What is important? Go ask your father. Money, he says. A good day’s work for a good day’s wages. It is important to know the proper procedure for installing a toilet chain. Go ask your mother. She looks at you. Put on some earrings, she says. Boys like girls who wear earrings. Boys are very important. Combing your hair is important because you don’t want to look like a ragamuffin. Your father will always be there to reshingle the roof, to replace the front brake shoes, to teach you how to do those things. Hair is only dead cells. What is a good day’s work?
In a town called Poultney there is a river flowing through called the Poultney River, and in some places it is very shallow and in some it is not broad at all. Length: 40 miles. Area drained: 263 square miles. What does that tell us? Not much of anything. There is a fish hatchery in New York State that puts fish into the river every five years when necessary. This is so people can come early, before the sun is high, and catch those fish. If you want to do this in the summertime, it is recommended that you bring things like Bead Head Hare's Ear #14, Parachute Light Cahill #12, Palomino Midge #18, Improved Sofa Pillow #4 or Pheasant Tail Nymph #18.
Once, years ago, two girls were sitting on a rock that pressed itself into the river, which, where they were, emptied itself into a deep, quiet pool. To each side, walls of rock and dirt rose to the level of the street. The day was hot and bright, but underneath the canopy of pine needles and leaves it was cool and dark and still. It existed, and the cars did not rumble by and the greenflies were not afraid. The girls were wearing swimsuits and sitting on their shirts. The water was wearing dark greens and blues.
Look, one said, at the stones in the water. The other girl was filling up a pipe. Over there, she said, gesturing to where the pool turned back into the river. There are many more. Everything was quiet. They were quiet and so was their smoking. They laughed and it was like the whisper of wind past a dead leaf on a sidewalk. The water slid by without saying a word.
The sun moved and peaked through the canopy, suddenly lighting up the Poultney River like stained glass.One of the girls timidly poked her big toe into the water and pulled it right back out again. The other girl, displaying an intimacy with the secret place, plunged her body into the water. What about the rocks? The second came sputtering and wheezing into the air. She shook the water off of her face. It’s deep. Now you can know swimming holes.
In the water, both girls played secret games of pretend that they kept from the other. One was treasure hunting among the stones near the shallows. The other was a sleek, wet seal. She clapped and the first girl clapped back without knowing why and it didn’t matter. While the sun made dancing pools of miniature golden waves, they crawled out into sunbeams, lying on rocks like lizards. Their skin glistened with diamonds.
Some years, one said, no one can swim here. The other girl looked down at the water and asked why. The river gets full and then it gets angry and then it can kill.
They drove twisting roads around hills in a convertible car while the sky rained the same gold onto trees and blacktop and their skin. The girls were barely dry and so were sitting on towels that had been baking in the sun. One of them was learning about the world and the other was learning about being a teacher. The road followed the river and the car followed the road. Music played from all sides. here, the water splashed over boulders. Here, the bees buzzed around bushes of wildflowers. The car hummed and so did the greenflies. You would have sworn that you could hear the sky.
Neither bothered to put the roof up. They climbed down a steep dirty slope, holding onto trees and bunches of grass until they came to an open place. There was sand, which sank gently down into the water, making the river like a little ocean, deep blue in the shade. The sun glinted off the wet rocks sharply. In and out of the water, there was a family, made up of a boy and a girl and a happy naked baby. It was gentle all around, for mom, dad, child; it was a safe place.
Let’s follow the river upstream, one said while taking unsteady steps between slippery, green rocks. The other followed. Greenflies flew in holding patterns over pools of water that had been trapped by circumstance, doomed never to rejoin the stream. Both girls gave the little pools a wide berth as they made their separate ways farther up the path of the river. The rocks were smaller and sharper where the river, little more than endless tiny gushes, had worn them away over time. These rocks cut the soft pads of feet that seldom knew anything but shoes. They turned back.
The sun was inching its way behind the tops of the fir trees. Crouching on a big rock, one girl pointed to the stream. It’s so small here, she said, amazed to think that it would join tiny stream after tiny stream to eventually be carried to the little beach and then to the deep, quiet pool.
The small pools will die, said the other. She pointed to one of the little lakes that had been trapped in a hollow on a rock. In another noon, perhaps, it would be dry. The greenflies took off and landed around her, and one was brave or foolhardy enough to land on her arm. she did not shake it off, or slap at it. Instead, she slowly moved her arm closer to her eyes to see. It did not bite and chose to go back to the air in an pearly green streak. It’s all temporary, she thought.
In the spring...the snow melts from on top of the mountains and comes here, one said. She settled herself into the water which was really just liquid snow. It fills the river, she continued. It isn’t like this when the river floods, and it never gives any warning when or where or even why.
The other girl stepped out of the water onto the sand and shivered. A chill wind was blowing through the trees and little wildflowers and the greenflies’ aerial ballet. Like an electric blanket gone suddenly cold, the sun disappeared off into the thick trees. The family was gone. The gold drained from everything and the world, making rocks again nothing but plain old rocks. She put her arms around herself. The water would be black soon and the day would be over.