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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Still Waters" Chapter Ten

Note: The beginning of Chapter Nine underwent a major rewrite over the weekend. It was changed from narrative to a flashback of one of Dr. Sinclair's year-end lectures, thus providing more insight into the character, which serves a more useful purpose in these final chapters.

Chapter Ten

"Going with the flow" had been the theme of the afternoon until the brush with Var. Those four words were no longer applicable in either a figurative or literal sense.

James pushed the clump of inner tubes downstream while his wife and daughters rode on top. That stretch of river was about thirty feet wide and chest deep in most places, but James found footing on the larger rocks that lined the river's bottom. The second group didn't see the family coming until they passed within a few feet. Their laughter stopped like the hush of a courtroom when the bailiff says "all rise."

"Nice day for this, eh?" James said to them, still pushing forward.

But no one spoke in return as they passed. The bleary eyes stared at the man and his family as if they were in an Amish buggy on Bourbon Street. It was then, in that awkward silence, that James heard a strange sound in the distance, a dull roar of music and human voices coming through the trees ahead. So faint it was that he was not sure he heard it at all. Then the tallest of the young men raised his beer as if making a toast and mumbled something to his friends who burst into disdainful laughter.

"What did he say?" asked Clair.

"I'm not sure..." James replied without smiling

"Do you really care?" Anna said.

"Shhhhh.... Quiet for a second," James whispered.

"What?" said Kenzie.

"Did you hear that ahead?" he said.

The laughter behind them made it harder to hear what James was talking about, but as they pressed downstream, the noise grew louder and louder, coming from over the high bank ahead. The ruckus sounded like a dozen different radio stations blaring in a crowded stadium. As they rounded the bend, the clash of music and cacophony of a hundred human voices came rumbling down a high, sandy crest on the right side of the river.

“This must be where we get out,” James said, looking at his watch. “Twelve minutes to spare.”

“Sounds more like ‘Fool’s Hill’,” said Clair. “Remember what the man at the livery said?”

James pushed the raft of tubes to the side of the river and trudged up the sandy bank.

“Where are you going?” asked Clair.

“Just to see if the bus is up here.”

“Wait up, Dad. I want to see, too,” said Anna.

“No. Just stay put for a minute,” her father insisted as his head peeked over the brow of the hill. He turned and said it again, this time more sternly. “Stay there!”

Standing at the crest, Dr. Sinclair could not believe his eyes. It was as if every group of drinking, drunken tubers from the entire day on the river had gotten waylaid on a huge empty field. Nothing but staggering half-naked bodies penned in by dense trees. The stench of beer and vomit wafted toward him.

Not all of them were tubers. Some of them had come by way of a dirt road that led through the trees to this secluded place. It must have been the non-tubers who brought the blaring radios and the dry blankets where couples lay in tangled writhing knots. To his left, a young girl in a dirty lime-green bikini puked into a patch of weeds, wiped her mouth, and walked back into the crowd. To his right, a shirtless beer-gut took a few steps from some friends to openly urinate while still downing the last swigs from the can in his free hand. A few feet behind, this multi-tasking young man, another young lady dropped to her knees and  threw up, not in the weeds but at the feet of her friends who all jumped back to avoid the splash.

"Your body is telling you something," James said, but he could not even hear the words himself for all the noise. He surveyed the swarming indifference around him. Did they not care that someone not of them was watching? It was as if he was invisible. The professor understood that such wantonness was common on Fraternity Row in big college towns or in Florida's Spring Break venues, but it was the not what his own Riverdale students were like; it was not a part of his own background; and it was the last thing he wanted his girls to see on this family outing. The most troubling fact was the broad range of age. "Where are the cops?" he thought. "Half of these kids are well under twenty-one."

He had stepped into a world he had chosen not to know existed, and his face grimaced as a strange sort of sorrow swept over him, but whatever vicarious guilt or shame or pity he was feeling found no root beyond his dripping feet. Everyone was lost in collective abandon. If there was one set of clear eyes, one thinking soul in the lot, he could not see it. If there was one conversation that was not held together with vile language, he could not hear it.

He shook his head and turned back toward the river just as the group they had passed was staggering up the hill toward him with their tubes on their shoulders.

“Nice day for this, eh?” the tall one mocked, repeating the old man's lame attempt at conversation just moments before.

Clair and the girls had drifted slightly downstream but held to a branch to stay within eyesight of James who waded toward them.

“Let’s get out of here,” James said above the noise. “We do not want to be on one of those six o’clock busses.”

“I told you that was Fool’s Hill," Clair said.

“There must have been 150 of them up there," James said sadly, "All guzzlin' beer and cussin' and pukin’ and peein’ and everything else right out in the open.”

“Yea, right," chided, Anna, "What were they really doing?”

“That is what they were doing. I’m not making it up.”

He looked at his watch, and pushed their tubes down the river until the water became deeper, and with one last thrust he dove onto his tube, pushing the whole clump into the stronger center current.

Coming toward them was a man and woman in a green canoe, paddling steadily upstream toward them. It was the first canoe they had seen all day.

“Did you guys miss the exit?” the man in the canoe asked.

“I hope not,” said Clair.

“Are you coming down from the tube livery?” the woman asked.

“Yes, we are,” said James.

“Well, you missed their last exit back there about two-hundred feet," the man said. "The sign got pushed over when the water was so high last week.”

"Great..." mumbled James, dropping back into the water. "They said something about wooden stairs. I didn't see any stairs."

“They're up in the woods a ways. Railroad ties," the man said. "If I had a motor on this thing I’d pull you there.”
.
“We've got it. Thanks for stopping us,” James said, dragging the tubes out of the current. "I didn't see anything that looked like an exit. Did you, girls?"

"The man said it came right after Fool's Hill," said Anna.
.
“What did he call it?” asked the man.

"Fools Hill," repeated Anna.

"That's not what we call it," said the man, "'Round here, we call it..."

"Howard! Shush up!" said the woman, shaking her head.

"I think it's the perfect name for that beach," said the man, "That's what they are."

"Well, you just shush up in front of these girls."

"We're trying to catch the five o'clock bus." said Clair. 

“Good luck,” chuckled the man as he back-paddled to turn the canoe around. “This is as far as we go on Saturdays.”

“I don’t blame you,” James said..

“By the way,” the man said over his shoulder, “You do know you're on the wrong side of the river. You'll be getting out on the east side.”

The green canoe disappeared quickly down stream. James was now pulling not pushing the tubes.

“Shouldn’t we cross the river?” asked Clair.

“The current is too strong on that side of the bend,” James said, “We’ll cross when we get to the shallower water.”

“Dad do you want me to untie this bag of rocks to lighten the load?” Anna said.

“I’m pulling three hundred pounds of dead weight, and you’re worried about ten pounds of rocks?” James said.

“I’m only trying to help,” she smiled.

"If you want to help, get out and pull. It's shallow enough now.

"You're the only one wearing shoes," she smiled.

"Well, feed me oats and call me a Clydesdale," James sighed, slightly winded.

He looked at his watch. Three minutes to five.
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