An Agate in Cool River
She was watching from the rock by the river when she heard the engine putt-putt six hundred feet up. Putt-putt, clank, she heard, and she stuck her toes in the water, sure he'd get it going, again. River fish, little brown blurs, shot past her feet in narrow schools and sun-rippled water lines wavered on the rock bed.
The engine was silent, now, and she shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up at the sky where the small white single-engine floated slowly downward. There wasn't much around the river but a small field, too short for a landing strip, and then a bunch of trees and the interstate. He'd talked once or twice about landing on the interstate.
Something nibbled at her toe and she squealed and pulled her feet onto the grass.
When she looked up again, he'd somehow gotten himself into a diving spiral, and a tight one. It was his first solo, and she somewhat doubted he could handle something like a diving spiral. She watched with her mouth open as he came down and then closed her eyes and spoke to his mind.
I'll visit you in the hospital and bring you chicken and green beans
in a bowl.
If you die, I'll make sure I use your money for your funeral. Most
of it, anyway. Half, at least.
It really is a beautiful day, and there was so much left of it before
this. How come things always end up being about you, somehow?
Everyone will comfort me and tell me how bad they feel, and they'll
all be mine, for once.
She opened her eyes and nothing was there, except for a flat cloud or two that had floated into frame. Hot summer wind blew the thick trees and made a waterfall sound behind the gurgling of the shallow river.
Her stomach flipped - but no, didn't happen, bad things like that don't really happen - and she plucked a rock from the edge of the water. Orange with narrow white stripes toward one end, and foggy clusters in between. It was an agate. Most certainly an agate, though she'd thought they only grew in lakes. She put it in her pocket and stood and looked over the tall grass for his plane, almost expecting to see fire, smoke, or a broken wing bent unnaturally over the nose.
Instead, she saw it in one piece, tail-end hidden in the field and Gerald's head bobbing toward her like a floating bouey. She waved. "Hi, there!"
"Hey," he called back. He started to run and she put on her sandals. She would have gone toward him, but he was on the other side of the river. When he reached the right bank, he stood there and looked at her.
"What are you doing?"
"Waiting for you," she said.
"Didn't you see what happened?"
"Of course I did! You almost crashed."
"Yeah." He kicked at the water and a spray of drops fanned over the surface. "You don't look very scared."
"I was excited for you," she said. "I thought you might get a chance to land on the interstate, like you always wanted."
"Naw. It was too far. Did you see me spin?"
"Yeah," she said. "I saw that."
"What did you think?"
"I thought it would kill you." Something was in her flip-flop. She took it off and shook it, then put it back on.
"Naw," he said. "I practiced those before. They're easy. I was just having some fun."
"I'm glad," she said. "I'm glad you had fun."
They looked at each other from each side of the river. "What now?" she said.
"Come on over," he said. "It's not so deep."
"You come over. The car is on this side."
"But we have to get the plane."
"Get it and do what with it?"
"Oh," he said. "I guess you're right."
He stepped in with one foot, then the other. "It's nice," he said. "You should come in, too."
"I don't think so."
He moved toward the middle, the water reaching up to his knee-length shorts. "Why not? Come on." He flicked water toward her and she stood where she was, far enough away. "A year ago, we would have had more fun."
"The fish bite," she said.
He looked down at the water. "What, piranhas?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. But one of them got my toes." The way he stood there with his arms hanging down and the ripples bouncing over his knees, he could have been a little boy. For just a moment, she thought she might cry.
He ran across, splashing, and she stepped away, back toward the path. "Why the hell didn't you say something?" he said.
He drove them home, and she sat with an elbow hanging out of the open window.
"Jan," he said.
"What would you have done if I died?"
She leaned her head back on the seat and doubled-checked the air conditioning. Broken. "I don't know," she said. "Do you think we could stop for a fountain-pop?" The heat was making her finger swell around the ring, and the stone, having slipped sideways, poked the tender inside of her pinkie. She spun it back to the center.
"When we see a place," he said. "Tell me if you see one." The engine made a funny noise, the noise of neutral, and Gerald played with the clutch and the gearshift until it caught again. "What would you have done?" he said.
She looked at him and at the side of his light brown eye and the way he studied the horizon. "I would have eaten your favorite dinner," she said, "and I would have used half of your money for the funeral, and the other half for whatever I wanted. And I would have had everyone all to myself. Sort of, I mean."
"I know all that," he said, "but would you have missed me at all?"
"I would have missed you." she said. She pulled the rock from her pocket. "But I would have carried you with me everywhere. See?" She held it up for him so he could see it while he drove.
He grabbed her hand and kissed the rock.
"Now," he said.
Copyright © 2007 Kristen Tsetsi