Short Story – Balance

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a prostitute. An eye plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a bridge in the industrial age. The story is about balance.

*******

She looked over the edge. The water was a long way down. She turned around to see the way behind her. To one end of the bridge, there was a stone gate that appeared to be locked. And from the other end, she could hear footsteps. Thank goodness for the fog. She had a little time, although she had only one option if she didn’t want to get caught. She needed her arms and legs as free as possible. She had to rid herself of all extra clothing, so she stripped off her cloak and her boots and stockings, her petticoats made a nice bundle and she used her belt to hold it together.  Knowing it might be a problem if she didn’t move quickly, she tied the bundle to her waist. And then slowly lowered herself over the side. Steel bridges were a marvel of beams and wires and thanks to her circus upbringing, they were just another playground for Cornelia Del Arte — also known as Highwire Nell.

She quickly  swung from the main beam to the wire and then the next until she was concealed under the main bridge by one of the beams. She heard the voices above her and knew they were looking for her. As long as they couldn’t see her, they should not be able to find her.  She held still and waited for them to tire of their search. She didn’t look down. Her parents had trained her well to look where you want to go. If your eyes looked down you would go there, and successful trapeze artists and high wire walkers assuredly did not.

How far she had fallen since those days! Her parents would not recognize her painted and perfumed to please the men who paid for her company. This line of work was not her first choice, and she had finally seen an opportunity to leave both the occupation and the men and women who had first forced her into it and then kept her from leaving. It was a daring move – many of the other girls had died or been killed trying to get out. And she was at the point that she could accept death if it meant she never had to endure another groping, drooling fool.

After the footsteps faded and she could be sure they wouldn’t come back, she contemplated her next move. The underside of the bridge eventually led to shore in either direction, so it was a matter of which side could be more easily mounted when she got there.

She looked down river to the next bridge and examined the shore on both sides. She could probably scale the next one a bit easier, so she started working her way along the beams and cables. She moved slowly so as not to attract attention, although it was unlikely between the fog and the dark and  anyone on the bridge would be partially blinded by the streetlamps. She paused to listen and shivered as a chill wind caught her. Then she saw it. Right in front of her. An eye. Staring straight at her and only a few feet away peering between a beam and a cable.

She held still. The eye blinked once. She felt no animosity and so she moved forward slightly.  The head turned and she saw both eyes.  She sighed with relief.  It was only an owl. She quickly moved past it to the far end of the bridge and picked her way along the wall to the next bridge. She repeated her tightrope walking act back to the top of the next bridge.  Peering over the edge, she saw no one approaching so she quickly dressed and heaved herself over the wall onto the bridge. Then she made her way to the opposite side of the river. Ahead she saw a bakery and a woman sweeping the street. Rubbing the rouge from her face, she made her way toward the woman,  keeping her eye on freedom.

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With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

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