Quiet River

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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Quiet River graphic

A few other customers came and went, and George Whitaker fed them and watered them and thanked them.  Finally we were alone, and he turned the “Open” sign over to read “Closed.”  He walked up to the counter and sat on the stool beside me.  “Well?” he asked.

“Whit, you know as well as I do that Lee Taylor and his family died in that hurricane, what was it? Fifteen… twenty years ago?”

“Twenty, Earl.  Twenty years ago.  This month!”  

“And the dog, Whit.  The dog drowned with the rest of them.  Drowned saving the little boy, as I recall.  What was the boy’s name?”

“Lance.  His name was Lance Taylor.  But do you remember where they got the dog from?”  I was beginning to think that my friend had taken to drinking early, or, God forbid, he was beginning to get a bit loopy.

“Whit, this is nonsense.  Of course I can’t remember that far back, and neither can you!”

“I can, because I gave that pup to Lee Taylor when the boy was born!  Earl, that dog came from the same litter as Petey!”  For a little over fifteen years Old Pete had been a fixture at Cafe Whitaker, lying inside or on the porch, greeting regulars and sponging affection from locals and passers-through alike.  Old Pete had practically been the town mascot.    

“Damnit, Whit, Pete’s been dead ten years now.  That dog isn’t even middle-aged yet.”  I thought of the Taylors, and their dog.  It had been a female, I remembered now.  And it was one of the smaller dogs from that litter.  I’d only seen her occasionally, with the boy as he grew older.  Always with the boy.  And the color…

“Come on!  You done with that sandwich yet?”  I looked at my plate.  I hadn’t eaten half of it, but I wasn’t hungry anymore.

“I guess…”  

Whit stood up and grabbed my arm. “Come on!”  The bell jingled after us and we headed south on State Street.   We walked in silence to the end of State Street and took a left on Huntington.  George Whitaker walked determinedly.  His chin was out, and his fists were clenched.  I was not as determined, and I had to push myself to keep up with him.  I was confused.  The color of the dog…  Pete had been a deep chocolate color from head to toe.  His fur had been short, with a glossy sheen.  And he had been big for a Lab.  The stranger’s dog, on the other hand, was much smaller, even for a female.  And her coat was lighter, with that brilliant rust color brought out by the sunlight.  This dog was much different from Old Pete.  And the characteristics that made the stranger’s dog so different from Pete were the same ones that had differentiated the Taylor boy’s dog from a young Pete.

“No, Whit.  It’s impossible.  We’re just remembering that dog in the form of the one we saw today.  This is ridiculous.”  We both turned down McCabe Lane at the same time, drawn to same place.  It was a narrow gravel drive which ran a few hundred yards back from the river, all the way to the next county.

“Impossible… ridiculous… I’m telling you, Earl, I know what I’m talking about.”  He stopped walking and turned to look me in the face.  “I have it on tape!  I have that goddamned dog on tape!”  He spun around and stormed off up the lane.  We passed a few drives leading off to some newer houses and properties along the river.

The river had just about wiped out the entire town twenty years ago.  A hurricane had come early that year, a bad one.  It had crushed the coastal towns and careened inland, pushing more water up the river in one twenty-four hour period than the river would normally see in six months.  The rain had barely even begun, and the river flooded its banks.  It rose ten feet in the first two hours, and then the wind got really nasty.  The trees which had sheltered our families and properties for generations began tearing the town apart.  The Whitaker’s roof had been ripped away by the wind, and Whit’s five-year old son had been crushed by a falling bookshelf.   That was but one example, and others had it worse than Whit.  The Taylors had it worse.

We were nearing the Taylor’s property now.  Their house had stood close to the river, elevated on old wooden pilings.  Lee Taylor’s grandfather had built the house, and he’d built it strong, but the strength of the winds and the mad gluttony of the river were the highest in recorded history on that horrible day, twenty years past.  The Taylor house was rent asunder and sent careening down the furious river in pieces.  And the entire family, save young Lance, was consumed by the cool water.

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Richard R. DiPirro is a writer, a husband, and a father who works and lives in Savannah, Georgia. Richard has been published in several magazines, including Calliope and Fiction Reader, and in the online journals Fringe and Raving Dove. He was the winner of the 2000 Lillian Spencer Award for Fiction and the Jones Scholarship at Armstrong Atlantic State University and was the second place winner of the 2008 Baltimore Review Short Fiction Contest.