Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Marie Ryan McMillan
(excerpt from the novel Trail Faith)
The last time we camped near the Kenai River, I spent the night watching my children wash away in my dreams. It was months before the election, and even so, in the dream they stood on the riverbank in their muddy hiking shoes while the water rose toward them. I told them to stay out of the water, but I spoke an unidentifiable language, thick with vowels and grinding consonants. I suspect the dream-river understood me, but my children didn’t. They smiled and waved, but when the water couldn’t restrain itself, it surged for them, wild with greed. It might have laughed, deep and primal, but the noise might have been rocks shoved along the bottom, impotent to the water’s insistence. That’s when it happened. The river grabbed all four of my children. I froze while it flowed around them, smoothing their hair to their heads like only I should. The kids looked puzzled when they tried to swim but their arms were as useless as soft grass. Their eyes locked with mine and though in real life my children are never quiet, they bobbed away silently. They were gone.
I crawled to the bank. The water pooled around my knees while I reached for them, but the river wouldn’t give them back. I was alone, covered in silt, my hands tight and shaking, while they rushed away. Forever. I hunched on the soggy tundra long after my babies were gone. I covered my ears to block the river’s laugh, but it was inside my ears, not outside. There was nothing else I could do. When I woke up, my hands were twisting the neck of my sleeping bag so tight I couldn’t breathe. My head ached, and when I got out of the tent, the river had risen by about two feet. The boys were throwing rocks at ice boulders as they flowed past. Steve held Maris like a sack of potatoes. I yelled at them to get back, but they looked at me like I was a crazy lady. “Mom!” Colby said. “The ice dam broke during the night.” I knew he was excited, but I also knew that when a dam breaks, there’s no telling what will flood. Then I yelled at them some more, and by ten o’clock, Steve had strapped Maris to his chest, and bribed Colby and Liam with jelly beans to go hiking. To get away from me. They didn’t come back until they were out of jelly beans. I just watched the ice hang up on the bottom of the river. Some of it melted. Some of them broke apart. And some just stayed still while the water shoved at them. It was after the election that fall that I noticed Steve never appeared in the dream. The dream was not about water. I actually love water; in it, I feel like a mermaid, my skin slick and weightless, stress seeping from me with the pruning of my fingers and toes. The dream was about a river’s energy. The coldest, wildest lake has finite borders, and though tides and currents make the ocean a terrifying maze of impossibility, it has an austerity I can respect. It’s the impatience of rivers that sets my teeth on edge. A river never appreciates the world for what it is. It’s a bully. Even a halfempty creek controls everything it wanders near, creating and killing tiny patches of the Jim Thiele
A Journal for the North Pacific Rim