The River

The house stood by the river. So did the boys. Peter, Cedric, Josh and Aaron had all been told repeatedly by their respective moms to not go near the sleeping giantess. Aaron was the oldest and should have known better, except he was the one who dared them to come. He was 9 – Peter, my brother, was the youngest at 5, with Cedric and Josh vying for second spot.

 

The boys wore heavy clothes. The morning air was fresh and crisp still, though Easter neared. You could hear the creaking and sighing of the river trying to shed its coat. The breakup was imminent. The townspeople were concerned, and children warned to stay away from the fretful ice. But the boys had heard the mermaid’s song and they were under her spell.

 

Peter had joined the trio, though they kept telling him to go home, that this was not the place for a little boy. Wanting to prove himself, he was walking on the ice. He called to the others to come see – he had found a spot of open water. It was roiling, a deep current preventing the ice from laying dormant and waiting patiently to thaw. Peter was throwing twigs in the hole, watching them flee like horsemen. He loved nothing better than to play cowboys and Indians, horsing around the house. He told Cedric to hand him a big rock, that seemed frozen to the ground on the bank near the hole. The mist made the bank slippery and the rock would be hard to dislodge. Cedric ignored him. Peter persisted, wanting to throw the rock in. The others complained they would get splashed, that it was a dumb idea. His temper flared but they paid him no attention.

 

Still, the boys played on the ice. The river held them all in her gaze, the hole a hungry mouth, the foam her rabid teeth. She roared and spluttered and cajoled and hissed. The boys were cautious, and stayed on the edge, yet were drawn again and again to the living, breathing river. “There’s a big crack, here!” shouted Cedric. Aaron told the boys it was getting boring and they should go. Peter said they should try ice fishing. All eyes turned to him. He had found a branch and had tied together his boot laces to it. He had found a discarded red ribbon that he wanted to use as a lure. He had lain his red mitts on the ice so he could tie the laces together. His fingers were numb and he was fumbling with the knot. Aaron stepped in and tied the whole thing securely.

 

They heard the town clock chime eleven. The sun was shining weakly, out of a sorry sky. They cast no shadow on the ice; all around was gray, dirty white on the river. Their coats stood out starkly against the monochrome background. “The lure will float. We need a sinker,” said Aaron finally. The boys got busy. They would bring home fish for lunch! They ran back to the bank to look for something small and heavy. They were hot under the heavy coats, but focused on the task at hand. They found and discarded rubbish: an old shoe, a piece of plank, and rocks of various sizes. They settled on a beer cap that they glued on with a piece of gum. Peter kept repeating, “What a grand idea. I thought of it.” till the boys got annoyed. He was right though, and it wouldn’t do to send him home.

 

It was a busy Saturday on the main road and someone had seen the boys playing by the river. Aaron’s father came and scolded the boy holding the makeshift fishing rod. He dismantled the whole thing, re-laced Peter’s boots. He walked everybody back to the main street and sent the boys home where they were grounded. In the afternoon, several men were seen erecting a fence along the bank, among them Aaron’s father and the priest.

 

The sky had cleared and the men had downed their coats and cassock. It was proving to be a beautiful sunny afternoon. They were working in their shirtsleeves, with a sense of urgency, casting anxious glances where puddles had formed. They watched as the crack grew larger and the ice finally started sinking, the red mitts disappearing from view, gobbled greedily by the river. It was a poor offering. They hoped she would be satisfied and not call the children again.

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