The Heart Beats, The River Runs (working title)

I went to the river this weekend, got home a few hours ago.  Sat down to write this.  It feels a little out of control.


Barbara was sure that the joy left her face for good the moment Gary collapsed on the floor of the River Run Saloon. One could hear her desperate plea – Gary? Gary? Gary! – up and down the river, and probably all the way to the floor. The trout would scuttle this way and that, confused by the sonic scream from the dining room. Pieces of shale were hastened toward metamorphism as the echo of his name loosened them from their dark grey slabs. Glasses rattled on their shelves as everyone else stood stock still, afraid to do anything but gape in awe of Gary’s giant body, lifeless on the floor.

Across the river and down about 50 yards, three friends stopped frolicking in the glacial tide of the river and scurried to the shore. Unaware, for the moment, where the sound had come from, each felt naked (which they were), and terrified. A certain alienation swam through each of their veins when, for that one moment, the moment of Barbara’s wailing, they each wondered if they were safe with the others. They listened as the terror above thawed and one person called 9-1-1 while another ushered children out onto the grassy lawn behind the saloon and still a third, cool headed woman demanded that everyone take some steps back.

Back in the Saloon, Barbara’s husband smoked cigarette after cigarette at the edge of the dining room. The sound of Gary’s body falling to the floor had shattered any hopes he had that Barbara and Gary were only friends, only creative partners. Barbara never panicked at pain, never swooned in agony at death. Barbara had seen death most of her life, which is why she and her husband decided, on their fiftieth birthday, to move to River Run, Population: 93. With her savings from the hospital and his hands weary and withering from running his father’s carpentry business, they knew that they could lead a simple and quiet life. Barbara would no longer have to tend to the dead and dying, and Robert could fish and do a little carpentry on the side. Robert thought of these plans now as he stared at Gary’s massive chest. He’d been the most powerful man Robert had ever met – the kind of man who could fell a redwood with just an ax and maybe some whiskey. The kind of man who could send his wife into hysterics.

The ambulance drove quietly into town. No sirens, only flashing red lights. Neither speeding recklessly, nor honking at stoned, sun-scorched twenty-year old men loitering in the middle of the narrow two lane road. The paramedics pulled in slowly and parked the bus carefully, a respectful distance from the door. The waitresses of the River Run Saloon had already draped Gary’s body with a table cloth. As the medics lifted him into the bus, one enormous brown, calloused hand dropped to the side. Barbara thought he was waving.

She watched streams of light rest across the curtain of pines atop the tree line. The sun was falling. She held herself with both arms tightly across her chest and leaned solidly against the oak door frame. Even the frogs and the crickets and dragonflies seemed to honor the quiet. She could hear Robert pacing in his shed, rummaging through his carefully organized drawers full of tools and nuts and bolts. He chiseled a piece of wood. Then the sound of his lighter. The faint breeze carrying his smoke to her nostrils. She hadn’t smoked a single cigarette all day. Inhaling deeply, Barbara closed her eyes to remember the day Robert nailed the final nail in the door frame and carried her over the threshold to their new cabin and new life. The scents of the freshly cut pine and oak boards in the studio built especially so that she could paint. Each shelf, each pane of glass laid by Robert’s hands. She opened her eyes and it was now truly dusk. Robert watched her back from the kitchen. He hadn’t touched her all day.

Robert soaked his hands in lemon juice and warm water for hours the night before the service. He scraped layers of soft dead skin from his hands with a pumice stone. To look dignified. The same way he had when he first drove to the town to make a bid on the land. Barbara thought of this as she watched Robert tying his brand new black tie. His hands were softer now and shiny, yet his finger tips were still not sensitive enough for the delicate intricacies of tying his tie. Before he could throw it off of his neck, Barbara walked wordlessly to him and finished the job. She let her hand rest on his chest and felt his heart skip a beat. Gripping the front of his shirt quickly, she exhaled, looking only at the new wrinkles she had created. Robert didn’t remove her hand.

Until the funeral, Barbara and Robert and Gary were the darkest people to settle in River Run in two hundred years. It hadn’t occurred to either of them that today there would be scores of brown faces milling about the town. Driving toward the funeral home they discussed it. Gary had a lot of friends in town, but no one had spoken to each other much since he’d fallen down. They weren’t sure if anyone had made preparations. Robert approached Keating Jefferson, the owner of the River Run Saloon about it. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead,” he said pensively. “I guess I’ll call down to the Saloon and make sure there are enough beds. And whiskey.” Keating surveyed the lines of cars now arriving, full of cautious and anxious people. He nodded toward them, “If Gary’s folks are anything like Gary, they’re gonna want some whiskey.”


4 Responses to “The Heart Beats, The River Runs (working title)”

  1. more please!


  3. barbara and robert seem pretty cool. you gonna visit them after the funeral? part of me is curious about the nature of gary and barbaras relationship, but the first paragraph does well to convince us that all we need to know is evident in her reaction to losing him. nicely done

  4. Again, through the haze and difficulty, British vehicles can be spotted,
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