The bridge over the L.A. River by Matt Wall
Jack walked out of his apartment, across the street and onto the bridge that goes over the dried up L.A. river. It was a warm evening and the sun hadn’t gone down yet. Jack squinted his eyes to see better and saw Ian waving to him from the other side. Jack waved back and once he got half way across the bridge, he stopped, and faced west, the sun still warm, shining on his face.
Jack pulled a pack of smokes from his front shirt pocket and lit one up. A moment later, once Ian had arrived and perched himself next to him, he handed Ian a cigarette. Ian lit his and they both looked into the sun.
“I’m waiting,” Jack said.
Ian chuckled and open the brown paper bag that he had brought with him and pulled out two, ice cold, glass bottles of beer. “Here you go.”
Jack smiled. “This is going to taste so good.” He took a long pull on the bottle. He started to say something, thought against it and pounded the bottle until it was empty. He belched loudly. It echoed beneath them along the concrete walls of the dried up L.A. river. Jack screamed and threw the bottle into the river and the sound of the glass smashing against the concrete was sadly softer than he hoped.
“Another?” Ian asked.
“Please.” Jack took the bottle from him and opened it. “I hate having to wait until evening to have a drink. This is torture!”
“How long has your community had booze banned now?”
“Six months and twenty-seven days. We are as dry that fucking river below us.” He guzzled half the bottle down. Belched loudly. “I don’t know what I would do without you, Ian.”
“That’s okay, Jack. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be able to ever have another cigarette. They banned those in my community a year ago!”
The two men smoked all the cigarette’s and finished off the six pack with hardly saying another word. They said their goodbyes and then Jack walked back Northeast across the bridge to his community and Ian walked back down Southwest to his.
The next night the two men met again in the middle of the bridge. Jack handed Ian a smoke and Ian handed Jack a beer.
“Things are getting weird over in my community,” Jack said.
“How so?” Ian asked.
“Well, there’s a food shortage and a lot of people are starving, I guess.”
“Yeah?” Ian said. “We sort of have the same problem in mine. No meat.”
Jack continued, “So there was this big meeting with the whole community and everyone is shouting at everyone else and people are getting upset so I said, why don’t we just eat people? We got a ton of those!”
“People?” Ian asked, lighting another smoke.
“People.” Jack said, opening another beer.
“You think they’ll go for it?”
“I don’t know? There’s another meeting tomorrow.”
“Would you do it?” Ian asked.
“Fuck no!” Jack shouted. “I’m vegan now and fast four days a week anyway. When we eat, it’s mainly soup – of some kind.”
“I didn’t know that about you.”
“It’s kind of a new thing. This girl I’m dating is vegan and she moved into my place last month so…”
“I understand,” Ian said.
The next night Ian beat Jack to the bridge by a couple minutes. When Ian asked what took Jack so long, Jack said, “You’ll never believe it. They took a vote today and cannibalism passed. People can eat people in my neighborhood now.”
Ian handed him a beer and said, “That’s great, man. You must feel really good about it.”
“Not really. Everyone has been chasing each other around all day trying to kill each other with the stupidest things. I don’t think people know how to hunt anymore. Come to think of it, I don’t either.”
“Give me an example of what you saw.”
“Well, I saw a woman chasing a man down the alley behind my kitchen window. She was chasing him with an electric carving knife, but the knife wasn’t plugged in and the guy was running from her! Scared!”
“Why don’t people just shoot people?”
“Guns? We banned those things years ago.”
“That’s right,” Ian took a long drag off his cigarette. “We have guns coming out our ears in my neighborhood.” Ian took a swig off the beer and said, “You know what Jack? You’ve inspired me. I’m going to call a meeting tomorrow and tell them all the great things you’re doing in your community and see if we can follow suit.”
They finished the beer.
They finished the smokes.
They went their separate ways.
The next night, Jack was hanging his head low. He met Ian halfway and lit a smoke and grabbed a beer. “Well, it started,” Jack said.
“Someone finally caught someone else, and right this minute, they are cooking them over a fire.”
“How do you know?”
“I can smell it. It’s making me hungry, but I’m a vegan and this is one of my fast days anyway.”
Ian shook his head. “Your willpower is amazing.”
They both finished a bottle and threw it into the dried up, concrete, L.A. river.
Ian said, “I talked to my neighborhood and they are voting on cannibalism tomorrow. I think it will go well. There is no protein in my community. Everyone has these fucking gardens and shit and all they do is grow vegetables.”
“Really?” Jack said. “Like what?”
“Everything you could think of and some others that you can’t. Lettuce, tomato, onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, eggplant, cucumber, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, and the corn! Jesus Christ there is so much corn!”
Jack’s mouth was watering. “Could you bring me some of that tomorrow?”
“Any of it. We can’t grow stuff in my neighborhood. We are allowed to but no one knows how to do it and we don’t got any dirt. It’s all concrete!”
The next night, Jack’s community was on fire. It was terrifying. There were gunshots, people screaming and buildings collapsing. Jack got there early. Not because he didn’t want to be in harms way, but because Ian promised him some veggies.
Ian showed up, this time carrying two big brown paper bags. One had two six packs in it and the other was a colorful explosion of veggies and fruits. Jack’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. Jack handed Ian a cigarette.
“I feel bad,” Jack said. “First the beer and now this? I just bring you smokes, man. I need to do something else.”
“You already have.”
“What do you mean?”
Just then a truck drove over the bridge and slowed down by them. Ian waved and the truck drove away.
Jack shook his head. “I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone drive on this bridge.”
Ian took swig of the beer and said, “We passed cannibalism in our neighborhood today.”
“That’s great, man. Really,” Jack said. “You guys should have no problems.”
“I know! What made it better was the fact that your community passed it too.”
“Because now we can just go into your neighborhood, where no one has any guns, and kill people there and bring them back to our neighborhood without anyone getting hurt.”
Jack nodded. “That makes sense, I guess. This morning I looked out my kitchen window and saw a little old lady, curly white hair, sunken eyes, kneeling the street, she was chewing on this big fat guy’s belly. He was laying in the middle of the ally wearing nothing but his tighty-whities. She saw me and sat up to wave. I was expecting blood and guts and shit, but she smiled and there was only drool. That was it. She didn’t have her dentures in. She was just gumming him to death. Then, while she was waving, the fat guy just stood up and walked away. I think it was a sex thing or something.”
Ian shuddered and said, “The freezers in town are almost all full of dead people. Our town will be eating good for months.”
“What happens when the food runs out again?”
“I guess we will turn on each other.”
They shrugged and finished their beers.
Jack walked back across his side of the bridge and walked through town. He didn’t see another living soul. There weren’t any bodies in the street either, too valuable. He went home and placed his brown bag of veggies on the counter. His girlfriend wasn’t there. Somebody must’ve got her, he thought.
He walked over to the community center where the meetings are held.
He sat in the biggest chair. He picked up the gavel. It felt good. The weight of it in his hand. Then he said, “I herby make into law, from this moment forward, that alcohol is legal once again in this community.” He slammed the gavel down two or three times and smiled.
He stood up and was nearly dancing as he walked out the door and back down the street. then he stoped.
“Shit!” he said. “There’s no one left to sell beer to me.”
He went home with his head hangin low. He lit a cigarette, shut his door and grabbed a cucumber, counting down the minutes until he would met Ian on the bridge tomorrow night, until he saw a truck full of armed men crossing the bridge from Ian’s neighborhood into his. Swallowing that first bite of cucumber became difficult.