Saturday, July 20, 2013
River Bend III--a story
Carol looked around. They were here in the park in the winter, she and Lloyd, when snowbanks lay along the road like bread dough, and the deer left broken chains of darkened prints up and down the bluffs. Together, they'd come here several times because now, with the house empty, they'd been looking for new ways of being together: cross-country skiing, photography. They'd been right there where she was standing, the two of them leaning on their ski poles, sweaty, trying to catch their breath, when a half dozen deer walked right across the river in a single line. Life was good, a miracle.
That was before their daughter had done something unthinkable. That was before Paige shattered God's own law--an adulterer. Paige, adulterer. That beloved child left behind. Lord, give me strength, she prayed, her eyes on the muddy river flowing silently beside her.
Through the trees on the bluff, the sound of the car coming down the road startled her, sent something she recognized as fear through her like a chill. She looked back at her own car, parked at the river's edge, and felt a kind of embarrassment when a brown squad from the state police emerged from the trees at the bottom of the hill.
A quarter-mile away, she watched as the squad pulled up beside the Buick and an officer stepped out, a woman, who walked around her car as if it were itself a suspect, then followed what were likely Carol's own footprints in the gravel and looked down the path towards the woods, where she stood.
The young woman, her blond hair pulled back tightly, removed her sunglasses and held a hand up over her eyes, then stared into the trees. In a gesture that seemed instinctive, she checked for the gun on her belt before tossing her hat in the car and locking up. She started walking, looking, Carol thought, for the driver.
Poor thing, she thought, she thinks maybe there's another suicide, so she stepped out of the trees, stood there motionless for a moment, just to be seen, and then waved politely, happily, as if there were nothing amiss. The policewoman stopped, thought for a moment about going back, then kept walking.
Maybe the wave wasn't enough. Maybe the woman read the wave as someone putting her off. She looked down at her watch and realized that she'd been gone far too long, so she put her hands in the pockets of her coat and started walking back.
"I'm okay," she said, quite loud, once the officer approached.
The woman smiled, kept coming.
"I came down to have a look at the river," Carol told her. "It's something I do a lot."
"You too?" the cop said.
Carol shrugged her shoulders. "You mean you weren't worried?"
"I'm always worried," the woman said. "It comes with the territory." She stopped, ten feet away, just far enough that Carol couldn't quite read the name on the pin on her chest. "Sometimes--middle of the shift--I come down and take a little hike," she said. "It's my region anyway--it's not like I'm slacking."
"There's something about water flowing," Carol said, "something about the way it just never stops maybe."
The woman nodded, coming closer. "You're not scared?"
"Scared?" she said.
"Maybe you don't know," she told her. "You're not scared of the kid who shot his girlfriend?"
"Don't know what?" Carol said.
"The guy turned himself in about an hour ago," the woman told her, smiling. "We pretty much knew he would. Everybody said so. He wasn't a bad kid--isn't. People do things--you know? You wonder why. Shot her, you know?" She shook her head, took a breath. "Might have been his mother on the TV brought him in," she told her. "I thought you might have heard the story--"
"I didn’t know," Carol said. “I was worried, you know—about him just ending it all.”
“Me too,” the cop said. “Didn’t happen. Dodged a bullet on that one—sheesh! That’s a bad joke.”
Carol could have kissed her. Her name, she saw finally, was Tanya.
“Hope you don’t mind me saying it,” Tanya said, “but sometimes it’s an awful job—this one I got. Not that I regret it--I'm not sayin' that. It's just not always what I thought it would be--you know.”
"Nothing is, I guess," Carol told her.
And then they stood there in silence, the two of them, no longer strangers.
Tomorrow: What the river says.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:00 AM