Tag Archives: longreads

River White, Like Elephants

ImageThe 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.

“Work.”

Where?”

“Somewhere. Coffee shop maybe, maintenance.”

“For how long?”

“Don’t know.”

“Will you go back to school?”

“Maybe.”

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.

“Yes.”

“I don’t know. Minerals maybe, runoff of some kind.”

“There’s not a factory up the river is there?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Hmm.”

“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.

“Like what.”

“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. 

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Her Dad is Dying

Her dad is dying. Slow and fierce. Yesterday he threw up green bile, exorcist style. With no warning. It washed out of his mouth like a fire hydrant, then dribbled down his chin. It was green, dark green, like kale, or the leaves of an evergreen.

 

He has dementia. Lewy body dementia. The average lifespan of someone with this disease is seven years. He has been alive for ten. His wife died a year ago almost exactly. He’s been a vegetable for awhile now. His eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, clutching his left arm. We’re not sure what he sees. The white ceilings of a gaudy rehab center or…spaceships. She tells me that when a person is dying they see stars they try to pluck at. Or little twinklings. His arms can’t move enough to pluck, but perhaps his eyes see the stars. Who knows, maybe he can see beyond the hubble telescope. See what the rest of us are missing.

 

Or maybe he sees ceiling tiles. His mind blank and worn enough that nothing registers. His breathing comes in gaps now. His body looks yellow and it’s not just because he’s Japanese.

 

We go see him every day after work. She (my wife) gets off work at 5:15. We go see him after. Hang out for an hour or so. By the time we get home it’s late. 7:30 or so. We’re indecisive about dinner so we don’t eat dinner until 8:30. Or we get pizza or cheap Chinese food. By the time we eat, it’s 8:30 or 9. We watch some T.V. Go to bed, get up again and do it the next day.  This is our life.

 

I’m getting bigger. Bigger and fatter. My stomach is like Buddhas. I used to ride my bike. But we have a dog now. And dying parents to attend to. Besides, I’m too tired anyways. I’ve drank every night this week. It doesn’t help my Buddha stomach. She doesn’t like that I keep smoking, but I don’t know what to tell her.

 

I have to run a Farmers Market booth for my coffee business tomorrow. I don’t want to. I also have to take a pay cut so we can move into a new location. I’ll have to get a part time job. It’ll probably be some fucking coffeeshop that serves gasoline. The perks of starting a small business. I haven’t written in weeks. My stomach’s been sick from alcohol. I’m listening to a lot of David Bazan and Glen Hansard.

 

His eyes are open. Staring.

 

We didn’t think he’d make it through the week…but he did. We didn’t think he’d make it through the weekend—but he did.

 

It’s Monday. Eight to nine days since he’s had food or drink.

 

She’s exhausted. We’re exhausted.

 

We sit here, waiting. Waiting for her dad to die. Waiting for relief.

She goes to work every day. Expecting a phone call. The call never comes.

 

Since the diagnosis, she knew it would be inevitable. But now it’s so close, and yet, so far away.

 

The medical bills pile up.

 

 If anything her worse fear is if he doesn’t die. She’ll have to finish the Medicaid application. Come up with money out of thin air.

 

Not that she doesn’t love her dad, she does.  More than ever. But there are practical implications to death. Debt. And medical bills, And funeral expenses. And so on. Those things disappear when death comes (sort of).  Besides, he’s been sick for so long. A vegetable for years now.

 

 

 

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