Thicker Than Water

The pair of Canadian honkers floated in an eddy near the rapids, their sepia colored wings catching the last rays of the dying sun. The smaller one - the female - would duck her head beneath the water and then shake it back and forth to send droplets across the surface, making circular ripples that pulsed toward shore. No action is without a reaction, I think. I shifted on the stones beneath me. I had read somewhere that geese mate for life: when one of the pair died, the other would not only never take another mate, but also he or she would mourn the loss, like humans. My lips twitched to one side, considering this, pondering the validity of the statement. After a few moments, the geese fly away together to parts unknown; to do whatever it is that geese do. I stare at the spot in the sky where they disappeared. If only people could be as faithful as those geese. If only people could stop looking at themselves for a moment and look at those around them. If only there were loyalty left in the world.

I stood on the rock outcropping, the freezing water rushing over my bare feet and past my ankles. Just beyond my perch a deep underwater crevasse lurked - black and murky - where, over the years, more than twenty people had lost their lives while trying to swim the rapids. It wasn't the river's fault; it was only doing the same thing it had for millennia, moving water toward the ocean. The water was faithful and easygoing. It took the path of least resistance. It's not like family: it doesn't make things harder, it doesn't try to control, it doesn't spread rumors. It just is.

The moon began to rise, and I walked on, up the hill and toward the road where my ancient boat of a car sat, parked, no need to set the emergency brake; she'd stay there on the incline, no problem. The light of the moon reflected in a perfect circle on the hood of my car, the sheen of the paint almost like water. Clouds interrupted the halo of light and its edges were made wavy.

O swear not by the moon, th'inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.


Shakespeare put those words in Romeo's mouth, but I don't think it's really true. The moon might change, but it never does anything surprising. It doesn't show up one night shaped like a square and the man in the moon doesn't make faces at me. Most of all, it doesn't lie to me; it doesn't lie about me either.

I turn away from the reflection and look at the real thing. Reminders roll and toss like flotsam in my head as I stare at the moon and the clouds passing over it, the way I imagine they were in that poem where the wayward lover returns to take his lady away so that they can be together. The hood is cold now and seeps into the fabric of my jeans as I sit, watching life all around me with no one nearby. Those words told of faithfulness and loyalty and love, things that should compliment and follow one another, but they don't. Families are supposed to be all of those things combined. Kith and kin should stand up for one another, to spread truths and not rumors and gossip. In Scotland of old, the clan was the "be all and end all" of each person within its ranks. Every man, woman, and child - related by blood or no - was ready to take up arms in defense of another member of the clan. These days, the concept seems as foreign as living on the shadowed orb above me. Loyalty be damned; each person is out for Number One. Egocentrism reigns.

Night pulls the shades of the sun tight and the stars appear. Everything is quiet except the water below the bridge where I stand. I can no longer see the river, but I know that it is there. I hear its voice, a roar amid the crickets calling and the gentle breath of the wind in the long grasses. I walk along the edge of the bridge where a walkway of raised concrete follows the guardrail from beginning to end. The sudden pain in the sole of my foot causes me to sit on the edge of the concrete and pull the shard of broken glass from my flesh. Drops of blood fall into the sand scattered along the bridge. In school they taught us that blood is made up of trace elements like sodium, and is held together by covalent bonds within the elements. It sinks in water because it is heavier, but, if you put it in enough water, it dilutes, first turning the hydrogen and oxygen mixture pink and then disappearing altogether. Within the blood is everything that makes us who we are - our DNA, among other things - things so small that we hardly ever think about them. From blood we receive our looks, our personalities, our lives and yet, as much as we wish it could, blood can't hold anything together. Families grow distant, diluted by time and space and lack of bonds.

I hobble back toward the car and examine my injury by the yellowish dome light. Even as delicate as our bodies are, they are steel compared to souls... spirits... whatever it is that shapes us after our parents have done their parts. We are trained from an early age to depend on certain people - our families - and it is just those people we rely on most who can change us forever with a word. The door slams shut and I switch the ignition to the "accessory" position so that the sunroof can be opened and the radio turned on. Some husky-voiced chanteuse sings about how she was "done wrong again," and I wonder just who it was that hurt her and why she went back after the first time. The stars seem to wobble in my vision and I try to focus on one of the myriad lights suspended from the sky. They are stationary, seemingly everlasting, but I've read about how they sometimes explode and disappear forever. Supernova, they call it. It sounds like a fanciful word to me, as if someone ran out words and made one up.

Some guy on the radio is telling me to "live for today," and I wonder if that's even possible. How can you just stop thinking about the past and concentrate on what matters for the moment you're living in right now? Memories creep back into minds unexpectedly, brought on by sights and sounds and smells; the touch of a grandmother's velvet hand on your head in a time before something changed and the blood that you and she share turned pink and then disappeared.