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by Rhyannon Q Brightwater

Even as she threw her prayers skyward from the edge of the porch — hoping the wind would push the clouds away — she knew this was it — the flood that comes once in five hundred years. She saw lifelong friends and neighbors toiling with the National Guardsmen piling sandbags down by the levee. Futile. Her house along with most of this town was built on soil the River had thrown up over centuries and now the River looked to take it back.

Rain started to pelt her and she returned to the house. She remembered only a year ago her husband on the hospital bed in this front room with a view of the Mississippi. Chemical exposure in a pointless war had turned his cells mutinous. Doctors piled up their sandbags for several years against the enemy. Futile. The day came when he took her hand and she saw in his eyes the weariness and the desire — the need — to let go. All through his illness she had spoken words of faith and hope and refused to cry, but now those words stuck in her throat. She would not, could not, say them anymore. Not now, not to him.

So she sat with him — just sat and breathed — face close to his, sharing one breath as they had shared one life for thirty years. He whispered, “Put me in the Big River — it’s where I belong.”

She nodded and squeezed his hand, forcing herself to hold back the flood she didn’t want him to see.

He breathed. She breathed. And then he breathed no more. A year later she felt as if she still had not breathed. Nor had she taken his ashes down to the River he loved. Now it looked like the River was coming to take its own.

The wail of the flood sirens punched through the wind and rain. As she left the house for the last time, she placed the urn on his chair out on the porch. She could see the workers fleeing as the levee began to crumble … and she breathed.

She pictured the great brown River God gathering up all that was left of the man she loved and laying him down in the fecund Delta to become reunited with Life.

She would go on now, changed for having known him, Death, and the River. She hurried to her car, turning away not from destruction but toward life. Life takes its own.


Rhyannon Q Brightwater has been writing poetry and fiction since she was in high school. She was a Lutheran minister and a high school debate/forensics coach and English teacher prior to attaining a master’s in social work. She has been a full-time hospice social worker for the past ten years. She has also enjoyed acting and directing community theatre productions and is writing a play. Santa Fe became her home in 2015 after having lived in the South, Midwest, and the Plains states. The mountains just outside her door daily inspire her. She may be contacted through Facebook.

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