Modern Dress Pan Comforting A Hopeless Psyche
He had wandered far enough into the wild woods, away from the riverside Solstice party to have the sound of music and laughter mute and mellow and transform into the far more soothing noises made by the night. He walked and listened to the lapping of the river upon the edge of its gravel beach banks, an owl calling across the stretch of black water, a rustling in the undergrowth. He detoured down to the ripple of river, thick dangerous snaking of snow melt from the mountain range that loomed over the small city.
He found a tangled throne of cottonwood roots jutting out toward the water and settled there, fishing a packet of American Spirits out of the pocket of his loose-fitting deep green joggers. He was bare-footed and bare-chested. His favourite band t-shirt had been lustfully pulled over his head and donned earlier by the delicious girl he had so wanted a taste of for months and months now, but other than his shirt, she didn’t want him at all.
He lit his smoke, leaned back against the trunk of the tree, and tried to let it all fall away.
“What are you doing here, Old Man?” he asked himself out loud. “How many times will you declare undying love for that girl only to have her echo back meaningless promises and declarations. It’s enough now.”
His strict entreaty was suddenly interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a body hitting water further upstream. It brought him to his feet, and he quickly stubbed out the smoke and waded into the river, casting a frantic look into the shadows where the river unbent itself around a massive collection of granite boulders. And then, there it was, twisting and turning in the flow, the moon washing it pale silver and without thought for his own safety, he kicked off the sandy bottom and swam hard against the current. He reached out and grabbed, too forcefully and she would have brilliant bruises circling her upper arms the next day. He hadn’t considered that it would be the fragile femininity of bone and muscle, assuming a drunken young lout. But he got hold of her and swam hard toward the shallower shore and stood, bridal carrying her in his arms, until he fell to his knees and laid her gently on the bank.
She coughed, brackish water running from her mouth as though a rope he could grab and pull her up out of death’s insidious hold. He turned her onto her side, one hand fast on the ball of her shoulder, and rhythmically flat palmed all the water out of her body. Jagged spine. Ragged shoulder blades that seemed to remember they once anchored chitin wings.
He didn’t realize he was hyperventilating, awash in adrenalin, until he felt the thick steady drops of his own sweat falling from the end of his nose, the arching corners of his eyebrows, and the sharp edges of his upper lip, down through the curling goatee he wore.
She was alive, that was obvious to him. She brought one of her hands up to her face and the coughing became a kind of soul wrenching cry, a sob. He bent forward over her, wrapping her in his arms and pulled her into his lap as he sat down hard on his haunches. She came curling in against him, her head on his chest and cried herself dry.
The night was growing cooler, but the full moon kept a vigilant watch over the two of them. With the gentleness reserved for a frightened wild creature, he steadied her and moved her out of his embrace and onto the ground beside him. She gathered her long limbs into an easy lotus, her wrists on her knees, and her face turned moonward. He was exhausted and pulled his own body up onto a large rock and sat, elbows on this thighs, breathing heavily, watching her warily.
“Did you?” he began, but her lower lip quivered. “Are you quite alright now?”
She shrugged. Her baby doll dress was soddened and clinging, but he had nothing to offer her to dry or warm herself. His own pants were soaked and cold. Her hair was crazy long and dragging nearly on the ground, small twigs and leaves in its tangled locks.
“I’m not alright,” she said.
She shook her head. “But you saved me.”
“The river saved you.”
“It wouldn’t take me.”
“Where did you want to go?”
This made her smile.
“Can it really be that bad?” he asked.
She nodded. “I betrayed my true love and he’s gone.”
“Away from me. Gone. Left me. Fled.” She sniffed. “Forever.”
“Forever is a long time.”
“I was trying to make it shorter.”
Something was cutting uncomfortably into his hip, he pulled the cardboard pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, ruined by the water. He sighed heavily. Brand new. “What form did your betrayal take?”
“I wanted to see him as he really is.”
“And you didn’t like what you saw?”
“Oh, no.” Her face became animated in the moonlight, flushed with wonder and devotion. She held her own hands against her breast. “He’s beautiful. Magnificent. He’s more than I could have ever imagined. But,” her breath caught and hitched. “But he had trusted me not to, not to look.”
“What makes you so sure he’s your true love then? It sounds as though he betrayed you, your love for a very small breach.”
“Don’t say that. It wasn’t small. He trusted me, and I promised him on our wedding night, that I would never ever. Not ever.”
This surprised him. “He’s your husband?”
“Yes. He is. He was. What am I going to do?”
“Breathe. First, just breathe. If you made a promise and broke it, then you need to begin working toward forgiveness. If he is your true love –“
“Then he will forgive you.” He held up a hand. “In time.”
“What do I need to do?” she whispered.
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