Here lies one whose name was writ in water.
The breaking dawn sends soft bells of light dripping across the water. Below the lapping waves, rainbow trout brilliant as liquid metal dart among the stones, hunting caddisfly. They turn, slicing the current, sharp eyed and ravenous. Jaws snapping open and shut with merciless precision. Some of the fish stir the gravel with their tailfins, whisking up plumes of dirt and pebbles. Others chase the fry from the feeding grounds while the waking sun shifts and wobbles on the river’s ceiling.
Through the rocks flow sticks and leaves. Debris pushed down the mountain during the spring thaw, borne to the river’s edge by a heavy runoff. Dragged into the shallow eddies by lapping waves that leap and clutch at the shoreline.
On the highway above the river, a Pontiac convertible speeds along on a desperate flight to town. Two teenagers—a boy and girl, out all night, race to make their way home before the girl’s parents discover she’s missing from her bed.
The girl has shiny black hair, and it whips along behind her as the car banks wildly into the turn. She’s holding a frappuccino, beaming like a sated kitten.
The boy looks over with a wolfish grin, and the girl puts her mouth to the plastic straw, playfully, indecently. Much to the boy’s delight she makes it disappear with a long, slow, meaningful plunge of the lips, and when it glides back into view again he raises his stubbled face to the sky and howls. They laugh, outlaws on the lam, and as they speed into the next hairpin of the old mountain road the girl tosses the empty cup over her head.
The plastic vessel bounces on the tarmac with a hollow pop and is immediately taken up by the breeze. It hops along the gravel shoulder, becomes separated from its lid, and is caught by a gust of bullying wind that knocks it into the river where it touches down, lightly, and capsizes.
As the swirling cup is drawn into the channel, bumping along the river bottom, it scuds past a school of curious brook trout. Then, briefly illuminated by the sun’s rays, it gives back light of its own—a single glint, soft and spectral—before tumbling into the open hand of the woman’s corpse.
The dead woman’s eyes are wide and clouded, her teeth bared. Her back is pinned to a sieve of sticks and stone, and her pallid limbs flail like those of a rag doll abandoned by a spoiled child. When the cup touches her fingers, it goes eerily still. But only for a heartbeat. Then, without warning, her defiant hand bats it away. Striking it down as if she were fending off the advances of an unwanted suitor.
# # #
"Naiad" first appeared in Falling Star Magazine