The bridge stretched out before her like a ribbon of darkness, disappearing into low-hanging fog. All she had to do was walk across the bridge. Walk across and be free.
Walk across, she told herself, walk across. But she didn’t, she remained where she was as if rooted there by a slightly mad gardener.
She looked down at her feet, her falling-apart tennies. Just one step in front of the others and these ratty shoes, these red shoes, would carry her across the bridge into freedom. She couldn’t imagine what freedom must feel like.
One step. Two steps.
How could she know the feel of something she had never had? What must it be like to have an endless supply of food? A store filled, top to bottom, with food. Grapes and apples and berries. Meat. An entire counter laid with meat. Rice. Cereal with sugar loaded on each flake. Soft drinks. Bottles and cans filling a whole aisle, maybe two, top to bottom and bottom to top. Cola. Pepsi. Coke. For years she’d dreamt of how they must taste. Cold and refreshing.
Freedom. They tasted, she was sure, like freedom.
But what if it wasn’t? What if… nothing lay on the far side of the bridge. Just the on and on of fog forever.
She looked down at her blouse. Bright red, spreading across her belly and breasts. There was no what if, she realized. Nothing but fog-shrouded emptiness in which she would wander forever.
Her knees buckled and she fell. There had to be something through the fog, across the bridge, beyond the smell of tar and wood. There had to be or else she’d wasted her life dreaming.
Curling up, she looked across the bridge, vision blurring. The ground was soft, softer than anything she’d ever known.
The fog parted, just for a moment, and she saw what she’d never been able to imagine. Sunshine and green grass and a willow swaying in the breeze. Laughter. Giggling. Red light, Green light. Simon Says. Tag. Ring Around the Rosie.
She closed her eyes, not wanting to see the dream of freedom drifting farther and farther away. The ground was warm even as it began to snow. Her eyes still closed, she lay, crystalline flakes covering her like a blanket.
She’d never be cold again.