02 December 2018

Disappeared (Part 17)

I awoke the following day with the taste of ash on my tongue. Sometime in the night smoke tinged my river dream. The tiny lanterns of fireflies flitting about became embers. The teeming rubicund lights were languid in their downward drift, snuffed out by the ribbon of black mercury that was the water. In my dream, I had shipped my oars so that I could rest. The water was calm but moving steady with no rapids. Ahead I could see the beginnings of sunrise touching the horizon with fingers of peach and gold. Behind me the sky was tinged with red of a different hue, one that spoke of tragedy and loss. Perhaps by stopping to rest the wind had caught up to me, bearing on it the ashes I sought to outrun. The oars dipped into the river. I opened my eyes.

The fire behind and the ocean ahead held us in thrall, a chunk of iron suspended between opposing colossal magnets. Ambition to escape the former and embrace the latter would be the force to liberate us from stasis. My daughter was oblivious to my eager anxiety. The stakes were different for her. She was on her way back to a home she never left. I was on my way back to soil and sea that had never truly left me but to which I would require reacquaintance. While not being a religious man, it struck me that living the reinvented life ahead would be a relearning of the words to a forgotten hymn. Coast, shoreline, river and bank, the houses of worship I forgot I needed. Perhaps it was no coincidence this was the third day of my revival.

Road music. The hum of tires on the asphalt becomes the slither of water along the hull. Fair weather hitched a ride, ambling along as the car nosed its way through Ohio and West Virginia. Lunch in a chain sub shop somewhere in Pennsylvania, while I did not know it then, would be the most memorable thing about the last leg of the trek. There was silence between my progeny and I. This silence was not born of malice or personality fatigue. No, more due to road weariness and anxious anticipation of a landing at the end of the asphalt.

I become the salmon and trout, alewife and blueback, returning to natal rivers from whence we entered this world. Watercourses of deep memory no longer the same but still homes not forgotten. Trees may have fallen on the banks. The rocks abide in the currents. Somewhere upstream it is possible that the riparian channel has shifted course, or in a tectonic shift of circumstances perhaps an old dam has been removed. The years like tons of silt washed downstream by the inexorable pressure of time, of change. I stared down the dirt and debris rushing past under the impetus of the hydrological cycle of my soul. The river of my birth was not swirling about my knees but it was close enough to smell its crystalline, metallic tang. Like my marine cousins, I was navigating by memory and deep structures impossible to see by direct observation.

Memory and deep structures served us well, terminating this cross-country hegira by the quiet parking of our car in a hotel parking lot. Warm summer air, gravity with humidity, flooded the vehicle upon opening the doors. Upon the breeze was a faint hint of iodine and salt, or so my weary senses told me. That the Chesapeake Bay waited just over the horizon was not lost on my psyche. Green waves rolled over my head as I floated just below the sunlit surface. It would not be long now.

Saltwater and smoke are different beasts, with very different and sublime aromas. After the trials of the year behind, my heart chose brine over ash. This became clear as my daughter and I left the hotel to search for dinner. Tightness in the belly slipped away as I stood outside breathing deeply of air which had recently slipped over water instead of grass. My heart throbbed in systolic and diastolic sympathy with waves now not so far away. Blood ebbed, blood flowed. Its pause and rush filled my ears with the sound of breakers caressing the shore.

That night sleep came swiftly. Of the dreams that paid a call, I remember nothing except for standing before a cottage door, wondering if I still had the key.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...