The retainer where she was put
Was made of concrete. My father told me they had
Dug the grave first, then poured the concrete in, waited for
It to dry and harden, then hammered in six
Circular spikes in the four corners, two on either side
Of the middle. They lifted the concrete cast out with a crane.
My dad was going to be charged 300 dollars a day for the rental,
But because of the circumstances, Home Depot let us have it for free.
Where was she?
Where had she gone?
Would I see her face again?
Would she want me to
Meet her on the other side of the river?
I answered my cell phone.
"Make sure to bring flower's."
She had been crying. Her voice wavered the way sun light
Does on moving water.
"Make sure to bring flowers," she repeated, "And
That you wear what your father and I bought you."
I nodded my head with the receiver pressed up against my ear.
We both let out a sigh. My mom hung up. I put my phone in my back pocket.
Lately, I had been seeing a shrink about repetition. He liked to use the word cycle.
"Everything is repeated," I would tell him.
"Life is a cycle," he'd disagree so to get me talking.
"Can cycles be identical?"
"Technically not. Some cycles are extremely similar, but no two cycles are
Completely the same. Are two people's lives ever exactly the same?"
"I wouldn't know. I don't know that many people. Maybe."
"You know lots of people, Camden. You have told me about many of your friends."
"Are we talking about the seasons?" I asked, changing the subject, "Like fall, winter, spring, summer? We are born, we live, we die, and we are born again?"
"That's a very natural way of looking at it."
"I know it is." I inhaled deeply, swallowing air and wondered what time it was.
"If you are so sure, why look for validation from me?" He liked this one, I could
tell. I imagined him shopping for clothes and then exploding in aisle 16 because of a sale on jeans.
"The word cycle is used by people too afraid to use the word repetition. Everything is
Repeated for the next generation, the next group, the next of the next of the next. We shift things
Around, give things to one another to shift life to make it look different, but, things remain the same. Everything contains the primal function we were all doing and living from the very beginning, only now, there is more of a separation. Music is still music, words are still words, paintings are still paintings, love is still love, death is still death, only done differently and more intensely."
"We are talking about man furthering technology because we, as people and creatures, are
Statistically more prone to flee than fight?"
"Why do you think it has caught on so quick?" I touched both
Corners of my lips with my tongue and suddenly realized I hadn't eaten breakfast.
"It is a theory," the psych nodded, "A theory with, I am sure, many
Palpable facts you could make a very nice report with to prove...something." He
Was at a lost for words and I felt guilty that my mom was paying him $75 an hour.
"We are very split. There are too many of us. Too many hands spinning the china."
"Who is we Harry?" The psych hadn't looked up from his pen and pad of paper, until now. I could
Tell he was annoyed with me either because he was making no progress or because the session
Had just begun and I was already digging into him.
"Culture. The government. You, me, my dad, my mom, the taco bell cashier, the geniuses at Apple computers, a paper weight, my dead sister. We're all apart of these shifts, all putting in a certain amount of energy and lies to keep the protection of the projection going. The question I keep asking myself is: do I want to use my strengths to be apart of this cycle or not?"
His eyes flared open for a moment like he'd swallowed a firefly, not at the question I had posed for myself, but from what I would soon see was from the mention of my sister. He had something.
"I was notified by your mother that you may not want to talk about your recently deceased sister. Is It O.K. if I ask you some questions about her?"
I was leaning forward on the couch with my hands clasped in between my legs. The psych had looked up at me now. He was sweating at the top of his thin hairline. Observing that I was staring at his building perspiration, he, trying to be nonchalant, took out a thin, white napkin from his grey shirt pocket and dabbed the top of his head. The napkin looked like cheap toilet paper. I'd have offered him some water, but I had no water to give and I didn't know where the sink and cups were to give him any. I figured he did - it was his office - so I asked him for some. He pointed me in the direction of the bathroom. I got up and found a stack of paper cups. I poured myself a cup and went back to the couch, but instead of leaning forward, I sat back, relaxed, and let the expensive leather couch take the weight I had been carrying away.
"So," the psych maintained cooly, "Would it be alright if we were able to discuss your sister?"
I lifted the paper cup over my head and the psych's eyes, after I poured the water over my hair, my face, and clothes, was a mixture of what my mom's eyes looked at the funeral, defeated, confused, and with a loss of faith and hope. My father's eyes had only held hate, anger and the need to lash out at someone, but the only someone that would have fit the bill would have been God.
"Sure," I answered, "Let's talk about my sister."
I finished drying myself in the car. The psych had let me keep the towel.
I leaned out the window to look at myself in the side mirror. I looked fine.
Presentable. Accountable. Like I had been through something where I had
Faced my soul. Like I had used and abused my emotions. There was comb in my glove compartment, so I took it out and rushed it through my damp hair. Slicked back. The sun
Was out, no clouds, burning up the inside of my car. That taste that comes after
Finishing something that's supposed to do you good didn't come. I was left with an unsure hand.
Putting my keys in the ignition, I turned them, and felt the engine rumble in front of my legs.
The sun sat in the sky like a lazy hand and I had nowhere else to go but home.
"Let's go to the river today," my dad said over coffee and two over easy eggs on top
Of burnt wheat toast. "I'll drive and you and your sister can sit in the back and sing."
I looked over at Ally. She was gazing into her fruit bowl she had prepared for
herself because dad didn't understand the concept or how to make it. The lamp light above us
reflected in the smooth apricot yogurt and the flecks of granola scattered on top
looked like beige, jagged rocks. My dad's offer hung in the air and neither
of us bit the lure. I had just woken up and was unable to speak clearly, a decent
excuse. Ally was simply choosing to ignore him.
"What you think there Ally?" I asked her. I sipped my coffee. It needed more cream. I got
U, got it and brought the carton to the table.
"We can take the truck down there and load the back with the fishing poles and tackle
And inner tubes. We haven't...done that...in a long time," he said, chewing his food as he spoke.
Ally poked her fruit bowl with her spoon, silent.
"What you think, Cam?" My dad was desperate. He knew I'd say yes.
"Sure. I've got no plans this weekend."
"It can wait till Sunday. Only math and some reading."
"Ally, what do you think?" my dad asked, leaning over to her. I could see he was
Trying to be as courteous and gentle with her as he knew how to. I felt bad for him.
"Sure," she muttered, "That sounds like fun." I could barely hear her, but somehow,
I could tell she sounded happy.
"Perfect," my dad smiled, "We'll pack the car up Friday,
Drive up Saturday morning early, camp one night, then get back Sunday afternoon." He
Took a long sip of his coffee and swished it around in his mouth, then dug
His fork into the dry toast and ran his small steak knife over the eggs. A silent pop came from
The egg and the light orange yolk spilled out. "Perfect," he repeated, "Just great."
Ally poked a grape from her fruit bowl and dipped it into the yogurt.
I took another sip of my coffee and looked up into the fan, spinning above us.
We were going to the river.
"Your sister turns five today," my mom told me, "And that means
I want you to be on your best behavior."
I nodded, unsure what the point of a birthday was. I had had one before, or at
least I thought I did, and all I remembered was that I got presents and the colorful balloons
and the cake we all ate with fire kind of floating and burning above it. Somewhere
in that moment I remember thinking that the cake was going to catch on fire, then they, everyone,
some that I knew and some people I had never seen before, yelled and shouted to
blow the fire out, so I quickly did, but not because it was for a wish, which I later found out it was supposed to be for, but because I truly thought the cake was going to catch fire and they wanted me to take care of it. At that point, I was unsure what it meant to be alive or why to celebrate it all.
"This is her day, Camden," my father told me, "So I want you to be happy for your sister."
"I am," I said. I was wearing my favorite white and blue striped t-shirt and
New shoes that my mom had bought me for the party.
"Sometimes you have to think of other people," my mother continued, "And today is one
of those days. I don't want any crying because you didn't get any presents or that none of your
friends are at the party. There are going to be a lot of Ally's friends there, but not many
of your's...do you understand?"
"Do you understand, Cam?" My father repeated. His skin was the color of a burnt
pancake and he smelt like stale sugar and sun tan lotion. He was in front of me and was
holding a thin magazine with a man in a boat holding up a fish on a line on the cover.
"Yes, Dad," I said again. I was hungry. I wanted mac n' cheese, my favorite food.
I had been on the floor, laying on my stomach watching Ren and Stimpy. They were standing in front of the television and I remember trying to wish them out of the way. Behind them were two, large bay windows where three palm trees stood in a row like tropical soldiers. I could see there was no wind because the three of them stood still, as if posing for someone. Their leaves were bright green, a mixture of the neon green Jello I used to love to eat and the orange Jolly Rancher my dad would always have in a tiny tray in the middle of the dining table. My mother hated having them there because it always tempted Ally and I, but he never moved it until he moved out.
"Do you like your show?" my mom asked, turning to see what I was watching.
I nodded, absently. Ren was licking Stimpy's eye because he was complaining about having
an eyelash in there. Stimpy was completely still and smiling like he does - dumb and content.
"Interesting..." my mother trailed off. She walked to the kitchen behind the couch and
Opened up the pantry for something. "You hungry, Camden?"
"I'm starving," my dad said, "Let me go check on Ally in the bedroom. She should be up
from her nap."
I got up from my stomach and sat back on my legs, "Do we have mac n' cheese?" I asked.
"Let me check."
She reached up for the cabinet over the stove where I could never reach and
Opened it. I rose slightly up from where I was sitting to see if I could see the glorious dark blue and orange package, but wasn't able to see over couch. I hovered there, still like a humming bird.
"You're in luck," I heard her say, "We've got one box left."
"Yay!" I screamed and got up, running into the kitchen.
"But," she smiled, stopping me, "You'll have to share it with your sister."
"No! I don't want to! I always have to share."
"What did we just talk about Camden?" she said, lightly stamping her foot.
I tried to remember, but couldn't. I shrugged.
"You need to learn to share, Camden. You also need to listen better when your father and I are talking to you. You and your sister are going to know each other a very long time and I want you to learn how to share now, so you two can be happy in the future."
"The future," I asked, "What's that?"
She paused, then said, "It's a time," she paused again, "Ahead of us."
"Do we know where it is?"
"Not exactly," she sighed.
"What's it look like?"
"No one really knows. People can only imagine it."
"Is it very far away?"
She opened the top of the blue and orange mac n' cheese box and poured the dry macaroni into a large silver pot, lifted the faucet, and let it run inside for five or seven seconds. She placed the pot on an unlit burner and turned to look at me. Her eyes looked far away and right there with me.
"Closer then you think," she said and turned the burner on.
I turned into the taco bell parking lot. There was something I was trying to remember that was in my trunk, but I couldn't recall the picture. A haze blew over the windshield that was a mix of heat and wind; I wished to be somewhere else, someone else, someplace else, but, there I was, sitting there underneath the sun, like everyone else. If I was able, I would have unlocked the door to my car and opened the door and walked out - but - there was something else lingering underneath my fingernails, something I couldn't name.
"Two tacos," I said into my hand, "And a water."
"Pull to the window," the voice buzzed over the muffled speaker.
"Yes," I said through my split fingers.
In front of me, over a patch of clean cut green grass and a yellow, red, and orange Taco Bell signature sign, was a fresh gas station with a willow tree bum near the front entrance. He had a sign that hung around his neck that read Juice Please - Very Thirsty. How I knew this was because I had seen it every time I had been asked to fill up my dad's car every other Sunday. I had never given the tree a dollar, yet, I felt that I owed him something. I tried to pull up to the window, but my clutch was grinding and a cloud slunk overhead. I was tired and only wanted to eat.
"That'll be a two twenty-five," the voice said through the thick, clear glass.
"Yes," I said to myself, digging into my wallet for three dollars.
I thrust the three onto the thick plastic platform. A quick sweeping plastic brush pushed the bills toward the asker, and the bills were gone. I had no food. I had nothing. My money was gone and all I had was a gurgling car in front of me and an empty front seat beside me. A pair of clouds waded by my front shield window. A shadow drew itself out in front of me like a nude model. A beep. Sudden and behind me. There was sound. I looked over my shoulder and a black 2013 Cadillac was sitting there, windshield tinted grey, the driver a shadow. I was unsure what to do...so I pulled forward six inches, hoping the offer would be enough. I wasn't in the best neighborhood.
The window to the left of me slid open. An arm erupted forward with a plastic bag,
"75 cents is your change."
The hand dropped three quarters next to the plastic bag. I grabbed the bag with the two tacos and three quarters and quickly wound up my window. The face in front of me was a dangerous blur: smiling, frowning, not caring either way what happened to me next. The hands had gobbled up the three dollars and I was happy to see it go. Who needed money? I tossed the plastic bag onto the passenger seat and sped off two blocks for my grandma's house. Salvation. The holy land. A place with free hot sauce and two dog's that were stolen without paper's. Eden.
"What are you learning right now?" I asked Ally.
She hesitated, then said, "Something to do with science." She paused," Lot's to do with rock's."
"Rocks?" I stammered, not remembering a time when I learned about rocks in school, "What kind of rocks?"
"I don't know," she grinned, looking up at me, "All kinds."
I laughed and kicked a stone into the river. The sun was out and reflected on the water like an unpolished diamond. We had grown up a quarter mile away, but still, it felt foreign to us.
"I like it. There's some things you could see that you would never think to read about it in books."
I had read plenty off books. Most, I took little from, but Ally, I could see, had taken plenty.
"What are you doing in school?" Ally asked me.
"What do you mean?" I watched the circular ripples in the water the pebbles had made.
"What are you spending your time doing?"
"Reading," I said hesitantly, "Trying not to be sick."
Ally stopped, turned, and faced the river. She breathed in deeply, then let it all out. Across from us, was a large hill that escaped upward, as if leading to the light blue sky. There were no clouds, only birds occasionally gliding over us. Ally looked so small in front of the river; so young. We couldn't be anywhere more peaceful, but I could sense, there was something she wanted to say, but was to pained to say it. A couple hiker's passed behind us. I turned and nodded to them. Ally had bent down so her bare knees were in the dirt. She was looking into her reflection.
"Trying not be sick?" she asked her wavering reflection.
There was not a hint of worry in her voice.
"When you get older, you start to see things differently."
"What things?" The sound of the thin river was like rain pattering against a window.
"Certain things become clearer and
Other things that were clear at first start to become..."
I stopped because I couldn't think of the word.
Ally kept looking at her broken reflection. The water was brown and green and clear. Through the thick branches of the trees surrounding us, strands of sunlight came down on us. I shouldn't be telling her this, but I had no one else to talk to and it felt good. I knew she wouldn't judge me. If she started to cry, I wouldn't know what to do. I felt like I would start to cry with her - probably harder. Another group of hiker's passed behind us. They had a golden retriever that veered off from the group and came up to us. He licked my ankle with his soft, pink tongue. Ally shifted and sat down in the dirt and the dog jumped on her, almost knocking her into the water. I quickly reached down and pulled on the golden retriever's collar to get it off of her. The owner ran up and grabbed the collar from me. I could see by her face that he was embarrassed.
"I'm really sorry about that."
I helped Ally up and we both stood in front of the owner. She was older with a loose grey running shirt on and brown shorts. The other hikers were standing ten feet behind, watching to see what we'd say. Her shoes were dirty with mud and her cheeks were flushed red.
"It's ok," Ally said, "It probably thought we were playing."
"What's its name?" I asked, bending down to pat its side.
"Tahoe," she said, "It's a girl."
"Pretty name," I said as I ran my finger's through her soft, golden hair. Her tail wagged back and forth, happy and pleased. She looked up at me with her black pupils and seemed to want to say something like Ally had, but just couldn't. "Really nice name," I repeated, giving her a final pat on the head, rising, and stepping back to Ally's side.
"Like the town," she said, scratching behind its ear, "We got her there."
"That's nice," Ally said, staying near the river, "I've never been."
"Well, your brother should take you. It's very beautiful."
"One day," I smiled, feeling like I had been put on the spot a little.
"Have a good day," the owner said, pulling on Tahoe's collar and turning back to her group, "And sorry about Tahoe jumping on you."
"She was just playing. Bye Tahoe." Ally waved.
We both turned away from the group, who was up the trail and soon out of sight. The sun hid behind a cloud and a shadow washed over where we stood. The river was dark, but rippled loud and rushed downward. Ally looked into the surface of the water again, but because of the darkness, she could no longer see her reflection. I looked at her, then turned and started to walk further up the trail. I wanted to keep going. I had seen it all before, but I was hoping to see something different today. Perhaps something in these woods had changed for us.
"Stop," I heard Ally say.
"Huh?" I asked, startled, looking over my shoulder at her.
"Let's go home. I'm tired."
"Nothing. I'm just tired. The dog," she sighed, "Scared me a little."
"Really?" She had seen so calm and happy when Tahoe was near.
"I don't know."
She brushed past me, walking down where we had came.
I followed behind her.
We walked like that till we got home.
Ally told my mom about the dog and she made us dinner.
Soon after, we both went to bed, but before I fell asleep, I listened to my mom speaking to someone on the phone on the deck.
The weather was a hot summer night, so I had my windows open.
I tried to listen, but soon fell asleep, the sound of water trickling over the smooth, round stones of the thin river bed.
That night, I dreamed of many things, but in the morning, could remember nothing.
I only knew that I had dreamed.
"To lose a child," the priest began, "Is the hardest trial a parent can be asked to endure. We are born, we are raised, and we live as well as we can until the Lord wishes us back to his kingdom."
The crowd was dressed in black. The long, wooden pews were worn and brown. We sat inside a large, stone church. Before entering, I had felt a light rain on my cheeks and forehead and immediately imagined Ally somewhere above us crying, wishing she could be there with us. No light shown through the multi-colored windows. The sky was streaked gray with white lines reaching out far over the forest of trees that grew behind the church and beyond. I touched my cheek as I sat in my section of the pew. Beside me was my mom and then my dad, next to her. They were both silent as the priest continued. Occasionally, my mom would dab her handkerchief to her eye and sob lightly. My dad would grip her hand and squeeze. My hands were in my lap, still.
"And when we are faced with such trials, we must go to God for His guidance. Some may reluctant to do so because of one's anger, but, I ask you to remember, that even anger and hatred were blessed to us by Him. Without Him, we would have nothing."
A sign over the double doors where we had came had a sign over it that read EXIT in large, bright neon green letters. Some people were standing by the doorway. Why couldn't they sit down? There was the stench of bleach and the attempt to cover up the smell of death. I hadn't seen Ally's body yet, but I knew she was up there, facing the ceiling. I looked up and stared at what she would be staring at, but then realized she would have her eyes closed and she would be seeing only black. Who had dressed her? My mother? The coffin was small, but Ally was small. It really made no sense to have such a large coffin for such a small girl.
Suddenly, I understood that I would never see her again and I began to weep uncontrollably. The sensation first begins in the chest - a shaking panic. I couldn't breathe. I wanted to die to keep her company, wherever she was. The choking sobs brought on a fever of hysteria and furious rage; I felt as if my mind was no longer able to comprehend or grasp the fact life had forced upon me. My mother's hand touched my shoulder, but there was no comfort in it, only understanding. There are some things in life that can only be dealt with alone. Everything burned. The priest tried to continue, but my cries were too loud. They echoed in the empty church's chamber the way a a gun-shot would. Later, when the moment became a faded picture too hazy to be a memory, but too real to be merely imagined, I would feel guilty about my lack of control, but then, I would recall the suddenness of that reaction, the crisp and sharp spontaneity of it, feeling that sorrow for the very first time. The church hushed. All that could be heard were my stifled cries and the creaking of the old wooden pews. Off in the distant, outside of the church and perhaps in the field or past it, into the forest, a dog barked and barked, whining at something.
"Life does not give us any wishes," the priest spoke, "We are the wishes of God. Only God can wish. We are his dreams and we must make his glory reality. Ally is with Him now and, if you have the faith and believe in our Lord, then you are with him too. In a way," the priest looked down at us from where he stood, "If you are with Him and she is with Him, then, you too, can be with her. Walk with her tonight. Walk with her always. Let her never leave your hearts."
As I passed her body, still and white in the casket, it was a face that I did not know. There was no blood in it. The life had been taken somewhere else. Ally was no longer there. I understood now what people meant about our skin just being shells for who we really were. Everything was imagined. Built up. Everything was all for the show and as we carried her out of the church, down the stairs and over the dry, fallen leaves that cracked and broke underneath our feet, the sun did not break through the thick clouds overhead like it always did when Ally was around, for she was not there. We were left without her. This is what life would be like without her. All of it.
"Go on up the river a bit Ally," my dad yelled. I was about twenty-feet from where my dad stood knee deep in the rushing, rivers water. "Follow Cam up and he'll show you some good spots."
"Spots for what?" Ally asked, getting up from where she was reading her science book. She had her large, black sunglasses on and her hair was down. She was a statue of possibility.
"To jump off of the rocks and where the water is deep."
Ally put her palm over her face to block out the sun, looking up the river for me. There was no one else on the small patch of sandy rock where we had made our camp. The car was up the road, less then a quarter of a mile away. I was up river, underneath the bridge where the rocks were so big you could sit up on them if they were flat on top. The trout would sometimes come under the bridge. The river was calm there. I was perched up on a rock, squatting and watching the trout in the shallow water as they lazily swam up against the current which was pulling them down to the base of a large pool. Small twigs and separated green leaves swept past me, past the rocks and rushed down the light rapids of the river. I put my hands up and waved them back and forth wildly so Ally could see where I was. She waved back and began to make her way up toward me. My dad saw that we had seen each other and whipped his fly fishing line back and forth and back again. It slapped against the moving water and tiny droplets flew up into the air and back down into the water, where the river caught them and guided them down stream. The sky was a clear, crisp light blue and all around tiny birds flew back and forth between the trees catching insects.
"You can see the trout in the water here!" I yelled to Ally. She had gotten out of the water and was going along the path to get me quicker. She hadn't heard me.
"They're huge," I said to myself, "Wish I had something to spear them with."
Ally yelled something from where she was behind the trees and bushes, but I couldn't see her. I stood up on the rock and yelled for her, but she didn't answer. Down river, my dad had moved farther away and had turned his back to his, trying to avoid the glare of the sun. I watched as he brought his long fly fishing pole in the air and flicked it forward, the long line flying in the air, hanging there for a moment, and then quickly crashing down onto the water. I called for Ally again, but still, no answer. I squatted down, then sat and dipped my toes into the water, about to get in, but Ally popped out the other end of the trail. Her face was red.
"How did you get over there so easily?" she said over the bubbling water around.
"The same way you did. Why?" I had both my feet in the water, letting the water take their weight. It felt good to let the sun hit my face and the water chill my toes, all at the same time. I had been feeling the same lately, everyday waking up with the same emotions, the same responses, the same reactions. To feel two things at once was a nice change. Reminded me that there is always more.
"I got stuck in some bushes and cut up my legs." She was slowly getting into the water, stirring up the brown sand, making the water murky.
"Try to move slowly," I told her, "There's fish in the shallow water and you can see them sometimes just laying there, but you gotta' be slow to move around."
"Why would you want to see fish just laying there in the water? That's boring."
I paused, and thought about what she said. It was a pretty boring thing to do. I laughed.
"I don't know. You can see their rainbow scales reflect in the sun. It's pretty."
"You're weird," she said, climbing onto a bigger rock next to me. She was shivering and laid out fully so the sun hit every inch of her skin. "You didn't tell me the water was going to be so cold."
"What'd you think it was gonna' be like?" I asked her, throwing a tiny pebble into the water, not caring about watching the fish or their scales or anything like that anymore, "All this water comes from the snow up on the mountains, so it has to be a little cold."
"Well," she said, draping her forearm over her eyes, "I didn't know that."
"Well," I said mockingly, "Now you do."
I looked down the river and watched my dad as he continued to flick the line up in the air. He was in the full glare of the sun and I imagined he was pretty hot with all of the clothes he had on. No one else looked to be on the length of beach. I knew from going down the river when I had been before, there were other smaller stretches of beach, but they were around the bend of the river and I couldn't see that far or really cared to. Overhead, a loud truck or trailer roared past us. The bridge shook and Ally shot up from where she was laying.
"What was THAT?" she screamed.
It had scared me too, but I played it like I'd been hearing it all day.
"Just a truck or a car. Nothing," I said.
"Thought the whole bridge was going to come down on us."
"That would be cool," I murmured under my breath. The thought of all that concrete and metal crashing down on us seemed exciting.
She scoffed, hearing me, and laid back down. Ally could be such a queen.
I was getting bored, just sitting there. With no one around other than Ally, I was at a lost with what to do with myself. All she ever wanted to do was sit or lay around. I should have brought a friend with me, but the whole trip was so short notice; all of my friends played sports anyway and they were always busy during the weekend. Up river, there was a sunken car that had accidentally driven off the road. I had seen it only once. I had taken my dad's goggles and the whole thing was covered in algae and little fish seemed to be living inside. The color was a mix of blue rust and jade. I didn't know the story of how the car came to be in the river, but I figured they were drunk or had fallen asleep at the wheel - or both. Ally wouldn't want to see that. She probably thought the bodies were still in there or something. They would have been eaten up, of course. She didn't know stuff like that. I did. I knew all about that kind of boy stuff like death and where ants hide to eat up the food at night (in the pantry) or the best way to throw a rock at a seagull to kill it. I'd done it once before at the beach with my dad and we never spoke about it. He just told me not to tell my mom because I think he thought he was going to get in trouble with her if I said anything. There was also this jumping rock, a little closer than the sunken car up river. The water was deep enough where you could jump anyway you wanted: head first, feet first, sideways, belly flop, pencil dive - whatever you wanted. Ally would want to do that.
"Let's go do something Ally," I said, nonchalantly, secretly wishing she would take the bait, "I'm getting bored sitting here like a couple of worms. Anyways, I'm starting to burn."
"I just got here..." she complained.
"I know of a really good rock we can jump off of up the river. You'll like it."
"How high is it?" she asked, getting up from laying down, "If it's too high, I don't want to go."
"Like five feet of a fall. You'll be fine." I said this as I slid into the water, knowing I had her. "I did it with dad when you were too young to even get in the water. I did it way younger than you. By two or three years at least."
"Well, I'm 12 now, so you're telling me you jumped off this rock when you were ten or nine."
"Yep," I said.
"I don't believe," she said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because your'e my brother and brother's alway's tell their sister's those kind of lies."
As they lowered her body into the ground, I had stopped crying, but my mom and dad picked up my slack. I was out of tears and the way the weather was made me worried it was going to rain and we would be forced to leave Ally early. We hadn't thought to bring umbrellas and I don't think the church had the hundred or so we would need down in the basement. Leave Ally. We wouldn't be leaving her. We would be leaving the place where we buried her body. Ally was somewhere else. I needed to remember that. Burying her sounds better. Leaving her would be like we were abandoning her. Had she abandoned us? No. Why would she do that? She loved us, or at least I thought she did. Sometimes she didn't act like it, but when I would see that grinning smirk at something stupid dad would say or something nit-picky mom would go on about or me asking her about school and rolling my eyes or pretending to fall asleep as she went on and on about rocks or granite or lava flow, all that kind of crap I really didn't care about because it had been going on for so long - literally the beginning of time - I thought, "who give's a shit, anyway..." Then, I would remember, Ally did, she did, and I would strain to listen as she went on about cloud formations and how rain builds up in the clouds and eventually gets to full and has to release it all down on us. Sometimes we get too full and we just have to release it all, so we can fill ourselves up all over again. There's that cycle stuff, right psych? Repetition is the word I like to use, but I guess cycle sounds more positive, huh? At least cycle there is a beginning, middle, and end. With repetition, there is no beginning. It just goes back to the start of where you were before and begins again, all the same. At least cycle makes me think there is a new beginning. A better one even. I could see why the psych wanted me to use that more often. Makes me feel better, even if it's all a load of shit.
The rain came as we walked back to the long line of black cars, but it was only a light mist. It actually felt pretty good, after all those hot tears. I had let my mom and dad walk head of me as they headed to the car and stopped and stood underneath a tree to get away from the drizzle. The temperature had dropped and I was beginning to shiver. I didn't know if it was because of the cold or from the shock of what I had just done. Two men in blue jumper's and old rusted shovel's began to throw the dirt and rock they had dug up from the hole they had just put my sister. I saw this as both fitting and the most logical of endings. To put back what you had borrowed or moved or taken. Our family had taken Ally from someplace, but now, I was beginning to see, we had actually borrowed her instead. She was returning to where she had come from. We all were. All of us at different times, never knowing when. But then, why did it hurt so bad? Why did I feel like I would never see her in the same way again? Would I recognize her? Would she recognize me? Would the cycle erase everything in the short time we had known each other? Would we begin anew or would we repeat the same life with the same mistakes all over again? Repeat it all. Perhaps why I was so scared, was because I didn't know.
No one did.
No one can.
No one ever would.
"Just jump Ally!" I screamed, wading in the slow moving water of the river
The jumping rock was right in front of me. Dad was around the bend down river behind the bridge. I couldn't see him, but I knew he was there and he knew we were here. The sun had broken through the thin white clouds and there was nothing but blue sky above us. Small birds shot back and forth from the branches of the trees, catching bugs in their beaks and taking them to their young chicks squeaking in their nests. Everything was moving around me as I watched Ally standing up there on that rock, shivering slightly from just getting out of the river. We had swam instead of walking along the edge. Ally didn't like the mud and didn't want to get herself all scratched up again. Such a queen. No wonder she was so cold up there on that rock.
"If you jump in," I told her, bobbing up and down in the water, feeling the tips of my toes touch the bed floor of the river," You won't be cold anymore. You just gotta' jump in." The water was shallower then I had remembered.
"I was freezing swimming over here. How do you know that?"
"Because I feel fine!" I yelled, "Look at me. I'm not shivering at all."
"You're lying again. I can tell!" She looked like she wasn't going to jump. She kept going up to the edge, looking over, shaking her head, and then backing away, acting like it was the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls or something.
"The fall will only last a second and then you'll be in the water. I promise," I told her.
"You promise?" Her eyes were big and scared, but I knew she could do it. It wasn't that high.
"Promise," I said and dove under the surface of the water to swim back to the edge of the river. As I put my head under, I heard a distant splash and knew it was Ally jumping in. She was close, but it sounded far away from the water. I smiled and kicked my legs and reached out my arms and then pulled them close to me, propelling myself to shore.
Popping up out of the water, I stopped and looked up into the forest that surrounded us. The road was just twenty or twenty-five feet away from the river and I could hear cars and trucks rushing by, but all of that seemed so far away. Maybe it was the river and the sun and watching the leaves fall from their branches to be swept up by the current and be taken down the stream. I rushed up the slick surface of the dark green and black rock, gripping tight on the one hold their was and pushing myself up with my legs. The floor of it was wet from the river water Ally had been dripping on it from standing up there so long. I laughed to myself and called out to her, looking out on over the river.
"You almost made a lake up here, Ally!" I shouted out to her, looking up and scanning the river, but she wasn't there. She wasn't where I had been. She wasn't bobbing up and down like I had been or reaching for the floor of the river with her toes to steady herself. She wasn't there. I only saw the river, its tiny white ripples of water folding over one another, brown and dark blue, the white rays of sunlight streaked over it. Ally was not there. I slow tingle, like that which happens when one's foot begins to fall asleep, started around my temples and my eyes began to water and tear. My chest tightened and, for a moment, I was too scared to even breathe. Time stopped, then I screamed.
"Ally," I yelled, "Ally! Where are you?"
I looked up river to see if she had swam the wrong way. She was small. She didn't know left from right or down from up, why would she know which way to swim. I figured the river would just take her down stream. She had been so scared. Was she playing a trick on me? I looked across the river into the brush to see if she was hiding behind a tree or laying down in the leaves. Nothing. She wasn't there. She couldn't have swam across the river that fast anyways. The tingling had stopped and my breathing became fainter and quicker. I looked down river and saw nothing, just the bridge with its two large arches and the sun hitting bright up against the stone. I couldn't see my dad. Had he heard me? Where was Ally?
I jumped in the river.
I touched the bottom with my feet.
It was so shallow.
I felt the stones and the sand mix together and the grittiness rub against my skin.
I bobbed up and down with the moving current of the river.
I thrashed around, spinning in circles, trying to see everywhere at once.
The birds that had been flying from branch to branch had stopped.
A wind blew over the water and as I waded there, my eyes just over the surface of it, I watched the small, inch high ripples begin, peak, and melt back into the water.
Then, I saw her.
She was face down, down river, ten or fifteen feet away from me.
I swam as hard as I could.
When I reached her, I turned her over, held her body in my arms, looked down on her smooth, small face, and knew she was dead.
I held a paper cup of water in my hand, back in the psych's office the next day. He had left a pitcher of water and a stack of five or six cups on the small coffee table on the left of the sofa nearest the door. I'm not sure if that was especially for me or if he had just realized some people might like to have a drink while they sit there and talk about whatever someone talks about while they're there. I appreciated the effort and the offer and took him up on it. There was even fresh ice in the pitcher of the stuff. I knew he had done that especially for me. I appreciated it.
"Camden, how are you feeling after yesterday?" the psych asked.
"Refreshed," I said.
"Do you feel you've made any progress with what you're comfortable talking about with me?"
"Yes and no. I still don't know you very well, actually, not at all, really...but maybe that's the point behind the whole thing. Not to know you at all, so I can tell you everything without any kind of fear of judgement or backlash of emotion or feeling like I'm...boring you." I was rambling, I knew that, but I didn't feel the need to make sense anymore. Lately, I'd been seeing that routine and order were really just shields to hide the hard fact at how fragile we all really were.
"If that is what you think will help you open up about what you can talk about, I believe that is a very good thing."
I took a sip of my water and looked out the window and noticed the car's on the small road forty or so feet away from us rushing back and forth - all a blur. I thought of the road I had looked up at through the trees of the forest by the river and how it looked so similar and thinking the sounds were probably the same too. I also thought if I had just turned around when I had gotten out of the water rather then stopping to look up into that stupid forest and listen to those stupid trucks and cars rushing past, I might have been able to save Ally before she drowned. I took the nibbled edge of the paper Dixie cup away from my lips and rested it on my knee, looked up at the psych, and remembered me looking or not looking up into the forest and listening to the sounds all around me, enjoying them, living in them, being with them, wouldn't have made a lick of a difference anyway. She was dead when I got to her. I could not have done anything.
"She broke her neck," I told him, "She dove in head first because I told her before we got there it would be deep enough for any kind of jump. She was young. I was young. We..." I stammered, felt that choke when I first realized I couldn't find her, and looked away out the window again, "I felt like we were invincible. That nothing could hurt us. It was such a beautiful day, you know. Why would anything want to hurt her on a day like that? It was such a nice day. A really good, slow, perfect day where everything was far away and right in front of us, you know? We still had our innocence then. There was no reason why anything bad should happen to any of us, but that's life, isn't? Things just happen and the reaction shows one who they really are."
The psych nodded, telling me he had never had a day like this or he had. I didn't care to know. I just cared if he was listening or not. I knew he was because he was looking right back at me. Sometimes people can listen and stare right at you and be somewhere else completely. I know this because I watch their eyes shift to the left or the right, like anything else might be more interesting than what I'm saying. When I see this though, I just continue talking, not giving a damn whether they're are really listening or not. They began the conversation, why can't they end it? Thinking of the forest and the river brought me back there. I didn't want to go back, but I had no choice. These were my memories now, my pain, and I would have them for the rest of my life.
"And I had her little body in my arms and her eyes were open and she was looking at me, not breathing or anything, but just looking at me blankly, unable to say or show me anything. I couldn't help her because she was gone and the river was pushing me harder because my legs had started to shake and my arms had suddenly grown so incredibly weak. Maybe it was from being in the water for so long or something, but I just couldn't hold her for that long, so I let the river take some of her, her weight I mean. I let the river take us both down toward the small rapids where the trout would rest in the shallow pools where the sun would shine all day, making the water warm. I never figured out why the trout would sit in that specific spot like that, but now I see they must like it there because of the warmth. It's funny because I always thought fish were such cold things and I only understood this because as we both floated down and passed through that warm spot where the sun would stay, it wasn't just warm, it was hot, like lightly boiled water. It surprised me. Then I thought, Ally couldn't feel anything that I was feeling. She was so far away, never able to feel anything ever again. Perhaps in another way, in a way that no living person knows how, but the way I or my dad or anybody else felt things...well, that was finished for her. I stopped feeling so good when I realized that passing through the warm water, heated by the rays of the sun."
The psych paused, looked down, then asked,"And then your father, where was he?"
"My dad was a little farther down the river from where he had been," I explained. It dawned on me I hadn't told the story in detail to anyone before. Everyone knew how she had died and why and didn't seem to need anything more.
"And he came to you when he saw what had happened to Ally?"
"He dropped his fly-fishing pole in the river and ran toward us both. Water was spraying out from underneath his feet and he was soaked when he reached us. I didn't see his face when he took Ally. He just took her and kinda' pushed me away. Not in anger. I think he thought he could still do something about what had happened."
The psych put his pen down on his pad of paper. He hadn't been writing anything for as long as I had been talking. He had been listening. That's what their supposed to be good at. He stared at me a long time. I don't know how long because I was still looking out the window, but I could see him out of the corner of my eye. My empty water cup was sitting on the corner table with a small lamp and a framed picture of a tree with a deer underneath of it. When I first saw the picture, I thought it was a photograph, but when I saw it the second time I came in when I poured the water over my head, I realized that it was a fine pencil drawing. This surprised me. The whole place surprised me really. You could say anything you wanted, everything that had ever happened to you and not feeling anything at all one day, yet the next, the world comes crashing down and it feels like everything you've ever used to defend yourself has vanished. All very surprising.
"You must understand Camden, that Ally's death was an accident and there was nothing you could have done about it. Some people, people you will perhaps talk with later in life, may call it an act of God or a freak accident and other such things, but these labels are only there to make you feel better about what happened or give reason."
I nodded, but said nothing. There was something in his eyes as I listened telling me something like this had happened to the psych, as if he had been what I had been through. I didn't have the guts to ask him, but I could sense he had lost someone the same way.
"And that is a very hard thing to understand and life with, Camden. Things happening without reason is extremely close to the idea of chaos. If there is no reason for the death of someone you love, then what is the point of living at all and how can you life your day to day life sane and not scared that around any corner, something may be there to kill you."
"I don't know. I think of that now, but back then, never."
"Of course you didn't. You were children. There was no event to cause such thoughts to begin turning in your little heads. You were innocent, like you said earlier."
I shifted and turned to the pitcher of water and poured myself another glass. Nothing outside the window interested anymore, only what the psych was saying. He was saying some interesting stuff that didn't sound like the same crap he was talking the first two days I had come to see him. What he was saying now had weight, danger, and I felt like he knew he could get in trouble for some of the stuff he was saying. He was almost preaching or philosophizing with me, which, I didn't know if you were allowed to do in the psychological world. In a way, he was raising the curtain slowly to what he thought of this whole damned world and I sat back in the couch, feeling the expensive leather against the back of my neck and under my forearms and listened intently.
"How do you see yourself dealing with this event over the next four or five years. You are going to college soon I would imagine. How do you think you will handle it there."
"How I handle it here, I would imagine." An image of Ally reading her science books at her desk with only her overhead lamplight on flashed across my mind. She was smiling to herself, one of those self-satisfied smiles that was so small you would never see it unless you had seen it before. Her face gentle and focused and all was quiet around her.
"And how is that?" the psych asked.
"Miss her. Think of her. See her in anything I think is beautiful. Know that she is gone and accept it in a sort of melancholy fact of life that everyone you know and love will one day have to be buried. Some later, some sooner. Some now, some fifty years from now. Always remembering that she had more time then others and that I am grateful for the time that I had. Live for her. Love for her. Grow and feel everything doubly as much because she never had the chance. Never let her go. Keep her picture by my bed. Let her walk with me when I walk alone. Faith that I'll see her on the other side of the river and go to her. Regaining our innocence to be children again."
"I think that is a very good start, Camden."
"You think?" I asked.
I had a dream I was walking along the river's edge. Tiny pebbles and sand fell into the water as I walked on the loose dirt and gravel. The river was the same river Ally and I walked along when we were kids. There was no one around. I was by myself. There were no hiker's and how I came to be there, I didn't know. I was just there, like in so many dreams. The day was still and cold and I could see my breath as I exhaled and walked.
I came to the path where we had met the two hiker's and their dog. I could only see past the hill where the path crested and then went down. I had been up and over it many times, but now, couldn't recall what lay past it. There were two large redwood trees on either side of the path. They were tall and grew up into the sky and I couldn't see the top of them. I moved to continue forward, but heard Ally's voice behind me.
"I want to go home. I don't want to go ahead," she said.
I turned and looked at her. She looked the same: small with her brown hair to her shoulders; her almond eyes reflecting the sun in them; those tiny lips that barely would part when she spoke. She was at least ten feet away from me, but I could still smell the lemon lotion mom would put on her whenever we would go out walking.
"Why? Are you tired?" I asked.
"It's only a little farther. You've never been over this way."
She shook her head back and forth so her hair flew everywhere.
"Ok," I told her, "We can go back."
"No," she said, stepping back, "You go ahead. I'll go back alone."
I stopped and remembered laughing, "What? You don't know the way back."
"Yes I do," she said.
"No, you don't. You're always talking about how you never want to walk without me because you don't know the way."
"That's not true, Camden."
"Yes, it is, Ally." I walked toward her, "Now lets go."
"No!" she screamed, "I want to go alone!"
"What's wrong with you? I'll just go with you."
"No!" she screamed again, "I have to go alone or I'll never learn."
I stopped and looked at her eyes. They were wet and on the verge of crying. There was nothing I could do. She had made up her mind. Once she had, there was nothing anybody could do.
"Ok, Ally. I love you."
"Really?" she asked, surprised, "You'll let me walk back alone?"
"Sure," I told her, "Anyways, I want to see what's up ahead."
"What's up ahead?" Suddenly, she wasn't interested in going home anymore.
"I don't know," I said, "Something other than home."
"Don't know," I repeated, "Might be nothing, but it also might be something."
"Will it be scary?"
"Will it be fun?"
"I want to go now," she said, coming forward and taking my hand, "I want to go with you."
"Well," I said, looking down at her, "Let's go."
We walked up and the hill and down into a valley. Thin trunked trees were scattered around, standing and lightly swaying back and forth. We reached another river. Ally went ahead and dipped the tip of her pointer finger into the water and whirled it around. I was coming up behind her when she told me she couldn't see her reflection in the water. I looked over her shoulder into the water and couldn't see my reflection either. When I realized I was dreaming, I remembered stepping back and looking at Ally, who was now so clear, taking her all in. I hadn't dreamed of her in so long. She smiled and waved to me, the sound of the river trickling behind her and the sun shining down through the leaves of the trees , casting her in an impenetrable white light. I waved back at her and smiled, but saw, after the light had dimmed, that she had gone. The sounds of the river lessened, the light of the sun grew fainter, the ground that had been moist and loose before became hard and brittle. She had gone and I was by myself again.
After waking up, I remember that my hands were clenched so tight it took me a couple minutes to let them relax. I thought they'd be like that forever. I remember swinging my legs over the edge of the bed and looking across the hall into Ally's old room and feeling that choke in my chest that came whenever I thought her. I let out a large sigh and the tightness in my chest released. "You still dream of her" I thought, "She's still there and you'll never lose her if you still dream of her."
I got up out of bed and looked out my window and watched the thin river behind our house move over the stones, down the tiny waterfall, and into a large drain pipe that lead down into the main river near the hiking path. I listened to the crows in the trees screech, talking back and forth. They would always come in the early morning when the bugs were still out. Ally always hated those crows. I hated them too, but Ally hated them more.
It was a new morning. Ally was there with me and far away. She was always like that, come to think of it. She was always so close, yet so far away. And when I think of her, I think of her mostly in the morning, when everything is just beginning to stir and move with the first light of the Sun. She's there the most, I think, in those still mornings where the cycle begins again.