Karen Tardiff: Down By The River (Jan 2019)


Southern Legitimacy Statement:  Born in Dallas and raised in the Piney Woods of East Texas, I now reside on the coast of South Texas. My family traces their roots all the way to the founding of a county in Texas. Before that they came from the Duck River in Tennessee and parts of Kentucky; prior to that was Virginia. I believe we steadfastly refuse to go back any further lest we associate ourselves with those of a more questionable Northern lineage. If that isn’t Southern enough, there is also my insistence on adding “y” to the end of nouns and forcing them to be adjectives.

Down By The River

Wrigley reveled in the freedom of youth. The keening of locusts was the accompaniment to the song of joy he whistled as he walked to the river. Even his little brother’s presence couldn’t mar this day.

“Wrigley! Race me!” pleaded Buford, kicking up dust as he ran circles around his older brother.

“I ain’t racing nowhere. I’m gonna enjoy ever second of today. ‘Sides, it might unwriggle my wriggle worms,” teased Wrigley. As if to prove his point he slowed his pace slightly and held the Ball jar extra cautiously. His cane pole was slung over his shoulder and his overalls had an extra hook on the front pocket square.

“No, sir, Ford,” he continued. “Today is a day for savoring.”

His words mollified Buford, but only slightly. The tow-headed boy sprinted ahead and ran back a few times, racing against himself. The familiar smell of lush green trees, dirty water, and summer heat let the boys know they were close. A smile cracked even wider on both faces. They looked at each other, forgot about the wriggling worms, and started running.

“Boy, she’s flowing good today!” exclaimed Wrigley.

“Might bring some of them salmon down from Alaska!’ Buford was already dreaming of the big long silver fish when he was interrupted by Wrigley’s laughter.

“Salmon? Now how you reckon salmon’s gonna get in our river?”

“Well Miz Crockett said all the rivers come down South, so I figured the fish would come down here with the water.”

Buford’s innocent face and sincere words stopped Wrigley from correcting him. “C’mon then. Help me get a worm on this hook and let’s catch us some salmons.”

The fishing went like it always did: a couple crappie too small to eat, a miss on a largemouth. The proverbial One That Got Away. The song of the locusts began to change from their daytime to the evening song. The cloudless sky greyed slightly. The cloth-wrapped jerky and ripe tomatoes has long since been devoured. All signs it was time to head home. Splashing in the river and heat had worn the race out of Buford and Wrigley alike.

“I hope Ma cooked something, cuz you’re a lousy fisherman, Wrigley.”

“Look, Ford, it’s not my fault. We just gotta get better worms.”

“Or a better hook.”

The teasing tapered off as both boys caught a whiff of something familiar in the air. In their own banter they failed to notice the quiet which descended, but it was deafening now. The sound of breaking glass followed them from the spot where the dropped Ball jar and pole lay, now shattered and discarded. Their bare feet slapped against the hard dirt path; dirt packed from weekly trips to the river from their log cabin. The road now leading to where the cabin once stood.

“Ma! Ma! Pa! Ma!”

The words in chorus, in unison, in disarray, the words piercing the smoke rising from the home they left that morning. Frantically running around the smoldering logs, Wrigley became aware of a slight mewling coming from the middle of it all.

“Ford, you stay there!” he commanded. “Just stay put!  You hear me?”

His feet burning, his eyes watering, Wrigley found the arrow-pierced body of his mother. He didn’t have time to cry as he pushed her over to collect his baby sister. Hugging her to his chest, he ran across to the backside of the house, not even feeling the hot embers scalding his soles. There lay his father, rifle in hand, motionless. Wrigley grabbed the hot metal.

“C’mon, Ford. Ford! FORD!”

Awakened from his shock, Buford ran around the house to what remained of his family. He tried to ask Wrigley a question, but the words wouldn’t come. Wrigley understood. He passed Abigail to his brother, checked the rifle over, and led them all into the woods.