Beyond the Bridge

Other submissions by TSunrise:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
Goodbye Heiko Goodbye Berlin (Historical Fiction, Book Award 2023)
Goodbye Heiko Goodbye Berlin (LGBT, Book Award 2023)
So Good They Can't Ignore You (Comedy & Humour, Writing Award 2023)
A Brother's Touch (LGBT, Book Award 2023)
Award Category
Golden Writer
Logline or Premise
Race, class and homicide--urban America in the Twentieth Century. A coming of age social mystery set at the height of the Civil Rights era in a Brooklyn neighborhood that came into prominence during the Gilded Age but now falling into decline with crime, poverty, white flight, and urban malaise.
First 10 Pages

Approx. 170k words



"We will neglect our cities to our peril,

for in neglecting them we neglect the nation."

--John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I. Home Sweet Home

Sentinel of a bygone era, the ruins of the once grand Chandler mansion loomed eerily over Vanderbilt Terrace. Unoccupied for decades save several generations of pigeons roosting beneath the exposed eaves and crumbling brick chimneys. A gloomy and forbidden presence standing defenseless against the ravages of time, the elements, and casual acts of vandalism.

Beyond creature comforts and pleasant aesthetics, what more can any house provide regardless of cost? Are chances for happiness greater in a rich man’s dwelling but less so for those not so well-heeled? What about rooms that have no history; no prior occupancy? Or conversely, are there unavoidable dangers to be wary of living in rooms imbued with the essences of past lives?

When a house no longer has occupants, no matter how grand or swell, can it truly be called a home? The vital element that makes a home is missing when no one lives there. Once the last resident departs the home reverts to being a house, a house where nobody resides. What makes a house a home are occupants calling it their own.

In the decades following the Civil War, Brooklyn’s rural landscape and proximity to congested Manhattan was staked out by the emerging merchant and industrial class of the city’s newly rich. They sought reprieve from the increasing density and periodic health emergencies that plagued the Island of Manhattan. The necessity of crossing the East River had limited population growth, letting the area retain much of its bucolic charm. That was going to change.

The elaborate construction of the Chandler mansion, like other dwellings going up in the vicinity, epitomized the material extravagance of the Gilded Age. Executed in a hodgepodge of European architectural styles that were very much favored by the period’s arbiters of taste and fashion. The imposing villa-style residence was a hybrid of Neo-Classical and Romanesque influences. The masters and mistresses of such ‘showplaces’ like those going up in Clinton Hill quaintly dubbed them “retreats”.

This was a time of growing national prosperity. The freshly minted titans of commerce and industry had no qualms about indulging whimsy or flights of fancy in commissioning lavish residences. The triple lot Chandler property was elaborately landscaped; extensive gardens were planted and meticulously maintained. Opening onto the adjacent street was the carriage stable with servant quarters above. The façade of the carriage house echoed the architectural aesthetic of the mansion.

In a nearby street, bordering an historic city park named for the first American president, rows of elegant brownstone and terracotta townhouses lined the tree-shaded thoroughfare, no two façades or interior layouts exactly alike. Dubbed Millionaire’s Row or The Gold Coast, a characterization very much in keeping with a neighborhood popularly known for the concentrated wealth of the area’s households. Bucolic Brooklyn was the nation’s first upscale suburb.

Construction of the Chandler mansion was completed the same year as the delayed opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. Majestically spanning the East River this crowning achievement of nineteenth century mechanical engineering was suspended over the East River by an ingenious braiding of industrial sized steel cables. The official ribbon cutting was greeted with much fanfare and months of raucous celebrations.

The monumental river crossing opened the region to all comers. Soon the coveted element of exclusivity cherished by upper echelon New Yorkers was eroding. A series of national economic downturns beginning before the turn of the 20th century culminated with the financial crash of the Great Depression. Fortunes were wiped out overnight. Properties used for collateral fell into foreclosure, others sold for quick cash.

The palatial confections of the Gilded Age, costly to maintain and staff, were no longer desirable. Scions of the newly rich industrial and merchant classes who made Clinton Hill a fashionable retreat abandoned their once exclusive enclave. The growing popularity of personal motor cars allowed weekenders to reach further destinations in shorter times. They regrouped on the breezy shores of Long Island’s East End or went north of Manhattan into the nascent Westchester suburbs. Gated estates mimicking British country houses were the newest trend for second homes. The Chandler heirs were the last old guard family to linger on The Hill.

The vacated housing stock was solid did not go wanting. Local colleges repurposed the mansions for classrooms and student housing. The adjacent rowhouses drew working class European immigrants to the area, first and second-generation Irish and Italian families. Other minorities followed, eager to exit lower Manhattan’s crowded slums and corrupt politicians. The working class newcomers clad in their Sunday best, now strolled thoroughfares once the privileged domain of horse drawn carriages tended by liveried footmen. Micks, wops, krauts, jigs and spics—as they were slurred--transformed the neighborhood’s ethnic and economic mix.

When the nation entered the Second World War, the nearby Navy Ship Building Yard went into 24-hour operations. More manpower was brought in. To meet demands for living space, row houses and grand old manses were subdivided into multiple units providing rentals for the influx of ship workers and military personnel.

As is often the case, the great piles of granite and marble like the Chandler would never again be occupied as originally intended. Houses not earmarked for conversion or conservation, fell into ruin, and eventually demolished. So far, the wrecking ball had spared the Chandler.

The post- WW2 suburban housing boom and highway expansion programs precipitated further population shifts marked by the departure of the white middle-class from the inner-city. Municipal services declined. Crime and abandonment descended swiftly upon once coveted properties. Like a viral contagion it spread from house to house, street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood.

The government acerbated the decline with implicit discriminatory practices that restricted minority mortgage eligibility and favored speculators. This fomenting clashes of race and class creating not only eyesores and lowered property values but a convenient metaphor for civil society’s precipitous failure to meet the challenge of sustainable housing.

All the while, silent and empty, unaltered except by time, the Chandler mansion’s formidable presence threw shade on the evolving cityscape. Often said, if there was any old house in the neighborhood that should have ghosts, it was the Chandler pile. But so far, no poltergeist had made its presence known. So, Chandler Hall, reposing in plain sight was never characterized as haunted though the surrounding neighborhood is a ghost of its once opulent past.

Do houses retain tangible traces of the earlier lives that occupied them? Would a gut renovation diminish the influence of past presences? Do positive energies generated by happy times benefit those that come later? Conversely, can a home that knows nothing but misery and misfortune retain a pall that clings to the very structure affecting those who may later reside within its walls?

Imagine if hardship or illness suffered by earlier occupants distressed with insurmountable grief and tribulation set the tone. Do old woes linger, leach into the timbers, absorbed by the mortar, embroiling later occupants unaware of the history that precedes them? Every house has a story to tell though most go untold whether by design or the simple passage of time.

What then can be drawn from a property that remained exclusive home to succeeding generations of the same family? Even after earlier structures on the site were demolished and replaced with new construction, can past legacies be unrelenting?

Do the transgressions of those who came before contaminate the ground upon which the new goes forward? Can past traumas remain compelling forces challenging those who later unwittingly get caught within its vengeful embrace?

Was this the fate of the Chandlers of Vanderbilt Terrace? Has the grip of the past proved unyielding and unforgiving?

The estate's last occupant residing in the converted carriage house might have an answer.

II. Night Caller

She heard noises below. She assumed it was a visit from her Night Caller. She lifted her head off the pillow and listened. He always entered through the garden door using the key she left under a flower pot on the window ledge. Usually, she could track his movements walking over the creaking floor boards as he passed through her studio into the hall and up the steps to her bedroom. Tonight, there are unexplained lapses. What’s he doing? Why is he lingering?

She vented her frustration with a barely audible groan. While she was comfortable with the conjugal nature of his visits, she couldn’t always be sure when he might stop by. The only certainty, it would be late in the night.

What’s keeping him? she fretted, thinking something must be slowing his progress. Sometimes he was easily distracted, especially when he had a few drinks before coming over.

Slipping out of bed she tiptoed over to the partially opened door. She peered out into the dimly lit landing and listened. The yellowish glow of the nightlight cast the stairwell a murky abyss.

There was definitely somebody moving about downstairs. Then finally, it sounded like he was making his way toward the steps. She dared not go out to meet him or even call his name. Now that he was back on course there was no need. She got back into bed.

It wasn’t unusual for him to chug down drinks before heading over. Sometimes he drank more than was prudent. But the plumy scent of liquor on his breath never put her off. It heightened sensations associated with their late-night intimacy. If anything, the pungent scent of his breathing she came to relish. All concerns vanished the moment he touched her.

There were times when he was prone to absently wander around her painting studio. Perhaps one of the new pieces caught his eye, however unlikely. It wouldn’t be the first time he went astray before finding his way into her bed.

He hadn’t stopped by in weeks. She was anxious to see him. It wasn’t like him to stay away so long. She knew all too well how ravenous his appetites were and how much her stamina kept him coming back. He told her more than once she was the first woman who could keep up with him. The compliment delighted her, made her want him all the more.

Once again, she considered calling down but again thought better of it. She removed her nightdress and the satiny gown slid off the bed. She positioned herself to receive him. The anticipation is calming. Cherished memories blend with thoughts of how the night might go. She conjured up the intense sensations his furry chest ignites when pressing against her full soft breasts; his thick muscular thighs straddling hers; the accelerating exertions of their entwined bodies, often combusting simultaneously.

A broad smile creased her lips. She marvels at the urgency of her desires, even after so many years of discreet late-night trysts. It was not like she was a girl and this was first love. On the contrary, Juka was well past her prime, a liberated woman of a certain era who had been sexually active since late adolescence. Even so, her supple flesh still hungered for attention. As much as she hated to admit it, the caresses of a caring lover gave her a great sense of completion.

Juka never wed; she never had to, and she had no regrets. There were times though, in the midst of setting up housekeeping with a new partner she half-expected a mention of marriage if only to save on taxes with joint filings. No one ever brought it up though. Perhaps they sensed her strong will and independent nature would make traditional roles difficult; or simply thought it best not to broach the matter at all. Had all her lovers been so perceptive or was it simply reticence? Except for Anton they never stuck around long anyway. And Anton never spoke of such bourgeoise concerns.

She laughed at the prospect of reviewing the motives of past lovers. Not that there had been so many but there was no denying she had a fair share of partners. But only one, Anton, still held a special place in her heart and memory. Had he lived she wanted to believe they would still be together; that her life would be very different. At least that’s how she wished it had been: together to the very end.

Thinking of Anton peels away layers of sadness that often haunt her late nights. His memory gives buoyancy to her feelings, almost as if he was still mortal and much was still possible. Suppressing her fears made everything crystal clear, and gave a boost to her spirits. Her life and her art are one and if at times she feels rudderless it’s part of the process. Thoughts of Anton always inspired confidence and purpose.

Footfalls on the steps: slow, uncertain. He’d been drinking much too much again. Why else was he dawdling? He knows her day starts early. Nothing must interfere with her time spent at the easel. Work was all she had left that mattered, and somehow so much seemed unfinished.

For one chilling period, her urge to create inexplicably froze and stagnated. Now she awakens with enthusiasm for wherever the day’s work might take her. Her imagination is once again vital and thriving. She is certain her Night Caller has everything to do with it. It was as if the much younger lover’s intense sexuality sparked the renewal of all her senses. His late-night visits were like regular recharges. Some nights she finds herself panting with such ferocious intensity, her body trembling and quaking despite being well pasi menopause.

At last, she could hear him on the landing; his oddly muted footsteps moving along the corridor. The shrill squeal of the hall chair scraping across the hardwood floor is momentarily startling until she recognized the cause. He must be very drunk indeed. She could never hold that against him though. Before quitting the hard stuff, she could never be described as a light drinker.

No matter, his performance was never at stake. There was not a time he didn’t bring them to breathless completion. For her it was more the attention he lavished that was the aphrodisiac. That she could bring him such immense physical pleasure gave her great satisfaction. There were times when the deep rapid thrusts could be painful. But hearing him howl with pure abandon reaching his orgasm was salve enough for the boost it gave her.

In his cups or not, Juka never knew her lover to linger quite so long. For a panic-stricken moment she wondered if it might not be him. A frighteningly lucid scenario overtook her imagination. She thought to scream or quickly lock the bedroom door. But in the end, she just couldn’t bring herself to believe it could be anyone other than her Night Caller.

By no means did she want to be thought of as a silly old lady. Who else could it be? She shut her eyes tight to concentrate on what it was going to feel like once he crawled into bed beside her. His body gently rolling over on top of hers, his muscular chest pressed against hers, his rough, callused fingertips caressing her face and hair. She imagined his mouth covering her with wet kisses. At first his whiskey scented breaths are shallow, barely audible. But it’s only the prelude, the little foreplay he indulges. These thoughts lulled away her anxieties.

The opening door creaked slightly. He’s entered the room. She dared not open her eyes. She had already moved to the far side of the mattress. Soon he would sit on the edge to remove his shoes and socks. Stand to remove his trousers and underwear, neatly folding and placing them on the armchair.

Will he be freshly bathed and smell of the strong spicy-scented soap men of his generation favor? Or is he coming straight from a late job, sweaty, no bath and exuding that intensely male aroma she found so exhilarating.

He was moving about the room. What’s the matter? She wanted to ask but dare not say a word. Her Night Caller was easily put off by such inquisitiveness. No, initially he preferred few words, his moods sometimes so fragile the wrong remark might break his stride and he’d have to regroup. By no means did Juka want that.

Still, what’s taking so long? Her body ached for his touches. If she opened her eyes and looked at him, would he sense her anxiety? She dared not risk it so remained motionless, corpse-like and patient.

Delicate strains of a Chopin Etude broke the uneasy quiet. It came from the music box on the bureau. She used it to keep jewelry and little mementoes. The carved and lacquered wooden chest was a gift from Anton; a cherished reminder of their last Christmas together. He sheepishly handed her the gift, wrapped in colorful comic strip newsprint from the Sunday papers... What was her Night Caller doing at the bureau? She could no longer resist snatching a peek. Her eyes opened.

In the faint glow of light spilling in from an outside street lamp she made out the form of an unfamiliar figure. He was slimmer than her Night Caller, and shorter. What’s he doing rifling through things on her bureau? At first, she wasn’t sure what to make of this. Could she be dreaming? Should she go back to sleep and wake up or confront the intruder? The latter won out.

“Who’s there, who are you?” she demanded, her voice shrill and combative; sitting up abruptly she searched for her night dress. “What are you looking for?”

The figure spun around facing her. She couldn’t discern his facial features as he sprinted towards her. The next moments unfolds like a bad dream she wants to stop having. He dived across the bed grabbing her roughly by the throat, pushing her head back into the pillow.

“What do you want?” she choked out, desperately trying to see his face but his features were distorted. Then she realized why. He had pulled a flesh-toned stocking over his head. Could it be from the pair she discarded earlier?

She tried to wiggle free of vice-like grip. Trying in vain to pull his hands away from her throat, her fingernails inflicted deep scratches. Not being able to make out his face compounded her terror. Her strength was no match for his. His pressure on her neck left no more breath for screaming.

Everything went black when he pressed the second pillow over her face, the one reserved for her Night Caller.


Kirstie Long Tue, 15/08/2023 - 12:22

I did feel that that was a little overly descriptive and therefore a slightly slow start, but it did interest me, especially the build up to the end of the chapter. A nice little twist that pulls readers in.

Gale Winskill Tue, 22/08/2023 - 16:55

Strong beginning. The initial text could be pared down to keep it moving a bit more quickly, but it certainly conjures a picture.

Samar Hammam Sat, 26/08/2023 - 08:17

Great start. Could start after first couple of paragraphs to pare back, but a scene was set and the night caller interesting twist.

Paula Sheridan Thu, 31/08/2023 - 18:19

This is a comment from a publisher judge who asked us to post this comment:

Interesting, difficult to define. The first section keeps us without a character to focus on for quite a bit of time, which does make this a slow start. This is in a great deal of contrast to the later described violence against the Juka. This, in contrast to the beginning, feels jarringly fast- we hardly know anything about her before we bear witness to this brutality. Interesting, and we’d be curious to see a future revision.

Kelly Lydick Fri, 01/09/2023 - 05:15

I liked the first line and the cadence of this voice. I do agree with the previous judge, who writes that the pacing is a bit jarring. I think this is a great start and ripe for a revision.