Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, July 19, 2013

River Bend II--a story

One silent hour later, she lied to him, told him she was going to Wal-Mart when she was actually going to River Hills, a park five miles west of town where the meandering Big Sioux River cut jagged sides from the yellow clay of a series of sharp bluffs. There were no police at the entrance--not that she expected them really, but the park wasn't more than a half hour away from the spot where they'd found the kid's truck--and not him.

It was May, late May, and from the top of the bluffs, where she first stopped the car and stood outside for just a moment, the whited path of the river making clear how high it had been carrying snow melt and heavy spring rains. All the way along, maples and cottonwoods had been brought low by the high water, kneeling solemnly. 

From the very beginning, she and Lloyd had been together on things, ever since Benj had called to tell them Paige had walked away from her marriage, left her husband and precious little Hannah for another teacher. She and Lloyd had never disagreed about how to handle it, not really. Not once. They'd sat together before the fireplace they'd just had built that fall--the idea was a sweet place to spend cold winter evenings, just the two of them--and they'd talk and talk and talk about what could or couldn't be done; and not once in all those nights had they really disagreed. She knew her daughter had no right to do what she did, no horrific grievance against her husband. Benj had treated both of them well, their daughter and granddaughter. She and Lloyd had agreed that it was their own Paige who was at fault here, and they'd told Benj as much, time and time again when they'd call him or when they'd talk to his folks.

Lloyd had been more angry than she had been. It was Lloyd who had done most of the talking--and the yelling. It was Lloyd who'd laid down the law. It was Lloyd who'd cut Paige off--told her that the two of them had to play hard ball with the outright sin she'd done, that neither themselves or the Lord God Almighty would buy her excuse about never really loving Benj--and the baby, my goodness, she thought, the baby. From the very beginning three months ago--from Benj's first call--not once had she and Lloyd really disagreed about what their own baby had done.

She got back in the car and followed the winding road down to the river bottom, where grass was just beginning to grow from the mat of gray mud that caked the banks after the spring floods. She pulled up to the bank of the river on freshly laid gravel, looked around to see if anyone else was there--the boy named Rory had tried to murder the girl, after all. 

 "Plain old lovers triangle," Lloyd had said. And why was she calling him a boy anyway? At 26, he was a man. 

I don't want to find him, she told herself--that's not the point. I don't want to see a boy who tried to murder a girl. I just don't want Lloyd to be right. Lord, she said, don't let him be right.  Doesn't have to end in more horror.

She didn't really know the problem. For years she'd lived with Lloyd's noisy eating--soup, for instance. It seemed that he had to make noise when he sipped. But lately it was so aggravating she couldn't take it. And why? Because of Paige? His laughing at a TV show could turn her inside out. Watching him correct his students' papers. Just knowing he was working at something in his office. Having to hear his strong bass voice in church made her almost nauseous--was it a virus she'd picked up from her daughter? They'd never disagreed about their daughter, not for a moment. They'd had a wonderful marriage--28 good years. But lately she could take so very little from him. Sometimes she just didn't see him suffer.

She left the car behind and followed the uneven path of freshly laid gravel as it skirted the river's edge. Across the water, beaver dens gaped like black moons from the banks beneath four scraggly cottonwoods splayed in four different directions like pencils in a cup. Mid-stream, a sculpture of bleached limbs, one of the river's earlier victims, stood like a monument to the torrent of water that now seemed wide and slow and safe, nowhere near to dangerous.  Floods took out trees and left them behind thoughtlessly.

What she wanted was for the boy to give himself up, not do himself in. But it was wrong of her to think that way about the whole story, because her motive really had more to do with her husband and his sense of what would happen than it did with the real life of a diabetic kid whose mother was horribly hurt. She knew she wanted him alive only to spite her own husband.

What she hated was Lloyd's nonchalance--and maybe that wasn't the right word either. What she hated was the fact that this horror of Paige's flooded every last part of her, and had, for three months, swept everything alive and growing into its channel, everything at work and at home and at church--wherever. She couldn't sleep, and hearing his breathing relax into that heavy pattern she'd heard for years only aggravated her more. She had to force herself to eat. Twice in three months they'd made love, laboriously. 

Maybe she should simply go visit Paige herself, alone, she thought. Maybe if she would take her daughter into her arms--maybe, maybe, maybe.

The park was empty, the river quiet, bedded down calmly.

And then she felt it. It came into her like something cool and refreshing, even though she knew what it was the second it entered her, recognized it for what it was: pure, unadulterated despair. Why wouldn't the kid kill himself?--she asked herself.  Lloyd was right. Why should the kid go on living? What single good reason could he give to come home to insulin and prison? His mother offered him help, sure, but what kind of help?  Help in  a lifetime of prison?

There was a bullet left in that gun. Why not just quit? She looked down at the water, silent and constant, and her own sadness, like the boy's, fed the flow of despair that came up suddenly and refreshingly from her soul. It would end things, she thought. It would end suffering. It would end horror. It would end aggravation she lacked the strength and courage to fight. It would end nausea. It would give her rest. Despair as relief. 

Across the water, a huge scruffy owl swooped out of a tree but stayed in the woods, flying between thick branches like a circus performer. It was wrong, she knew--despair was the lack of hope, and hope was hers, always, eternally.  Then why was she feeling it?--how was it that despair felt so good to her soul?

Tomorrow:  Someone finds her at the river.

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