Water Flow Down
Surrounded by people, I was alone. The river, a thread of mercury lacing the valley below us showed no life as it disappeared around a sharp bend, swallowed by the broad land. Distant hills vibrated under a gray sky. I stood beside Angie’s grave and felt myself vanishing into the background like raindrops on sand. Words spoken near me fell to earth, melting the ground beneath my feet. I searched for something to hang onto but found nothing and felt I might soon disappear altogether. I had lost too many of the people I loved. A light rain began to fall just as a raven called from far down the hill, sending me into the very air.
A week later, having passed through a veil of lost time I found myself at home again, feeling as if woken from a bad dream. As I was prone to, I retreated into my books. I was reading texts on the hydrogeology of western Texas that had once belonged to my older brother, Roddy. An unusual choice perhaps, but right then I found the solid facts of science reassuring. The truth of the scientific method was one of the few things left in this world I could believe in. The unseen but solid intricacies of plate tectonics and permeable strata were something I could hold onto. I set the book in my lap, thinking of Roddy.
I’d seen a lot of ignorance and stupidity in my time but nothing that compared with the bull-headed men in my family. What can make a man up and leave all that he knows, every person who ever loved him or might have loved him given half a chance, and never so much as a letter or phone call to say where he is or if he’s even still alive? Roddy’s son Quit was only a child of twelve or thirteen when his father left for work one day and never returned. No reason why or I found someone else or even a half-hearted good-bye. Nothing left except a watch hanging on the door knob of the boy’s room as if in trade for his leaving. I never forgave Roddy for that.
Less than a year before, Quit’s mother who I loved like a sister had died all of a sudden. She was fine and then caught a cold. None of us thought much of it but before you could blink she had pneumonia and the no-good doctors just stood by helpless. It’s a terrible thing to watch someone you love pulling for air like a fish and there’s not a thing you can do. We cried a bucket of tears with all that, but when Roddy disappeared Quit seemed to fade into himself like a shadow when a cloud passes across the sun. Losing both parents in short order was just too much for him and he never again was the same.
His sister Angie was six years older and she and I did our best to care for him but Quit was a piece of work if I’ve ever seen one. There wasn’t a mean bone in his body yet you could see the anger simmering right behind his eyes. He had plenty to be angry about, I’ll give him that and the anger seemed to sweep him along like a wave in the ocean. It’s fair to say Quit did his share of flailing about like a drowning man and then with time he seemed to settle in.
I believe he would have come through it alright but Angie had her own life to live and she met up with a handsome young man two or three years after her mother passed and her father left. It wasn’t much longer, a year maybe, when she decided to get married. I could see the boy was in a state. Quit hid it well but his eyes changed and he seemed to fade into himself again. He managed to make it through the wedding but late that night he disappeared. When he lost Angie to marriage, it was like his mother had died all over again and I truly believe he grieved for them both equally.
In spite of the timing of his leaving Angie did everything she could to find her brother. I lost count of the number of addresses she sent letters to. Most of them were returned but not all so she kept up hope Quit would know he always had a place with her, especially after she left her no-good womanizer of a husband. She was a good deal more patient than I ever was and I had all but written Quit off as part of this family by the time Angie died. She collapsed at church during the early service. They said it was a stroke. When she died I felt like there must be some kind of curse we were under. Her passing was a shock, coming all of a sudden like it did, but even more so as she was all the real family I had left except for the boy. But I never expected to hear from him again. I was wrong, of course.