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by Elizabeth Varadan

My mother said not to wade in the river. It ran right through Reno. "Rosie can’t swim," she told my brother and my cousin, "she’s too little."

"Uh-huh," the boys said. I nodded.

At the edge of town, the railroad track spanned the river. We counted cross ties that framed the clean, swirling water below us, frothing white around sharp rocks. She hadn’t said anything about railroads or bridges.

She hadn’t mentioned how green velvet could become wet slippery silk where the grassy bank sloped down from the road. I should have copied my brother and cousin. They dug their shoe heels into the grass, while I ran lightly beside them, barefoot, still laughing.

* * *

How long can an instant stretch? In memory it spins out, like a strip of film—two grimacing boys turn at my cry, faces frozen in repeating frames. They reach for me, grasp at my outstretched hand. Miss.

If I close, then open, my eyes, I see again mud-clouds swirling around green clumps of underwater reeds held tightly in my fists. Dark strands of hair—my hair—drift before my face. And everywhere is the sense of water and its movement: the muffled, timeless roar; the pull of the current. The breathing that becomes swallowing, before flailing arms grab and rescue me.

* * *

They squeezed the river out of me, then took me home. We wrapped ourselves in blankets, then jumped up and down on the old brown sofa—a new game—waiting for my mother to come home from work.

We were porpoises defying gravity, breaking the water’s remembered surface. The cushions coughed out white stuffing like water gurgling out of lungs. In the slanting rays of the fading sun through a cracked window, our laughter bounced off peeling plaster walls and vanquished the river.

* * *

Years have passed, and we’ve scattered. From time to time, we call with details of our rise-above lives. Sooner or later one of us asks it—the porpoise question:

Do you remember? One of us will say. Can you still jump?

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Midnight Picnic
a novel by
Nick Antosca


The Suburban Swindle

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