Delivering the message
It is, arguably, just outside Tatamagouche, N.S. —literally near the town limits, but barely outside, on the old rail line that’s now the Trans-Canada Trail.
Right there, there’s an old railway trestle bridge that straddles the French River, where the French meets the Waugh River in what is, at low tide, vast expanses of reddish-brown tidal mud. There’s enough tidal fall that, in the Waugh, channel marker buoys topple over on their sides at low tide near the wharf at the foot of King Street.
But back to the trestle. The top of the bridge is flat boards, some nailed well, others less so, a few more starting to rot, so that crossing the bridge gives you that unsettling older-thrill-park feeling that everything just might go wrong and you could find yourself in the river. When I was there, mosquitoes were whining in the soft, earlyevening air, while ATVs were whining their bug-similar whine at a distance away down the trail. The bridge railing is three tiers of boards on either side, running between the posts, except at the very start of the bridge on the Tatamagouche side.
There, one board, the centre board of the three, has been carefully removed. If you set your eyes right, you can see that it’s been removed on purpose, and that, on either side of the bridge, a narrow path threads down across the old rail ballast, into the light-green raspberry bushes and finally onto the jumbled rocks that anchor the bridge abutments. You can, if you bend right, pass right through the railing and make your way down.
Underneath the bridge, you can see that the tar in the trestle-work above has gotten hot enough at some time to melt and drip from the crossties, so the big rocks below are flecked with tar-drops and the air is redolent with the rich smell. There’s a spot where, on a hot day, you could get past the tar, put your back up against the cool squared concrete face of the abutment, and look out at the slowly-moving river. It’s a bolt-hole, a corner where people have clearly spent some time.
And then there’s the message. It’s a simple one — you could class it as graffiti, but it is more like someone sending a letter when they have no idea what address will work anymore.
Who it’s from, and who it’s directed towards, is impossible to know.
Painted in white spray paint, all in capital letters.
A plaintive: “I miss you.” Not “I love you,” not as achingly personal a pronouncement as that, but the somehow more jarring “I miss you.” “I love you” could hold hope: “I miss you” does not.
A simple sentence, but who among us hasn’t heard it? Who hasn’t felt it? That gap, that empty space: you can think of a hundred circumstances. Did someone leave town for university, pulling stakes up quickly? Worse: did they die? Did they find new love and simply stop coming to what had been a shared place? Who left? Who was left behind? There’s other graffiti, some older, some newer, but nothing that explains.
There are robins singing in the trees, and the light is starting to fade. Three ATVs come up the trail, cross the bridge, and the loose boards dance under their weight, fine dust sifting down through the air long after they’ve passed.
The bridge’s message bold, stark, but out of sight for most: I miss you.
“I love you” could hold hope: “I miss you” does not.
Painted inscription under former railway bridge, outside Tatamagouche, N.S.