A Random Words Prompt

These are the prompt words used in this fictional short story. Consider, sign, pass, count, valley, bridge

Crossing The Bridge


by Kathy Coogan

My mom had a catch phrase for every situation. It drove my brother Robby and me nuts. One that it took a lifetime to understand was “Cross the bridge and hope it holds.” Mom, the least Zen woman I’ve ever met felt no further explanation was necessary.

When I was a kid and everybody teased me about my birthmark, my mom alternated among many truisms to make me feel better. A few favorites were: “Consider the source”; “Count your blessings”; and “Everybody gets their turn in front of the firing squad.” I think she made up that last one but it was my favorite with its promise that fear, anger and shame would descend on everybody eventually, even Charlotte Henderson and Carol Bradley, the two prettiest, most clear-complexioned, therefore, meanest girls in my class. “Do you really want to be like them?” my mom asked. “Pretty but mean?” Absolutely. That was exactly what I wanted. Or if that wasn’t possible I wanted them to suffer---something. Humiliation---the great equalizer.

My older brother, my protector on most occasions, told me when I was twelve that when I was born, my grandma took one look at the purple angioma on my left cheek and spit between her fingers to ward off the implications of the evil sign. This story had been withheld from me for obvious reasons. Grandma is first generation but you’d think she just walked off the boat from Sicilia. Robby was mad at me when he screamed this little nugget into my face. I had tattled on him, the repercussion of which was a weekend grounding, causing him to miss a pool party at Angie Reardon’s, the invite of the summer. In his rage at the injustice, he used my birthmark against me, for the first and only time in our lives.

This was the kid who would promise a knuckle sandwich to anyone who made a remark about my port-wine stain in his presence. This was the brother who promised that someday, someone would invent a magic cream to wipe away the mark. The kid who included this plea in his nightly prayers, “Please let me pass algebra, make the baseball team and let some guy fix Callie’s face. Amen.” He was inaccurate regarding the method of removal but when I was nineteen, a series of laser treatments did the job, leaving only a slight valley below my cheekbone.

By then I had developed the habit of looking at the world askance, leading with my right cheek, hoping that in the first impression I would pass, if only for a second, as a normal girl. Turning the other cheek had an altogether different meaning for me. You can’t shake those early formations of personality and confidence. Like phantom limb pain they’re there even though there’s nothing there anymore. To this day I carry myself as if my gyroscope is wavering.

And Mom was right about the firing squad. When I was walking the hallowed halls of our state university holding hands with Mark Costello, Carole Bradley, our high school beauty, was wearing an absurd bunny costume and serving martinis to businessmen. She later lost the job and had a baby that her mother raised. She never fit back into the bunny outfit. I barely recognize her when I come back home.

Charlotte Henderson died six months after being badly burned in a frat-house fire. I felt sick when I heard about it, and a little responsible remembering all the times I screamed inside wanting her to have to look in my mirror. But I never wanted this.

Robby and I still disagree about what Mom meant by her off-kilter aphorism, “Cross the bridge and hope it holds.” We can’t ask her now since she’s been gone a long time. He equates it with, "Some take the high road and some take the low road."

I believe that she meant that the bridge, like the firing squad, is ubiquitous. With the bad comes the good. My firing squad had bad aim. I only got wounded. Some get way worse. And my bridge took me across Brer Rabbit’s briar-patch and it held. Bless you, Mom. It held.

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These are the prompt words: Consider, sign pass, count, valley, bridge.
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