Slow River

It’s Monday afternoon, sometime in September, and I’m at home suffering from an allergic reaction to Amoxicillin that has caused me to break out from scalp to toe in a rash that itches like poison ivy and burns like a sunburn. I don’t spend much time in the house like this, no kids tugging on my shirt, the world muffled, just me and the sunlight.

And the rash, of course. The damn Amoxicillin rash.

To numb my skin, I pop Prednisone, Benadryl, and Hydrocodone. The meds make my head watery, and the past streams into the present, my ghosts swimming with my dreams. As I drift towards a nap, I try to pull it back—beginnings, turning points, and drama—but I can’t. I can’t remember the flowers and the hurt and the suspense as Sally and I floated from then to today. And I can’t slip into Slade’s ride from intensive care to curly-haired toddler saying “hi dah” as I walk in the door.

None of it is clear, dreams and drama-I-can’t-feel, ghosts and burning skin, this current carrying me down the slow river.

*****

Just before Sally went into labor with Eli, she dreamed of her dead mother Sissy.

“What are you doing here?” Sally asked in the dream.

“I’ve come to meet Eli,” Sissy said.

The next day Sally made up the bed and sat on the patio and watched television and heard Sissy say it again and again: “I’ve come to meet Eli.” And Sissy’s ghost became as real as rock.

Then the contractions came, and we drove to the hospital, and Eli slipped into this world, and it felt like he’d always been here, like birth isn’t a beginning.

And when Eli smiled a few weeks later, I saw Sissy, the line from there to here imprinted on the infant’s face.

*****

I dreamed about my grandfather drowning the night he slid into a coma somewhere in New Mexico and died. Even now, 20 years later, that dream floats through my thoughts, Papa’s body sinking into the black lake while I listen to NPR on the morning commute, his worn out eyes staring at me while I watch Slade splash in the kiddie pool.

Not that I’m disturbed by the dream. It’s become part of me.

And to be honest, his passing didn’t affect me much 20 years ago, either. When I learned that Papa had died, two days after it happened from a message on an answering machine, I was startled more than down, uneasy more than pissed off. I drank red wine with Sally that night and tried to feel something, but mainly I didn’t feel anything.

*****

The water that fills Lake Austin comes from the bottom of Lake Travis, and at the end of summer, pockets of that icy bottom water carry too little dissolved oxygen for the bass and the drum and the perch to breathe. Fish actually suffocate in Lake Austin then. They dip into those pockets, struggle briefly, and float upside down to the surface.

I’m swimming alone in that dead-fish lake on Saturday, which is day seven of the Amoxicillin rash. The cold water soothes my allergy-scorched skin, and as I kick and reach and kick, I count strokes, one, two, three, I breathe, four, five, six, and I lift my head to sight. Several times, my eyes scanning the horizon for a blurry instant, I glimpse a white smudge in the water, another bass or drum belly up.

But I don’t see any boats or people. I’m the only one out here this late-season afternoon.

Fifteen minutes deep, I turn around and head back towards land. I’m gliding now, and I can feel a current pushing me along, the oxygen-thin water released from the bottom of Lake Travis, invisible and powerful, helping me from there to here, from dead fish to my family picnicking on the shore.

Maybe this is the way of things, I think as I count strokes and kick and breathe. Maybe there’s a stream outside time that runs from you to me. Maybe everything flows through everything.

Or maybe there’s just me, alone in this cold lake as summer passes, swimming through my own clever shit. I count strokes. I kick. I breathe. Maybe that’s all there is.

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5 Responses to “Slow River”


  1. 1 slouchy December 3, 2010 at 11:04 am

    this is really beautiful. hazy, shimmering.

  2. 2 lesleyfamily December 3, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks, Slouching Mom. Hazy and shimmering–great word, by the way–is very much what I was gunning for.

  3. 3 Martianqueen January 6, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Wow! Craig, I’m honored to know such a writer. Keep penning, friend.

  4. 4 lesleyfamily January 7, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Thanks, Amanda Martianqueen. You made my day. I hope you, too, keep penning.

  5. 5 Martianqueen January 11, 2011 at 2:43 am

    I kind of abandoned the blog world. I might pick it up again. I’ve been writing some fiction. It’s ugly, but at least I’m making myself do it again.


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