We only think we remember the flowing current of our past. Instead we remember eddies, that branch cutting the water, a mist-hung spider’s web limply swaying above long ripples. There are no words for one yesterday distinct from another. I try to remember–long days sitting in the sun, half-sleeping, lulled by the drone of locusts as evening slips in–weaving the past around me like a shawl to keep off the night’s chill–memory, fantasy, daydream blending into dusk.
Sometimes as I sit here listening to the river slip away, she comes to me. She never speaks, only stands smiling shyly at me as if waiting. She wears the dress she wore the night of the flood, pale green like the first shoots of new grass. I’m glad she comes, I think, but she frightens me.
It was summer then, too, July and sticky, the air heavy with heat, crushing us. I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to stay home, maybe read a book before going to sleep, but she was restless.
She drove. She liked to drive, especially at night, running fast down back roads, the wind racing past us, and sometimes she turned off the headlights and drove with just the moon and stars for light. At night she was like the wind. I never watched the road, only her long black hair swept back, dark pools, hiding her face, defining it. She drove more slowly as we came into Braddock, turning on the headlights, as though we were any young couple in from the country for a night on the town.
We ate, I can’t remember where or what. I should remember. It may have been Fortelli’s. We often went there. She liked Italian, especially the long Italian loaves of bread served with real butter, and she always wanted seconds. The waiters all knew her. They teased her about the bread, telling her if she kept eating it she’d end up looking like a fat Italian wife. She smiled at them from under her long lashes, her head tilted shyly, seductively, her hair falling easily across her face, hiding her. I can’t separate that night from any other. All I remember is this image of her face above a candlelit table and soft music.
Afterward, we danced.
Sitting here by the river, I watch the swallows dip and soar above me. They seem almost to fall into the river, then catch themselves and pull away, only to dive again, a constant rhythm of rising and falling blending with the rhythms of the river.
The musicians announced the last song. Only a few of us were still dancing. Sometime during the night it had begun to rain, and I remember hearing it striking the roof, steady and loud. The doorman was drenched from helping people to their cars, and his shoes squeaked.
Driving home, I saw the river making its way across farms, at times crossing the road as if traveling with it. Once, I glanced over at her. She was sleeping, her arms stretched along the seat not quite touching me.
I might have stayed in town.
The road was bad, slick with mud. Wherever the river crossed it, I’d feel the car slip for a moment with the current. Then the car slewed one last time, the engine drowning, and the river was in the car.
I want to dance with her again, here, by the river. Only, today, she doesn’t come, though the sky is bright, and the sun glints on the water like laughter.
About the Author:
Bill Stifler teaches composition and mythology at Chattanooga State Community College. Originally from southeastern Pennsylvania, Stifler has lived in the Chattanooga area since 1972. Stifler also serves as the webmaster for the Meacham Writers’ Workshop, a biannual event featuring readings, discussions, and group conferences by creative writers from around the world who share their experience and expertise with local and regional writers.