Goodbye at the River (Ginger Man 19C)

Charlie nodded down toward the area in front of him. “This everything?” Between where he was standing and the crescent formed by his friends, on a patch of gray rocky gravel covered partly in snow, lay a series of cardboard cartons, plastic containers, shoe boxes (some covered, others not), and bags of various material, shapes, and sizes.

“Everything we could find.” As Mike’s mother spoke, Penny lay a soft hand on her shoulder.

“You sure we shouldn’t burn this?” It wasn’t the first time Jimbo had made this suggestion, and Charlie responded by shaking his head vigorously, as he had done with each suggestion. Charlie walked over to the largest object on the ground, one of the plastic containers he had searched through that day at the house where Mike lived. When he did, that was.

“I ‘member something Mike said once.” Steam blow out his mouth like a trumpet blast as he spoke, carrying the plastic container away from the crescent, toward the Indian River. There was a large rock at this location of the river, forming an immovable stone pier into the rushing stream, a popular location for fishermen in days warmer than this. Charlie stopped at the edge of the rock, raised his voice over the wind and water. “This stuff, the kinda stuff he liked, he said fire couldn’t really destroy it, fact it made it stronger.” He looked back at the crescent of his friends. “We’s all holdin’ on to Mike, in one way or ‘nuther. Lettin’ his memory haunt us. And this is the only way to get rid of it.”

Charlie turned towards the river and grunted, like an athlete competing in the hammer throw, and flung his arms across his body. Flying free from the burly man’s hands, the plastic container flew across the rushing water, then quickly dropped, splashing with a barely audible sound onto the surface of the black water on which it floated, rolling on top of one wave, a second, until enough water had finally seeped inside to sink one side of it down under the water. Another wave lapped over it, submerging all but a corner, and a moment later, it was gone.

Ten minutes later, after all the boxes and containers and bags had been committed to the black water of the Indian River, Mike’s mother stood alone at the edge of the rock, raised her hands to her mouth, kissed the palms, then raised her arms above the water, mouthing a wordless I love you. She then turned back to the crowd of Mike’s friends.

Later that afternoon, Charlie thanked Mike’s mother for hosting a meal for everyone who’d been to the river that day. He did not say anything at the time, but knew this would be the last time he’d ever be at her house.

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