I wrote "the straw that stirs the drink"
And mstrobel wrote "bridge"
I think they can be read in any order.
Day in and day out Steve listened to tales of woe as he was twirled round and round. It was a tedious job – long hours, cold working conditions, bad pay -but around these parts, a job was a job. At the end of each day as he wiped off lipstick stains and tried to wash out the alcohol taste, Steve couldn't help thinking that even here in Lanten, there had to be more for a drinking straw than working in a dingy bar.
His father had died young. An avoidable death caused by his own carelessness and boredom on the job, so Steve was determined to get out before he went the same way. By the light of a candle, he sat down to make a list. Steve thought of all the things he loved to do and how he could make those into careers. He even found a newspaper tossed aside by a customer and scoured the “positions vacant” for jobs suitable for a drinking straw. Surprisingly, there were several. Most of the other straws had recently left town in search of better prospects, leaving him the cream of the crop.
By the end of the night he had come up with quite a decent list of potential career options and was feeling much more cheerful and positive about his future. He handed in his resignation notice at the bar and skipped home.
First thing Monday morning Steve set off with the children to school. He had answered an advertisement in the local paper and was going to try his talents at being part of a school art project. He met all the criteria of the advertisement – 'flexible' 'patient' 'sturdy' 'reliable' 'waterproof' – plus they were only kids, how hard could it be?
As he stumbled home at the end of the day, covered in glitter, glue and paint, Steve reassessed his new career path. Drunken miners and housewives had nothing on 6 year old kids in the art class. He had promised the principal he would stay for the whole week, and he wasn't known as the straw who backed down on his promises.
It began to rain when Steve was still a long way from home so he sought shelter in a large cluster of trees beside the river, the glorious Stila. As he sat and waited out the rain he watched life on the other side of the river as though it was an alternate reality. Their world was almost identical, a mirror image, only flashier.
They had money in Correll, their bars were busier, their inns were full of travellers, the families even looked happier. Strangely enough, even the straws looked like they enjoyed their jobs. Steve wanted that. Why couldn't he have that? Why couldn't everyone have that?
As rain mixed with paint and dripped down his face, Steve looked angrily at the Stila. It was all the river's fault. If the river wasn't so violent, Steve would have liked his job in the bar. If the river wasn't so unpredictable then it wouldn't be raining right now and he wouldn't be lusting over what they had in Correll.
He looked at the ferrymen stuck on the banks unable to work until the river, currently a death-trap, settled down enough to enable them to cross safely. If the river never calmed down, they may be forced to work with kids in an art class, and they would be the ones walking home with glue and paint dripping down their face. He wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Steve was a straw, but he was good for more than stirring drinks and school art classes. He could build things, he could help make life better for people on both sides of the river. He'd need help, but he would employ townspeople to bridge the gap, equalise things a bit. He was sure it could be done. He was Steve the straw, he could do anything.
It couldn't hurt, right?