AND THE RIVER FLOWS
by Richard E. Noble
A child is standing behind a closed, abandoned, department store that backs up to the Spicket River.
He tries to toss broken chips of concrete from his side of the river over to the other.
He tries to hit and break discarded soda bottles laying along the opposite bank.
A man is watching the boy from the second storey window of the textile mill.
He’s smoking a cigarette.
He’s on his break.
Beneath him the purple water from the textile mill dye, tumbles from a giant pipe.
It tumbles from the pipe, and it foams and bubbles, as it splashes into the river below.
It forms a purple, yellow, greenish cloud of bubbling foam on the surface of the river,
and it floats off down stream, a patchwork of multi-colored bubbles.
A scalloped damn has been formed from floating debris,
and they both watch as a discarded box-spring is freed from the back and into the river’s flow.
The river is shallow. It flows around exposed rocks and rubble and rubber tires ... and truck axles ... and rusted, metal bicycle rims.
There are boards, and sticks, and parts of fallen trees.
The box-spring gets hung up on a boulder, and a partially submerged stump.
The boy rushes around the bank. He picks up a long, somewhat bent piece of iron pipe.
He walks out onto the river, stepping from one pile of hung up debris to the next, until finally he reaches the box-spring.
He pries at it with his piece of pipe.
He pushes and shoves, he wants to set it free.
He wants to see it roll with the current, and rush along with the river.
He has one foot on a huge, soggy cardboard box, and the other on a two foot splinter of broken plywood.
He almost has the box-spring free.
He pushes and stretches with his pipe.
One last shove … oomph! … and it’s free!
But the boy tumbles into the rushing water.
He screams! ... He fumbles and rolls onto his back.
The man on his break throws the window up.
He whistles through his fingers ... then yells
“Stand up, kid! ... STAND UP!”
The boy hears the man.
He rolls and scrambles to his feet.
The water rushes between his legs.
It is not deep enough to rise above his knees.
He feels dumb.
He was really scared.
He thought that he was going to drown.
He looks up at the man in the window, and smiles.
His smile has a tooth missing on one side, and one of his front teeth is chipped.
The man in the window shakes his head, and flips his cigarette out and into the quiet, gray wind.
It tumbles and tosses in the air.
Then it rolls, lightly, onto the river top, and immediately it dances off with the splashing twisting current.
The boy watches the river rush between his legs.
It plasters his pants to his shins.
He forms the palms of his hands into a cup, and dips them into the stream.
He lifts the water up, and splashes it onto his face.
“Hey! … What are you nuts?” the man from the mill window yells.
“Don’t put that onto your face. Get the hell out of that river and go home.”
The boy looks up at the man. He cups his hands again and dips them back into the water.
He lifts them to his face. He slurps the water up and into his mouth.
Then he squirts it out between his lips.
He spits it up towards the man in the mill window.
When the boy finishes spitting the water up at the man, he grins.
The man shakes his head, disapprovingly, then waves his fist at the boy.
The boy scoops up more water ... slurps it into his mouth, and again,
spits it towards the man in the window.
“Go ahead, drink it. Kill yourself. It would be good enough for you. Drink it! I dare ya, drink it.”
The boy bends at the waist, and scoops up more water. He stops momentarily.
The boy drops the water and laughs.
“What’s the matter ... you chicken? ... Drink it ... Drink it!”
And the man bends and braces himself on the window sill, then shoves his head out the window and laughs.
The boy stares up at the man.
“What? Do you think I’m stupid?” he yells.
“You look pretty stupid to me,” the man yells back.
“Well, I might be stupid, but I’m not dumb enough to work in that stinkin’ mill.”
The man stares down at the boy. He pauses;
shakes his head in disgust;
then draws himself back inside and slams the window shut.
From the inside he continues to stare down at the boy through the dust and dirt-stained window pane.
And the river flows
and so ... and so