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Stills of the River

Summary

Stills of the River is a short story about a visit home to sort out the past. The story is based on a song. It is actually a part 2, what happens to those characters years later. Can you guess that song?

Stills of the River

It is so bright today. The perfect day to go down to the river. The reflection of the sun’s rays on the water is almost blinding. There is a shimmering effect you only get from moving water in sunlight. A rippling, wavy radiance. I couldn’t imagine growing up without the river and hard to imagine I have been away from it for this long. These days, I don’t really take the time to enjoy nature, not much opportunity where I live now. Nothing like the river.  

The air smells earthy, like I remembered it, the kind of smell that gets in your clothes. It’s not unpleasant, just distinct, and sticks in your mind so whenever you smell the smell again, it brings you back to when it first tempted your nose.

My name is Joe. You probably know my family. We have been down in this valley for generations. I used to live in this town but that was years ago and honestly, it is hard to remember how many years have gone by.

I got out as soon as I could, right after high school. There was nothing really here to keep me. I had dreams and plans that needed a wider path, and here I could only crawl one way and that tunnel was just too narrow. But the grass is always greener, and maybe I didn’t climb as high as I dreamed. But I got to do what I wanted to do.  

I have a knack for taking photographs. The hobby started when I was a kid and my aunt bought me my first camera. She thought it would be a good way to focus my attention on better things, like taking pictures of nature. It did certainly focus my attention, but not on birds, or flowers, or butterflies. It was the faces mainly, and still is. That’s what always draws my lens. Faces tell stories like you read in books. You just have to look a little harder to find the words. My pictures don’t make me rich, but it’s a living.

I am only back for a short time. I was curious, maybe homesick. Mostly, I need some kind of closure. I guess we all need that, and I suppose it is life’s housekeeping, as in there is always a need for some kind of cleaning out of old things. If we are lucky, we get to open a lot of doors on life’s journey and maybe some don’t get closed when they should.

Today, I went down to the river where I first started taking pictures almost every Saturday as a kid. There is a place on the bank that you can get to only by going through Miller’s Woods. The river creeps up there and fills in the spaces between the rocks so you can feel close, like walking on water.

Like I said, as much as I love the river, I never went to take pictures of nature. I went to capture faces. That one place you can get to through the woods is a place that people go to contemplate, and their faces show why they are there. You can see it mainly in the eyes, but it is the whole face that tells the story. I always stood at the edge of the woods and took those pictures. I didn’t want to interrupt them, but maybe what I did was another kind of violation.

The old factory sits vacant on the other side of the river. The doors have been closed since I was about five. All I have ever known is that castle high on the hill without a king, left there to decay and now it is so overgrown it is more nature than man. It is a reminder to everyone below of a more prosperous time. When it closed, this town never seemed to recover.

Today, I see an old man who stands on the rocks looking at the river. He tells a story like the others. Every line and crease in his weathered face is like reading a page in a novel, and his eyes are the door to a library.

He was young once, and in love. He met Mary in high school and they spent summers swimming in the river and lying on the bank. He can see her in the water, even though the only thing out there is the rippling waves. You can tell his eyes are on her.

She got pregnant before they graduated high school and that old man, who was a young man, grew up real fast and did what his daddy did. He got a union card, they got married, and he worked construction until there weren’t enough hours to feed his new family.

He took a job in that factory and he was gone most of the time. Mary tried to be a mother, but she was so young, and she had dreams, and she couldn’t bare to accept that was all there was. So one day, he came home to find his sister caring for their child, and Mary left a note that said she would be back when she could.

After she left, everything else seemed to wither, although it was more coincidence than anything else. The economy went bad, jobs went overseas, and the factory closed. He worked odd jobs to make ends meet. It was either work, or the stool at the local bar, or alone for contemplation. There wasn’t much spending time at home. He raised his son the best he could, but the best was between the bar and work, or work and the river, and the boy nearly raised himself. His son skipped school and the courts got involved. Soon his sister got custody.

He tried to be what he was supposed to be, but every time he looked into that boy’s eyes, he saw Mary looking back at him and that drove him back to the bar, or down to the river. He spent a lot of time at the river. Just another face along with those other faces telling a story about longing and wanting something more than what was given, or maybe just wanting what was before.

Today, that old man spends all his time staring at moving water while he stands still. I take pictures of that old man in the sunlight, the factory in the background, him and the castle. I take pictures of that old man stuck in some other time better than the one that he is burdened with now. I take pictures of that old man, because he is my old man.

It is so bright today. The perfect day to go down to the river. The reflection of the sun’s rays on the water is almost blinding. There is a shimmering effect you only get from moving water in sunlight. A rippling, wavy radiance. I couldn’t imagine growing up without the river and hard to imagine I have been away from it for this long. These days, I don’t really take the time to enjoy nature, not much opportunity where I live now. Nothing like the river.  

The air smells earthy, like I remembered it, the kind of smell that gets in your clothes. It’s not unpleasant, just distinct, and sticks in your mind so whenever you smell the smell again, it brings you back to when it first tempted your nose.

My name is Joe. You probably know my family. We have been down in this valley for generations. I used to live in this town but that was years ago and honestly, it is hard to remember how many years have gone by.

I got out as soon as I could, right after high school. There was nothing really here to keep me. I had dreams and plans that needed a wider path, and here I could only crawl one way and that tunnel was just too narrow. But the grass is always greener, and maybe I didn’t climb as high as I dreamed. But I got to do what I wanted to do.  

I have a knack for taking photographs. The hobby started when I was a kid and my aunt bought me my first camera. She thought it would be a good way to focus my attention on better things, like taking pictures of nature. It did certainly focus my attention, but not on birds, or flowers, or butterflies. It was the faces mainly, and still is. That’s what always draws my lens. Faces tell stories like you read in books. You just have to look a little harder to find the words. My pictures don’t make me rich, but it’s a living.

I am only back for a short time. I was curious, maybe homesick. Mostly, I need some kind of closure. I guess we all need that, and I suppose it is life’s housekeeping, as in there is always a need for some kind of cleaning out of old things. If we are lucky, we get to open a lot of doors on life’s journey and maybe some don’t get closed when they should.

Today, I went down to the river where I first started taking pictures almost every Saturday as a kid. There is a place on the bank that you can get to only by going through Miller’s Woods. The river creeps up there and fills in the spaces between the rocks so you can feel close, like walking on water.

Like I said, as much as I love the river, I never went to take pictures of nature. I went to capture faces. That one place you can get to through the woods is a place that people go to contemplate, and their faces show why they are there. You can see it mainly in the eyes, but it is the whole face that tells the story. I always stood at the edge of the woods and took those pictures. I didn’t want to interrupt them, but maybe what I did was another kind of violation.

The old factory sits vacant on the other side of the river. The doors have been closed since I was about five. All I have ever known is that castle high on the hill without a king, left there to decay and now it is so overgrown it is more nature than man. It is a reminder to everyone below of a more prosperous time. When it closed, this town never seemed to recover.

Today, I see an old man who stands on the rocks looking at the river. He tells a story like the others. Every line and crease in his weathered face is like reading a page in a novel, and his eyes are the door to a library.

He was young once, and in love. He met Mary in high school and they spent summers swimming in the river and lying on the bank. He can see her in the water, even though the only thing out there is the rippling waves. You can tell his eyes are on her.

She got pregnant before they graduated high school and that old man, who was a young man, grew up real fast and did what his daddy did. He got a union card, they got married, and he worked construction until there weren’t enough hours to feed his new family.

He took a job in that factory and he was gone most of the time. Mary tried to be a mother, but she was so young, and she had dreams, and she couldn’t bare to accept that was all there was. So one day, he came home to find his sister caring for their child, and Mary left a note that said she would be back when she could.

After she left, everything else seemed to wither, although it was more coincidence than anything else. The economy went bad, jobs went overseas, and the factory closed. He worked odd jobs to make ends meet. It was either work, or the stool at the local bar, or alone for contemplation. There wasn’t much spending time at home. He raised his son the best he could, but the best was between the bar and work, or work and the river, and the boy nearly raised himself. His son skipped school and the courts got involved. Soon his sister got custody.

He tried to be what he was supposed to be, but every time he looked into that boy’s eyes, he saw Mary looking back at him and that drove him back to the bar, or down to the river. He spent a lot of time at the river. Just another face along with those other faces telling a story about longing and wanting something more than what was given, or maybe just wanting what was before.

Today, that old man spends all his time staring at moving water while he stands still. I take pictures of that old man in the sunlight, the factory in the background, him and the castle. I take pictures of that old man stuck in some other time better than the one that he is burdened with now. I take pictures of that old man, because he is my old man.

© 2018 by Thomas R. Reilly

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