The Broken BridgePhilip Pullman
BOOKS BY PHILIP PULLMAN
HIS DARK MATERIALS
The Golden Compass
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
Once Upon a Time in the North
Two Crafty Criminals!
The Scarecrow and His Servant
I Was a Rat!
The White Mercedes
The Broken Bridge
THE SALLY LOCKHART MYSTERIES
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
The Tin Princess
The Broken Bridge
Alfred A. Knopf
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 1990, 1992 by Philip Pullman
Excerpt from The White Mercedes copyright © 1992 by Philip Pullman
Cover art copyright © 2001 by Jeff Fisher, with permission from Macmillan Children’s Books, London
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Previously published in hardcover in the United States in 1992 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain in slightly different form by Macmillan Children’s Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, London, in 1990.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the paperback edition of this work as follows:
The broken bridge / Philip Pullman.
218 p. ; 18 cm.
Summary: Over the course of a long summer in Wales, sixteen-year-old Ginny, the mixed-race, artist daughter of an English father and a Haitian mother, learns that she has a half brother from her father’s earlier marriage, and that her own mother may still be alive.
ISBN 978-0-679-84715-1 (pbk.)
[1. Identity (Philosophical concept)—Juvenile fiction. 2. Dysfunctional families—Juvenile fiction. 3. Identity—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.P968Ti 1990 [Fic]—ocm31932580 2011488925
ISBN 978-1-5247-6502-6 (ebook)
First Ebook 2017
Ebook ISBN 9781524764999
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
Books by Philip Pullman
1. The Visitor
2. Rhiannon’s Sister
3. The Mobile Home
4. A Phone Call
6. The Ghost Train
7. The White Cuckoo
9. The Barbecue
10. The Only Thing to Do
11. Baron Samedi
12. A Journey
13. Golden Years
14. The Death of Colonel Paul
15. Arrangement in Pink and Yellow
16. Golden Years, Part Two
17. The Morning Train
Excerpt from The White Mercedes
About the Author
ONE DAY in the school playground they’d said, Eeny, meeny, miney, Mo’, Catch a nigger by his toe, and they’d all looked at Ginny and laughed. They called her Eeny Meeny after that.
In the bath she told Dad to wash her harder.
“Why?” he said. “You’re as clean as a whistle.”
“I’m dirty,” she said.
“You’re not dirty, silly.”
“But I’m not the same as them. I want to be the same color. They call me Eeny Meeny.”
“You’re the right color for you, and they’re the right color for them,” said Dad.
She wanted to say, Well, why is it right for me to be different from everyone else? Even Dad was white like them. But he kissed her and wrapped her in the towel and dried her hard, and she couldn’t talk till she’d forgotten what she was going to say. They stopped calling her Eeny Meeny, though.
ONE HOT DAY toward the end of the summer term in which Ginny had her sixteenth birthday, she got home from school to find Dad already there, talking to a stranger. Normally he didn’t get home till six or so, by which time she’d have done her homework and peeled the potatoes or made a salad or prepared whatever else they’d decided to have for supper. He hadn’t told her that he’d be home today; she heard voices as she came through the kitchen, and her heart beat nervously for a moment.
She found them in the living room. Dad was looking preoccupied, and there was a woman in a suit, who smiled and held out her hand to be shaken, so Ginny automatically shook it.
“This is Wendy Stevens,” said Dad.
Wendy Stevens was big, or fat actually, Ginny thought, with lots of blond hair elaborately waved like a country and western singer’s. Her suit was dark blue, and she wore blusher and eye shadow, and her forehead was gleaming with the heat. When she spoke she smiled at the same time. She was very friendly, asking Ginny about school and hobbies and sports and fashions and pop music in a way that, after five minutes, began to make Ginny feel puzzled and rebellious. Dad had gone out to the kitchen; Ginny could tell he was relieved to get away.
Finally she said, “Who are you anyway? Are you a friend of Dad’s?”
“No, I work for the Social Services Department,” she said. “Not locally. In Liverpool.”
“Are you a social worker?” Ginny was suspicious at once.
“Sort of. Why? Don’t you like social workers?”
“I don’t know any,” she said. “Why are you asking me all these questions?”
“Just getting to know you,” said Wendy Stevens, smiling.
“Well, you won’t find out much by…I mean, sports and fashion and pop music…It’s not me, really.”
“Your dad’s told me about your hobby.”
“That’s not a hobby,” said Ginny severely. “I don’t want to be rude, but…what are you doing here anyway?”
“Does it worry you?”
“Yeah. Are you checking up or something?”
“What would I be checking up on?”
“What sort of things?”
This was a stupid game, Ginny thought. Then something came into her mind and made her shiver: there’d been a case in the news recently where the social services had been criticized for failing to remove a child from the care of her father, who’d been abusing her. And there’d been another case where they had split a family up, and it turned out that the father hadn’t done anything at all….But was that why Wendy Stevens was here? Did they think she was being abused? Did they think that was more likely to happen where there wasn’t a mother? Would they take her away from Dad?
She stood up and moved to the window that overlooked the tiny front garden and the fields leading down to the sea. You could never tell. She didn’t know how much power social workers had; they seemed to be able to take children into cu
stody whether or not the parents objected. But it was ridiculous. They couldn’t believe that Dad was doing anything like that to her. It was impossible.
“You look as if you’ve seen a ghost,” said Wendy Stevens. “Am I that bad?”
The door opened, and Dad came in with a tray of mugs of tea and some biscuits. There was something the matter; Ginny could tell. She wanted to get out and go down to the beach, but she thought she’d better stay and show there was nothing wrong between her and Dad. If Wendy Stevens could see that everything was normal, she might go away and leave them alone.
So Ginny sat down again, passed the biscuits, talked about school; and presently Wendy Stevens looked at her watch and began to put away the papers Ginny noticed for the first time. She had a cherry-red plastic briefcase with green canvas webbing at the corners; a tattered sticker on it said SUPPORT THE MINERS.
“Nice to meet you, Ginny,” she said as she stood up. “Hope we see each other again.”
She shook hands. Ginny smiled and nodded, and cleared the mugs and plates away as Dad went out with the woman to the Renault 5 parked in the lane.
“What did she want?” Ginny said when Dad came back. “She was asking all kinds of questions. All stupid ones, about pop music and stuff. Patronizing.”
“How d’you know she wasn’t my new girlfriend?” Dad said.
“ ’Cause you’ve got better taste.”
He smiled, but there was still something wrong. He went to the sink and started washing the mugs.
“But what was it?” Ginny said again.
“Oh, it was some nonsense….D’you remember when we lived in Liverpool?”
“Was that the basement where you slept next to the fridge?”
“Next to the fridge? Oh, no, that was Hammersmith. When we lived in Liverpool, the Social Services helped out when I had to work late. There was a sort of nursery place. And Wendy Whatsername worked there, so she remembered you.”
“But did she come all this way just to see us again?”
“No. We’re not that famous. She was on her way back from a conference in Aberystwyth and just dropped in to say hello. Nothing important.”
Oh, yeah, Ginny thought. But she didn’t say it. Instead she wandered back to the living room, took out her schoolbooks, and began the last French homework before her exam.
Apart from art, French was her best subject. She considered it to be her native language, her mother tongue, her mother’s tongue. She’d never learned it from her mother, who had died a week or so after Ginny was born, but Ginny was proud of it all the same; just as she was proud of her mother and the color she’d inherited and the exoticness in her blood. Her father was English, white, but her mother had come from Haiti, where they spoke French and Creole, so Ginny applied herself to French with love and ardor: it belonged to her in the way that Welsh belonged to the other kids at school. Ginny had to learn Welsh too, and she did it conscientiously, but it felt cramped and alien. In French she was at home.
So normally she’d have worked at this exercise with pleasure, maybe imagining the day when she, speaking French perfectly, would be studying art in Paris or seeking out long-lost cousins in Haiti; but not today. Something was wrong. Dad wasn’t telling the truth.
She gazed at the line of sand dunes a mile or so away, wondering if someone had told the Social Services that Dad was abusing her. She thought it must be that. One of the neighbors? But on one side lived Mr. and Mrs. Price, a retired stationmaster and his disabled wife, and on the other side were the Laxtons and their bed-and-breakfast….Of course not. They were good people. Ridiculous. She went back to the French, listening to the sounds of Dad in the kitchen, the radio, the knife on the chopping board, the kettle boiling.
Ginny’s dad owned his own business, setting up computer systems for offices and factories and advising people how to run the ones they had. He’d never remarried after Ginny’s mother died. Now, at the age of thirty-seven, he looked as if he came from an earlier time; without being ridiculously handsome, he had the sort of looks that film stars of the thirties and forties had had. He had a beard, and if he put a spotted handkerchief around his head, a gold ring in one ear, and a dagger between his white teeth, he could have played alongside Gene Kelly in The Pirate, which Ginny had watched on TV over Christmas.
He and Ginny were close, almost like brother and sister, like equals. He was proud of her, proud of her talent, proud of her diligence; and she was proud of him, of his energy, his attractiveness. He had many girlfriends. Ginny used to think of them as the breakfast ladies, because sometimes she’d come down to breakfast and there would be a strange young woman she’d never seen before. She thought they just came for breakfast until she realized that they stayed all night, but she didn’t realize why they stayed all night until much later, when there was only one of them. She was called Holly, and she stayed six months, and Ginny, feeling that they ought to be respectable, wanted to know if she and Dad were going to get married. But shortly afterward Holly left.
Ginny didn’t feel jealous, because Dad always included her in things. When he took one of the breakfast ladies out for a meal, Ginny came, too, and learned to be sophisticated. When it was another’s birthday, Ginny chose a present for her. And she and Dad talked about them: how Annie loved to gorge herself on fried bread and bacon, how Teresa hardly ate anything, how Mair used to sing hymns in the shower.
They were all white, of course. Not that Ginny expected Dad to have a black lover just because Maman had been black—in this part of Wales there were hardly any black faces to be seen—but when things were difficult, that was part of the difficulty. It was always there, being a black person in a white world, from the time she’d first become aware of it: Eeny Meeny—she grew hot at the thought. But it hadn’t been urgent. Well, it wasn’t urgent now, but she was sixteen, and though she thought she was pretty and Dad told her she was pretty and though her friends reassured her too, nevertheless, boys…well, they were cowards anyway. Which one of them would want to mark himself out from the rest by going out with a black girl? She knew that was how they’d feel. She guessed that was why no one had asked her. And if they did ask, they’d resent her for making them feel like that, so there’d always be other feelings mixed up with the relationship. She’d put the thought aside, into the darkness, but it hadn’t gone away; she could sense it there, awake, and one day she’d have to deal with it.
“Supper’s ready,” Dad called.
“I’m not hungry,” she said quietly, but she went anyway.
“Dad, what was she here for?” she said over the grilled lamb chops and salad.
“Nothing. Just passing.”
“But this isn’t the way to Liverpool from Aberystwyth.”
“She might be going somewhere else for the weekend. Who knows? Who cares?”
“I thought she was stupid.”
“I expect she noticed,” he said.
“What d’you mean?”
“Well, you’re not very tactful, are you?”
“You were looking at her as if she was poison.”
“Well, it probably doesn’t matter. I don’t suppose she’ll come again.”
“She had a load of papers all spread out. Was it something about me?”
“No, of course not. D’you want to finish the salad?”
After they’d eaten and she’d washed the dishes, she went out and wandered down the lane toward the beach. The house stood between its two neighbors in this little side lane off the road that led down to the sea from the main route along the coast. Inland, on the far side of the main road, a range of great grass-covered hills, not quite mountains but as high as hills could get, rolled endlessly away out of sight; but on this side, the seaward side, there was a space of magic and beauty, Ginny’s realm, her kingdom, her queendom.
It was a mile wide: all the land between the main road and the sea. There was a
grassy field below the road, then the lane with her house, then more fields, then a railway line, then another field and the sand dunes and the beach. To the right there was a parking area and a little shop, and a tiny trailer park that you couldn’t see from the house; and to the left there was an estuary, where a little river, which only a few miles back in the hills was tumbling swiftly among rocks, spread itself out wide and slow through a tidal lagoon. Beyond that there were more dunes and, at the very edge of the horizon, an airfield from which tiny silver planes occasionally took off, to skim over the sea and vanish. Everything from the airfield to the trailer park, from the main road to the edge of the sea, was Ginny’s.
She owned it, first, because she knew it: during the years they’d lived here, she’d wandered all over this gently sloping margin, this halfway place between the hills and the sea. She owned it because she’d drawn it, from the insects on the dry-stone walls to the decaying church half-buried in the dunes to the little bridge that carried the railway line over the estuary. And she owned it, finally, because she loved it. Everyone who entered this kingdom became a subject of hers without knowing it, owing her allegiance, paying her invisible respect. Nothing bad was permitted to happen in Ginny’s kingdom; she was in charge; she saw to it.
So now as she wandered down the lane she looked over everything, inspecting the landscape as if it were a guard of honor. The ancient round stones in the walls, gray and lichen-covered, the grass in the fields, brown and dry from the weeks of hot weather, the coppery sun, still with an hour or two’s light to shed before sinking into the sea—it was all in place, all as it should be.
There were still quite a few people on the beach, though some of them were beginning to pack away their sandy picnic boxes and their wet towels and their gritty, oily suntan bottles and make stiffly for the parking area. Ginny wandered along the soft sand to the right, above the rock pools where children were still crouching, intently fishing for little transparent shrimps, for crabs and starfish. The late golden light tinted everything evenly, benevolently, and the sea folded neat little waves quietly over onto the flat sand.