Friday, September 23, 2022

Down By The River

Friday Fiction

“So… can you tell me a story about a river?”

“About a river?”

“Yes, I’m curious. It’s as good a topic as any.”

“O.K. This is about the Mississippi, just down the street from where I grew up. We would swim in it.”

“Swimming… Was that allowed? Was that safe?”

“Hmm… Sort of. Not safe when the water was high, of course. In the late summer it was usually pretty low: three, four feet deep for miles north of the Camden bridge, nice and warm. We’d bounce along the bottom, always wearing our tennis shoes to protect against broken glass and clam shells. Don’t try to swim against the current. We’d heard stories about kids who had drowned there but, armored in our youthful sense of indestructibility, those warnings weren’t given much credence. Now if your taking about biological hazards, there was definitely E.Coli, Cryptosporidium, Shigella and other microbes, a real toxic soup. We knew not to drink the water. None of the guys got sick or anything other than a rash, as far as I know. Girls didn't swim there much.”

“Seldom or never?”

“The main reason was probably the fact we ‘river rats’ weren’t the most socially enlightened fellows. There were a lot of places girls didn’t go, its still true. There was one time, that I can recall.”

“Anyone you knew?’

“Oh yes, Melinda, she was a straight-A student, she was dating Robby, the handsomest guy in the school. Check that, I think see was ‘seeing’ Robby, he was too cheap to ever really take her out on a proper date.”

“He was that handsome? Really?”

“Really. You could look it up in my high school yearbook; Robbie, Hall of Fame: handsomest guy.”

“Ok. What’s the story?”

“It must have been late July or early August. It was a hot evening, probably about 8 o’clock, the sun was low enough in the sky to give the scene a golden hue. It was down by the river flats, 51st and Lyndale, there was sort of a permanent sand bar there—just a sliver—maybe 30 feet wide and a hundred, hundred twenty feet long, with some ancient cottonwood trees big enough to support a rope swing. Robbie and a few of his buddies were on this island, along with Melinda. They swam there often, I had been returning from the store when I saw them. To see a girl down there, swimming, that really got my attention. They were taking turns on the swing; it was fitted out with a plank to sit on. When it came to be Melinda’s turn Robbie gave her a shove as he grabbed to rope above her and deftly swung over her lap and made himself comfortable as they swung out over the water. Melinda was screaming—in glee—not in fright. I think she was having the time of her life. I watched these hijinks for a while, but left when it started to get dark.”

“This was when you were in high school?“

“It must have been between our junior and senior years. Before they split up.”

“What happened?”

“Robbie thought it would be a good idea to get a bj from Melinda’s best friend, Nancy, who, it turns out, wasn’t such a good friend after all.”

“That would do it, for most girls. What happened afterwards?”

“Robbie thought it was a joke, but he had plenty of other girlfriends. After graduation he went in the army and came back, married someone else, then spent his life working laboring jobs. He retired to a fishing cabin up North. Nancy moved out east, never came back.”

“And Melinda?”

“You know, I have a firm belief that if you look too far into any story you’ll always find a sad ending.”


“Nothing horrendous, but some might think it sad.”

“I’d like to hear it.”

“As you wish. The thing that makes all this sad is that Melinda never got over Robbie’s betrayal.”

I’ll never fall in love again, huh? I only thought that happened in corny torch ballads.”

“She never dated, never married. She was frank about the situation, she told people at a class reunion that she’d never date, that she’d never get married. She kept her word. She worked as a successful investment broker for a while until she lost big in the dot-com bubble of 1999. Then she disappeared. End of story.”

“Hm. Not much of a payoff. The river part was nice, though.”

“That was nice, a special moment, glorious even, the high-point of Melinda’s life? At any rate, it’s been stuck in my memory for all these years. A Dreiser-esque story without the murder.”

“Mythic is a better word.”

By Professor Batty


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