To the River

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George Wells

I CAME BACK TO not my home anymore to find those places I remember always.

I walked the two miles to the cornfields, looking for the river. Seth and I used to wade across, the current just strong enough to push us over if we let it—cold, but only against the dry heat of a valley summer. The water was clean, but never clear, churning silt year round. Up to our necks in the middle, and we couldn’t smell the corn, the dead grasses, the dusty earth.

As we lay on the narrow shore, small figures carefully crafted out of cattail stalks reclined on our chests for hours and left white tattoos in our tanned skin. My tan was faded, the image gone on the day he left for the desert. There was no river where he was going. He didn’t say goodbye, and letters never came.

I walked for hours along the dusty roads between the fields of felled cornstalks, sure that the river was just beyond that block of rows, or maybe the next over. We took it once, from a high point, about a mile or so from the main road, where the current was strongest. On our homemade cornstalk raft, we drifted down to where it drained into the pond, next to Veronica’s house, but the land was dry, there and back.

Her mother wasn’t surprised to see me, as if we had spoken minutes ago, and she held the same glass of wine in her right hand. With her left, she welcomed me to join her in her garden, one of many manmade oases in the dead valley of late fall.

“What pond?” she asked as we walked across her lawn. “There’s no water above ground here that doesn’t go straight to the corn. Just the occasional winter flow, but now?”

We sat on her granite bench, and she served me a glass of cold white. I always loved it here, cooler on the shaded grass, under these branches, watching the hummingbirds dance in the air above and around us, delicately piercing the flowers of the strawberry tree.

I sipped the sweet wine as she corrected my thought. “The hummingbirds are new. They came a few years after all you kids moved away.”

I turned to tell her she was wrong, but she was sure of this. Instead, I asked, “Do you remember the Hardens?”

“Of course. Terrible tragedy. But she always was an odd one, the wife. No wonder their father left, but it was hard on the kids.” She put her hand on mine. “Sorry, you were Seth’s friend, weren’t you?”

“Yes, but then they went away and we lost touch.”

“Lost touch? That’s as good a way as any to look at it, I suppose.”

Look at what? I didn’t ask.

There was no river here.

I finished my wine and stood to say goodbye. “Tell Veronica I asked after her.” I chuckled at my own odd phrasing, but she said she would.

I walked out of her garden, into the dry weeds, back to not my home anymore, away from the river forever lost.


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About the Author

GEORGE WELLS is a regular contributor to Spark: A Creative Anthology, with work appearing in both Volume I and Volume II. “To The River” was originally published in Shadow Road Quarterly in Summer 2012, and was solicited for reprint in Spark.

Wells is an American expatriate living in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he teaches English as a Foreign Language and writes. —

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