Skipping Stones

Nancy Armin young yearsWhen did she get old?  He sat silently, on the downslope of the bank, a lisp of an edge. Small rocks jagged the river, shunting brown water through small gaps cycling where it came together just before the bend downstream.  The dark tea color banked sun-lit rays off of the surface turning yellow into white blinks.  The humidity of the air shallowed his breath. Leaves had begun to wilt, their color seeping away.  It was the beginning of the lazy month. No human eyes were apparent.  When did she get old?

He wore a white tee shirt and soiled pants, feet bare.  His green eyes walked with the current.   He sat ancient until his position stiffened.  Lowering his legs, he slid to the water’s edge, stopping when he hit the hardpan exposed from the water’s recession.   Water warmly lapped his toes.

It was yesterday when she had come down the aisle, he hardly able to take in the glow of her beauty.  How he had felt such a triumph of joy to know he was loved by someone of such youthful splendour.  He had always felt himself so plain.  Yet there he was, a young one himself, about to begin a life with a woman he was unwarranted to have.

They had begun as many; owning little, embracing the unknown. They had lost one in youth and raised five. His positions of warrant found him at at a feed mill, mechanic garage and a towing operation. He had tried but not been successful on his own.  The bareness of cupboard and length of work hours withered self employment realization.  So he had maintained a work ethic for others with willful determination. He did not balk.   Nor had she, maintaining home discipline and all that being a wife, mother and friend was to be. They had lived and loved.

The shadows began to show on the river in greater length. He pulled himself from the story playing on the reels in his head. It was a story that would have no real measurement for others. It was self contained. But it had such a core of awareness for him. The drama was real, the mirth too. They had had no real explosions of adventure or exploration. Nothing to fixate anyone’s attention accepting theirs.

When life dragged hard, they had lived. She had been such to him that he drew from her a strength. The simple pleasures of living entertained. For him it was being in the same room. The early morning they shared, she having coffee always ready. What was available to eat depended on the economy at the time. She sustained them always. If he was late, she would awake and meet him as he entered the back entryway. Had she always smiled?

He squinted and looked out to the far bank. The trees bent and extended over the river. The stillness  caught his attention. He listened. Insects buzzed while birds rested from their morning chorus.

The green of the weeds contrasted nicely with the brackish color broaching slowly over exposed rocks.  He sat at the bottom of the incline which reached skyward to an old hay field now dotted with beech, birch and weeping willows.  Dullness had sapped the richness that had been so evident that Spring.   The month of August will do that.  Suck the breath out of the land with temperature and repetitive blandness.  But here at the river the color retained some sharpness.   Rays of Sun reflected off water stirring a symbol of youthful vibrancy.  It was a good place to seek reprieve.  It was his place.

Spring rains and “runoff” from the North had ceased.  The river shorn, sapped of its energy, its surge lost, cast its way with a languid pulse.   Here, it had to fight its way past the rocks.  They were not large but many, as if they had come down with the river and said ‘here, let’s rest.’  A vast migration in random formation.  He could move over to the other side if he wanted.   He had no intention. In front the rocks dominated, the river submissive and adjusted.

When had he gotten old? He looked at his hands. The flesh was crinkled and layered. The veins seemed like mountain streams running down from the various fingers to unite along the wrist. More blue and bullish in their expression. His ring still sat quietly on his left hand.  A yellow band  52 years worn.   Where had she gone?  He clenched his hands into fists. Strength had minimized while his arms had thinned and muscle had given way to stretched skin.  The watered down brown hair was smattered with grey… un-kept.  He felt moltie.

Standing, he arched back with his hands on the small of his back.  Joint pain had been a partner for years, loitering when he begged it be gone.  It had sucked on his energy.   He moved to his side and peered down.  Closer to the river were stones begging to be thrown. All his life he had enjoyed the occasion to skip stones.  He was contented to watch them take little leaps in patterns all their own; sideways, straight, short and long.  It was compelling to make one want to stretch out and take that one last long “stride” and drop out of sight.   The displaced water splashed unevenly skyward and the light caught the thin wings of liquid in ways that looked designed… by him with his chalk of stone. Younger and with accomplices, there would be competition in all different forms.  It would last many minutes.  A time to sacrifice the sameness of a day.  Of course it would pass and the animated enthusiasm would diminish.  Time would fade to a couple of final skips and sameness would be released.

When had he become old? When and where was the switch turned on? He reached for a rock and stumbled, catching his fall with both hands placed in the shallow water. He kneeled to balance and then laughed. What a sight. Such a stupid feeling.

At the bend, where the the river curled, fuzzed images stood. There were three of them. They looked to the logs along the far bank, perhaps thirty of yards away. One of the boys held an old .22 rifle.  They were looking for movement.  Their purpose to plink.  Anything that gave them targets of opportunity.

The log bumped along down the far side, where the water allowed some depth. The turtle rode along, sunning itself free of the leeches that had piggy-ed on. It was a slow ride. He caught sight and watched. He followed the logs slow progress, staying in the kneeling position he had fallen.  In his mind he named the turtle Mark Twain.  His mouth cornered up at the thought.  He watched as the ‘river boat’ slid down toward the heat waving forms at the bend.  Then he looked skyward.

The clouds overhead were cumulus more than cirrocumulus.  They had made a game of patching out different forms from clouds and making the each guess what figure the other said they could identify.   A simple game for simple people in a simple hard life.   She had been so keen in her artful images.  His were clumsely formed.  They both had laughed at his attempts to form an image from the whiteness.

He squinted and looked deep at one.  He did not hear the shot

The log had caught the joined current.  Not fast but a quickened pace followed.  The eyes of the three caught sight and glimpsed the shell with its shine.  One kneeled, took aim and fired.  They had no idea of who was behind the log.  The boy who was shooting never did. He got off two more shots before the turtle slipped off and submerged.

A melody came drifting down.  ‘Frank’ was singing.  Their old song.

                   when I was seventeen it was a very good year…………. for small town girls and soft summer nights.  We hide from the lights on the Village Green………….

but now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the year and now i think of my life………………..kegs from the brim to the dregs……..poured clear…….very good year.

He squinted and poured his consciousness to a now formless cloud.  And then he thought he saw a shimmering light stretching out.

                  And now, the end is here, and so i face the final curtain………

The bullet skipped off the surface and struck his temple.  All light snapped dark.  His forehead struck the rocks.  Water rivulets lapped lazily around his still form.

If I don’t see her each day… I miss her, gee what  thrill each time I  kiss her, believe me I have a case… on Nancy with a laughing face.

She takes the winter and she makes it summer…and summer could take a few lessons from her,

picture a tomboy in lace… that’s Nancy with a laughing face.

Did you ever hear mission bells ringing, well she’ll give you the very same glow,

when she speaks you would think it was singing… just hear her say hello.

I swear to goodness you can’t resist her… sorry for you she has no sister.

No angel could replace… Nancy, with  a laughing face.

‘Frank’s’ voice trailed off.

The water did not slow as daylight  squeezed away. The river, an urn on its bank above a lifeless body, continued on its way.

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