Across the Bridge by Heinrich Boll Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the narrator Grabowski rides across the railway bridge that was part of his regular three-day-a-week routine ten years before the war, he recalls his earlier life. At that time he worked as a messenger for the Reich Gun Dog and Retriever Association. He had little education, knew nothing about dogs, and had only to transport urgent correspondence, money, and a large manila folder of “Pending Cases” between the Königstadt head office and the Gründerheim branch office.

The trip required crossing the Rhine River at one of its widest points. Although he crossed on a wide four-track railway bridge, the crossing always frightened him. With nothing able to convince him that the bridge was safe, he fixated on the first house on solid ground on the far side, a two-story house just before the town of Kahlenkatten.

On his regular trips to Gründerheim on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, he always saw the same woman scrubbing the floor by the windows on his left side. When it was not raining, a young girl would be sitting on the front steps holding a large clean doll, frowning at the train. On his return trips from Gründerheim, he saw the woman washing the windows in the rear of the house, always in a certain order.

Gradually Grabowski became obsessed wondering which windows the woman washed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, when he did not ride past her house. He drew up a cleaning timetable for the week, and from what he had...

(The entire section is 512 words.)