In a northern city or perhaps a southern one there was a footbridge made of metal that spanned a wide grey river in a low and not ungraceful arch. One end of this bridge was located near an art gallery and the other wasn’t too far from a mighty cathedral with an impressive dome. It was extremely pleasant to cross this bridge in either direction and many people took advantage of it, sometimes just for the delight of making the crossing rather than because they really wanted to reach the far side of the water. It was a perfect place for a stroll, which is why strollers were attracted to it from every part of the city.
Over time this bridge acquired the reputation of being a romantic structure and lovers adopted it as their own, though it could be true that the lovers arrived first and the reputation later. Nobody really knows. At any rate, these lovers took with them little padlocks inscribed with their initials, often surrounded by hearts, and they secured the locks to the railings and cast the keys over the side. It was a tradition that spontaneously arose, as such customs often do, and the idea was to dramatically symbolize how the couple in question were locked together forever and that the only means of escape was lost.
The authorities didn’t dare put a stop to this practice, despite the fact that the weight of so many locks on the footbridge was a cause for concern among the engineers who designed it, because for most citizens adding a lock was a wistful, charming, beautiful, funny, touching, sweet gesture, the very epitome of youthful optimism expressed in a simple act of commitment to another human being. Nor did the manufacturers of padlocks complain much. In fact the practice is what the bridge became most famous for, despite its excellent location and the tremendous views from various points along its length.
|Photo by Marie Ferandji|
And so this island grew to maturity and became established as an unofficial but important geographical feature of the city. A brand new custom arose for men and women who were no longer in love to swim or row out to the isle and search for the key that would open their own particular lock. It was nearly impossible to identify the right key by sight alone, so they would simply select a key at random and return to shore and cross the bridge and try it in their own lock, which rarely opened. Standing there, unable to open the symbol of their enjoinment to another person, they would be filled with frustration.
Instead of flipping the useless key over the side, vindictiveness or curiosity would get the better of them and they would systematically try it in every lock until one of them sprang open. To complete this malign act, they generally threw the open padlock over the railings and onto the isle of keys; and over a period of time the locks began to outnumber the keys, as if some bizarre geological process was at work. Couples would split up when they discovered their locks were gone, each blaming the other and venting their anger by visiting the island to take a key and spoil the relationship of some other pair.
Thus the locks vanished from the bridge one by one until none remained at all. But this is the truly odd thing: unbeknownst to anyone, the bridge had already decayed away. Only the locks had remained intact and their complex interlinking had formed a substitute structure, a chain of love that spanned the water, so when they were removed the bridge ceased to exist. It was dismantled by the power and ingenuity of sadness until the river flowed just as it had done before the building of the footbridge, and the two halves of the city, once in love but no longer, were separated by the oily currents of circumstance.