Audubon Park Butterfly, New Orleans. At the Mi...
Audubon Park Butterfly, New Orleans. At the Mississippi River front during high water. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bar in the River

In her dream, she was in Cajun country. There was a river where crawfish were being pulled up, and there was a bar at the bottom. She dove down, holding her breath, seeing all the strange personalities in the crystal-clear water. She saw a man smoking, and that confused her most of all. She wanted to stay, shoot pool, order a drink, but after just a few moments she had to grasp for the surface, clinging to the dock and gasping for breath. She wanted to ask the people to tell her their stories. But the river swallowed her words.


It was just the final gasp of dusk, the last of the sunset clinging stubbornly to its maroon corner of the sky in spite of the encroaching threat of star-speckled darkness that had already claimed everything else. This was the time she liked best, when the beach was free of marauding children and only populated by stray couples who took that “long walks on the beach at night” thing too seriously. She got her balance on her board and waited, the crest of the next wave arriving just a moment later. The roar of the water filled her head.


She was sitting Indian-style on the rough wood of the dock, the rest of her day camp troop lined up beside her. She had tied a piece of raw chicken to her length of twine, her small fingers coaxing out three bumpy knots. She laughed at her friend, who had brought breaded chicken fingers. Some of the girls swung their legs off the edge. They were waiting for crabs to scuttle from the bottom of the creek over to their baited lines, but whenever one was hauled up, he was quickly thrown back to freedom, claws clacking in gratitude.


She was there with two of her best friends, sisters, close to her in the way that kids can be close because they live two houses away from each other and not because they actually like each other. The just-released The Little Mermaid had inspired them all to spend the summer splashing in the chlorinated blue water with their legs behind them, crossed at the ankles in the closest approximation they could manage of a mermaid’s tail. She watched them taking plunges off the diving board but wouldn’t do it herself, terrified by the gaping emptiness below her body.