Unpeopled Spaces

Here’s another story I wrote based on a house that sits on the edge of the river near where I live.

riverhouseIt’s quiet here on the shore of this lazy river. I am old, now, so the solitude suits me. Day in and day out, I watch. My eyes look out through cracked and dingy frames, as the tides ebb and flow. My skin is dry and cracking, but I am still here. It’s winter now and the wind whipping the water is bitterly cold. Most days, the sky is gray and forbidding. I like summer the best, when speeding boats tow squealing children on inner tubes and the sun warms my bones right down to these rocks on which I sit. I like watching the fishermen sitting still and I like the pontoon boats puttering by with their raucous passengers raising glasses and bottles for a toast. Sometimes, though, I yearn for someone to come close so I can hear their voices. I miss the chatter of people.

There used to be a family here. Stan was a waterman from a long line of men who lived and breathed river water. Each morning, long before the sun was up, he would go into his children’s rooms. He would give them a kiss and leave a little note scrawled on a scrap of paper next to their beds. He did not say much because he was a reserved sort of man, but he liked to make them smile. “I hope you weather the storm of good friends,” his daughter’s might say. “Be a fisher of pretty girls,” he told his teenaged son. For Marie’s note, he wrote on fine linen paper that his mother gave him for Christmas. “My love, you are the waves that bring me home,” he’d write, blushing even after all these years of marriage. He left it for her in the kitchen where she would find it next to the coffee pot which was ready for her morning cup. Then, he would go down to the dock and take his boat out to check his crab pots and fishing lines. A few hours later, the sun would wake up his family. Eight-year-old Sherry would read her note then with a giggle, put it into her jewelry box with a ballerina on top. Michael would read his, roll his eyes with disdain as only teenagers can do, and then a small smile would appear, and he would fold it up really small and put it in an old Coke bottle with all the others. Marie read hers while she sipped her coffee. She closed her eyes and smiled, as though she had a delicious secret. Later, after the children left for school, she would add it to the ever growing stack in her desk drawer, tied together with purple, satin ribbon. They were so happy here…until they were not.

It happened slowly. At first, there were terse conversations late at night. When the yelling began, it shook the rafters. Sometimes I thought I could hear them over the wind whistling through the rushes, just behind me. They argued about money; the isolation of this riverfront home; Stan’s long absences during fishing season; even the weather could bring on a fresh torrent of angry words. After a while, though, a heavy silence fell around us. The children grew sullen and sad. Sherry would hide in her closet, tears coursing down her once-rosy cheeks. They dropped silently into the floorboards soaking the polished wood with her misery. Michael wore the strain on him like armor, brows drawn together, fists clenched. He got into trouble at school on a weekly basis. Marie’s disappointment turned into liquid rage; the dishes they got as wedding gifts shattered against my walls. Stan seemed to become an old man overnight. Worry added more lines to his sun-wrinkled face. When his sadness brought water to his eye, Marie angrily grumbled that he wept smelly, brown river water. Soon, he stopped writing notes and kissing foreheads on his way out of the door. Then, one gray evening with snow falling silently, Stan came home to an empty house. Each room was scrubbed clean as if to erase all traces of the occupants. All that was left was a stack of letters tied up with purple satin ribbon sitting next to an empty coffee machine, pieces of an old coke bottle and an empty jewelry box with a broken ballerina on top.

Now, alone with only egrets and osprey to keep me company, I wonder how long before I will be taken away by the river; parts of me floating down, under the bridge, over the dam, into the bay and, finally succumbing to the ocean waves. Winter, with its bitter breath and icy fingers, prys its way into my bones. My joints creak and my frame is bowed and weary from standing all these years here on the shore of this lazy river with naught but the wood mites eating what’s left of this old house.

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