The Left Arm Sunburn

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.

–Bob Dylan “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

Some things I want to remember.  Other things I would rather forget.  Right now, I’m remembering very clearly a certain morning twenty-five months ago when Mariam and I drove along Marin Blvd. in Jersey City.  We saw a sign for the NJ Turnpike so we made a left and headed west for a few miles.  The next sign was for I-95 North–we made the right turn and then, after a short distance, we turned left and drove west into the hills of New Jersey on I-80.  We were beginning our road trip to Orting, WA–my new grandson Elias was waiting to see me for the second time.  I wrote blogs about that trip.  Many of you read them and, hopefully, liked them.

That was then.  This is now.

This time we turned south on I-95.  We’re off to the sands of the Fort Myers beaches.  Our road trip has truly begun.  This time, however, I won’t be seeing the highlands of Jersey from my rear view mirror.  Instead, I’ll be driving due south with the morning sun hard on my left.  It’s time to dig around for the SPF.  I once got a bad sunburn on that arm.  These are the rules of the road that hard-traveling ramblers like me must keep in mind.

Actually, when you’re driving along the NJ Turnpike, passing the airport on your right, IKEA on your left, there is a lot of things to keep in mind.

We’re heading through Orange where refineries still operate.  The power lines are everywhere.  There are enough EMF’s along this stretch of highway to blow out all the transistors in my GhostMeter.  This was once known as “Cancer Alley” because of the low quality of just about everything, air, water–you name it, that was a fact of life (and death) for so many Jerseyites.

JerseyOil

I must apologize for now for the low quality of the two photographs that will accompany this blog.  It certainly isn’t Mariam’s fault in any way.  It’s just not easy to snap a high-quality photograph from a window of a Ford Escape while blazing along the Turnpike at 59 mph.  (Maybe I’ll spice up the illustrations with a sexy poster from the men’s room of the steak house where we had dinner last night.)

There is a certain relief that comes with finally being on the road after almost a week hanging out in a Manhattan hotel and having dinner with my son and his girlfriend. (See the blog about the N train in case you missed something).  Wait.  Did I really just write the sentence above?  Let me rephrase that.  Does anyone who truly “gets” New York City experience ‘relief’ when leaving?  Maybe, but not me.

Anyway, we only drove about 217 miles today.  Not much, but enough to settle into our roles–driver & navigator.  And just long enough to develop a sore lower back.

We crossed into Maryland and approached the Chesapeake Bay.  I knew what was ahead of me.  I handed Mariam my iPhone and asked her to get ready to take yet another snap from her window.

We’re nearly there…

“Mariam, don’t drop my phone out of the window.”

“Mariam, we’re here.  Get a shot.”

I glanced for a nano-second to my right.  There was the wide mouth of the Susquehanna River.  It was emptying into the Bay.  I sat in silence and held tight to the steering wheel.  This river began its course as a small stream, on a quiet street, under large trees and lovely white houses in Cooperstown, NY.  It’s waters also flowed slowly and with dignity past my backyard, about a hundred yards from the house where I grew up.

I felt a strange bond with the great mass of water that I saw for the briefest moment off to my right.

Susquehanna

Do you see the narrow blue stretch of water?  I would have liked to have pulled over and gotten a nice photo, but the outcome of that would have led to a horrific crash and several fatalities, including mine and Mariam’s.  I didn’t think you, my readers, would want to live with that for the rest of your natural life.  Not simply for a photo of a river.

It’s getting dark now as I sit at this uneven black metal table, at site #614, here at Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, Maryland.

I can barely see the carrot slices and plum tomatoes and blue cheese dip that is our appetizer for the evening.  It’s time to gather up these materials and think about dinner.  It’s time to straighten the bed and prepare my night’s reading.

Two hours from now, I’ll be playing some Scrabble on FB. (I welcome any challengers.)  I may have written a page or two in my journal–but I’m a little tired for that.

Four hours from now, I’ll be stretched out on the bed and listening to the gentle and soothing roar of the traffic on I-95, about half a mile away.

Sooner or later, I’ll drift to sleep and dream about four-lane highways, $1.99 gasoline, tomorrows Cold Brew at the next Starbucks, at the next rest area, in the next state.  Tomorrow we should pull into a site just across the North Carolina state line.

Florida is somewhere out there–at the end of this mad, intense and very fast highway.  I’m sort of a gambler and I will keep my sense.

So, here’s the vintage follies showgirl poster I sort of promised.  It will make up for the photos taken from a speeding red SUV pulling a cute little trailer.

VintageShowgirl

[There is a Halloween blog coming soon that can only be described as dark and very scary.  Please be forewarned. Take your meds and be prepared for any possible power outage.  Candles alone will not help you when this blog hits your email.  Please click on “Follow” so you won’t miss out on any of my future posts.  Please make a comment on FB so I know someone out there is reading me.  The road can be very lonely sometimes.  A final thought: Did you notice that if you rearrange the letters in BLOG you get GLOB?]

Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve XV: “The Ghost Who Called My Name-A True Story”

DoorKnocker2

What I am about to tell you actually happened to me.

But, do I have the absolute right to say that a “ghost” called my name?  No, I cannot.  Declaring it an actual spirit from beyond the grave, requires scientific proof…and I cannot offer you any.  But, I have no other word to describe the voice of the woman that night, the woman who called my name.

So many years ago…

I believe this happened on New Years Eve, as 1991 rolled over and became, in the moment past midnight, 1992.  My wife and I decided to escape the noise of Manhattan and instead, spend a quiet holiday in a lovely little town in the center of New York State.  It was to Cooperstown that we drove that cold day.  We had booked a room for two nights in a quaint B&B on Chestnut Street.  I will not reveal the name of the establishment.  No, I cannot do that for two very good reasons:  some inn-keepers would prefer not to have that kind of ‘stigma’ attached to their establishment.  After all, there are travelers who would balk at the idea of spending a night in a house…with an unknown entity.  The other reason is even more concrete.  I simply do not remember the name of the place.  So, let’s leave it at that.  If you want to find this place, just drive along Chestnut Street and look for an old white Victorian-style home.  It may be the very place where ‘she’ stood outside my door in the dark hours past midnight.

After checking in and putting our suitcase in the room at the top of the stairs, we chatted with the inn keeper for a few minutes.  She was middle-aged and carried herself with grace and intelligence.  Her husband was away for a few days.  So was her daughter.  It was just the three of us in the old white house.

We made the short walk to the main street and had dinner in a small restaurant.

The wind blew cold from the far reaches of Otsego Lake.  (The outlet of the beautiful body of water, often called Glimmerglass, was a small creek that was to widen and become the great Susquehanna, the very river that flowed past my childhood home in Owego, NY.)  At the mouth of the lake, you could toss a pebble across the water with the slightest effort.

We bar-hopped for several hours and watched the patrons prepare to welcome the New Year by donning those little cone-shaped hats.  We decided that we would prefer to spend the midnight hour back in our room watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”, again.

Around 1:30 am, I tired of reading (my wife had already fallen asleep) and turned off the light.  The window was open a crack to let the fresh and chill air in to the room.

I pulled the covers to my chin, closed my eyes and in a few minutes I was lost in a dream.

I sat up suddenly an hour or so later.  Someone had knocked on our door which was an arms length away from my pillow.  A woman called out: “Patrick.  Patrick.”

“Yes?” I replied and I slid off the bed and approached the door. “Yes?”

“Patrick,” was all I heard.  She had called me three times.

I began to worry.  If the inn keeper was calling me at this hour, then clearly something was wrong.  Perhaps a small fire had been detected and she wanted us to get out of the house.

I stood at the door.

“What is it?” I asked. “Yes, what is it?”

Silence.

I unlatched the door and opened it a crack…

There was no one there.

I opened the door wider and stuck my head into the hallway.

“Hello?” I called out.

Silence. There was no one in the hall.  No one was near the stairs.

My wife was sitting up in bed.

“What did she want?” she asked.

“There’s nobody there,” I replied. “But you did hear her?”

“I heard a woman call your name several times.”

So, it wasn’t a dream. I was awake.

I fell back asleep.  I would talk with the inn keeper in the morning.

~~~

At the breakfast table, someone else served us.

As we went through the parlor to get our coats for our walk to the main street, I noticed the inn keeper sitting at her desk.

“What did you want me for last night?” I asked.

“Pardon?” she said. “What do you mean?”

“You came to my door and called me…it must have been sometime after 1:30.”

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t call you.  I was fast asleep at that time.”

“Well,” I joked, “must have been the ghost.”

Her mood quickly changed.  She looked away for a moment.  Then she looked me in the eye.

“Well maybe and maybe I should tell you the story.”

“Story?”

“Yes, you see, shortly after we bought the house my daughter and I were raking the leaves and cleaning the lawn.  My daughter asked me who the “lady with the grey hair tied in a bun” was.

“My daughter said she had just seen an elderly woman in a dark dress standing at the second floor window watching us.  I told her that there was no one in the house except her father, and the two of us.  We wouldn’t open the B&B until a month or two later.  But my daughter insists she saw this woman.  She described her just as I’ve told you…grey hair tied in a bun…the old-fashioned way.  Later, my little girl and I went to the library to check out a few books.  I took the opportunity to introduce myself as the new owner of the white house on Chestnut Street.  I asked about who the previous owners were.  She said she knew the house well.  And then she said that one of the owners, many years ago, was a widow…elderly woman who always wore a black dress.  I asked her if she could tell me anything else about her.  She thought for a moment and said that she never met the woman because she died before she had become the librarian.  But from things she picked up over the years, she could say one thing…she always, always wore her grey hair in a bun.”

I stared at the inn keeper.

“Guess, that was who called me last night, right?”

She smiled and said: “Certainly seems like it.”

Me? I can say only one thing for sure.  I did not dream of the knock on the door and the voice calling my name.

So, I can tell you what it was not…it was not a dream.  But I cannot tell you what it was or who it was.

Or, why a voice in a dark hall called my name.

 

 

Two Elderly Gentlemen Walk Into A Pub

  JimMerrill&Jiff

An older man walked into a pub in Burlington, Vermont on a recent Saturday afternoon.  It was minutes away from a heavy rain.  The guy went downstairs to the men’s room.  He was there at the pub to meet an old friend and he was about two minutes late.  As he climbed the stairs, he realized he had a problem…he hadn’t seen his friend in 50 years!  He had no idea what he would look like. The man and his wife had already scanned the pub but he saw no one who might remotely look like his old pal.

And he was an old pal.  They played together as children…lived close enough to see each other’s house.  They played “cowboys & indians” in the backyard.  They played “army” in a neighbor’s backyard.  On hot summer nights, they slept on a large back porch, listening for the tire skids and crash as the cars came around “broken-arm” curve in front of one of the boy’s houses.  One of the  backyards stretched to the Susquehanna River…it was a giant playground, war zone and hiding place.  The other boy had The Brick Pond in his backyard.  Skating in the winter…turtle watching in the summer.  It was a small town called Owego, in upstate New York.  It was the 1950’s.

One of the boys brought a new vinyl album over to his friend’s house.  It was the early ’60’s.  He put the record on and said: “Listen to this guy…he’s saying something.”

The friend listened.  He didn’t like what he heard.  It wasn’t Dion.  It wasn’t Fabian.  It wasn’t Frankie Avalon.

“This guy can’t sing…he sounds weird.  I don’t understand what he’s saying.”

The boy with the album knew what was happening.  He heard the words.

The uninformed boy took another year to grasp what was being played that night.  That nasal voice and those complex lyrics.

It wasn’t: “Why must I be a teenager in love?”  It was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Later, during their last year of high school, they sat on the front porch of one of the boy’s houses and talked about the future.  Their paths were about to diverge forever, or nearly forever.  One of them was destined for college the other for Viet Nam.  Their lives grew apart and they lost touch…not to see each other for another 50 years.

The old man climbed the stairs from the restroom.  On the deck was a man talking to his wife.  He felt as though he had never seen this guy before.  He had a cane.  He looked a bit old, like so many men do when they get to their late sixties.

The stranger talking to his wife was the old friend.  They embraced after 50 years.  Both had been through highs and lows, good times and bad.  Divorces and deaths.

They weren’t two kids with stick swords in a weedy backyard anymore.  Time had carried them to the outside deck of the pub in Burlington.  Time had given them a stoop in the shoulders.  Time had taken away their dark hair.  Time had given them illnesses and joint pains and muscle aches.

They used to fish in the Susquehanna River with a stick and a string and a cheap hook.  They each had gone through a fly-fishing stage in the middle years.  They won’t be sharing this, most likely.

Calendar pages fall to the floor.  The man had a cane…it fell to the floor.  Someone picked it up.  Things are so different.

It took half a century before Jimmy Merrill and Pat Egan met again.

It started to rain heavily.

Jim&PatSept6'14

The Stranger at the Other End of Front Street

PumpellyHouse

I can feel the soft cool breeze blowing through my room from the Susquehanna River behind me.  I am sitting at a small desk writing this post.  My wife is sleeping deeply on the bed to my right.  I am facing Front Street.  The trucks speed past the town on the Southern Tier Expressway (Future I 86, so the signs say).  I am in Owego, New York, the town where I was born and raised.

But something is wrong.  Something doesn’t feel right.  I am not in my home.  I am going to sleep tonight in a strange bed, in a house, the inside of which, I have never seen before this afternoon.  For what may be the third time in my long life, I am going to lay down in a place that does not belong to my family…right here in Owego.

How did I get here?

I remember closing the front door of my home at 420 Front Street, walking down our sidewalk and turning left, toward town.  I started that journey many years ago.  I can still recall the little details…the little fragments of recollections that most people would dismiss as inconsequential.  But I remember.  Yes, I remember.

The first house I pass is a large red brick structure where Lester and Madeline Sparks live.  I just got through playing in their backyard.  My brother just hit a softball through Lester’s window.  Lester managed the old J.C.Penney’s store on Lake Street. His wife was a nurse.  I look to my right and see John Street…the sweet street that led to Harvey’s grocery store where my lawn-mowing nickels were spent on Mars bars or a Baby Ruth.  The street where the Gavin’s lived.  The street where Craig and Ricky Phelps lived.  I played my childhood away with them.  Further up John Street was George Forsyth’s house.  At the corner of John and Main, lived “Duggie” Dugan.

I continue my walk up Front.  I pass the house where “Clyde” my childhood playmate who told whoppers lived for a few years.  There was the old Taylor house.  Victorian…tall windows…abandonded…and most definitely haunted.  Across the street is the reclusive daughter of A. Loring, the Naturalist.  John Gorman the Lawyer lived a door or two away.  I pass the house where a woman MD practiced medicine.  She had a roll-top desk stuffed with papers and samples.  I pass the black iron railings of Dr. Amouck’s house…the best lawn-mowing job to be had in town.  He paid five whole dollars!  I pass a yellow house where Candy S. lived.  Then came the “Old Ladies Home”, the Riverview Rest Home where the short-tempered man who voiced one of the dwarfs for Disney stayed.

I cross the street and continue.  I’m older by a few years.  I chase my dog King back home.  He followed me to school one day.  “Go home, King,” I would yell.  Once I decided to run to St. Patrick’s.  I was late for class and I didn’t want to get yelled at by Sister Vincent.  I closed my eyes and ran like the wind.  I ran like the wind into a large Elm tree.  I went home, bleeding copiously from my lips and nose.  I never run with my eyes closed anymore.

I pass St. Patrick’s.  I went there for eight years and was taught to be a good Catholic.  I went into the world of ‘heathens’ (Protestants) in 1961, when I entered high school.  At St. Pat’s I fell in love with a tiny third grade girl with short dark hair.  She sat near the adorable blonde, Angie.    There was Ray Stella.  There was his sister, Rita.  Toni Montgomery sat close.  Linda Dramus and Lenny Schmidt.  Jimmy Merrill often walked home with me.  Nearby was Pete Gillette.  Pete came late into our 8th grade.  His father, Dr. Gillette was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1960, so he took his family on a motor trip around the U. S.  Across from the school was a large tree with a stone bench.  It faced the river.  I sat with Mary on the stone on bright nights and watched the moonlight shimmer on the waves of the Susquehanna.  The tree and the stone are gone now.  Mary lives far away.  I’ve seen other couples on the stone bench, they didn’t realize it belonged to two other people…but I said nothing.  Near the bench was the first Owego museum that I can recall.

I’m older now and I’m going to a dance at the Elks.  First I must pass Dr. Nichols office.  He made house calls.  He took my brother’s appendix out.  He gave me my Polio vaccine.

I’m getting near Pete Gillette’s house.  The music of The Kingsmen blared from the Elks whenever someone opened the door.

I’m older and I stop into the bar that is now John Barleycorn.  I have a legal drink.  I continue up Front Street.  The buildings are changing from plastic and aluminum facades to brightly painted shops called River Row.  I look across the street and see the Dean Phillips Hardware store.  It transforms into the River Row Bookstore.  It carries copies of my first novel.

I’m older.  I cross over to the Court House Square.  I read the names of my classmates who died in Viet Nam.  I sat in front of Gary Fawcett in home room.  [Years ago I found his name on the Wall in Washington, D.C.].

I pass the Parkview Hotel.  An old brothel, I once read.  The ladies would be there for the Irish railroad workers from across the river putting down the tracks of the Lackawanna RR.  I had dinner there after the calling hours were over for my mother, at Esty & Monroe Funeral Home.

I pass the Historical Society.  I once gave two public lectures there (with slides) in a series called “The World Comes to Tioga County.”  I think I was well received.

It’s been a long journey from the other end of Front Street.  Once I passed this house [The Pumpelly House B & B] to continue to the very end and have a play date with Emerice Perry.  I wonder if she remembers my being there at her house?

I may have brought my daughter, Erin and later my son, Brian, Trick or Treating at this end of the street.  I always wanted to see what the other houses in town were like.

Now I know.

I came in tonight.  I climbed the curved staircase.  I feel the river air and see the curtains move slightly.  I hear the breeze and it seems to be telling me something…but I can’t quite hear it.

Wait, they’re not stories…they are memories.  They’re memories, aren’t they?  Or are they dreams?  I honestly can’t tell you that some memories I have of my life in Owego were real…making it a true memory, or something I dreamed one night 26 years ago?  I am troubled, sometimes, when I have a distinct recollection of an event, or a person, or a house or a kiss that it may exist only in my mind and not in reality.

I’ve spent time wondering about memory and reality and dreams.  Maybe it’s time in my life to just let it all fade?  Maybe I should pack them up and toss them into the muddy waters off the Court Street Bridge?  I could then start with a clean slate.  I could walk down Lake Street, sit at Sa Sa Na Loft’s grave on Cemetery Hill and see the village like a tourist.  Like someone who never lived, loved, danced, sang and cried here.  I could sit on steps of the Coburn Library and not be confronted by a thousand images of my youth.  [When I walk into the library, I can still smell the crayons that the nun used when she would bring us (was it 3rd grade?) for art class.]

Pretend that it really doesn’t matter…

No, I can’t really do that, because it does matter…to me.

FrontStOwego

Epitaphs: Part III

What Think You?

Well, here’s another epitaph for you to ponder.  This particular one is very special to me.  It is located in Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY.  This is the town where I grew up.  The cemetery was designed (like many in the 19th century) to be a place to wander, reflect or just admire the funerary art of the day.  Evergreen is a smaller version of the famous Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.

When I was young, this cemetery became one of my favorite places to walk through.  I’ve taken many friends up to “Cemetery Hill” and have spent many hours sitting and admiring the view of my little hometown below me.  I could almost see my house, but the Susquehanna River slowly flowed past the buildings from its origin at Otsego Lake in Cooperstown to its final destination merging with the saltwater of the Chesapeake Bay.

It was a perfect place to go “parking” when I was a teenager.  I could hold and kiss my girlfriend in relative privacy…if one didn’t mind the shadows and 1000+ tombstones among the trees, the Evergreen trees.

Yes, I could kiss and walk about with my love.  I could dance or sing.  I had the spark of life in me…unlike all the local residents.

Along side one of the drives and down a few steep steps was a large headstone.  On it was the epitaph I will share with you.  I’ve heard (but cannot verify) that it is one of the longest epitaphs in America.  The very length of the wording makes it difficult to photograph in a way this stone deserves.  It was a multi-family marker.  The grave sites of those mentioned at the bottom of the stone are scattered around a fairly large plot.  I often wondered who these people were.  Where did they live?  Was I friends of one of the descendants?

What I didn’t have to ask myself was what they thought of life.  It’s all there on the epitaph.  Those words affect me to this day…now that I am no longer a teenager with a sweetheart on my arm.  The individuals who wrote the message were once like me.  The only real difference was that I could walk away, they couldn’t.

I figure that I am now as old as those were who were responsible for the epitaph.  I’m closer to their fate now than I was fifty years ago.  Statically speaking, that is.

To me, the message on the stone is as relevant as a prayer, as deep as any existential philosophy and as timely as a STOP sign.  Yes, this STOP sign asks you to hold on for a moment and think of where you are on the awesome road of life.

Read it and weep:
Image

Excerpt From “Standing Stone” by Patrick Egan

By the early afternoon of the fifteenth day out of Catawissa, the clouds had lifted from a steady rain that began shortly after dawn.  Fallen leaves of orange, copper, hues of red, and even a few lingering greens, littered the flat surfaces of the somber gray rocks and shale ledges that made up the shoreline along this stretch of the river.  Dark green hemlocks kept the stony alcoves shaded and musky.  Large ferns, rooted in cracks at the base of the cliff, were turning yellow.  Some were long dead, their leaves folding and crumbling into brown hanging rags.

Alain’s stomach muscles tightened with anticipation.  He stared at the crimson trees along the cliff top and for a moment marveled at how they stood out in intense contrast to the deepening blue of the western sky.

The boats moved slowly upstream, a new vista appearing around each bend.

Alain’s stomach muscles quivered again.  Perhaps, he thought, the quiet was unnerving him.  Something seemed troublesome about these waters.  He made no attempt to spear an especially interesting leaf with his sharp stick, which lay against the gunwale beside him.  He was seated in the bow of the second boat.  He thought of what terrible things happened, days ago, in waters calm as these.

Alain’s stomach muscles tensed once again.  Perhaps it was not the water after all.   He had known since rising before sunrise, that around one of the broad curves of the river, they would find the land that was to be their new home.

But Alain could not shake this uneasy feeling.

The convoy of boats entered a sharp bend.  To the left, on the outside of the stream, loomed a bowl-shaped cliff, covered with moss.  Small trees had gained a hold in the cracks of rock.  Towering pines topped the cliff.  On the right bank of the river, the inside of the curve, was a broad stony beach of rounded rocks, bordered by a tangled forest of alder, beech, hemlock and maple.

Occasionally, a pole or oar knocked against the gunwale of one of the boats. When it did, it produced an immediate echo from the cliff to the left.  Like the inside of an empty crypt, the echo somehow made this tight meander of the river seem hollow and lonely.

“Alain!” shouted Clarice.

He heard his name echo off the rock wall.  He turned and saw Clarice wave from the bow of the third boat in the line.  She laughed, and he heard the laugh reverberate into the thick forest opposite the cliff.  He waved back.

No one else spoke.  A strange silence descended upon the group.  Except for the chance splash of a pole, no other sound made an echo.

“There!”  The silence was broken by one of the boatmen.

Alain looked up to the man standing next to him in the bow of the boat.

“There!” the man repeated as he gestured toward the base of the cliff.

Following the man’s extended arm with his eyes, Alain scanned the shoreline to his left and saw it at once.  It was caught between a log and a shale ledge.  It bobbed about in an eddy of water at the outside of the river’s turn.

It was the corpse of a man.

He was lying face down, and his left arm was slightly raised above the water level as if trying to reach for a branch.  What little flesh was visible was white.  His neck seemed covered in blood.  The bloated body filled and pushed against the man’s deer skin shirt and pants.  He was barefoot.

The lead boat approached the body.  The bowsman secured it with a hooked pole and they pulled it across the river to the rocky shore.  Alain could see that there was no blood after all or any visible injury to the man’s neck.  The scarf, the body was wearing, caught his attention.  It was deep scarlet.  Even soaked and soiled, it retained its distinctive hue, very much like that of blood.

Alain held onto his mother’s right hand while Clarice held the left.  The last of the rocks had been piled on the grave of the man pulled from the river.  All the travelers and the boatmen were gathered in a circle.   Standing over the mound, Gabe, the boat master, spoke a few words about God, and the rewards of a paradise that awaited those who possessed faith and patience.  He held a small Bible and read a passage from it before calling for a long moment of silence, allowing the others to pray in their own way for the soul of the unfortunate man.

Had not the Lord been with us, let Israel say, had not the Lord been with us—when men rose up against us, then would they have swallowed us alive.  When their fury was inflamed against us, then would the waters have overwhelmed us; the torrent would have swept over us; over us then would have swept the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord, who did not leave us a prey to their teeth.  We were rescued like a bird from the fowlers’ snare; broken was the snare, and we were freed.  Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Gabe closed his weathered Bible with a purple silk ribbon marking the Psalms.

Alain thought about whether the man under the rock pile had either faith or patience.  He hoped so, because, by the look of the body, a reward of some kind was certainly to be hoped for.

“Maman, I want to ride with you for awhile,” Alain said as they walked back to the boats.

“Me, too,” said Clarice.

“Of course, my dears,” Marie said.  “No eyes, especially as young as yours, should have seen such a sight as that.”

Clarice walked alongside Marie, clutching her hand and pressing her head against Marie’s skirts.  The child slipped frequently on the wet leaf-covered stones.  Alain could only imagine what memories of death filled his young friend’s head now.

Back in the boat, Alain let his mind begin to dwell and become troubled by dark thoughts about the two dead bodies he had seen in the same river, within days of each other.

Meanwhile, the rowing continued and the steep slopes of the shore gave way to more distant hills.  The place of echoes and death was behind them.

Along with white seedpods, the cold, late afternoon breeze carried with it a mossy, decaying, dank vapor.

Alain watched the snow-like puffs drift by and began to think of the entire river as some sort of watery cemetery.