This story is read aloud at: https://youtu.be/O4f0glIAs4I
Synopsis: A mermaid gives a tired woman some temporary relief in the Concho River.
Whenever you see a bridge, you wonder if it is strong enough. At least that is what I would think (as a child) when we traveled across the rickety bridge on the way to grandmother’s house. I would pray the Lord’s Prayer during the jaunt across, to pacify my anxiety.
Though it seemed like we were going to fall to our deaths, my intercessions always saved my family. That bridge was on the short cut to grandmother’s house. I always wanted to take the “long cut” without bridges—if you know what I mean. That bridge was a symbol of anxiety for me.
Fortunately, the bridge to grandmother’s house has since been torn down and replaced. But when I was young, a unique bridge story was told to me, on one of those trips to see Grandmother.
The story’s main character was Liza, and she was pregnant when she lived in San Angelo in 1888. That year was also the birth year of the town’s hope bridge, which many would come to revere.
Liza was a telegraph operator, as was her husband. They both listened to dots and dashes of Morse code all day long. But their jobs were in jeopardy in 1888, as the telephone was beginning to replace the telegraph. Who would have a need for their soon-to-be-obsolete language? They thought.
Liza thought, maybe while I stay home with the baby, he can work at another job.
Jobs were plentiful. The economy of San Angelo was fantastic. The railroad from Ballinger was to be complete in September. Everyone was optimistic that there would be no repeat of the Panic of 1873 which developed into a depression.
That depression was partly due to large amounts of capital being put into railroads. The same trend was happening in Texas, people worried.
So the mood of the bridge story was basically positive. But Liza was not feeling the enthusiasm.
Though Liza was happy to be with child, she harbored a secret that she could not express to her husband. It was with this secret in mind and the laziness of the late June day, that she was forever changed by an event near the bridge of hope.
The hope bridge had been completed just weeks before the incident. The approaches were still considered dangerous, but they were to be secured soon. This bridge would allow easy passage from San Angelo to Paint Rock and easterly beyond.
On the bank of the Concho River, Liza reflected on someone she loved in Paint Rock. It wasn’t her husband, and the irony made her sad.
She was never unfaithful.
And she never planned on being unfaithful. Her platonic love for her husband was good. She would bear his child and hope the baby would change her attitude about deeper love.
Liza retrieved some of her leftover lunch bread while near the bridge. She’d been interpreting code for ten hours. She was exhausted and hungry. She was close to getting home, but just tuckered out. A short rest by the river would be harmless, she thought. She sat down, relieved.
So imagine her surprise when, near the dam below the bridge, a lovely mermaid with peachy cheeks emerged from the cool water. Liza rubbed her eyes—as she could not possibly be seeing the imaginary figure.
But the mermaid was really there.
The creature asked if Liza wanted to become her queen. Confused, Liza looked around for support. Finding none, after a lengthy pause she responded with, “I don’t know.”
The mermaid proceeded to try to entice Liza to come into the water for a celebration of female loveliness. Liza was obviously confused by the request. Bathing in the river was something she’d done many times, but she’d always completed it at night when no one was around.
The mermaid persisted, “Take off your clothes and join me. We can talk about love and sacrifice.”
Liza, very sweaty, decided to remove her clothes for a quick swim. Being eight months pregnant made overheated her. The cool water would cause no harm, and the mermaid appeared to be friendly.
They swam together and ducked into the water when anyone passed over the bridge. Liza felt better than she had in years. The mermaid was playful and hopeful. Liza’s near weightlessness was rewarding, as the burden of the baby’s weight that day had taken a toll on her back and hips.
The mermaid shared a secret with Liza, who gasped in amazement. Then she continued to divulge ancient mysteries to Liza as they played in the water. At last, the mermaid asked Liza to share one of her confidences.
Liza had had her secret on the tip of her tongue when she heard her husband bawling for her.
He was awakening her from her nap and telling her to go home with him. It was getting late, and they both had to work tomorrow.
“I was so worried about you when I arrived home and you weren’t there,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you for thirty minutes.”
She was fully clothed and still sweaty. Apparently, she had never gone in the water.
How do you tell your husband that you’d rather live in your dream? That her current life with him was a lie?
That she wanted to cuddle with someone else—a woman?
When my elder told me the Hope Bridge Story, I was skeptical. He concluded saying, “Liza remained faithful to her husband until her dying day.”
I thought, how could she have loved a woman in Paint Rock more than her husband?”
But that was then, and this is now.
Closets are being emptied as I write.
That story helped me see that gender love is not always what it seems.
I thought, Somewhere in her dream, Liza had a revelation full of hope.
Thank goodness in our current society, Liza wouldn’t require a dual existence.
And thank goodness a symbol for sexual freedom bridge was erected in 1888.
And her Hope Bridge (Lone Wolf Bridge) still stands.