We wonder if those fatal river rocks appeared to you as they appear to us—like molars from the mouths of giants. Your first name is Meredith, and your last name is something German-sounding that we quickly forgot. From the banks near Paradise Lodge, some of us spot the dull lampglow of your life jacket under the green and white-beaten water. Through binoculars, we watch your pale fingers curl against the current, inviting us all down to share your watery grotto and hear about what all you saw on the river that afternoon—an osprey, maybe, cutting helices under the crackling June sun, just before your kayak nosed into the rocks, tilting you and your wide-waisted crewmate into the drink.
Your friend was too rattled to linger at the lodge. We never caught her name, but rumor has it that you were helping her escape the rocks, and well, you know the rest. A tired irony, if it’s true. Who are you really, Meredith? Do you regret that selfless gesture? Is it embarrassing, having surrendered to water so shallow that sunbeams dazzle the glittery green polish on your toenails? Maybe you’re feeling good and mellow down there, watching flow patterns warp the surface, buoyant summer clouds riding egglike overhead. There must’ve been final words, but they belong to the river. Maybe you bubbled out something stoic, like, Here’s a fitting place to die, or maybe something more citric, like, Truly no good deed goes unpunished, you selfish fuckers. We wonder about these things, Meredith. You mean something down there under all that water. A protest to the obstinance of stone.
Rescue teams have tried to reach you from the rocks, the water, and the air, but it’s no use. Gorged with snowmelt, the Rogue runs too fiercely, and those rocks won’t let go. The Coast Guard say they’ll only recover live victims, and the sheriff says it’s a narrow canyon, not the kind of place to bring a helicopter. He says we have to let nature take its course.
Some of the youngsters at Paradise Lodge are still crying, but the older children haven’t cried at all, they’ve just gone quiet, matured by the gurgling river, and what it has taken from you. They’ve seen you loitering down there, our lady of the water, hair ink-loose in the current. Could’ve been one of us. In a way, it’s sort of beautiful how your body contains some small measure of the same water that contains you. Bodies within bodies, one swallowing the other. You’ve upset our lives, Meredith, or at least our weekend.
Know that you’re not alone, though the knowing won’t keep you warm. We’re told that earlier this month, a man from Coos Bay drowned along that same snarl of rocks. He sulked down there for a couple of days before the bloating worked him loose. You’ll inflate in much the same way, then you’ll bob to the surface, your belly a pale balloon. After you’re gone, the river will find a fresh pair of lungs to fill, and folks at Paradise Lodge will have another name to forget.
Nickalus Rupert holds an MFA from the University of Central Florida. Currently, he is a first-year PhD candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction appears or is forthcoming in PANK, The Pinch, Night Train, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere.