The Small River Man

I came upon the small man in a dream.

He squatted by a river teaming with fish. As he looked into the rippling waters, I asked him where he came from and he said, “It is a closed system. There was nothing before and something since. The idea was strong, intense and consuming. It took root in the soil of imaginings and grew by way of hopes and dreams, emotions, gradually taking form. This is the eye of man. It sees all in front of it, none behind and certainly not into tomorrow. It’s frightened by things it does not understand, is wary of new events, yet trudges on in hopes of finding sameness, a lack of pain, some joy, perhaps a feeling of enlightenment. Happiness even. It marvels at small acts of physical manipulation. It doesn’t know what’s best for it. And it dies, leaving behind that which it has created.”

“Do you mean to say I was born of an idea and am the eye of man?”

He looked at me with his white and tearing eyes, unable to make out my form and whispered, “Do you have a dime?”

I pushed him into the water and walked on.

Island Girl Part 10

(Warning sexual content, some violence, PG 13)

The headache started as soon as he lifted his head from the pillow. Pain behind his eyes. He turned on his back and sat up. He was alone. Sunrays cut through the room. Dust danced in the rays. His eyes felt the stab of his drink. He walked to the bathroom and relieved himself. In the kitchen he stuck his head under the well pump and soaked his head in the cold water until the back of his skull went numb. He grabbed a kitchen towel, then walked back into the bedroom. Both pillows on the bed were troughed. The covers on his side were ruffled and out of sorts, the other side was still tucked in. He walked into the kitchen and searched the floor to find evidence of blood, a struggle, fresh death, and found none. The table and chairs were still in place, the pots and pans, freshly scrubbed the night before were still stacked in the rinse tray by the sink.

He stood on the porch and scanned the yard. The woodpile appeared undisturbed. The wind was calm. The bay looked clear and smooth as glass. A lobster boat hovered near shore. The lobsterman pulled lines. Gulls circled and squawked above. He turned to go back inside, but stopped when he saw a splotch of red moving around the corner of the cottage. Her red jacket.

When he got to the garden, she was covering a spot with fresh dirt. She stood and wiped her hands on her jeans. Her face was white, with two patches of red on ether cheek.  

“What are you doing?”

“Feeling better?” She said it without a hint of sarcasm, or real concern.

“Where’s Bill?”

“There.” She pointed to the fresh dirt.

He frowned. “You buried him?”

She nodded, her mouth drawn, fighting grief, a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

“He’s dead and you buried him in my garden?”

“You told me to.”

“I did?”

She nodded, then went to him and pressed her face against his chest, holding him tight. He pushed her away, looked at the fresh grave, then turned and walked back toward the house. She followed close behind.

“What else could we do? You don’t want to go to jail.”

He turned on her, his teeth clenched, but couldn’t bring himself to look at her, that red face streaked with grave dirt, and tears. He walked quickly down the path toward the water. She followed close behind.

“We both know it was an accident, but they’d never believe us. You had sex with his wife. They’d see right through that. It’s first degree murder.”

He walked to the water’s edge and stood with his hands in his pockets, looking out at the bay. The lobster boat was moving off. He thought of his traps, and how yesterday his biggest concern was whether to pull the traps and now he was a murder. An adulterer killer.

“I did what had to be done. You know that,” she said.

He shook his head and stepped into the cold water.

“What are you doing?”

He took a few more steps, the freezing cold instantly numbing his legs, then he dove in head first. He swam straight out, away from the dock, his head coming up only to take a single breath. He swam until he saw a green lobster buoy and stopped and treaded water. His legs were numb, his arms stung from the cold. His throat was tight.

“Garrett!” She yelled, but he didn’t turn toward her.

She went to the dock, released the lines and pushed off as she jumped into his boat. Taking up an oar, she paddled out to him. He turned and watched her as the oar rang hollow against the side of the fiberglass hull. When she got close, she tossed him a life vest. “You need to come back. I need your help. Please. What are you doing?”

He took hold of the vest and placed it under his chin, his teeth chattering. He said nothing and didn’t look up at her, as he turned toward shore and kicked.

She picked up the oar and started to paddle back to the dock.

He crawled up onto the rocky beach and collapsed.

She tied the boat and stood on the dock, just above where he lay. His feet were still dangling in the frigid water.

“You’re going to get hypothermia. Get up.”

He lifted his head toward her and coughed. His eyes stung and his head pounded. His fingers didn’t work anymore. When he got to his feet, he fell toward the house, but caught himself before his knees collapsed completely. Each step was a controlled fall forward, up the hill, stumbling as he went. His knees finally buckled when he reached the porch steps. He turned and sat, watching her, as she came toward him.

“It’s our secret,” she said. “I’ll protect you and you’ll protect me. We both know what really happened. It was an accident.”

He squinted at this stranger, this pariah who’d come into his life and said, “I don’t know you.”

“You didn’t mean to do it. You were trying to protect me.”

He looked doubtfully at her, water dripping from his hair down onto his face and neck, his skin red and stinging from the cold.

“He beat me. You saw what he did. The bruises.”

He got to his feet and walked slowly into the cottage. The almost empty whiskey bottle was still on the counter near the sink. Pulling it up to his mouth, he slowly let the liquid fall down his throat. It burned him and he embraced the cool sting.

“Stop it. You’ll be sick,” she said.

He looked past her, and went to the bedroom closet. On the top shelf, behind extra blankets, he found a full bottle of whiskey and broke open the seal and took a long slug. She reached for the bottle, but he held it high above his head. She was a blur, a figment of his imagination. A pest, a demon buzzing him like a wasp.

After a few minutes, she gave up, and sat on the bed and watched him as he took another gulp.

“You’re killing yourself.”

He staggered into the kitchen. She followed close behind.

“I can cook eggs. You want scrambled or over easy?” she asked.

He gathered kindling and tossed it into the fireplace, then stuffed it with old newspapers. After tossing in a lit match, and watching it catch, he sat back on the sofa and stared at the flames. It melted into an unfocused, orange glow. There, he saw his daughter, his wife helping her walk for the first time. His little girl was full of energy and laughter. The fire warmed his skin, and he felt his beautiful wife wrap her arms around him, his little girl by her side. What were they worth, their lives? Two and a half million dollars, according to the airline and the lawyers. Two and a half million pieces of paper he could burn just as easily as those twigs. And it would be gone. Transformed into so much smoke and ash, just as they had been.

Rose banged around in the kitchen, and it drew his thoughts away. He felt the horror of the killing rip through him like a knife running into his chest. He took another long swig of whiskey. He wasn’t coming back from this one, he knew. He was lost, and that would be that. He’d die alone. Fall into a thorny bush and let the birds peck at him, until they found his bones, aged and bleached by the sun. There’d be no funeral. No mourners. He’d estranged himself from the world and now he was absolutely alone. The way he wanted it. Left alone on his island. Floating in a bottle of whiskey.

“Eggs are ready. Coffee. Toast. Come eat.”

She knelt at his feet and placed her hands on his thighs. He looked at her through the haze of grief but saw nothing. “You’re tired. Come and eat. You’ll feel better.”

He looked past her to the flames.

She got up and returned with a hot cup of coffee with cream and sugar, even though she didn’t know how he took it, and gently placed the warm mug in his hand. The heat of the cup felt good and he drank a few sips, then got up.

He went to the bedroom and stripped off his wet clothes and put on clean sweats and went to the kitchen table and sat down.

They ate. He felt his blood warm. “What about his boat,” he said, looking down at his half-eaten breakfast.

She smiled reassuringly at him and he thought her a silly girl. He could read her phony concern a mile away.

“I found it near the path to the hill, near some rocks. It’s a small skiff. He’d pulled it almost out of the water. I covered it with branches.”

He sneered at her. “You covered it…”

“I cut bushes.”

“What do you know about covering things?”

“What do you mean?”

“Branches die and turn brown, don’t last long. We need a better way to hide it.”

“Why don’t we sell the boat at the marina?”

He stared at her, the stupid look on her face made him grind his teeth. “Yes.” He nodded, knowing it was a dumb idea, but he didn’t care. They’d figure it out and come to take him away, but they’d find him dead. “You should go do that,” he said.

“I don’t have any -”

“Go to your sisters. The police will be here soon.”

“No, they won’t. Why would they?”

“Jack will tell them.”

“He doesn’t know anything.”

“That doesn’t matter. He knows what happened the first time they found you here.”

Her eyes hardened into a cold stare, a look he’d never seen from her. “I’m not going alone.”

He sat back in the chair. She went around his back and placed her hands on his shoulders and rubbed them. He didn’t trust her, but didn’t really care, either, and half hoped she’d slit his throat. She gently rubbed his neck and scalp. He closed his eyes and let her do what she wanted. She kissed his ear, then his cheeks, his lips. She rubbed his chest and kissed his throat and chin, then looked into his eyes. “I liked it when you were inside me. You stared into my eyes, and I liked that more than anything.” They kissed deeply. “Look at my eyes, Garrett.”

She led him into the bedroom and slowly removed his shirt, then his sweats, letting them slid to the floor. He stood naked in front of the bed and she ran her fingers down his legs and across his chest, then she held his hips. After a few minutes, she let him go and he slid back, onto the bed. She let her clothes fall to the floor and climbed on top of him. “I want you,” she said. “I want you to look at me and like you did before.” She moved slowly up and down, grinding herself onto him. “Look into my eyes.” He stared into her bluish-white eyes. After a few minutes, he flipped her onto her back, and felt himself melt into her. They moved in unison, breathing deeply together, sweat drenching their bodies. When his climax came, he closed his eyes and moaned, but his wife’s face popped into his head and he opened his eyes and rolled off of her. He crawled to the other side of the bed and stared at the wall, eventually slipping into a deep sleep. 

*** ***

He gasped when he opened his eyes. Covering him, a hazy shroud of light, a sheet backlit by the sun in front of his eyes. He coughed and cleared his throat, rubbed his neck. He’d dreamed he was drowning in mud. It was dark, and he was caught in a storm. He was trying to see if the girl was lost, in his boat perhaps, caught in a violent storm, when he fell off a cliff banking and slid down toward the raging ocean. He gained footing somehow, but when he tried to crawl back up, the water and mud kept pushing at him, a torrent of rain making him lose his grip, his feet slipping. When he looked back up, the mud troughed into his mouth, and he couldn’t breathe. The water and the filth filled his mouth and spouted from his nose like a fountain. He felt himself losing consciousness. His chest was about to explode, his throat was growing like a croaking toad, and he couldn’t hold it back any longer and finally took a deep breath in. That was when he was sure he’d died, and saw the bright light and that’s when his eyes popped open and he’d woken up. He couldn’t see clearly for a few minutes, it was just the bright light. Then the window came into focus. And when the blurriness had gone completely, he saw her standing by his desk. She was fully dressed and wore her red jacket. She leaned back and he heard the draw snap shut.

“Good morning.” She moved to the foot of the bed and smiled at him. He turned and followed her with his eyes, waiting to see what she was going to do. She crawled onto the bed and straddled him, her knees on either side.

He let her hover there, watching her eyes wonder around his face, like she was seeing him for the first time. She pulled the covers down and gently rubbed his stomach. He didn’t care. He was dead. He’d died in his dream and wasn’t sure he’d come back. She ran her fingers down his leg and between his legs. He felt nothing. She was just a girl. A girl on a dead man. The spell was broken. A tsunami of guilt and rage had stripped the illusion to its bare essentials. She was a human being. A girl with strange eyes. What did she want? Why couldn’t he feel anything?

“I can make breakfast,” she said, and jumped out of bed with the enthusiasm of a child.

He lay quietly on his side, staring out the window. The sky was light blue with wispy clouds. That meant more wind. The boat would rock and his fingers would freeze when he pulled his pots.

“I want to go into town,” she said, from the kitchen. He heard pans clanking together, water running, the kettle whistling. “I need a few things. Some clothes.”

What was she thinking? She buried her husband and now she wants new clothes? Of course, to get rid of any evidence. She should burn her clothes. Wipe away any blood in the cabin with bleach.

Or he could go to the sheriff, tell them it was accident. First, he could dig up the body, clean it up. They’d never know she’d buried it. That would look bad, them burying the body. The cool earth would keep it fresh, though. That was a good thing. They wouldn’t be able to determine the time of death. They’d see the bruises on the neck. Perhaps his larynx was broken. How could he explain that? Perhaps he’d push him out into the bay, let his lungs fill with water. Or he could push water down into his lungs, force fluid down there. That would make it look like drowning.

“Go. Take the truck, the boat. I’m staying here.” She poked her head in through the doorway, her eyebrows raised, like a kid being told about a birthday present. He said, “Well, you don’t have to get so excited about it. I told you you’re free to go. Take my shit, I don’t care anymore.”

She thought for a minute, her eyes locked onto the ceiling, like she’d seen a small bug and was trying to figure if it was a spider or a fly. “You still have Bill’s boat. If you need it, I mean. It runs really well. And fast. It’s a good little boat.”

“Thoughtful of you,” he said, thinking it was a sarcastic remark, but he didn’t care enough to make it sound that way.

She stood staring at him. “You should get up.”

He forced himself to sit up. His head throbbed, his eyes stung, his stomach was on fire.  He needed a shower and a shave, his hair was all over the place. “I’ll take a shower. Leave what you cook for me on the table.”

“Oaky,” she said.

He went into the bathroom and threw-up in the toilet. He grabbed a drink of water from the bottle he kept by the sink for brushing his teeth, and turned to the shower. The water was cold, very cold and he hated it. He rinsed as best he could, lathered up and repeated the rinse. He was still chilled from yesterday and felt his skull would split from the cold water.

By the time he was dried and dressed, she was gone. She’d left some coffee, scrambled eggs and toast. All cold, but well season. The coffee was still warm. He ate quickly, thinking about moving the body. He hated to see it, but had to make sure it was really there. He pictured the face, cold, pale, wet maybe, dirt filling the hollows of the eyes. They’d be closed. No, open. The dirt in his eyes. That made him squirm. Would he be bloated? It had only been a few hours, or had it been longer? At least twelve hours, he figured. Long enough to putrefy. Another reason to put the body in the water. Maybe the sharks would take it? He’d let it sink into the deep, they’d rip it apart. He pictured the deadly fight with Bill, felt his hands on his neck, the warmth of it, the blood running through the veins beneath his fingers. Had he really choked out another person?

He found the whiskey bottle on the floor of the bedroom, half empty. He took a long swig, wiped his mouth and took another mouthful, then capped the bottle and tossed it onto the bed, then thought better of it and placed it on the bedside table. He didn’t want any leaking from the cap.

He stood on the porch and looked down at the bay. His boat was gone. The land birds sang and the gulls squawked over the water, fighting over every crumb of some ripped-up dead thing. Just as he anticipated, it was windy and the cold made him tense. He went back inside and got a warmer coat, then stopped to look at the whiskey bottle sitting in the sun on the bedside table. He wanted to drink, but told himself to wait. He should have told her to get more. But really, he just wished she’d never come back.

He went around to the back shed and got the long shovel and the wheel barrow. He’d wanted to plant a garden, grow sunflowers, maybe. Those were his wife’s favorites. Large yellow sunflowers, brown in the center.

Around the back of the cottage, he found the soft spot where the dirt was freshly turned over.

He couldn’t help but check the broken antenna. It was in sight, bent down, the wires hanging loose. He’d fix that right after he got the body dug up. He leaned on the shovel and looked at the loose dirt. How had she dragged that heavy body out and buried it all by herself?

To Be Continued…