Word Count: 1115
River is Always Changing
by Bill Hunter
Sherry awoke to the relentless patter of rain against her home. Streams of water fell from the porch roof like hanging strings. Unbelievable. She thought: will it ever stop? After four days of continuous rain, the local streams and rivers of the Tennessee Mountains were bursting over their banks. Feelings of change engulfed her mind with a sense that she could never go back.
She noticed the sudden silence from the basement as the droning sound of the pump was gone. Panic raised the hair on the back of her neck as she dashed down the stairs, hurried around the corner, and opened the basement door. Two steps into the basement revealed the problem. The water was rising faster than the machine could pump, and it was almost entirely under water. Her heart raced because she knew she had to get the pump working fast.
She waded into the water, pulled the mechanism from its watery grave, resurrecting it on the first floor. After checking the filters and draining the carburetor, she yanked the pull cord at a frantic pace. The pump sputtered to life after several harried attempts. She did not know how much longer it would function after all its tireless effort wasted. Strange how she related to a piece of machinery, forever bonded in a unified effort to save the house.
She wiped her sweaty brow and raced to the back window to see what had changed during the long night. Her heart sank as she saw the kids’ swing set swallowed up by the river with only another ten feet to go before the swirling water reached the barrier at the back of the house. She ran to the front to check there as well and found the water breaching the top of the sandbags piled around the sides of the house. Her kids were safe at her mother’s house, along with the cat, and her car was across the river. She’d been able to save many things from the house but not the memories. They were irreplaceable…and they were slipping away. A cloud of hopelessness descended upon her.
If only Barry were here, she thought. He would have made this much more bearable. He would have done something to save the house. Our home, he would always say. Tears cascaded down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook with quiet sobs.
Thinking of him brought back the memories of his death and the emptiness that had filled her since then. She had to be strong for her kids. They did not understand, as they were too young. They just knew that daddy was not coming home. It would only be a thirty-minute flight, he said. What could go wrong?
A loud rumble, thump, and splash pulled her from her despair. Adrenaline exploded through her body, and her nerves tingled back to life. Running to the front porch, she saw the remnants of the barn floating slowly by as if the river were cleansing the land. Sherry knew the house would be next despite her effort to stop it. She went back inside to do a last-minute check before leaving.
Ironically, she was in the midst of selling the farm and moving to a new house. Her mother had offered to help with the kids while Sherry started over. Moving had been such a hard choice for her. She felt a connection to Barry through the land that he had loved so much. They had both liked the idea of the farm, but it was really Barry’s passion. She went along for the ride, more for him than for her. Wherever he went, she would have followed. All he had to do was ask.
Leaving the house felt like tearing another part of Barry from her, pushing it beyond her grasp. Perhaps the river, in some way, forced her to move on. She didn’t know. All she felt now was that it was all going away, a clean slate, starting over and making new memories. She grieved for the ones she lost today.
The house groaned and creaked. It was time. She walked out on the porch and loaded the last bit of what she could take from the house into the small motorboat. She would let the pump continue to work; no need to take it with her.
The boat slowly moved away from the house, taking her closer to the far shore across the swollen river to safety. Looking back, she couldn’t hold the sadness in any longer. So much love in that house being washed away. Tears mixed with the steady rain as she pulled up to the tree that bore their initials. Barry loved the view of the house from here, but the marks were now underwater.
Sherry struggled up the embankment and pulled the small boat roughly up, mooring it as best she could to a higher branch. She stepped back into the water, picked up an umbrella and her camera from the boat in an attempt to capture the last memories of their house. Her vision clouded by the rain. She turned for one last look at her old home, her old life. She waded back out up to her knees and started taking pictures.
The house started to shift and shudder. It turned as the water lifted it off the foundation and slowly crumbled it into a pile of wood and debris. The river claimed another piece of her life as the house now approached remnants of the barn that stuck in a small grove of trees.
The biggest part of the house contacted the trees just behind the barn, scraping and groaning before it broke free to continue downstream. The smaller section gave chase as if playing tag, bouncing from tree to tree. The large chunk broke into two more pieces, not wanting to miss the game, joining the others in their trek down river. Sherry recorded it all. She wiped the rain and tears from her face and then retreated from the river.
As she drove down the road towards her new home and life, she crossed the last bridge. The river made the bridge look much smaller as it struggled to span the now river-filled valley. She stopped the car and watched as the house and barn swirled further down the swollen river, much as she and Barry had danced around one another on their wedding day. The ruined structures floated down the river and out of sight. It was over. Sherry now knew she must move on to the next chapter of her life…knowing somehow she had found the strength to do so, for the river is always changing.