“Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide
The Form remains, the Function never dies.” – William Wordsworth
“If it keeps on rainin’
Levee’s gonna break” – Led Zeppelin
The Lonely Bed
The moon was bright and beautiful, and Roger Gordon was awake. Beside him, Carrie Wellcraft stirred but did not wake. Roger rubbed his eyes. He grabbed the flimsy curtains and ran his thumb along their bottom hem. He was going to replace them the next time he made it into town. At least, he thought he would this time. He’d probably forget until the moon was bright again.
He walked out, past his living room, and opened the sliding door to the porch. With the moon reflecting off the Mississippi river below him, the outdoors was as bright as daylight. Roger looked at the other houses, but he was all alone in the night. He couldn’t even hear small critters rustling through the grass.
Tomorrow, Carrie was leaving his house in Iowa and making the drive back to Minneapolis. He tried to convince her to stay before they went to bed, and he tried again when they were in bed. She apologized and told him she had to go. He held her in his arms and watched her go to sleep. When she was finally asleep, he rolled over so he wasn’t touching her body at all and managed to find a few hours of sleep for himself.
Something lay in a heap near the river bank. For a moment, Roger’s heart stopped. It’s finally over, he thought. He stood and made his way to the porch steps when a cloud shifted in the sky and he saw he was looking at a plastic bag full of twigs, leaves, and human debris. He had seen the same bag earlier in the day, and had the same reaction. In the morning, he would pick the thing up and toss it in his garbage so it didn’t scare him like this again.
It’s not over, came his next thought. At least she’ll keep coming down to visit.
He went back inside and grabbed the whiskey he’d been working on that night. There wasn’t enough left in the bottle for him to need a glass. Carrie would smell the whiskey on his breath when she woke up, but she had come to expect that from him.
He was surprised Carrie wasn’t drinking more. She had plenty of reasons to be coping poorly. She was spending her time in Iowa with him because her boyfriend, Pierce Benson, had driven off of a bridge and into the frozen Mississippi a few dozen miles upriver. They had found the truck, but not the bodies. Now that it was March and the river was thawing, Carrie came back to Iowa every weekend, hoping to identify his body and work on finding closure. At first, she visited with law enforcement officials. When that became too awkward, she just spent the weekend at Roger’s house so she’d be closer if they found his remains. Roger wondered when she’d give up making the trip at all.
He’d met Carrie through Pierce. In an earlier life, Roger Gordon had almost been a successful musician. He might’ve made something of himself if he’d learned to keep his mouth shut, and if he hadn’t married the wrong woman, and divorced her too late. Pierce Benson enjoyed Roger’s music, and he’d brought Carrie with him when he visited the first time. On his next trip to Iowa, Pierce left his girlfriend at home, got drunk with some new friends, and ended up dead in a river.
After staring at the bag of leaves and garbage for another ten minutes, he set the bottle of whiskey on the railing of his porch and carefully started down the stairs and across his lawn. When he was halfway there, he realized he was only wearing boxer shorts. He picked up his feet faster as he made his way down the gradual decline to the river’s edge.
Not wanting to step into the mud and bird feces of the actual river bed, Roger balanced on his right foot and reached his arm out to grab the handle of the plastic bag. When his fingers didn’t even brush against it, he rummaged in the bushes and found a stick long enough to bridge the gap. On his third try, he hooked a handle and dragged the bag of filth and muck to the grass.
There were tracks of bare feet walking upstream, along the edge of the river. They belonged to children. They looked fresh to Roger, who admitted to himself he was no expert in such things. He and Carrie had been sitting on the porch until after it was too dark for children to be out. The few children in his neighborhood all had parents who locked them indoors once darkness fell.
Roger looked downstream and saw a woman standing in the middle of the river. She was standing somewhere too deep and too swift-moving for a person to stand in. As he watched, she waded toward him. He heard no splashing sounds as she moved toward him. He couldn’t see her face or what she was wearing.
Roger backed away, smiling in spite of his fear. He wondered what would happen if he shouted to the woman, or if he ran out to meet her. Carrie would wake up to find him gone, and maybe she’d be able to get on with her life. With the moon full overhead, it’d be a beautiful escape.
He heard a crinkling sound, and he realized he’d stepped on the plastic bag. He turned around and stepped out of the way, and when he turned back the woman in the river was gone. Only the children’s footprints remained.