We drove backroads, a cloud of dust kicking up behind us. Daddy wore his smudged-up work clothes. He looked out the windshield. Neither of us said much.
While he drove, we stared at the fields and farmland zipping past our windows. Such things have a way of making your mind run quiet. Barns. Farmland. Endless rows of fenceposts.
He turned at the large creek. The old metal bridge looked like a leftover from the heydays of the railroad. He rolled to a stop, then jammed the gearshift into park.
“See this bridge,” he said. “I used to spend a lot of time on this thing, haven’t been here in years.”
He jumped out of the truck. Then, he rapped his knuckles on the iron. A dull ringing suggested this thing was older and tougher than me.
I looked over the edge. It was a long way down.
He leapt onto the iron beam, then scaled to the top. “I used to do this as a boy,” he called down. He held his hands outward and walked along like a tight-rope walker.
This was not altogether unusual for my father, he was an iron worker. He spent his days stick-welding, walking steel beams that were decidedly more terrifying than this. Sometimes, he’d climb tall things for my friends, just to show us what kind of job you got if you didn’t finish school.
“You know,” he yelled down. “If I were a writer, I’d write something about how iron workers were like dancers, way up on the steel. It’s more than manual labor, you know. It’s like a ballet, kinda. Don’t ya think?”
It was more like a circus stunt, if you asked me.
He stopped walking and looked straight at the sky—so clear and empty it looked fake. From where I stood, his lanky frame was black against the sun.
He scaled down the trusses like a monkey. Then, we piled into the truck and rode home through several miles of gravel.
That was a lifetime ago. The memory itself feels like a kind of dream now. Most often, the only thing I can recall about those days is that he died on a Wednesday, and I grew up on a Thursday.
But I also remember little things. Such as: how he liked his eggs—with ketchup. Or: how he organized his closet. Or: that he once wanted someone to write a story about lowly steel workers, who walked so graceful on the iron that they looked like something worth writing about.
This is that story.