The Bridge is Over
artist wore his hoodie up, a pollution mask strapped across his face, a shaded
figure hidden in plain sight under the spotlights of the London underground. When
the time was right, he slipped into a
tunnel. The trains had all been docked in their depots and the artist was
venturing deeper into the darkness than he'd ever been before, past where any
graffitist would ever want to go because in this murky world filled with
scuttling rats nibbling on crisp packets not even the most determined tagger
would see the sense of facing this abyss. Why did he do it? For the business
commuters - their heads buried in their papers, oblivious to the signs he’d
carefully crafted outside their windows charging past at sixty miles an
hour? No, the artist carried out his task despite this, because what he really
wanted was another challenge, another surface, another piece, to elevate his
art to the next level.
the tunnel, after he’d finished a new work, he heard a stone collide against a
railway track and like a frightened rabbit the artist raised his head, packed
his spray cans and darted out of the area without looking back. As he made his
getaway a beam of light was cast from a phone, confirming to the artist someone
had really been there and he wasn't losing his mind. As he bolted out of the
tunnel, a couple of note pads came loose, tumbling to the dirt out of his
a park the next
night, the artist was sketching in new pads, starting from scratch - drawing a
tree lit from beneath a street lamp, a still and sparse winter scene, as if God
had pressed pause on nature. A teenage boy in baggy jeans and puffed up
trainers placed himself beside the artist on the park bench, catching him off-guard.
The artist hurriedly began to pack his things but the kid said, ‘I'm Jeff.
Don't go, I've wanted to talk to you for so long.’
had a cockney
accent and a shaved head. It was like he was out of the past, a relic of style
and attitude - overly familiar and without boundaries. Some would say he had no
do you know
know you push
things to the limit. I know you're serious, deadly serious - tagging is no joke
for you. I'm with you on that. You might have seen my tag. I go by CNN. We
could make a team. Look, it's cold out here, let's get a coffee and talk about
he believed maybe someone had truly noticed him, because he had nowhere to go
except home and that was no place to be, he followed Jeff to the local hospital
café where they sat opposite each other and sipped coffee from Styrofoam cups
in the antiseptic surroundings.
silence for minutes. ‘You don't say much,’ said Jeff.
wriggled in shame and discomfort. ‘I'm a bit shy,’ he said.
not a bad thing. Hey, I'm happy to do the talking. They don’t call me CNN for
nothing. Listen,’ Jeff said leaning in conspiratorially, ‘I have this plan to
tag suicide bridge in Amersham, the ultimate score, the Heaven tag.’
know the place.
But I can’t. To be honest, I just don’t think I’m ready yet. There's more for
me to study.’
I've seen your stuff around, my mates have too, we're all convinced. And
joining up with me, well, we can make history. You're not afraid, are you?’
artist into life, ‘I've tagged more dangerous spots than I can count. I work on
the edge because I’m representing myself with every throw-up. I'm not scared. I
work alone, instead of with a crew, for my own reasons. Of course, everyone's
goal is to make their mark on suicide bridge but...’
right time is key.’
Ok, guess I
hit a nerve, I'm sorry. Hey, let's go to the park and get stoned.’
never tried it once. I need the loo.’
the artist shifted his way around tables and chairs towards the toilet. He
opened the door and there was a half-naked couple coiled around each other,
their bodies angled uncomfortably on the loo.
found another toilet, Jeff quickly pulled out a notepad and flipped through it
until he came to a page he had clearly studied before. There was a drawing of a
woman with a mane of hair cascading down to her shoulders and emerging from the
curly locks was the word 'Mum' intricately designed. Underneath were the words,
'If I am not my body, not my senses, what am I? I am immortal.'
opened and Jeff was able to hide the pad before the artist returned.
thinking,’ said the artist, ‘maybe you could show me how to smoke weed. It could
be fun, but I hear it makes you paranoid.’
need to do it with someone you can trust. Let's go.’
several puffs for the artist to break out of his shell and talk a blue streak,
reminiscing about things he hadn't focused on since time had set them in dust.
time my girlfriend and I, we must have been eleven years old, played dare with
oncoming traffic, dodging cars with glee, then after a near miss, one
afternoon, I was rewarded with my first kiss by the roadside as drivers honked
their horns in celebration. Or that's what it seemed like.’
He told other tales but he was getting very
stoned now and he was going in circles, stuck in the coils of memory.
a moment of
silence, Jeff said, ‘Did something happen to your mum?’
down immediately, filled with suspicion. ‘What do you know about my mum?’
er, it's just
you haven't mentioned her.’
I always hang
out at this park and I know you do too, but I’ve never wanted to bother you. I
was in the tunnel the other night. I wasn't following you though. It's like
I've been thinking, we're on the same path. You dropped some pads. I met you
here tonight to return them.’
‘You stole my pads?’ the artist exclaimed. ‘Give
them back now.’
listen, this looks bad but I just wanted to know about you. You're destined for
greatness and I want to be on the front line when it happens - maybe you can
teach me what you know and help me get there too?’
it, because you're a thief and a hack. I've seen your tags and your throw-ups
and even your most ambitious pieces show you have zero flair and zero inspiration.’
if you show
me, if you explain, maybe...’
artist said, snatching his notepads from Jeff, ‘you don't have it in you. Just give
up, because you're giving us all a bad name and turning the city into a
next day, the
clear light from the mid-afternoon sun mirrored the artist's clarity of
thought. Far from feeling hungover from smoking grass for the first time or harbouring
any bitterness about the fight he had with Jeff, he felt guilty and ashamed of
his actions and went to the park to make amends.
the sound of skateboards striking concrete curbs and wooden benches echoed
around the area like ripples of a wave. Jeff was surrounded by other taggers,
skaters too and he stood on a bench as if he was lecturing on preacher's corner.
The artist couldn't hear what he was saying and, feeling he’d wasted his time,
he turned from the crowd to leave. A few seconds later he felt a tap on his
shoulder. He turned and saw Jeff smiling at him, surrounded by the rest of his
crew who were analysing him like he had just caught a fly in one hand and they couldn't
to see you again,’ Jeff said, as the skateboarders' beady eyes scoured his
profile for something - a sign maybe, to capture his essence. The artist
said one skater.
some room boys, come on now please,’ said Jeff.
to collapse in on himself like a Venus fly trap. Jeff put his arm around the
artist's shoulder, led him to a quiet spot in the park that was dotted with auburn,
dried-out leaves. He said, ‘Ignore them, they're just shocked they've seen
someone in this game that's better than me.’
than you, we just have different styles.’
wish it was
that simple. But thanks for saying so.’
thinking,’ said the artist, ‘I have this piece I've been carrying in my head
for a while, haven't even sketched it yet. It's not ready, but I believe it
could be something. How about we work together on it? A way of apologising for
what I said last night. I know you've got skills. And I know the perfect place
to spray it.’
the artist let
Jeff into his room, where no one – not even friends or family, were allowed to enter,
regardless of the occasion. They worked in there day and night, sparking ideas
off each other while crawling about amongst piles of old stencils and posters
the artist had discarded, many of them with the same design; a pregnant woman
holding her belly as if she was cupping a giant crystal ball. They lived off
stale pizza and smoked hash that made them low and mean but it seemed to fit
the situation perfectly.
day Jeff just
blurted out, ‘The pregnant woman, it's your mum isn't? Please tell me what
carefully and then said, ‘She died in a car crash. She was eight months
pregnant. I was in the back seat. My dad and I survived.’
been trying to reach her ever since.’
do you mean
a way to contact
her or connect with her, something like that.’
why I can
never be like you, I need a muse.’
family to die?’
not, but nevertheless I want something in my life to inspire me.’
happy. There's only so much soul searching someone can do without becoming
jaded and just sick inside.’
look at this,
look at the colours, the colours,’ Jeff exclaimed, clutching reams of paper
covered with illustrations. ‘This stuff will make you a legend.’
understand, all the pieces I have aren't even close to how they should be, how
I pictured them in my mind. I can feel it and see it but I can't put it down on
don't get it,
just what is it that you want?’
want to stretch
the boundaries between life and death. I want to reach the other side.’
piece out on the streets tomorrow. People need to see what you can do; they've
been waiting for it - whether they know it or not.’
they set out on their most ambitious mission yet - to graffiti the suicide
bridge in Amersham. Trains would whirl through all night, making the bridge
more difficult to access and it was high, creating a treacherous drop. It was almost
impossible to find a comfortable position to paint as the bridge’s brickwork
would give way at any moment. But it was worth it. The fact people went there
to kill themselves only added to its allure. The bridge was dank, and sparse
lighting created a gloom that spread like mist from a spray can. There was a
young man there, cradling a bottle of JD in his hand, pacing back and forth,
making indentations in the mud. The artist paid him no mind and started work on
his piece - climbing over the lip of the bridge, held in place by Jeff.
here?! Why are you here?!’ cried the young man suddenly. The artist and Jeff
ignored him and the artist got to work until after thirty minutes he said, ‘Pull
artist up on to the bridge and they gave each other smiles and a fist bump. The
artist had finished the background, the splashes and added the cast shadow; ‘I’m
done,’ he said.
you just need
to sign it and we're good to go,’ said Jeff. ‘Rest a bit and then
I’ll help you down to put
the finishing touch.’ After stretching his legs and arms, the artist knocked
back hot cocoa from a flask and then, holding onto Jeff’s muscular frame, he took
his position to complete his piece.
The young man leant his head over the bridge
and said, ‘You shouldn't be doing this, it's my area.’ He leant his head in
close to Jeff's so Jeff could smell his toxic breath.
young man cried.
grip on the artist's hand. A spray can spilled from the artist's grasp and he
said urgently, ‘Jeff, have you got me?’
then a dark
thought clouded Jeff's mind.
off me!’ Jeff
going on Jeff?
’said the artist.
attacking me. I'm losing my grip. He won't let go; I don't know how much longer
I can hold on.’
young man was
doing nothing of the sort. He was sitting on his haunches, huddled up with his
back to the bridge, muttering to himself. An oncoming train could be heard as
whipping sounds shot up and down the tracks.
up at Jeff's strained expression, then back towards the hurtling train and
said, ‘It's OK, Jeff, I'm ready. I've done it, I've got it out of me, the best
I can anyway. I can live with it.’
artist was released.
As if in slow motion his arms and legs flailed like an upturned spider trapped
in a glass. A spray can landed before him, creating a metallic crack as it
landed on one of the sleepers. He plummeted to his demise as the train's wheels
rolled on, ruthlessly gutting the artist. Blood settled on the tracks.
sobered instantly and said, ‘I saw what you did, I know what you did.’
turned to him
with a stern face, ‘You better get out of here. Who do you think they're going
to believe? I'm his friend, you're just some drunk nutjob who doesn't care
about life or death. Now go on before I call the cops on you right now.’
young man dropped his bottle and it
crashed to the ground sending shards of glass scattering across the patchy
tarmac. Whisky drenched the ground. He ran. Jeff looked from side to side,
checking for onlookers, but he was in the clear. He bent down over the
edge of bridge and tagged the piece the artist had painted. It was still pitch
black. Night was his ally, for the time being. By the morning he’d be immortal.
Tim Frank’s short
stories have been published in journals many times, including Bourbon Penn, Bartleby Snopes, Thrice
Fiction, Foliate Oak, and Able Muse.
He is an upcoming writer, specializing in the comic and the
surreal. He has written a semi-autobiographical novel, Devil in my Veins, and
is currently writing a sci-fi thriller