"The River Bears Witness"
She stoops to smell a daffodil as they make their way down the slope to the river’s edge. The spring air is filled with the smell of new life and fresh mud from winter’s receding swell. Overhead, a bald eagle soars, riding aloft the air currents. The little girl holds tightly her mother’s hand, observing with a skeptic’s eye the brown surface of the water gently lapping the riverbank. She dips a fat tiny toe into the murky water…and then splashes in with her whole foot, stirring up silt. She looks up, her blond curls reflecting the morning sun as they cascade downward. Taking another bold step, she wriggles free of her mother’s clasp. Curious, fiercely independent, she plops down, her diaper soaking up river water. She giggles at the minnows nibbling her foot and begins turning over rocks to see what lies beneath.
In the heat of the summer, now she floats among friends on the lazy current of the cool river, a mass of curls piled high on her head, thin arms and legs dangling over the inner tube. She breathes in the smell of fresh cut grass and observes the courtship of dragonflies landing on her tanned kneecap. Lost in a mid-afternoon daydream, she does not see the devilish grin of the broad-chested boy floating within arm’s reach. A shriek, a splash echoes through the valley. She surfaces sputtering, eyes casting about for the culprit. They lock and become lost in his deep-blue gaze. She had not expected to fall in love that day.
The autumn foliage reflects upon the surface of the water; the river flows with color. She rakes her hand through thinning short curls and draws in her knees for comfort. She sits in the cool, dewy grass, burying the recollection of her first hesitant kiss and of the promising vows spoken here, on this very spot. Bitterness is interrupted by the slap of a jumping fish. The sun is sinking behind the mountain, prompting the crickets and frogs to begin their nightly serenade. Tears dry on her aging face now, as she comes back to herself. Pain and disappointment dull in the refuge of her childhood home on the bank of the river. She imagines her sorrows carried downstream in the current, swirling around a surfaced rock and sinking in the undertow.
A thick scarf covers her balding head. Her withering form shivers beneath multiple layers. Exhales crystallize into visible white puffs as she stands by the water’s edge in the pale moonlight. Enveloped in silence, ice floes drift and bob, collide and separate. She ponders fluidity. It is time now, and she has chosen this spot. She removes her slipper and dips a wrinkled grey toe into the icy water…and then splashes in with her whole foot. Gazing up into the starry heavens with long-pallid eyes now lucid, she wriggles free of her other slipper and takes another step. Curious, fiercely independent, she tosses her scarf and dives into the frigid blackness to see what lies ahead.
To read more about the river and town that inspired this short story, navigate to “Tourist Guide to My Hometown in Franklin, Pennsylvania”.