and foolishness.
The bridge, their means of reconciliation, was gone.
Yet, mysteriously, mystically, rebuilt.
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