Teeth of the River

 

Trapping ferals

My grandmother, Bebe, traps ferals down the Merrimack for spay/neuter clinics. "Can't snip the humans, Cleo," she says. "Pity. So we deal with what they wrought." Here's what she's trapped besides cats: Possum, molting snake, albino skunk, baby duck with hook in mouth, one-footed crow, blunt-nosed Chihuahua. The Chihuahua, deserted, mean and spiteful, took up with some ferals. He was smaller than the biggest Tom in the colony. My grandmother brought him to the clinic along with the cats, and once the vet took his balls, he got meaner still. As an object lesson, Bebe gave him to a fellow trapper, a woman equally mean and spiteful, abandoned in her own way. But they took to each other immediately, undercutting my grandmother's point, and now they tag-team anyone trying to get past the woman's front door.

My grandmother created a squadron of trapper buddies, a cadre of abandoneés: newly-widowed Rosella, whose grief overtook reason, fueling an attempt to burn down her house; Mrs. Donahue, the blackjack-poker-playing ex-grammar school principal, who lost her retirement fund and then her home; Sue Smithers, who bounces from half-way house to half-way house; Mrs. C., with a house full of wheezy, sad-eyed mastiffs, and a husband who turned their bedroom into a whelping room; Jennie Martin, whose father dropped dead while washing her mouth out with soap when she was six, and whose mother then had to leave home each night to work all night at the Boott Mills, and Edith, who made her house so pleasing in shades of plum and puce, drawn velveteen curtains, and aromatic floral plug-ins, she could barely leave it. That is, before getting into my grandmother's clutches. All of them elderly, and most, like my grandmother, bowlegged.

"Give 'em a purpose, and they'll follow you anywhere," she says, and they do. Fanning out along the banks of the mighty Merrimack whose mills once entrapped young girls down from Canada and desperate young mothers, my grandmother's ladies with their short grey hair, pocked skin, and bow legs look like a posse of aging cowboys on a roundup. Swinging from their hands, the traps with the cats. "Sometimes," Bebe says, "it's like we're snatching up the souls of those girls from the teeth of the river."

Here's what the souls look like: Tortie with a cock-eyed, stunned head, front teeth cracked; matted black & white tuxedo, with split tail, half missing; black domestic long-hair by rights sleek and regal, but so matted the fur pulls the skin into miniature mountainous eruptions; five-pound pregnant calico, body so tiny looks like the unborn kittens are pushing up through her neck; swaggering yellow Tom, cheeks so wide you can see the fleas diving beneath the fur, raising up their flesh condos; dainty grey and white short hair who tangled with a porcupine, quills dangling from her maw.

My grandmother has been finding souls on the river since she was a girl, and once, the body of a mill girl trapped beneath the frozen water.

"Kindness uplifts the world," my grandmother says.

I pick up a trap and follow her.

And follow her still. Except fifteen years later, Bebe is in a nursing home I visit almost daily, enduring the beige drone of the linoleum, of the walls, ceilings, and curtains, the comingled smells of Pinesol and urine, the piano player who comes on Tuesdays to plunk out showtunes, an insane grin splitting his face, and the sun that floods the windows and splashes cheer, bleaching Bebe's sheeted body into premature absence. The way she grabs my hand—dry old skin a fine rasp sanding my palm, her lips silently moving—makes me sick with the loss of her, and cursed, too.

 

Trapping ferals, part 2

We were all there for the right reasons, down the riverbank that Saturday, except maybe my husband. The clinic was the following day, and I was trying to trap a calico, the last sex-maniac, pregnant-again, hold out in the colony, a girl made so wily by biology, we couldn't get her into a trap last time we tried, even using kittens we'd rescued from her litter as bait. Mama cat had sat beneath a rusted out truck, the eye she'd lost sometime back making her look like she was winking, teasing us. Watching those bait babies, she'd stretched from time to time as if luxuriating in the relief of milk drying up, her teats already shrinking. So long suckas. Plenty more where you came from. Today I'd glimpsed her only once. Rocky M. was there too, on his own litter patrol, river-trolling aboard his pontoon, dredging up all the crap people dump into the unruly currents. "The river's my feral," he'd once told me.

The colony had the run of the place around Hughes Motors and Armando's Body Shop. Unlike most people, the owners didn't want to poison the ferals or pick them off with a rifle. The cats kept down the rat population, and Armando and Hugh wanted to keep the generations going. A couple of years ago, I had to paint them a grim picture of life for ferals and the fate of their countless, hapless kittens. By the time I finished, Armando was weeping and offering to buy me more Havaharts. I promised him that with the colony stabilized and healthier, and our volunteers feeding and providing shelter, we could keep the neutered cats ratting for a good ten years, although the ferals I'd known never lived past three, four tops.

I'd set out traps in back of the garage, up a short hill from the flat expanse of riverbank. It was a goopy, cloud-encrusted April afternoon, and my husband had come to divorce me. A woman from my rescue group, Sharla, was supposed to be setting and monitoring traps, not me. But she never showed, and I couldn't reach her. My husband and I were separated, but I'd planned to surprise him by stopping by his apartment with cinnamon coffee and homemade whip cream, and a declaration that my rescue days were about to be on the wane. I wanted this to be true. Before I could tell him, I first had to check up on Sharla. And now he'd surprised me. I'd slipped in the mud setting the traps and was on my knees, dirt across my forehead where I'd swiped the bangs from my eyes, just in time to see him walking toward me, loafers gleaming, chinos pressed, a blue-oxford rolled crisply to elbows. The warmth of his citrus shower gel cut through the bloodless smell of mud. I used to buy him that shower gel. He served me the papers with a look of pity bordering on disgust.

"You kidding me?" I said. "When'd you go to a lawyer?"

He looked sad. "Cleo, there's no way we can keep going like this."

I blamed Sharla. If I'd been able to get to his apartment in the morning, maybe things would've turned out differently. At the very least, my hands would've been clean taking those papers.

"We'll talk," he said, and turned, walking back toward the parking lot.

"Wait," I said, and thought of the coffee cold in my car, the whip cream fallen. He just shrugged and kept walking. "What've you ever done for the world?" I shouted to my husband, the human rights advocate. Dizzy with sudden rage, I ripped the papers and scattered the bits on the ground. I looked at the traps and felt both disgusted and rescued, like an addict. Close to the river's edge, scurrying under a dumpster was mama cat with her lumpy hang of unborn kits.

Down the hill, Rocky sized me up and took pity. "C'mon," he yelled, gesturing. "Take a ride." I tried Sharla's cell again, and again, no answer. After a lifetime of aloneness, she'd recently married at forty. What newlywed fool would choose to hang out all day in the mud trying to trap cats? I don't know what her husband made of all this. At the very least, mine used to find it endearingly quirky. But now he thought there was something wrong with me and said so: "Cleo, there's something seriously wrong with you. Can't you just volunteer for Planned Parenthood? Work in a soup kitchen? Feed people for god's sake." I blamed my grandmother. She'd taken me trapping since I was twelve. Scratch a hereditary itch and you uncover a black hole a fingernail's depth away. I was second generation and wondered if I'd even had a choice. My grandmother had been obsessed with this river since she was a girl, and now in her nursing home, was lost in that long ago current.

Rocky called to me again. I'd be gone an hour at most, and when I got back I knew my girl would be trapped. I re-baited with stinky sardines I'd picked up from a Dominican barber slash bait shop in Lawrence, then started down the short hill, once again slipping. By the time I reached Rocky, I was almost crying, the mud still wet and clinging to my jeans.

"I'm such a clown," I said. "You saw him. Gorgeous and so clean. I could be in bed with him right now. What am I doing?"

Sunglasses hid Rocky's green eyes, a frown sending waves of flesh up his forehead, partly furrowing his shaved head. "That is the question, isn't it?" he said. Rocky was a handsome man, down here in his spare time trying to save the river and avoiding his wife, who was also a very clean person. Her scent citrus too, but subtle and as fragile as she was. Rocky helped me onto the pontoon tied to the makeshift dock of lashed plastic bottles he'd dredged from the river. The motor was already idling. We slipped away with a low chug.    

He steered with one hand, an arm companionably around my waist, mud be damned. He was no stranger to mud. Slowly, as inevitable as the tiny waves his pontoon sent rippling toward the bank, he reached beneath my shirt, fingers tickling along my ribs, and in a friendly, supportive way, cupped my breast. Ridiculously, I thought of the cats, who'd never known, and would never know the comfort of human touch. His hand was loose and warm around me, settled, and I was caught between comfort and desire. A keen feeling, something new, but I could only take it for so long. I leaned over the railing and delicately spit into the river. He squeezed my breast and laughed, withdrawing his hand.  

"Some day," I started, an image of my husband's face hunkered in my brain.

"In another lifetime," he finished. Last year, their newborn died from sudden infant death and I was never sure these days what lifetime, or whose, he was living in. The doctor had been very clear neither Rocky nor his wife was at fault, but each reminded the other of failure and the absence lay between them like accusation. "Let's cruise up to Lawrence," he said.

We loved to glide north, toward New Hampshire, past the long abandoned mills, their brick facades wavering and haunted in the river's mirror. A few feeble rays had finally broken through to lay watery pink fingers across the smooth surface. "Glassy," Rocky said, a code word, and we smiled so hard our gums showed. Spring mornings, the river deceptively still and shiny as polished stone, girls from a nearby boarding school would scull the surface, and looking at those girls in their skinny boats, the sun's rays gilding their slender legs, pouring molten shine onto the tops of their silky heads, Rocky and I would laugh our asses off. I don't know what we thought was so funny—something about how a mere half inch of plastic shielded their lovely asses from the scum and muck and pollution hidden in the river's depths, its surface reflecting back to them their own unmarred skin. They were the ones who should've been laughing at us, caught as we were, chipped and marked and muddy. They were passing through, we were residents. All the more reason to want an oar to waver and tremble in its effortless, silent dip, snagging on the hidden and tumbling one of the girls into the river's depths. And what would she see there? All that Rocky dredged up: naked engines pulled from metal bodies, wires and hoses hanging like arteries, fenders chassis tail pipes, a single rusted hydrant, a single twisted anchor, a mountain of tampons, cans bottles assorted plastic, cracked and halved porcelain sinks ripped from walls and still dangling pipes and plaster, busted couches, splintered tables, broken chairs, a thousand tires, shards from a thousand broken windows, heaps of syringes with broken tips, the vials still containing murky liquid.

And if the current washed the girl closer to the banks and shallows, her hair dull as seaweed, her skin scratched along the river bottom, etched raw from sewage and chemical pollutants, she might find teeth of various mammals, bones of dog, of deer, of fish, of kittens in wire cages and knotted pillow cases, and a high-heeled boot, holding in its zippered length the bone of a woman, never identified.

And if she were taken all the way to the mills, tumbled deep into the middle of the river, she'd see the more distant past: old timbers, wooden beams, pipes and gears from the bowels of the mills. In my grandmother's day, the river changed color depending on what was being dyed at the textile factories, bloated fish turned belly up on the banks in pastel shades of pink and blue. But the day Bebe found the frozen mill girl, the workers were on strike and the ice was clear as bottle glass.

Rocky and I shared a desire for our school girl's perverse river education, because, who knows? Maybe she would find there what she most desired. Once Rocky found a trashbag full of marijuana. He considered drying it out, but thought better. "What a high that would be," he'd said. "I'd turn radioactive as those cats." He teased me that some nights while trolling, he'd see a colony of cats glowing by river's edge, their bodies lit up and crackling like live wires, then they'd hurl themselves into the river, swimming deep until their muzzy, lit shapes got smaller, and finally extinguished. Sometimes when I couldn't sleep, I'd think of those glowing cats. I'd see into them as if they'd been x-rayed, their insides exposed, skeletons exquisitely complex and then they seemed not poisoned or polluted, but free from suffering and endless breeding, beautiful and comforting to me. I'd imagine Bebe, too, lit up and brilliant against my dark walls.

We were in the middle of the river, picking up speed, soft air rushing my cheeks, surprisingly, suspiciously sweet. Despite all I knew of that river, I wanted to hang onto the sweetness, be as seduced as those school girls by its surface, the call of gulls, the sun finally, wholly broken from the clouds, coloring the entire sky and the water as far as we could see a deep shade of mauve, which darkened further at the horizon.

Looking at Rocky, I felt lifted, free, as if we were sailing away to a fresh, new place. But I couldn't stop the habitual bounce of my eyes from one shore to the other. Would I ever be able to go anywhere in this world without instinctively looking for the homeless, the feral, the injured? And because of this, because my eyes played from one side of the bank to the other, I noticed Sharla's car at the edge of the parking lot when we approached Riverside Park. This was where Rocky and I had barbecues for our volunteers, and where I'd seen his wife with their baby girl a few months before the baby's death. Now his wife hardly left the house. But here was Sharla's car. Better late than never, I thought, unwilling to see how the car seemed a prop in an interrupted drama, the front wheels turned sharply to the right, the body halfway up on the grass. A rattletrap of rusting fenders and hubcaps, the car looked vulnerable, and I covered my own unease with mockery. I nudged Rocky and pointed. "My, my. Look who showed up. Guess she finally got enough," I said, referring to the recent groom. I noted that the front door was open; 'flung' is the word that came to me.

"What's she doing here?" Rocky tensed as he turned the pontoon toward shore. He tied it to the short pier. I called her name, my voice now edged with alarm. Still, I expected her head to poke out from the back of the car where I hoped she was doing something in the trunk. Everyone in our rescue group had great messes of stuff in our cars that were forever causing us grief and lack of vision: Empty traps clattered and stacked against side windows, opened bags of dry cat food spilled over seats onto floors, plastic trashbags stuffed with straw for insulating winter shelters wedged up against rear windows: any number of small irritants that needed to be rectified before continuing along the road, so we often slammed our brakes at inopportune moments, swung open our doors and ran around to the back to right things. But Sharla didn't pop out from behind her car, even as Rocky shouted her name. We scanned the bank, but saw no one. Despite the day turning fine and warm as it met evening, the park was deserted. Most likely because it was a drug haven after dark.

We inspected the car. Sharla's traps stuck out from the trunk, the door secured with a bungee. On the seats were cans of tuna and sardines, a spread of newspapers, and a stack of ripped sheets and towels for covering the traps to keep the cats calm inside.

"This doesn't make sense," I said. "Why would she start trapping now?" No one trapped after dark. A couple of times, getting out of work late, I'd fed my colony at night, and it was both invigorating and terrifying. I knew it wasn't wise, which made it exciting, yet another of my characteristics that made my husband unhappy. But I'd never start trapping so late in the afternoon when the sun still went down early. And why was she here? Or, not here. I called Sharla's cell.

"Do you have her husband's number?" Rocky asked.

I shook my head. While the phone rang, I heard the beep of an incoming call. It was Joyce, a volunteer friendlier with Sharla than me. She was looking for Sharla. Or rather Sharla's husband was. I told Joyce what we knew, and she told me that Sharla and her husband had gotten into a big fight the night before and he'd slammed out and gone to a bar, then to a friend's. Sharla wasn't home when he returned this afternoon. Now he was calling everyone he knew.

"I'll call you back," I said. "We're going to look around."

Rocky and I jogged the loop that circled the small park, then cut through it, looking into the bushes and along the shoreline, scouring the sidewalk that flanked the street side of the park. I was breathing heavily, as if our short run had totally winded me.

"Get Joyce," Rocky said. "Sharla's husband needs to call the police."

"Should we wait here?" I asked.

"No," Rocky was already corralling me toward his pontoon as I dialed. "There's only about an hour of light left." We were aboard and hugging close to the shoreline when Joyce answered.

**

Later that night, they didn't want me to disturb my grandmother when I got to the nursing home just as visiting hours ended. She was in bed, but because I was a regular and liked by the staff and more likely, because of the way I insisted, they agreed to check to see if she was awake. From the doorway, I could see the shine of Bebe's eyes from the streetlight that snuck through a bent blind and lay in a translucent bar across her face. "Ten minutes," an aide said, "and don't talk loud."

Bebe watched me cross the room. I opened the slats to let in more light. I held her hand. She watched my face. Her fingers dug into my palm.  I told her how we'd found Sharla, me and Rocky, found her body not far from the park, in a washed out culvert where roots from trees were exposed and the trees tipped toward the water, some day to end up there, and Sharla's hair was tangled in the roots, one arm thrown above her head, her fingers wrapped around the roots like around the spindles of a headboard, as if she were in bed, except her eyes were open and her face had a waxy, bluish tinge, her eyelids swollen and shiny, as Rocky's flashlight beam crossed it. By then it was dark and the cops had come and were prowling the river in slow motorboats, their searchlights illuminating the surface and shoreline here and there in huge blurring explosions of light, making it feel like we were in the middle of a silent movie blitz. Rocky did what he shouldn't have. He jumped out of the pontoon and unwrapped Sharla's fingers from the roots and dragged her on shore. He rocked her and I came on shore and held him. He rocked her as if he were rocking his baby girl.

 

The frozen girl

The door cracks open and light from the hall stretches across the sheet wrapped around me and brightens the lap of the girl sitting on my bed. The lady in the doorway tells her, "Just another couple of minutes now, and then you have to go." She closes the door and the moon hangs in the window like a streetlamp. Swimming through the hazy light as if through the cold water, her hand finally freed from the ice to hold mine, she's come back, the girl I found but never knew. She's telling me about another girl taken by the river, but she holds my hand so tight, her own story runs through me. The day I found her, the ice on the river was thick and clear as bottle glass. Our parents forbade us the river. Even in a deep freeze the ice could be treacherous. Our parents also forbade us to be alone together, me and my cousin, now that we were teenagers. We were allowed to skate only on ponds as long as we were with a group of other children. Was that why we never told? It wouldn't have mattered. The girl was already dead and that spring when she washed up on shore, no one knew her. Years later, I told my granddaughter. But just that I'd found the girl. I never told her the rest.

I'd gotten a new pair of skates for my thirteenth birthday and sped across the ice, my cheeks stinging from the frigid air. My cousin shouted at me to slow down, and I just laughed. He was a year older and hated that I was the faster, more daring skater. I remember undoing my braids and my hair blazed behind like a trail for him to follow. I was the first. No one had skated out this far and I loved the cut of my blades, just as if I were cutting my name into that ice.

But midway across the river, I stumbled. My blades snagged on something. I fell on my knees and looked down. The girl appeared to be floating toward me, waxy palms curled against the bottom of the ice, as if she tried to claw through, her hair drifting across her open eyes. They were blue. I swear I could see that, even through the ice. The only bit of color among the dark trees and silver-white river.

When my cousin caught up with me and saw the girl, his skates slid out from under him. He lay face down and stared. He slipped when he tried to get up and I had to grab the back of his coat. We half skated, half stumbled to the bank. It was obscene, this frozen girl, it was obscene and wrong and dirty, and my cousin said if we told, we'd get in trouble, and I thought he meant we'd be blamed for her.

I agreed we shouldn't tell. But that night I couldn't sleep because the girl's eyes pierced the dark of my bedroom and made my wall glow. Their blue light had burned through the ice and caused the slushy holes I'd stumbled in. The girl had been alive, and we'd left her to die.

When I told this to my cousin, he said I was a stupid ninny. There was nothing we could've done, so what was the harm in not telling. And the not telling wrapped us closer as the end of winter turned to melting ice. On our way home from school we'd wander through the woods and find ourselves at the edge of the river, the still, glassy ribbon stretching before us. In March we saw the first water run free and lap cold against the shore. We heard the river boom and then tinkle as the ice broke up and the water brought bits of stick to our feet. One day we saw a dark log partially encased in ice move sluggishly downstream.

When the girl was finally found, no one claimed her. So little was known about her. Just another mill girl. But I felt by keeping her to ourselves we'd erased her.  

 

Trapping ferals, part 3

Rocky wouldn't let go. He cradled Sharla, his arms tight around her. The cops were angry and impatient, telling him he might've fucked up evidence. When he finally let go, Sharla lay over his legs in a slight backbend, her head releasing to the ground. We were questioned, then told to go home. They were rolling Sharla's body in the plastic and preparing another larger bag, unzipping the top, as we left. The doors to an ambulance were opened, the inside lit up like a party. Walking to the pontoon, Rocky and I held onto each other like an elderly couple. Rocky's foot slipped, boarding the boat, and he rolled backwards. I grabbed the big bundle of him, holding tight, my eyes squeezed shut, putting all my effort into holding him, thinking if he went down into the river, he wouldn't go alone. But once onboard, I said, "I think I'm done with this place. We'll probably never find out what happened to her. It's just too much now. "

"How do they think I could've left her there? Just left her in the water? She was so cold. If we hadn't come along, she would've sunk and never been found."

I didn't think that was true, especially the way Sharla was snarled up in the tree roots, but what I did think was true was that I was done with the river and Rocky wasn't. After tonight, I wasn't sure I'd see him again and it opened up a space inside me that was like a wedge against him. We slowly chugged towards the auto shops and the parking lot where our cars were, leaving that spot of shore still lit up like a carnival. We approached the plastic-bottle pier and Rocky tied the boat to the pole sticking out from it. We walked to the parking lot, standing awkwardly before getting into our cars.

"The cat," I said suddenly. Under the lights in the parking lot, Rocky's face was etched in fatigue and sorrow, his eyes rimmed in red. He shrugged and followed me toward the short hill. We made our way slowly, the mud still slippery, and I was thinking, even if she's trapped, I'm going to let her go and get the hell out of here, and then we saw her, at the top of the hill, in the trap. She looked at me calmly. This fierce girl, who I'd been after for months, looked at me like she knew I'd won, but what was the big deal anyway? Sure, I was doing her a favor, but don't expect any thanks.

I'd never seen her this close before and I wanted to take a good look. Rocky aimed his flashlight. We squatted and gazed. Her history was in her face: the gone eye, the cracked teeth, the long cut through her muzzle that had healed badly, the tattered ears from scraps with raccoons, other cats, possum, and who knows what else. Her eyes narrowed as if in contentment, and in the flashlight's beam, she seemed to be glowing, like those radioactive cats. I wondered if she knew anything. Had she seen Sharla? Seen her walk in despair into the river, or seen a dark shape drag her along the shore to river's edge, or seen Sharla slip in the mud as she walked the bank looking for a good place to set the traps, hitting her head on a rock on her way into the cold water. And what of Sharla's soul? Where might it have gone? Into the core of the cat before us? I thought of Bebe's frozen mill girl and how Rocky was the only one, other than my grandmother, who knew as I did how this river, this water wasn't a giver of life, not a sustainer, but a taker. We sat there, Rocky and I, looking at the cat who seemed a small miracle, lit up as she was, and I thought of Rocky's baby. How her death separated her parents, and how finding Sharla was like a perverse birth—Rocky and I not being short on perversity—something we did together, like a creative act, and as I covered the trap with a towel and Rocky picked it up to carry to my car for the clinic the next day, I knew even before he asked, that Rocky would come home with me and stay.

 

The frozen girl, final

The lady in the doorway has come and gone again, spilling hall light, saying, "Five more minutes, I mean it, and then you're out of here," and still you sit with me, your hair messed, eyes stained with a lifetime of river water. You smell of the river. Of the muck, the cold. You hold my hand, trying to tell me something. But I need to tell you, to explain what happened, to make you forgive, to tell you how after school my cousin and I would wander through the woods, but we'd always end up at the same place on the bank. We wouldn't speak of it, but we were always aware of you. We played around the river's edge, talked about school, our friends. But if the ice shifted, or an acorn dropped, we'd stare as if we expected you to come right up through the ice. It was crazy, but we thought we were giving you a chance to undo what we'd done. That's how it felt, as if we'd done something to you. If we waited long enough, maybe you'd pass by again and this time we'd tell. But weeks went by and our silence got stronger and tighter until we could scarcely breathe. The day we saw the log, we knew it wasn't you, but the log was like a coffin floating downstream, dark and judging. I made a sound in my throat. My cousin told me to shut up, because he knew what I was thinking, and he pushed me down on a pile of leaves that had bits of twig poking through. Then he came down on top of me. I lay under him and we struggled. There was no pleasure, only excitement. And fear. My cousin's body covered mine and he wouldn't let up. I pulled him close and then clawed at him. For a second, I was you caught beneath the ice, and maybe that was it—we both played a role in your struggle. It hurt and when we sat up, I was sticky all over. I couldn't imagine what I'd use to clean myself, and how I'd get home in time for dinner. My cousin's face was full of a wildness I couldn't fathom, but could feel on my own face. He used his undershirt to wipe between my legs and kissed my knee and my skin turned warm under his lips. We moved toward home as if in a dream. I was sure we were done with all this; I was emptied out.

But I was wrong. We started to go directly to the riverbank as if summoned. Every day grew a little warmer and more ice broke up. We'd take off our clothes and shiver. I'd lie down on the wet leaves and my cousin would slowly cover my body with his. But you were always between us, even when our bodies were close and so warm we'd all but forgotten you, we'd feel your waxy fingers, see your blue eyes. Then they found your body and my cousin stopped going to the river. It was as if we'd been caught. But I loved him, and what had happened separated me from everyone else. Who could I tell any of this to? There was only my cousin, and he began to shun me.

The girl on the bed is still talking. Bebe opens her mouth, confused; she thought she had been the one talking, and doesn't know whose story is whose. She covers the girl's hand with hers and at Bebe's touch, the girl's face settles. Bebe is surprised to see she looks like her granddaughter. She believes it must be her granddaughter, and thinks back to that day and to the girl caught beneath the ice and wonders if there had been a moment when the girl, this girl, saw the world clearly, a moment when she stopped struggling and the fear disappeared and she looked through the ice as if through a clear window pane and saw the silver shivering beauty of the day, and the child who would become her grandmother racing towards her, Bebe's fast skates about to cut her name in the ice just above her eyes.

 

 


Linda Woolford's fiction is published in North American Review, The Colorado Review, Nimrod, The Florida Review, among others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart and anthologized. She lives in Massachusetts.

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