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The Bridge(桥)

The Bridge

I was walking through the village Saturday night. Part of my stroll took me across the newly completed bridge that binds together the two halves of Winnetka. It was early in the evening and the weather was almost British. Fog clung to the wet surface of the streets as an ambient drizzle gathered out of the cool night air. I was alone on the sidewalk. The only noise was the tread of an occasional car as it made a sound that resembled the tearing of paper. My view was directed south by the axis of track leading toward the city of Chicago. At the distance of a short city block stood the train station perched in darkness on the edge of the ravine, while below the tracks were illuminated in the amber glow of vapor lamps. On the weekends the train schedule is much reduced so the station stood there just as empty and quiet as the tracks below.

It was a beautiful scene. It suggested more than emptiness―perhaps something like solitude. As I leaned on the railing I imagined that spot as I had seen it so many times before, with a crowd of commuters bustling through the station on their way to the train. Too busy for breakfast they scurry down the stairs holding briefcases and paper cups with little points of bakery paper sticking out of Burberry coats. The whole scene takes on the appearance of an hourglass. A crowd routinely gathers at the station above and then gradually filters through the narrow stairway landing on the platform below. I saw that same vista now utterly vacant in the way that only a place usually crowded can be. The fog, the cool mist and all that emptiness consumed my thoughts for a moment. I set my camera on a tripod, took a picture, and then wondered, “What could be so wonderful about being perfectly alone?”

Eventually I turned and looked toward the far end of the bridge. There on the corner to the east was a bright patch of light at an intersection of closed shops. The Café Pacifico looked like a painting from the canvas of Edward Hopper. It was a pool of light arguing with the darkness. Within you could see people elegantly dressed and partying, completely oblivious to a town closed for the evening. Curiosity caused me to complete the arc of the bridge and as I approached the café I quickly realized what was going on inside. Originally just a nice coffee shop, the café had undergone a remodeling and was now reopening as an upscale restaurant―complete with an elaborate bar and works of art to decorate the walls. This was their grand opening and they were hosting a chic soiree to celebrate the event.

As I peered in I saw my good friend Gloria Connan. She is a blond, slender woman of about sixty who has lived a splendid life. Once a model, she married a Frenchman and lived in Paris for decades. Ultimately she divorced, moved back to Illinois, and became an artist of some renown. A sculpture of her own creation was paid for by our State Department and now graces a prominent square in downtown Tokyo. Gloria divides her time between Winnetka and Paris, but when she is here she includes me in her circle of friendship. To say the very least she is an expansive personality who is not easily forgotten.

Though I was a bit underdressed in a pair of khaki pants and a damp leather jacket I decided to step in and say hello. My game plan was to be both brief and discreet, but to quote Yogi Berra, “I forgot to remember.” Being greeted by Gloria is never a subtle event. As I walked in the door she was at the far end of the restaurant holding court near the fireplace. A throng of people surrounded Gloria and a quick inspection of the walls informed me she was here as more than a guest. The artwork was mostly her own, and the event was equally a grand opening and a showing of her oils. From across the restaurant she called out, “Bonjour Georges!” and most of the guests turned expecting to see someone of Gallic demeanor―perhaps Parisian, but certainly someone of sophistication and refinement. Instead they saw me, standing there cold and wet holding my camera in one hand.

I smiled weakly and made some gesture hoping to conclude my status as the center of attention. But Gloria would have none of it. In her best imitation of Carol Channing she glided across the room in my direction. Finally arriving at her undistinguished destination she extended her arms in either direction. I could not help but notice our remarkable symmetry; in her hand she carried a flute of Champagne, while in mine was a point and shoot camera. Like a swan on the ascent she turned her neck and offered a cheek in greeting. Moving forward I applied myself to the front of her evening dress like a damp sponge and gave her a kiss. It would be nice to think that I had now suffered my fair share of humility. But such was not the case. Moving back for a brief instant she resumed her flight in my direction and offered a second cheek.

Once the second kiss had been applied Gloria spun around and draped one arm around my shoulders. With a grand gesture she raised her glass in the manner of a toast and said, “Let me introduce George Pence the writer.” I stood there aghast looking out on this immense void of blank faces. Slowly each expression became more quizzical than the last as everyone tried to recollect my name from the New York Times Best Seller List. Unable to bear the consequence of so much confusion my gaze drifted above the entire assembly and in the direction of a large window. Through the glass I could see the very bridge I had left just a few moments before. It occurred to me that in the midst of this quandary my own primal question had finally been answered. For the rest of my life I would never inquire, “What could be so wonderful about being perfectly alone?”

  桥

  星期六的晚上,我一个人在村子里闲逛。中间我经过了一座刚刚完工不久的桥,这座桥将温尼卡的两个区连接在了一起。当时夜幕刚刚降临,天气就如同英国的天气一样,雾气笼罩在潮湿的街面上,就像寒夜里下起了毛毛雨一样。行人道上就只有我一个人,唯一能听到的是偶尔经过的汽车发出的声音,车轮压地的摩擦声听在耳里就像撕纸的声音一样。南方的一道铁轨吸引了我的注意,这条铁轨将直接通往芝加哥。火车站就在附近,隔几个街区就到,坐落在峡谷边缘的黑暗角落里,而进站方向的铁轨在琥珀色的蒸汽灯照耀下却显得灯火通明。因为是周末,列车的车次被大大缩减,车站,连同月台下延伸的铁轨一样,显得空荡而安静。

  这是一幅多么优美的景象啊!不仅仅是空旷,其中似乎还包含着孤独的意味。火车站忙碌的样子我已经看过很多次了,我倚靠在栏杆上,想象着火车站里熙熙攘攘的人群――为了赶火车人们已经顾不上吃早餐,他们匆匆忙忙地冲下楼梯,手里拿着公文包和纸杯,在他们的防水外套下还可以隐约看见面包包装纸的痕迹。所有的这些场景就像漏斗一样一点一滴地涌现在我脑海中。每天都有一大群人例行公事般地在车站集合,然后经过狭小梯道的分流,最后再到下面的各个站台上。往日拥挤热闹的狭长通道如今空空如也。我一时沉浸在冰凉的雾气与空荡的愁绪中。我把相机安装在三脚架上,拍了张照片,暗暗思索着:“到底一个人独处有什么好呢?”

  最后,我回过头来望向桥的另一头,只见东面的角落里有一片地方灯火通明,周围都是关闭的商店。派西菲克咖啡店看上去就像美国画家爱德华?霍普的一幅油画一样,在夜幕的映衬下,里面的灯光显得特别明亮。透过灯光,你可以看到里面有一群穿着优雅的人正在举行宴会,觥筹交错的场景和夜晚静悄悄的小镇可说是格格不入。在好奇心的驱使下,我不禁走过拱桥。当我走近咖啡店的时候,我很快意识到其中的原委。这里原先是一间不错的咖啡店,后来人们在原有基础上进行了重新装修,添加了精致的酒吧,还在墙上布置了不少装饰性的艺术品,这样就变成了一家高档的餐馆。今天就是他们的开张吉日,他们准备举办一场隆重的晚宴来庆祝这一日子。

  当我往里面瞄时,我发现了我的好朋友格劳瑞雅?康南,她是一位身材苗条的金发女人,今年大概六十岁左右,她有着精彩的人生经历。当她还是模特时,她嫁给了一个法国人,在巴黎住了几十年。最后她离了婚,搬回到伊利诺斯州,成为小有名气的艺术家。我国政府还购买了一座由她创作制成的雕刻,现在就放在东京市区的广场上。格劳瑞雅?康南大部分时间都是往返于温尼卡和巴黎两个城市之间。而在这里,我成为她朋友圈中的一员。说真的,她相当豪爽,让人难以忘怀。

  虽然我当时穿着有些寒酸――黄褐色的裤子和潮湿的皮夹克,但我还是决定要走进去和她打个招呼。我的打算是说完就走,可根据瑜珈大师贝拉的名言:“我已经忘记了如何去回忆,”和格劳瑞雅打招呼从来就不是一件“说完就走”的小事情。当我走进门口的时候,她正在餐厅另一头的壁炉旁接受别人的赞美。一群人围在她旁边。我迅速扫视了四周的墙壁,意识到她今晚并不仅仅是个客人,因为那些艺术品大多数是她的作品,可以说今晚的盛宴也相当于就是她的个人油画展。她很快看见了我,在餐馆的那头大声用法语喊道:“你好,乔治!”几乎所有人都转头望了过来,希望能欣赏到高卢人的风采――也许是巴黎人,但必须是充满智慧,彬彬有礼的绅士。但是让他们意外的是,他们见到的却是手里举着相机,站在寒冷潮湿中的我。

  我不自然地笑了一下,摆了摆手势,希望能转移大家的视线,这样自己就不会成为大家关注的焦点。但是格劳瑞雅并不允许我这样做,她模仿着美国影歌双栖女明星卡罗尔?钱宁的样子,缓缓地朝我走过来。最后她走到了我身边,也就是整个餐厅最不起眼的地方,朝我张开了双手。我情不自禁地留意到我们之间的相似之处――她手里拿着一个乘着香槟的高脚酒杯,我手里则拿着一个傻瓜相机。就像一只展翅的天鹅一般,她转动着脖子把脸伸过来向我致意。我走上前去吻了她一下,就像一块湿漉漉的海绵粘在她的晚装上一样。她的谦恭让我在开心之余又觉得窘迫难受。可事情还没完,她微微后退了一下,再次朝我靠了过来,这回是另外一边脸。

  第二个吻后,格劳瑞雅转过身来,并把一只手臂搭在我肩上,面向大家做了个隆重的欢迎手势,然后举起酒杯说:“请允许我向大家介绍作家乔治?彭斯先生!”我就这样手足无措地站在那里,周围都是脸无表情的人群。慢慢地,每个人的表情都变得古怪起来,他们努力回忆在《纽约时报》的畅销书作家中有没有我的名字。我无法忍受这种尴尬,只好将目光从人群中移开,往身后的大窗子望出去。透过窗玻璃,我可以看到了刚才经过的那座桥。在这样的窘境中,我忽然想到当初那个问题的答案。而在我的余生中,我再也不会问“到底一个人独处有什么好呢?”

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