Quiet River

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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Quiet River graphic

More than fifty people in our small town alone died in that storm.  The circumstances which made the Taylors’ sad fate so memorable were merely a matter of coincidence.  There was a young journalism student visiting that summer, doing a school project about small towns like ours.  He rented a room above the I, from George Whitaker, for a month or so.  On the day of the storm, he had been out hiking on the far side of the river.  He had a movie camera with him, and he was filming the river and the thick woods on the far bank.  When the storm sprang up, and the water suddenly rose around him, he realized what was happening, and he panicked.  He floundered toward a small, unoccupied fishing boat that came speeding by, and managed to somehow jump inside, thinking he could make it quickly across the growing river.  Instead, he was hurtled downstream, and at the second bend after the bridge, the boat crashed into a growing log jam and was stuck there, still on the far side of the river, for the remainder of the storm.    

The young student looked everywhere for some kind of help and, as he looked across the river from where he was stuck, he could see the Taylors’ house come apart.  And he had raised the camera to his eye and gotten all of it.   He and the young Taylor boy had eventually been rescued, and the student’s tape had been shown nationally.  The student had gone on to become famous at some big-city newspaper, or television station, and Lance Taylor had been sent wherever they send young boys who are orphaned under traumatic circumstances.

Whit and I stepped off of McCabe Lane and slowly entered the clearing where the Taylor house had stood.  “See that?” Whit whispered.  The stranger squatted at the edge of the water, much as he had when I first saw him, leaning out over the quiet river, dipping his hand now and again.  The dog lay in the shade of an old tree, neither panting or drooling, just watching the glassy flow of the water.  Whit and I bent down a bit behind the long grass and brush which owned this property.  “You see, Earl,” Whit was tugging on my sleeve, “It’s that damn Taylor kid!”

“Shhh!”  As we watched, the young man stood and turned around.  He scanned the property back and forth.  I was convinced he had heard Whit’s big mouth and was trying to locate us, but I was wrong.  The man’s gaze stopped toward the middle of the property and he walked to the spot he had found, stooped down and stood up with a brilliant purple wildflower in his hand.  He walked again to the edge of the quiet river and tossed in the flower.  From where we were crouched, we could see the sun light up the spot where it landed.  Purple spun around twice, hesitated, and then accelerated downstream.  The man stood and watched the flower go, then whistled softly, and man and dog set off downstream after it.  

We waited until they were gone, and we walked down to the river ourselves, past the stumps of ruined pilings.  At the water’s edge, I squatted as he had squatted and gracefully dipped my hand in the ever-moving surface.  The water was cool, but not cold, and the current pulled my hand as if encouraging me downstream.

The projector rattled and chattered as it spun its tragic tale.  Smoke from Whit’s cigarette drifted up through the black and white images cast on the far wall of the room.  We both drank greedily from our cold cans of beer.  First a jumble of snow and blank frames of film, then, suddenly, a clear image of the Taylor place through beating sheets of rain.  The river was brown and angry, and the water was up behind the Taylor property, inundating everything up to McCabe Lane.  The house leaned to the right, slowly at first.  As we watched, the pilings gave way one at a time, and the house began to break up.  Someone, Mrs. Taylor I assume, fell from an upstairs window and was swept away.  The house lost all recognizable form as pieces large and small were carried downstream.  Then the camera focused on a form clinging to the base of one of the pilings.  It was Lee Taylor, holding onto what was left of the piling with one arm.  With his other, he held onto his youngest daughter.  The poor girl was buffeted and flung about by the current until, finally, she was snatched from the elder Taylor’s grasp.  He screamed once — I could almost hear it, even without sound — and then let go the piling, to be with his family.  As the last vestiges of the family known as Taylor were carried away, a small head broke the surface of the water.  It was young Lance Taylor, and as he floundered and choked and was grabbed by the water, the dog could be seen swimming from the direction of McCabe Lane and dry land.  As we watched, the dog grabbed the collar of the Taylor boy’s shirt and began paddling toward shore.  Whit and I both leaned closer to the image we were watching.  Remarkably, even through the rain and the spray from the river, one could see the pair, boy and dog, clearly, if only for a moment.  It was the boy’s dog, Pete’s sister, the same dog we had seen this day.  We saw them for a moment, then they were gone from the camera’s view, and the film was over.

Whit turned off the projector and flipped on the lights.  He looked at me as I took a long swig of my beer.  “The boy lived, as I suppose you know.  But I saw the body of that damn dog myself.  She drowned saving that kid!”  I just looked at my beer and nodded my head.  Whit sat down again next to me.  “Goddamn spawn of Satan, what we saw today.”

“I don’t know, my friend,” I said.  “Seems more like an angel to me.”  Whit snorted and went to fetch some more beer.


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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.