by Bryan Russell
The Border Between Here and There
They sent the soldier to guard the bridge because of the troubles between the two provinces. The soldier had a snappy uniform, and he marched snappily across the bridge, back and forth. He held his rifle firmly, dreaming at times of the rifle going Snap! Snap! and of receiving a medal.
People crossed the bridge, back and forth, despite the troubles. He smiled at the people, but not too much. He had a job to do. He met a woman from the Right Bank, and smiled a little wider. He took her out on Friday nights. She loved to dance, and he loved her, and so they danced and danced.
Then the soldier met a woman from the Left Bank, and she was beautiful and he took her out every Saturday night for long walks along the river. The beautiful woman was filled with wanderlust, and they would hike up into the hills. In the autumn the leaves were bright red.
When the bomb exploded on the bridge it was a surprise. A piece of shrapnel cut the soldier perfectly in two, from groin to head. The right half of the soldier landed on the Right bank, while the left half of the soldier landed on the Left Bank. Miraculously, the soldier survived, but the doctors couldn’t put the two halves back together. The Army gave him two honorable discharges.
The right half of the soldier stayed on the Right Bank, and he called on the woman who danced and made him smile. The left half of the soldier stayed on the Left Bank, and he called on the beautiful woman with the wanderlust.
Yet the right half of the soldier found, with only one leg, that he was no longer much of a dancer. The woman who danced smiled in sympathy, for awhile, and then she started to dance with other people. Eventually she stopped coming home, and he heard she went out dancing every night of the week. He started painting and became an artist. He painted autumn trees with red leaves like fire.
The left half of the soldier, meanwhile, soon found that the beautiful woman was not happy: it was hard to love a man who could not wander. He tried to accompany her but he could not keep pace while hopping on one foot, and it was hard to talk amidst all that bouncing. He needed his breath for each jump. Soon the beautiful woman walked by herself, farther and farther afield, until one day she simply kept walking and the horizon swallowed her. The left half of the soldier became an architect and built a new bridge over the river, a bridge with great arches that reminded him of people dancing.
Every year the left half of the solider and the right met to buy a pair of boots. A business arrangement, no more. They had little to say to each other, but why pay full price for a pair of boots when you could pay half instead? Yet, as the years passed by, the artist and the architect talked more and more as they found they no longer had much in common.