Old Man at the Bridge


Thanks for visiting my “O” post in the A to Z Challenge.

EMH wrote a powerful and symbolic short story called “Old Man at the Bridge” first seen in Ken magazine in April 1938. Ken was a publication that lasted from the spring of 1938 to the fall of 1939. The editor for Ken was Arnold Gingrich who began Esquire. Later this Spanish Civil War story was published in EMH’s book The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories released in October 1938 by Scribner’s.

The story has about 760 words. This minimalist story is a very strong commentary by EMH on the war in Spain that is full of irony, juxtapositions, and obvious symbolism.

The narrator, some sort of advance scout for the anti-fascists, approaches a bridge over the Ebro River where an old man is sitting. Through conversation, the scout finds out that the old man is 76-years old. He is apolitical and had to leave his village due to artillery bombing. He was the last person left there and was watching some animals, namely some birds, a cat, and some goats, all very symbolic animals that he had to leave behind. The scout suggests he follow the road to Barcelona. The old man tells him he does not know anyone there. The scout can tell that the old man is done fleeing and will probably soon die at the hands of the enemy.


–EMH andEnrique Lister in Spain near the Ebro River, 1938, via JFK LIbrary, Boston

The story is set on Easter Sunday. The birds (doves) represent peace. The goats represent sacrifice, and the cat represents survival (nine lives of a cat). The old man probably symbolizes the loyalists of Spain that are losing the war to the fascists. They are tired and defeated and know they have lost. Nothing more can be done to change the outcome.

Click HERE to read “Old Man at the Bridge.”

  6 comments for “Old Man at the Bridge

  1. hilarymb
    April 18, 2016 at 3:21 AM

    Hi Denise – I knew nothing about the Spanish Civil war – as I knew little about politics – but having heard one of our ex politicians (Michael Portillo – who broadcasts quite often, but particularly on early train trips) is half Spanish and his father left his family in Spain to move to England at the time of the Spanish Civil War because they supported opposing sides … he told his story.

    Then he did a tv programme on it – and on Picasso … I saw a programme on him and his painting Guernica … one day I must learn more.

    I can totally see EMH’s old man … too tired with life – so sad … very touching – I read it … and how devoted we are to our animals …

    Great ‘O’ post .. cheers Hilary

    • April 18, 2016 at 5:41 AM

      Hi Hilary. There were probably many families on the opposing sides of this complicated war. Just another tragic aspect of it. I will have to look up Portillo. Guernica is powerful. Cheers, D

  2. April 18, 2016 at 4:05 AM

    I’m going to save this post so I can read the story. This is new to me, Denise – thank you!

    • April 18, 2016 at 5:45 AM

      I virtually knew nothing about the Spanish Civil War until I read more and more about EMH. It was a precursor to WWII in which the Allies did not pay enough attention as Hitler and Mussolini were supporting Franco. There is a lot to learn about this war, Martha. Cheers, Denise

  3. April 18, 2016 at 12:50 PM

    So much symbolism in his stories, and this one is no exception. I’m definitely going to read it — don’t really remember if I ever had — but am already intrigued by the idea of minimalist approach to writing.

    • April 18, 2016 at 1:37 PM

      It won’t take long, Silvia. I think it is superb and so rich for such a few paragraphs.

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