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Despair on a Bridge at Sunset

A Story for One of Munch's Most Powerful Paintings

By Alex CaseyPublished 12 months ago 3 min read
3
Sick Mood at Sunset, Despair by Edvard Munch (1892)

Vivid reds and oranges swirled far above his dark hat.

Honest men worked hard jobs in the water below him.

But the well-dressed men, not unlike himself, walked past him without pleasantries or acknowledgement. And that was fine. They weren't even men to him, just more blank faces in a sea of masks.

He leaned against the bridge's wooden railing, recently constructed to protect pedestrians. But 364 days short of his 30th birthday, he had never felt protected.

Never felt safe nor content.

The men were speaking about the recent death of the Swedish swimmer. A pioneer in her field, he had admired her, and as he listened to the men's varying opinions, he nearly smiled. If he ever married, he too wanted a "modern woman".

Nearly smiled, like a thread had pulled at the corner of his lips. A twitch, really, but not a smile.

He was too desperate to smile.

He inhaled deeply, the smell of cold filling his nose and lungs until he coughed.

The men did not pause their conversation as he struggled for breath.

He sighed, missing the warmth of his pipe.

He would be home soon, he told himself. Home with his pipe and the bean stew simmering on his wood stove.

Yes, he would be home soon.

If he could convince himself to leave the bridge.

To the south was work, a menial government job that unfortunately paid well. He missed farming, the feel of the soft earth beneath his hands and the green shoots of hope that healed his soul.

But after a series of doomed harvests, his sister (the only woman left in his life) insisted he find a job with a steady paycheck.

So he did.

He received a paycheck that steadily smothered the vulnerable sprouts in his soul.

To the north was home, filled with silence and trepidation. Stillness and isolation.

A warm bed that constantly called his name. A wood stove that dared to be touched. A clock that always too loudly ticked away the seconds of his life.

And then there was this bridge. The ever-present link betwixt monotony and melancholy.

So this is where he spent his sunrises and sunsets, letting his thoughts float down the river and into the ether.

There was freedom in standing here and watching the rubies and topazes protect his earth.

Here, he did not owe anything to anyone.

Here, there were no disappointments.

Here, he could almost pretend that time ceased--a notion only betrayed by the slowly slipping sun.

So most days this bridge was a refuge.

But during bouts of sickness, even the bridge gave him little support.

In winter, he was often ill, as indicated by his continued cough, and during the rest of the year, no matter how physically fit he might appear, his mind was unwell for longer and longer periods.

Today, he felt it again.

A ravenous clawing beneath his skin, a deafening humming in his brain, a mental fragility so on the cusp of breaking that it poisoned his physical well-being.

He felt it deep in his essence, where the green shoots struggled to take root.

So he leaned against the railing, ignored the men's ramblings, and considered what it might be like to fly.

To seamlessly merge with the jasper and amber melting in the sky.

To dive into the biting, welcoming water and join Earth's most agile swimmers.

To embrace a different silence.

He closed his eyes and let those thoughts become feelings.

Let the feelings become dreams.

Let the cold fill his lungs until he shivered.

Let the fantasies capture him.

Yet, slowly, he reemerged to the sound of men's jolly yelling, children's innocent laughter, and women's pleasant chattering.

The sounds of life all around him.

He leaned against the railing once more, and when it held firm, his lips twitched again.

He opened his eyes and gently squeezed and patted the wood, an appreciative, but unfortunately routine, gesture.

He turned to the north and stepped past the faceless men.

He would make it home before sunset.

And in a few hours, he would return to the bridge, and watch another day begin.

Painting
3

About the Creator

Alex Casey

I'm a full-time educator and part-time writer. My best ideas usually end up on Vocal.

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