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A Drowning Incident

road winding dappled and serene in the morning light


through the dripping trees. He took the road downhill,
shuffling through the leaves, turning up their damp
undersides. He stopped once, stripped off a handful
of rabbit tobacco, stuffed it in his mouth and shuffled
down the road, spitting, his thin shoulders rolling
jauntily.
The road angled and switchbacked down the hill
until it came to the edge of the woods where it
straightened briefly before losing itself in the humming
field beyond which stretched the line of willows and
cottonwoods that marked the course of the creek. He
could still feel the ruts beneath his feet as he waded
through the knee high grasses or threaded among the
sporadic blackberry brambles. Then he was parting
the screen of willows, lime and golden as they turned
in the sun with his passage. He could hear the faint
liquid purling even then, even before he emerged from
the willows where the bridge crosses, glimpsed through
the green lacework the fan of water beyond where the
sun broke and danced on the stippled surface like
silver bees.
He walked out onto the little bridge, stepping carefully. The curling planks were cracked and weathered,
bleached an almost metallic grey. The whole affair
bellied dangerously in the middle, like a well used
mule. He sat down on the warm boards, then stretched
out on his stomach and peered over the edge into the
water below. The creek was shallow and clear. The
floor of the pool was mottled brown and gold as a
leopard's hide where the sun seeped through the leaves
and branches overhead. Minnows drifted obliquely
across the slow current. Through the water-glass he
watched the tiny shadows traverse the leopard's back
silent and undulant as a bird's flight. He found some
small white pebbles at his elbows and dropped them
to the minnows; they twisted and shimlnered slowly
to the bottom trailing Ininuscule bubbles that stood in
brief tendrils before rising and disappearing. The
minnows rushed to inspect. He folded his arms beneath his chin. The sun was warm and good on his
back through the flannel shirt.
Then with the gentle current drifted from beneath
the bridge a small puppy, rolling and bumping along
the bottom of the creek, turning weightlessly in the
slow water. He watched uncomprehendingly. It spun
slowly to stare at him with sightless eyes, turning its
white belly to the softly diffused sunlight, its legs stiff
and straight in an attitude of perpetual resistance. It
drifted on, hid momentarily in a band of shadow,

As soon as the screen door slammed he rounded


the corner of the house so as to be out of sight, then
ran for the woodshed and put it between himself and
the house. The baby was taking its nap. He was not
to go far away. Standing there in the shade of the
locust tree he looked about. Some wasps were lilting
to and fro in the shade under the eaves. Crossing
behind the shed and through the gate that divided the
huge untended hedges he came through the lot to the
old outhouse. He swung the rotted door back carefully; the planks were warped and soft and velveted
with a pale green patina. One board was gone from
the rear and a thin shaft of light leaned in. On the
floor was still the old coat that he had carried down
here to Suzy, after he had followed her, the first day
she turned up looking thin and wagging her tail, her
dugs no longer dragging to the ground. The coat was
matted with a crosshatching of white hairs and the
faint sourmilk odor of the pups still lingered. They
had gone to a new home last week. He stepped in and
peered down into the hole and as his eyes adjusted
to the gloom below he could see faintly the two tiny
red triangles touching at their vertices. In the corner
at his heel there was a chcket resting in the mold, its,
antennae swaying in random arcs. He saw it and
reached for it, but it sprang, bumping against the
facing of the seat and falling to the floor again. He
stepped on it quickly, then picked it up. It was still
kicking one leg in slow lethargic rhythm; a thick white
liquid was oozing from it. He dropped it down the
hole and bent to watch. He could see it swaying
gently in the elastic web. The black widow came
threading her way toward it, and when she reached it
she began a weaving motion over it with her legs as
if performing some last rite. Soon the cricket's leg
stopped. Then he leaned forward slightly, shot from
his tongue a huge drop of spittle; it passed the fonns
below, receding from white to gray in the graduated
darkness. The spider froze. He corrected his aim, and
the second ball of spittle fell true, engulfing the figures. The spider fled her victim to the dark recesses
of the musty shaft trailing a thin string of spittle which
hung in mucous loops among the strands of the web.
He went out then, and carefully pushed the ruined
door to. The sun was well up in the oaks on the far
side of the house. Some blue jays flashed among the
leaves. He hesitated for a moment, then turned down
the path toward the corner of the lot. Here he crossed
a sag in the honeysuckled fence and started off
through the woods. Shortly he came to an old wagon
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emerged, then slid beneath the hammered silver of


the water surface and was gone.
He sat up quickly, shook his head and stared into
the water. Minnows drifted in the current like suspended projectiles; a water-spider skated.
They were black and white, they were black and
. . . except for the one black all over. He crossed the
bridge and started after it, then stopped. When he
turned his eyes were wide and white. He came back
and started up the creek along the path that curved
above the low cutbanks. He studied the water as he
went. Small riffles ran through aisles of water-cress
awash and flowing in the stream, aluong rocks where
periwinkles crowded. A crawfish shot beneath the
looped bole of a cottonwood. In one pool an inexplicable shoe sat solemnly.
At the bend in the creek just below where it passed
beneath the pike bridge the current swirled faster and
the following pool was deep. Because of the turn the
creek made, the sun was now in his eyes and he could
not see into the water. He hurried to the pike, crossed
the small concrete bridge, and worked his way down
the other side, through a stand of cane. When he
reached the creek he was on a high bank; below him
the current rocked in a swift flume, the water curling
and fluted. Below this, in the amber depths of the
pool, he cbuld make out a dark burlap sack. He sat
down slowly, numb and stricken. As he stared, a small
head appeared through a rent in the bag. It ebbed
: softly for a moment, then, tugged by a corner of the
current, a small black and white figure, curled fetally,
emerged. It was like witnessing the underwater birth
of some fantastic subaqueous organism. It swayed
hesitantly for a moment before turning to slide from
sight in the faster water.
He had no tears, only a great hollow feeling which
even as he sat there gave way to a slow mounting
sense of outrage. He stood up then, and pulled down
a long willow limb and worked it back and forth
across his knee trying to worry it in two, but it was
tough and resilient and after a while he gave it up.
He made his way back through the canes to the road
and to the other side where there was a fence. He
followed it until he found a loose strand in the wire.
This he pulled out, and with a few bendings the rusty
latter end came free. He went back to the creek and
with the wire hooked at the end tried to fish up the
sack from the bottOlU of the creek. The wire was too
long to control, and the current would sweep it away;
it was nearly half an hour before he hooked the sack.
He twisted the wire in his hand, and when he pulled
it the sack followed, heavy and sluggish. He worked
it to the bank and lifted it gingerly to shore. It was

rotten and foul. When he opened it there was only


one puppy inside, the black one, curled between two
bricks with a large crawfish tunneled half through the
soft wet belly. He hooked his wire into the crawfish
and pulled it out, stringing behind it a tube of putrid
green entrails. He tried to push them back inside with
the toe of his shoe. He went to the road again and
scouted the ditches alongside until he found a paper
bag, which he brought back and into which with
squeamish fingers he deposited the tiny corpse. Then
he pushed through the heavy brush until he came to
the field, crossed at a diagonal, and entered the woods
just a few yards short of the wagon road. He turned
up the road swinging the dirty little bag alongside. His
steps were trance-like and mechanical, his eyes barren.
When he reached the house Suzy came trotting
across the yard to ll1eet him. He avoided her and went
in by the back door, closing it carefully behind him. In
the kitchen he stopped and listened. The house was
silent; he could hear his heart thumping. A warmthless light filled the panes of glass above the sink. Then
he heard her cought-she was always coughing-and
listened closer. She was in the bedroom. He listened
at the door, then quietly eased it open. The shades
were drawn, and where the sun beat against them
they were suffused with a pale orange glow which
permeated the air, air infested with the faint urinous
odor of the baby, the odor of the blankets, sensuously
fetid and intimate.
He stood in the doorway for an intenuinable minute. What prompted his next action was the culmination of all the schemes half formed not only walking
from the creek but from the moment the baby arrived.
Countless rejected, revised, or denied thoughts moiling somewhere in the inner recesses of his mind
struggled and merged. He lifted the stinking bag and
looked at it. It was soggy and through a feathered
split in the bottom little black hairs protruded like
spiderfeet. Afterward, thinking about it, it did not
seem him that crossed the room to the crib in the
corner, lifted back the soft blue blanket, and alongside the sleeping figure, small and wrinkled, dumped
the puppy and then folded the blanket over them. He
remembered vaguely seeing the green entrails oozing
onto the sheet as the blanket fell.
He is waiting for him to come home now; it is almost dinner time. He is sitting on his bed, his mind
a dimensionless wall against which only a grey pattern, whorled as a huge thumbprint, oscillates slowly.
His mother went once to the room quietly, but the
baby did not wake. He is waiting for him to come
home.
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