The river was white, like the ivory from elephants, and its bank was lined with fallen trees stretching their branches into the river, like the bones of elephants, the sky was hazy blue and the clouds slightly wispy, there was some sun, bright—especially through the haze, but it was getting late. We were tired from the day of work and drank beer along the rocks. The rocks were black on bottom and white on top—from the river below and the sun above.
“What will you do after this?” she said.
“Somewhere. Coffee shop maybe, maintenance.”
“For how long?”
“Will you go back to school?”
The river sparkled even brighter white, when the sun shone on it. It was probably minerals of some kind. We stared for a while into empty spaces, and the empty spaces stared back at us, mirroring.
“Why do you think the river is like that?”
“You mean all white?” she said.
“I don’t know. Minerals maybe, runoff of some kind.”
“There’s not a factory up the river is there?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Who knows what causes these things.” I said.
“Well, scientists do.” We opened new bottles, filled with beer. A sunshine ale, because it was still hot.
“You think so? I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone knows about these things. I mean really knows, even about the simplest things.”
“Someone has to know.”
“Why, why does someone always have to know?”
“Because someone has to know.”
“I don’t know if anyone does.”
“There has to be answers. What would you tell people?”
“I don’t know.”
“No really what would you tell them if they asked. If you had to answer.” She took a sip of her beer.
“I don’t know.”
“No! If you had to answer.”
“No that’s just it, I would tell them, ‘I don’t know.’”
She looked at me hard, trying to read me. I took a sip of my beer. We continued staring into empty spaces, and she was nervous.
“Well what do you want to do in the fall?” She was getting slightly perturbed.
I answered, “I don’t know.”
She gave me another look, grittier. The river was still white but the trees began to look black, because the sun was going down.”
“Something of value.” I finally said after a few minutes of silence.
“I’m going to say the same thing, you know, so please don’t be angry.”
She took another sip of her beer, this time in spite, because she knew the answers. She kept looking at me and I said it again. She got up to leave.
“Are you being honest or are you just being some sad, pathetic creature?”
I said it again.
The birds flew in the air, high, like kites. We continued to sit on the bank, dry from lack of rain. She sat back down.
“It’s not like I want this,” I said. “I don’t. If I could change I would.”
“You can change. It’s not that hard.”
Her face looked irritated, mine tired. She wanted resolution. I didn’t know what I wanted.
“I wish it was that easy. This honesty bleeds into doubt which bleeds into a lack of faith.”
“But if you’re honest you would find the truth… you would find what you’re looking for.”
“You’d think so, right?”
She looked away, into the hills—into the river, white like elephants tusks.
She got up to leave, this time for good I think. I wanted her to stay, I really did. But I also knew that she had to go. And I had to stay. Not that I wanted to. But I had to. I really did.
And she left, for good I think.
I drank the final sips of the beer. The sun was going down fast now. The bright orange was fading to a dark purple haze.
I sat there not really sure what to do. So I drank and I lit a cigarette, slowly, with care. I breathed in deep, inhale.
And I tried to exhale. I really did.