This story is by Sonia Yeandle and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They call my favourite part of the day Kenopsia. An apt word capturing the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people now abandoned and quiet. The human’s call me Ponts des Arts. Some prefer Passerelle des Arts. I was built to convey pedestrians across the River Seine from the Institut de France to the central square of the Palais du Louvre. As you can imagine I lead a very busy life. For me the early morning hours are sacrosanct. They create an emotional afterimage that makes me seem not just empty, but hyper-empty. During this time the echoes of the day decay into silence. Resonances of the past twenty four hours transform from noise, lights and movement into memories. I have come to appreciate the calm before the world wakes up as it allows my iron girders to settle for the next day’s onslaught.
I was the first metal bridge built in Paris in 1802. An elegant design that is lightweight and representative of the cutting edge engineering of its day. Inspiration for my being came by the world’s first cast iron bridge, built across the River Severn in England. Napoleon Bonaparte himself asked engineers to design a bridge that would resemble a garden suspended over the Seine. I was to be adorned with flowers, and furnished with benches on which pedestrians could rest. However money and politics ensured I was made for purpose, not for prettiness. Whilst there are a few benches scattered along my edges there are sadly no gardens.
During the 20th century, it was my misfortune to be prey to the aerial bombardments of two world wars. Indeed the devastation I endured during this time damaged my concrete abutments, weakening my structure. My downfall continued. Several large barge collisions in the 1960’s left me in an unsafe condition. By 1977 I was old, wrecked so was closed to the public. In 1979 another barge rammed into one of my supports knocking a large section of me into the muddy brown waters of the river I straddled. There was nothing else for it. I was dismantled and a shiny new version was built by 1984. I was reduced from nine to seven arches and made of steel. To my pride I have sometimes served as a place for art exhibitions. Why even currently a studio en plein air for painters, artists and photographers who are drawn to my unique views run daily. In warmer weather many Parisians and tourists use my walkway and seats as a spot for picnics. I’m not keen on the mess they leave though, mankind can be such a shambolic race. I won’t mention their dogs, oh the indignity of it all.
People watching is a past time of mine, especially the early morning risers. A cold wind blows across my cobbles bringing an early riser with it. Pierre Caron wasn’t used to these chilly March mornings.
‘I wonder if this is where she sat.’ he thought to himself as he leant against my steel struts.
The wind whipped his perfectly groomed dark mahogany hair into a frenzy, it was freezing. His slight frame being no match for the biting cold forced Pierre to pull his coat even closer. Held tightly in his gloved hand was a black and white photo taken circa early 1930’s. Iris Beauvais, his grandmother, pictured in her youth, sat on a bench posing against the backdrop of the Louvre. A magnificent beast of a building erected continuously from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Classical architecture at its most splendid and assured Although she looked cold and uncomfortable, Iris had told her grandson ‘that it was the happiest of times.’ The artist she posed for was her lover, Loup Janvier.
Pierre’s piercing blue eyes surveyed the padlocks along the bridge. There were hundreds. These catches celebrate what Paris is all about. Love. During early 2008 two young lovers decided to make a permanent declaration of their deep undying love for each other. Taking two padlocks engraved with their initials they chained them to my rails then threw the keys into the Seine and so started a trend. Lovers from all over the world came to adorn my railings with latches of all shapes and sizes. Some even entwined mementos such as flowers, teddy bears, scarves and other such curious things symbolising their passion..
Pierre was finding it hard to breath, a heaviness weighed upon his chest when he noticed many of my steel supports had been distorted by the weight of the bolts.
‘Wasn’t it ironic, the destructive price of love.’ Pierre pondered as walked along the bridge touching each wooden bench in turn. Feeling if he did this he would connect with the one his Grandmother had posed on. He loved her so very much. During her last few days Iris had asked if Pierre could attach a love lock for both her and Loup, then throw away the key. Pierre had been confused by her request, for Iris and her lover had never married, the romance had fizzled out within a few months. Loup wasn’t the settling down kind. Neither Iris knew that she was pregnant when they parted.
“Oh Gran Maman why do you wish me to do such a thing” Pierre had asked.
“Because my darling Grandson it reminds me of my first love, a time I really felt alive.” Her eye’s glazed and glistening with unrequited love before falling into a final unconsciousness before slipping away to another realm.
Pierre sat watching Iris’s life ebb away like a departing tide.
“He came to me Pierre. Iris’ white wrinkled fingers touched her lips “Loup, came to me”
Pierre swore he would keep her promise. He knew he had to be furtive and quick. Love-locking was frowned upon these days. His early morning arrival ensured the privacy he needed. Deftly he chained two padlocks to the steel struts before throwing the key to be swallowed up by the dark waters below. Swiftly followed the photo of Iris and Loup together. Now they were locked together for all time.
Pierre watched the swirling waters and shivered when the wind wailed. It sounded like a siren calling for her lover. Pulling his coat collar closer around his neck hoping to warm the chill that passed through him he couldn’t help but smile at the thought of Iris with her lover.
“Little Minx” he chuckled to himself.
Pierre dug deep into the pockets of his overcoat. One contained an unopened brown envelope he collected off the hallway table on his way out this morning. The other his mobile. He dialled Justine’s number. Before she could speak Pierre whispered..
“There’s the bear hug, the man hug, the first hug, the free hug, the awkward hug and the group hug. But the best hugs are the ones that warm you up from the inside and gosh do I need one of those right now.”
“Come home then. Justine said. The bed’s still warm”
In his hurry to feel Justine’s warm arms around him Pierre did not notice the tall, grey haired figure standing in the shadows. Once Pierre was out of sight the man moved towards the railings and dropped a letter into the flowing Seine.
‘My Darling Iris,
Please forgive me. I have kept my distance for many years watching our beautiful daughter Giselle grow. Witnessed you flourish as a kind, generous mother. I came back as soon as I knew you’d had our child. Giselle was two years old when I found you, sadly Jean Beauvais was the only father she had known.
I wanted so much to gather you both into my arms and take you away. You were my family. Not his. Alas I was too cowardly to claim you. Afraid you might hate me for leaving you. I watched from afar. From the school railings on her first day at school. From the back of the church when she married. Swelled with love and pride as our family grew when grandchildren came along. Yes I’ve seen it all.
Many years I have yearned to be back in your arms, but respected your choice. Then I discovered you were dying, my heart broke. I came to see you in hospital, but you didn’t know I was there. You looked so very beautiful I just had to kiss your lips one last time.
I sent the picture of us to Pierre hoping it would bring us back full circle. I was watching through the round glass window of the hospital door as your eyes lit up and filled with tears when you saw it. In that second I realised then you were mine. Had always been mine.
I have sent a copy of this letter to Pierre asking if we can meet. Maybe he can begin to share the love I hold in my heart for you, Giselle and him.