The Water Field

Richard Mirabella | Flash Fiction

Someone pushed Catherine into the Hudson River. She was at the boat launch near her home in Stuyvesant Falls, New York. At first, she thought the deck under her feet had fallen away, but when she surfaced, it was still intact, and a man, older, heavy, and white as the good cheddar Catherine bought at the fancy cheese shop in Chatham, stood on the deck where she had been. He stared at her as if she were something he’d accomplished. Help help help, she said. The water in her mouth made it sound foolish. This filthy river. She swallowed it. All of New York’s poison entered her. The man still stood on the dock and watched as the current took her. There was no one else around. 7:30 in the morning. She always walked down to watch the day start, to kick rocks, to think about her father taking her to the muddy beaches along the river when she was little, where she would stand over the spent campfires, the relics of people who had been there before. Her legs bobbed up and she let go of trying to fight, though eventually she would swim. Do something. The man on the dock grew smaller. He was like a moon, the sun illuminating his darkness for her, as if to say “Look at this creature. Another human being, who has pushed you into a river and who does not have any words for you.” She imagined, some other day, after surviving this moment, running into him at a shop or the farmer’s market, seeing him while driving, and not panicking or crying or screaming. She imagined approaching him and saying … what? “My name is Catherine Cummings. I paint watercolors. I grew up in this town and I don’t know you. I work at the Elementary School and perhaps teach your children. And who are you? Who are you, sir?” Ridiculous. In fact, she would be terrified. In fact, she might die.

She floated near the place she once called The Water Field when she was a little girl. A shallow cove with stiff, brutal grass growing from the silt. If she could just get there, try to swim hard, she would be fine. She kicked forcefully to try to escape the current and was able to move herself close enough to the shore to find the soft river bed and then the rocks and broken things that meant she would live. Her toes found more supportive earth, and she crawled into the Water Field and the tough grass clobbered her face and sopping clothes. She felt encased in cement and removed the clothing to make herself faster. After a moment, she stood. Her feet sank into the soft mud. Where were her sneakers? Gone. The river had taken them. On higher ground, a clump of Joe-pye weed shuddered in the breeze, along with other wildflowers she knew and was no longer thrilled by, and among them stood women, all of them looking as if she’d interrupted them during a hike. She didn’t know them, but this wasn’t unusual. More and more city people had descended upon her little hometown. The women were dressed differently from each other, and she noticed some were half-dressed; one wore only a bra, one was naked but for hiking boots, one had scrapes on her bare arms, but was otherwise unharmed and dressed in jeans and a tank-top. Catherine made her way through the grass and up to the wildflowers, and one of the women put her hand out to help her. Though it was a warm day, Catherine shivered as the river dried on her. Her skin sticky and smelly. She would never paint the river again. The women helped her through the thick wildflowers and back up to the crumbling road and train tracks. From here, she still saw the boat launch, though the river had taken her quite far from it. Behind her, the women talked amongst themselves, and she couldn’t hear what they said. She turned to offer her hand to them, but none would take it. “No?” she said. “You want to stay in the wildflowers?” They glared at her. Way in the distance, a car engine started. What time was it? She walked away from the Water Field and the women, hurried as much as she could in her nakedness and bare feet, over the awful earth. Not today, she imagined herself saying to the man who had pushed her into the river, imagined running at him with her breasts doing their choreography. No! No!