William Walsh

I thought it was a lake, but it was not a lake. It was two rivers. Hence the name: Twin Rivers State Park. I waded in slowly. Felt a current that I thought was just my imagination. That current took me, and very soon I was in a swirl at the point where the two rivers meet, wide and flat looking from the land, but roiling and tugging below the surface. I decided not to cry for help because I thought I was alone. A solitary novice hiker who had chosen a bad place to revise one of his recent poems. My only fear had been for ticks. The swirl pulled me down. Two deep rivers, aggressive, claiming me. I felt a giant arm go around my neck. Drowning is like a headlock, I thought. Nobody ever told me that. That would have been an effective warning against swimming alone. Drowning is like an eternal, bullying headlock. The swirl changed direction. I was certain that I was going up, not down anymore. I thought, this is me out of my body. This is my soul going up out of the water against the swirl. On the shore—I guess I should say on the riverbank, since rivers have banks, not shores—I was flopped onto my back. It was the opposite riverbank, not the side from which I had entered. I felt a quick push on my chest and water shooting from my mouth and nose (and did I imagine it or did water shoot from the corners of eyes, from beneath my fluttering eyelids). Then I saw him. My rescuer. The ranger who had asked me for my cigarette lighter at the park entrance. The ranger who told me to stay out of the water—if he’d only said stay out of the river—rivers. I thanked him. I looked closely at him, still on my back on the ground. His appearance was vivid to me. His hair coniferous. His nose a pine cone. His legs wide and hairy and his trunk thick. His arms like giant limbs. Treelike, I should say. But I wasn’t thinking clearly. Then I was looking at the ground and the ground was moving. I knew that I had been saved by the ranger, but the sensation of the ground moving below me made me think briefly that I was dead and still floating—in a waterlogged state—out of the swirling rivers. He said two words, Stupid fuck. I was on his shoulders. He was carrying me the way a rancher would carry a calf away from the herd. He said it again, Stupid fuck. That was me, my new name. We approached a cabin. I would call it quaint from the outside. I would call it rustic on the inside. I would call the woman inside his sister. I would call her his twin. They began stripping me of my wet clothes in front of a small fire burning in their large fireplace. They did not speak but made eager sounds as they unwrapped me. I belonged to them now.

Pathologies, by William Walsh

17 very short stories.

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