My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
Clarence B. Kelland
Without moving his head he could see, an arm’s length or so out in the water, a lavender blouse, a bra pulled back, and a young woman’s wet breast revealed.
The nipple looked healthy and erect and the skin was pale but firm and under it he could see her thin, blue veins and he thought, “How perfect”.
The sun had not yet set. The sky was still light but a dirty brown color, not yet blackened by night, and the lightning that had flashed so vividly just before the bridge and the brakes had given out was no longer present. The rain was just starting to get heavy again, coming down with such force that it seemed each drop was a liquid rock and he could hear the next stoning as it advanced towards him, coming in across the river.
“Rain…pain,” thought Walter.
The pain came in waves each time the wind made a pass, bringing with it leaves and small branches out of the Peachleaf Willow trees and moisture off of the river, making visibility that much more difficult. He could hear the Gods still bowling in the heavens but their rumble was low. In the moment it took for him to realize that he was both alive and not dreaming, he knew two things: The way the neck above the breast was twisted and bent was not so perfect, and he could make the choice to not come back from whatever just had happened.
There was a dull ache in his head but it was as if he was detached from the pain somehow, watching. He was lying in the cold, muddy water of the river but enough of his left arm, shoulder, and head were up the bank so that he could breathe mostly air. The peculiar thing about his arm and shoulder, though, was that while he knew they were there and could kind of see their outline, there wasn’t a clear separation between them and the earth, as if they were all just one piece of something with slightly different variations in color and texture. Rising out of the watery mud, at about the spot where he knew his wrist must be, he could see about half of the black skulls and precious stones of the bracelet Mara had given him to remind him of his death and its place in his life.
Behind him, now and then through the wind and rain, he could hear screams and shouts and the sounds of more pain mixed with fear. He was about to shout for help himself, just as a reflex, but then part of him knew he probably wouldn’t be heard and he wasn’t even sure he could shout so he kept quiet. What he didn’t know was that the last thing he needed, at that moment, was to be heard. His head was turned with the wind, away from the sounds and whatever was flashing. Strangely, in the rain and dampness he could feel heat.
“Move,” he thought.
He had to see if he could move. He brought his elbows in tight to his body and forced his heart center up and, with a sucking sound coming from the muck, pulled his body out of the water and moved a few feet up the river bank and rested, mostly out of the river’s current now. Another serving of gravel from the sky hit him.
“Give me a break,” he thought, and took a breath, then struggled and pushed himself higher up the edge of the river.
When he was fully out of the river, he rolled over on his back and looked towards the place where the bridge had been. With this movement, he became much more aware of the separation of his body parts from the surrounding earth. Through the increasing darkness, the wind and the rain, he could see the emergency vehicles, with their lights flashing, and rescuers, now with flashlights, walking around the wreck and along the river, looking for survivors or bodies.
There were others, amid the emergency responders, searching but with a different purpose. What was left of Gypsy looked like she was smashed against the wrecked structure of the bridge, and a fire in and around her was just dying out.
Walter’s head was aching and his vision was coming and going and he had the sense that he was in that Modey Lemon song Ants In My Hands – “Well I feel a little tingle in the top of my finger on my right hand and I see a little something crawling up the length of my wrist. I feel a little out of focus on the side of the road and I think I might crash…”
Looking once more at Gypsy, with a mixture of sadness and gratitude he thought, “Whatever killed her almost killed me.”
Nothing seemed to be improving, as far as the weather and his progress, and most of the flashlights started moving away. He couldn’t tell if he was bleeding or not, what with being soaked from the rain and the river but he didn’t sense that any of his limbs were broken and they all seemed to work.
The color of the sky seemed to transition from the dirty brown color it was to a golden color and that flash of light he’d been seeing passed by again.
He wiped the mud out of his left eye and started to lift himself up with the thought of walking towards the road and the people when the wind noticeably changed both in feel and direction. He could tell that it was still blowing, but around him now rather than into him, as if he was in a shelter, and while the rain continued, it stopped dropping where he stood and, behind him, he heard a sound like a million voices saying, “Here,” and when he looked back into the shadow above and beyond, he saw, half crouched behind a sumac, the one-eyed red-haired crazy looking woman who’s image he had seen reflected in the windshield of the bus. She had a wise and knowing smile on her face and a scary look in her eye. That eye appeared to be looking directly at him, ignoring the chaos in the space beyond him, and seemed to be totally indifferent to the tragedy. She gave a little laugh, more like a snort or whinny, tilted her head and raised her arm in an invitation to follow, showing a full patch of hair from under it, turned on her heel, her gauze dress spinning out around her, and off she went at a remarkable pace up the muddy slope in her sweet grass sandals.
There was a flash of lightning and, in that instant of light, all in one glance he saw a woodchuck sitting on its haunches in the mud looking at him, several Chipping Sparrows perched in the branches above facing down and staring in his direction, and a Painted Turtle as it moved its mouth, nodded its head up and down, then turned and disappeared into the river, moving strongly with the current.
There was another flash and then it was as if all of the creatures he thought he’d just seen were gone and in their place he saw someone’s brown book-bag wedged into the mud, a shoe and scraps of clothing hanging in the branches, and his green and orange-striped timbuc2 driver’s bag, its shoulder strap hooked to something under the water, bobbing up and down as if it were swimming along with the current.
“What the hell!” he thought as he laid there, just thinking, trying to clear his head and make sense of it all, when he saw something punch a hole in the earth just a few inches from his head.
He didn’t, actually, see the something, just the hole. A second later there was another and then, closer, another. At first he thought, “Hail” but then his gut, not his mind, realized he’d seen this before. It was coming from behind him, back towards the road and the bridge, and with the storm, its wind and thunder, and the rushing of the river and his general disorientation, he hadn’t heard the sound, but his body knew that someone, for some reason, was shooting at him.
That’s when he decided that the one-eyed woman was looking pretty good.
– And On –